Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

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At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

(Author of Water for Elephants and Ape House)


Philadelphia socialite Maddie Hyde is not keen on sailing overseas while World War II is raging and the journey across the Atlantic is dangerous. But when she and her husband Ellis are banished from his parents' house and cut off from their allowance after a debauched outburst at a party, they find themselves doing just that. Unable to enlist due to colorblindness, Ellis is ridiculed and shunned by his father and society. To work his way back into his father's good graces (and his pocketbook), Ellis, Maddie, and their friend Hank become determined to find proof of the Loch Ness Monster, which his father infamously photographed years earlier. When they get overseas, they see first-hand the toll that WWII has taken on the small town of Drumnadrochit, Scotland.  Maddie becomes immersed in the small town and the people who live there, and begins to learn that monsters come in many forms.


I really enjoyed Maddie's growth as a character, which was really the center of this story. She wasn't compelling to start - she was lost, a woman pushed around by her husband and his best friend, taking a back seat to their general amusement and whims. She really only starts to become the person that you want her to be when she is forced into spending time with herself in this strange place, and starts to recognize the hardships that the war is having on the town -- and that she could do more to help. This is where she really steps up and comes into her own. 

Gruen succeeds in many of the same ways that she succeeded in Water for Elephants - she does a great job of painting the historical aspects of the period into a story filled with a little magic (here in the form of superstition and folklore), compelling and often twisted characters that you can really love to hate, and an interesting place setting. You don't hear a lot about Scotland during WWII, and I really enjoyed this perspective the same way that I enjoyed riding along with the circus in Depression-era America.  Although the love angle isn't as well fleshed-out in At the Water's Edge as it was in Water for Elephants, it does still help propel the story along nicely. My only real suggestion? More Nessie! I really could have used more of the water-dwelling monster aspect. I'm kind of a sucker for that. 

Professional Reviews:
Check out Sara Gruen's interview with Publisher's Weekly here.

I received free access to a digital advanced copy of the book through Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Mix-up: 10 Cool Covers

Here's a few cool covers that are on my playlist right now that you might like to meet. Have covers that you can't get out of your head? Leave a comment!

1. Wicked Game - Lana Del Rey

I adore the original, but while I'm not always the biggest fan of Lana Del Rey, this Chris Issak song is definitely the perfect match for her sultry, haunting voice. 

2. Addicted to Love - Florence and the Machine

Not a lot to say, except that this is Florence and her Machine doing what they do best. I didn't care too much about this song until she came along.

3.  Strangers in the Night - Cake

A way to update Sinatra's classic with one of my favorite bands -- Cake gives this their signature feel and makes this track utterly smooth.

4. 99 Problems - Hugo

Hugo didn't keep much of the original except for the refrain, which really works in this blue-grassy sound. Definitely the best thing that came out of  the Colin Farrell remake of "Fright Night".

5. Heartless - Dia Frampton

I love it when folksy artists take on different genres - which is what Dia does really well here with Kanye's "Heartless". The Voice brought her out into the open, and thank goodness - this girl's a genius.

6. Toxic - Melanie Martinez

It takes a true artist to bring soul and emotion out of Britney Spear's gyrating hit "Toxic", so I take my bow off to you, Ms. Martinez.

7. All About That Bass (Jazz Style) - Postmodern Jukebox (feat. Kate Davis)

I'm obsessed with all of Postmodern Jukebox's songs (including Talk Dirty withYiddish rap and a cover of Iggy Azalea's Fancy in 1920s flapper-style). But for me, Kate Davis actually playing an upright bass for "All About that Bass" and singing at the same time makes this absolutely adorable, and this is a track I can actually see in my iTunes.

8. Mad World - Jasmine Thompson

So when she kept coming up on my Pandora stations, I got annoyed pretty fast with this breathy piano-accompanied voice that only ever did covers of other great songs. But this song totally sold me...oh, and also I changed my tune a bit when I discovered that she is actually a 14-year-old Brit. What the what? 

9. Skinny Love - Birdy

Her cover of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" is well-known enough that I stuck it here at the bottom of list, even though I probably listen to this one the most. Here we have another prime example of a crazy-young artist (14 when this song made it big) that has way more talent than is fair for the rest of the world. Hogs. 

10. Stairway to Heaven - Rodrigo y Gabriela

This is a beautiful instrumental acoustic rendition of Led Zeppelin's classic. What amazes me most is how they can bring so much to a song with just two instruments. If you haven't checked out their other stuff before, you might need to now.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Resolutions: Thrive in 2-0-1-5

New year. New goals. New determination. 

So I have found that when I don't really invest my time in thinking about my resolutions, making them visible to me, etc., I am terrible at keeping them. So, to help keep me motivated, I've dressed up my resolutions and hung them where I'll see them every day, and I'm announcing them here so that I'm also more accountable. 

I've also got a monthly list that I'm using to stay on track and meet smaller goals along the way. If I realize there's no way I'll stay on track, I'll okay with changing the resolution so I don't sour on the whole thing.

Pare down and reorganize

I started this in December - and the feel of getting rid of all stuff I didn't need, and never used was LIBERATING. So I found this 30 Days of Decluttering list on Pinterest, and just modified it to suit my own needs and space. 
  • Get rid of 50 things by December
  • 30 Days of Decluttering List by April


A helpful reminder not to get lazy in the kitchen and fall into a rut. If I'm really good, maybe I'll even post them on my Sponge for Knowledge in the Kitchen blog. 
  • Try a new recipe once a month - Learn standard things if you don't already know (cook a roast, etc.) and try new recipes that are lower in calories and more nutritious so I can incorporate them into my repertoire.
  • One new on-the-go breakfast a month - I love on-the-go things! I need to make sure that I have stuff on hand to grab as I rush out the door - muffins, turnovers, more! 

Take a monthly trip

This is just a helpful reminder to keep me from staying stagnant. Some things I want to do: 
  • Renew passport!
  • Visit sister-in-law in Indiana
  • Go camping
  • Smithsonian museums and National Zoo
  • Ziplining and white water rafting on the New River
  • Visit cool cities/places: Niagara Falls, New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Annapolis, NYC, etc. (Not all of these, obviously, but maybe

Be Healthy and Fit

Okay, so maybe most people have this on their list every year. But I've been doing a pretty good job this year so far since I got the MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness apps. MyFitnessPal has been immensely helpful - I've been paying a lot more attention to how much I eat, snack, and drink in general, and I have lost 7lbs so far, and am almost at my 10 lbs. goal. That's also after falling off the wagon a few times, and through the holidays. Plus, 
  • Log food in MyFitnessPal at least 3x a week (complete an entire day)
  • Get a physical this year! (It's been way too long...)
  • Fitness: 2x a week exercise & walk 15 minutes 3x a week
  • Be able to do a pull up by the end of the year. I just want to know that if I'm hanging off a cliff from my fingertips, I'll be able to save myself. Could I do that now? No. Quit judging.

Be well: Mental Wellness

When I get over-stressed, I suck at things and am generally less animated, which feels very funny on me. These goals will help fix that, I think. 
  • Be able to meditate 15 minutes straight by the end of the year (without a guide)
  • Schedule weekly 1-hour date with myself
  • Sleep better (I'm embarrassed to say that my starting goal is to go to bed by midnight at least once a week, which has already proved challenging. I'm a night owl by heart, but sleep is healthy for my brains, so I will do this and maybe increase that to several days a week in a few months.)
  • Fill up 1 journal by December (This is a cross-goal with my writing section, see below)

Save More: Finances

If you're making your own money goals, I'd recommend putting amounts next to them as well - I did that, but just didn't post them here. 
  • Pay off one student loan in full by end of the year
  • Save for a down payment on a house (could it be this year?!)
  • Open a mutual fund
  • Add to IRA this year

Love: Marriage Goals

Gotta keep us on track, you know. We'll celebrate our five year anniversary this year! 
  • Be open and let things go (Measurable? Maybe not, but it is a good reminder)
  • Monthly love letters
  • Monthly date night 


More arts, please. Maybe I'll get around to posting pictures of them sometime? 
  • Schedule time & make space for creativity (my two greatest nemeses to my art)
  • Fill up one sketchpad (Woo! Zentangling, sketching, coloring, whatever.)
  • Do 3 oil paintings (Up from the one I do every 3 years).
  • Do 2 watercolors (Not my favorite medium, but fun as a refresher every once in a while)

Read & Write

My goals here aren't crazy, but they are solid and reachable enough that I can stick to them. 
  • Read 60 books. (Not extravagant, I know, but this is why I hope I reach it)
  • Read 10 short stories. 
  • Finish your novel! I will beat NaNoWriMo this year. 
  • Write a short story, a poem, and a song. 
  • Blog monthly. Again, not setting my sights too high, but my blogging goals have been tricky for me in the past. So with this post, I've got two in one month and I've doubled my expected productivity!
  • Finish one whole journal (again, a joint mental wellness and writing goal)