On Books and Whatnot

I’d like to pretend I’ve been terribly busy, too busy to post, but that’s not true. What’s closer to, and a better explanation of, what’s been going on is an odd combination of laziness and springtime. Sun is shining, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and I want to be out there with them, not hunched over a keyboard. All of that blooming and budding and frenzy of life out there also does a number on my allergies, leading to headaches that stagger me and leave me stretched out on the couch, unable to do much more than sleep.

But it’s Monday, the first day of a new work week. I slept pretty well last night. The headache is, if not vanquished, at least crouching off to the side for a bit. And I feel like sharing.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

  • YA Distopian
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book that became a movie

I read Divergent a while ago and loved it, which means one of two things would happen with Insurgent – it would be terrific or I would hate it.

I most certainly did not hate this book. I was Kindle-in-bed-at-midnight with this book. I was peering-around-the-shower-curtain with this book.

I wish it was about 200 times as long, but I get that it’s YA so it can’t be 200 times as long. And I’m cool with that, I suppose. And even though it’s not at all fair, I can’t help but compare this series to some others I’ve read. If I could put each series on a ladder, these would be on the second-to-the-top rung (I haven’t read the last book yet, so I can’t put it at the very top). The Uglies would be half a step down. Artemis Fowl would be a full step down. Harry Potter would be on a different ladder. The Dark is Rising would be on the roof, about three feet above the ladder. Twilight would be in a hole, deep down, under the ladder.

So in order of worst to best:

  • Twilight (please)
  • Artemis Fowl
  • The Uglies
  • Divergent
  • The Dark is Rising

I really do enjoy YA adventure series, as you can see. There’s a bunch that I haven’t read yet (Cinder is definitely on my list, for example, and I need to finish Divergent, and I want to read The Dark is Rising again). I’m glad that this particular series is holding up, though, and can hardly wait for it to be my turn to get the library book.

My advice: Get all three of the books and then read them. The only thing that disappointed me about Insurgent was that I didn’t have Allegiant in my hot little hands to read immediately.

Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

  • YA Paranormal
  • Kindle e-book, free from BookBub
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book set in high school

Jenny Pox is a self-published book that masquerades as YA but is really geared towards an older reading population. The general plot: Jenny was born with some sort of condition that causes anyone who touches her to grow nasty, plague-like sores. If she holds on, the other person dies. She killed her mom, the doctor, and the nurses when she was born. She’s spent her whole life living in the woods outside a small town in North Carolina with her alcoholic dad, and when she leaves their small and dirty house, she dresses so that everything, including her hands, is covered.

Enter her dastardly villain of an enemy, Ashleigh. Ashleigh is a beautiful and popular girl who has a power of her own. She also is the girlfriend of the most eligible boy in their small town. To get a good image of Ashleigh, imagine what would happen if Regina George (had Plastic in Mean Girls) and Heather Duke (lead evil Heather in the Heathers) melded into one horribly popular bitch, who then produced a kid with Satan. That kid would be about 25% as horrid as Ashleigh.

And then there’s Ashleigh’s boyfriend Seth, who also has a power. His power is the opposite of Jenny’s and he is the only person she can safely touch. Of course she immediately falls in love with him. At first she sort of lets herself be mowed down by Ashleigh, but then she puts on her Big Girl Panties and commences to fight back.

I love the idea of this book, and some of it really pulled me right in. I was especially pleased with the bits that talked about people unleashing their powers – those were particularly interested. What I didn’t like was what I feel was a lack of good editing, which is a common issue with self-published books. The story is really great and the voice is decent, but the writing is sometimes drawn out and repetitive, and I stumbled over more than one mistake. I know how hard it is to self-edit (believe me, I really do) so I’m not slamming the author, rather I would hope that he could get picked up by a publisher and perhaps get set up with a terrific editor.

My recommendation: if you have a ton of patience for something that is sometimes a slog (and not really a positive one), and you LOVE gore (I do, sometimes), read this book. Otherwise, give it a pass.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

  • Mystery
  • Hard cover, library check-out
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book written by someone under 30

I thought this one would be coming of age, but it turned out to be a rather delightful mystery. The narrator, Blue van Meer, is a freshman in college, telling the story of what happened during her senior year in high school. There are deaths, bumbling police officers, cliques, bad teachers, and bullies. There are twists and surprises and love stories and “a-ha” moments. Blue is funny, witty, and often wry; who is still often ruled by the same crushes and vanities that every other teen is plagued with, despite her rather odd upbringing.

Folks, I loved this book. Pessl writes it in such a newly refreshing manner: making Blue a total egghead who is supposedly writing her memoir, complete with in-text citations and a LOT of supporting information. I wonder, still, if all of Blue’s sources were real or if some were made up, but it wouldn’t matter to me one way or the other. It’s a fabulous read, devourable despite its length.

I would think even people who don’t like a good mystery (crazy talk, right?) would enjoy this book. It’s just plain fun to read. My advice: go for it!

Currently Reading:

On Deck:

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It’s been a banner week – THREE great books!

I’m at the end of a week of reading a bunch of stuff that didn’t suck. It’s awesome when that happens, you guys. Everything this week has been well-written and masterfully crafted. I love weeks like this.

Two of this week’s books cover the same time period: The Falls and Breathing Lessons both take a look at a life from the mid-fifties  to the late seventies. The Falls covers that time period as it happens (in the confines of the story) and Breathing Lessons covers it in memories and flashbacks and it’s interesting to me to consider both the similarities and the differences between the two. My takeaway from that little exercise: people from Maryland are normal and people from New York are whack.

And with that, onto the reviews!

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

  • Modern literature
  • Kindle e-book, borrowed from library
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book set somewhere that you’ve always wanted to visit

I chose this book because I’ve dreamed of Niagara Falls for what feels like my whole life. I imagine the noise, the mist, the drama and majesty. I think about people throwing themselves into that turmoil, knowing that they won’t make it out alive. How much braver is that than simply jumping from a bridge? The drama, beauty, and sheer awesomeness of it make it show up regularly in my dreams. I’ve even wondered if actually experiencing it would cheapen the dream.

Reading this book added a new lens through which I can view the Falls. The story follows the life of Ariah, a Protestent minister’s daughter from Troy, New York. She’s on her honeymoon in the fifties, she’s twenty-nine years old and has married so late in life (for her time and culture) that she knows nothing about her new husband, and so is blind-sided by him throwing himself over the railing and into the Falls on their first morning as husband and wife. This even sets the stage for everything that follows: her second marriage to a well-known and respected Niagara Falls attorney, her life as a member of upper-class Falls society, her three children, her fall back to where she came from, so to speak. We follow her up to 1979, and view her from her childrens’ perspectives, and see how their lives have been shaped by her personality and her choices.

I did not like Ariah as a character, and I would not have wanted to be a friend of hers. I did not like the way she behaved, the choices that she made, her interactions with her children. I didn’t notice until I’d finished, though, that I found her so very unlikeable. I’m reminded of several discussions I’ve heard on podcasts about unlikeable characters and how some readers won’t read books that focus on people we just cannot root for. In Ariah’s case, I could root for the people around her and I could become absorbed in this awesome story of how man can mess stuff up.

A large part of the narrative talks about Love Canal and the effect it had on the region. In retrospect, I’d have to say that Oates did a tremendously good job of weaving fictional lives into the truth of Love Canal. It reminded me a bit of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver in that both books talk about a serious environmental issue that is directly caused by human negligence or ignorance or downright assholishness, but they come at these issues through the carefully woven and well-developed points of view of very fictional characters. This is the first Joyce

Carol Oates I’ve read so I can’t say if environmentalism is a common theme in her works or if this is a one-off for her, but it definitely works well here. I wonder if she used the characters to tell the story of Love Canal, or if Love Canal made the perfect historical setting for the characters that had already created themselves. Either way, it worked.

I say read The Falls if you like taking a different look at an historical event, if you like characters that are so well-developed that you want to find out what happens even though you kind of hate them, or if you simply want a good and engaging read. It’s worth it.

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

  • Modern literature
  • Paperback, library check-out
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A Pulitzer Prize-winning book

Oh man, what a great book. I’ve been encouraged to read Anne Tyler, both because she’s an awesome writer and because she’s a fellow Marylander, but this is the first of her books I’ve ever read. That Pulitzer was extremely well-warranted.

Breathing Lessons is a look at a single day in the lives of married couple Maggie and Ira Moran, from Baltimore Maryland. They’re on a road trip to some little town just across the line in Pennsylvania for the funeral of Maggie’s best friend Serena’s husband. Through a series of events and flashbacks, we get a look deep inside of their lives both as individuals and as half of a couple who are well into their second decade together.

Maggie and Ira’s personalities, behaviors, and interactions are as much a part of the plot as anything else. I glanced through an interview at the end of the book and Tyler said that she’s not much of an action writer, and I agree based on this book alone. It all unfolds through conversations and memories and there is almost no action. The few places where setting is used to convey the story are few and far between, and are so well-written that each one packed a punch I am still remembering – the description of Maggie’s hand trailing across the privet hedge, the view down the two streets in the town where Serena lived with her husband, the bubbling up of Coke out of a bottle that wasn’t held quite still – all beautiful, evoking feelings layered on top of clear visuals.

I’m pretty sure that the thing that will stay with me the longest was the conversation Maggie had with her mother about Fiona, the 17 year-old bride of Maggie’s 18 year-old son. The mother claims that Fiona isn’t even from Baltimore – she’s such an outsider that she can’t even pronounce Wicomico – she says “Weeko-meeko” instead. We live in Wicomico county and this is such a random and true fact that it cracked me up (It’s pronounced why-com-ih-coe, if you’re curious).

If I was one to use stars, this book would get five out of five. There is nothing I didn’t love about it. The characters are so well-developed that I feel like they’re relatives, the setting is perfect for the story (an open country road, occasionally dotted with farms and tiny crossroads-towns is the perfect place to delve into your memories, especially if you’re not driving), and the arc is incredibly well-done considering the story only covers twenty-four hours. I’ll be looking for every single book she’s written.

I’ll be redundant and give my recommendation: READ IT.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

  • Coming of age
  • Paperback, library book (YA section)
  • PopSugar category: A banned book

I’ve heard, more times than a few, comparisons between A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye. Since I  read Catcher so recently, I found those comparisons in the front of my mind as I went into A Separate Peace. I found obvious similarities in setting (a boy’s boarding school in New England), voice (both are narrated by a boy in high school), and war as a sub-theme (Catcher is set just after World War I and Peace during World War II). Yes, it would be easy to call them similar based on those things.But there are more differences than similarities.

Although Gene has been with his class at Devon, he’s a bit of an outsider because he’s not a native New Englander. We never find out where he’s from, except that it’s south, but not as far south as he sometimes pretends (my guess would be Maryland or Virginia – not that it matters). He’s smart and intellectually driven. His roommate Phineas, or Finny, is from Boston and is Gene’s opposite and many ways. Finny is graceful and athletic, the frequent descriptions of how he moves and how he occupies space are sheer poetry. Finny is popular and a born leader, is irreverent and a natural storyteller, is unconsciously aware of his ability to enchant all around him. And because of the sort of person that he is, he chooses outsider brainiac Gene as his best friend.

Of course, things go awry. Gene is all but eaten up with jealousy of Finny and is at an age where he doesn’t really understand what he’s feeling or why. He lets the feelings rule, though, and does something that will touch him for the rest of his life. In fact, the story that we’re told is a much older Gene’s memories of what happened, memories brought to the surface by a visit to the school when he’s much older.

I’ve commented before on the fact that I keep reading books set in World War II. I get that as a device; it’s so multi-faceted and well-documented that it’s a great go-to. But where some books I’ve read use the war as a sort of scapegoat, easy out, others weave it in so well that it is a natural part of the narrative. A Separate Peace is the second type. I was left with the feeling that such things could only happen in that atmosphere; in a school that should have honored academics above all else, Devon was focusing on creating soldiers and making athletic ability king.

If you’re like me and were never assigned this book to read in school, you should really check it out. It’s more a look at jealousy and the darker side of adolescence than historical fiction. It reads smoothly and quickly and the ending is not what you’d expect it to be. Don’t pay any attention to the naysayers who claim that the book was irrelevant when it was published and is even more so now – jealousy is not something that ceased to exist with the coming of the 21st century.
Currently Reading 

  • Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

On Deck

  • The Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

There’s been some reading going on up in here

Spring Break meant lots of reading…

Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fenimore Cooper

  • Classic literature
  • Kindle e-book, free from the classics section
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book more than 100 years old

I was going to start out by saying that this is the first time I’ve read anything by James Fenimore Cooper, but then I remembered that he wrote The Last of the Mohicans – hasn’t everyone read that?

This was a cute, funny, odd little book. It’s told from the first person point of view of a handkerchief in a stretch of anthropomorphism greater than any I’ve seen before. The handkerchief, through some sort of hanky osmosis, absorbs things that happen around it and is then able to comment on such things as society and relationships. Although pocket handkerchiefs are asexual by nature, this one leans more toward the female side because it’s all lace-edged and whatnot. Quite a piece of artistry, if it does say so itself (and it does, many times).

In all, this was an interesting tongue-in-cheek way to give an insider’s look at both Paris and New York society in the early 1800s. I found many parallels to Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, which is set nearly 100 years in the future from the handkerchief’s New York society; it seems a whole lot of nothing changed between Cooper’s and Wharton’s New Yorks. I think I may need to read Gatsby again now to sort of close the loop.

My advice: take a look at this one. It’s short, unlike the “typical” classic novel, and it’s really funny. Cooper is a master of sarcasm.

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

  • Coming of Age
  • Hard cover (from a library book sale)
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book at the bottom of your reading list

Wow. Freaky, weird, insane, surprising… you get the point. I think this is one of those books that made it onto my reading list thanks to Oprah, and I can see why now that I’ve finished it. It’s whack, and I totally did not even close to guess what was coming at the end.

The story is told from the point of view of Harley, a guy who was 18 and fresh out of high school when his mom shot his dad to death in the kitchen of their little house in the hills of western Pennsylvania. He agrees to become the guardian of his three younger sisters and goes from a guy trying to figure out what to do with his life to an adult with major responsibilities overnight. Of course, shenanigans follow, some of them just plain crazy.

I found this book to be well-written to the point that it was compelling. I normally read more than one book at a time and had four in progress when I was reading Back Roads; I had to put the rest of them aside to read this. I stayed up late reading it. I was five minutes late to work because I picked it up in the morning. Yes, it was really like that. However, not being able to put it down doesn’t automatically put it into the category of lifetime-memorable. I’m pretty sure it won’t be one of those books that stick with me, in other words.

Oprah really likes books with twisty endings. I do, too, but this one was way twistier than typical. My recommendation: read it for the ending.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  • Classic – Romance
  • Paperback
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book with bad reviews

This is another of those classics that totally slipped past me when I was younger, and I’m glad it did. There’s no way that 15 or 20 or 30 year-old me would have understood and appreciated it like 45 year-old me does. Because it’s a classic, it’s been reviewed countless times and I don’t think I have anything to add on that front, so instead of a review I’ll tell how I came to read it.

I got the idea in my head a while ago, perhaps last summer or the summer before, time sort of runs together anymore, that I needed to attempt to read Dickens. Please don’t ask why, I can’t explain it. It was sort of this thing where I was thinking about all of the times in high school when I sort of scooted off to the bookstore and spent my hard-earned dollars on SparkNotes (remember when you had to actually buy them in book form?) so that I could have more time for other stuff, like making pizzas and therefore money, or studying for the classes where I was tested and not graded on my writing ability. I skipped a couple Dickens assignments and some sort of adult moralism that’s popped up, pretty much unwelcomed, started creeping into my middle-aged mind and telling me that I needed to actually experience these classics.

This newfound literary moralism happened to coincide with a period where my youngest step-daughter was in a reading phase. I can’t say enough about how important reading is to me, and how much I want to encourage a love of reading whenever I can. When the Squirrel asked for books, in other words, I was a willing accomplice with a credit card. So there I was in Barnes and Noble. She was in the YA section and I was standing in front of a display of Barnes and Noble-published classics that were, for a limited time only, buy one get one free. Right in front of me was “Great Expectations,” and that inner voice talked me into picking it up. Of course, another needed to be chosen to finish off the deal, right? I passed over books that I’ve read and loved; no Austen or Hemingway or Fitzgerald for me, thank you very much, and selected a volume titled “The Awakening and Selected Short Stories,” realizing I had never even heard of Kate Chopin before.

Fast-forward to about a month ago. I was trying to fill in slots on my reading challenge and Googled “classics with bad reviews,” and to my surprise there was “The Awakening,” which was sitting on the shelf waiting for some love. I penciled it in and went about my life. I found myself between library books not long ago – I mostly only check out e-books and was waiting for some to become available – and I picked the book up and started to read. I put it down a couple times when library books came up, since I own it and can go back to it whenever. Once I got to about the middle (if you’ve read it, the part when the family goes back to the city), I was no longer able to put it down. I find it hard to believe that this book, this very racy book that was written by a woman, was actually published in 1899. It is so good. The story amazed me, and the ending almost made me cry. I felt what Edna, the main character, felt. I find myself now wanting to retell the story in a modern setting. And the phrase “think of the children” is bouncing around my head like a ping pong ball on crack.

In a nutshell, if you’ve not read this book, read it. You won’t regret it.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

  • Historical fiction
  • Recommended by Barb from the 2KnitLitChicks podcast, library e-book
  • PopSugar category: A book a friend recommended

I read a lot of books set in or during wars, and WWII is by far the most popular. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is one of these. It’s the story of three women: Emma, a small town doctor’s bride; Iris, the postmaster in that same small town; and Frankie, a war correspondent for CBS. Through some maneuvering and coincidences, their paths end up crossing and twisting together in not unexpected ways.

I skimmed some of the reviews on Goodreads and they seem to be universally terrific or terrible, with not much middle ground. I’m firmly in the middle on this one. The writing is quite good. I could see the research that went into creating the character of Frankie and the London blitz scenes, which were the best parts (however, they in no way compare to the same scenes as described in Life After Life). I found I sort of liked Frankie and rooted for her and wanted to really get to the bones of her story, but that wasn’t in the cards. I also had to read about the two-dimensional characters back in Franklin, Massachusetts.

Emma, the weeping childlike bride, has lived alone her whole life but is incapable of living alone after her husband goes to war. Iris, the postmaster, is some sort of letter-sorting automaton – when she does things outside of the established bounds of her character’s two-dimensions, she actually comments that what she is doing isn’t in her character.

I think I would really enjoy the story of Frankie, female war correspondent, living in London during the blitz and then traveling occupied Europe on a press pass. It’s unfortunate that Emma and Iris had to be a part of it at all.

I’d say this is worth a read if you’re looking for a quick read that’s pretty well-written, but if you want a story that you can love, choose something else.

Currently Reading:

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

On Deck:

  • Breathing Lessons by
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

All the yarn belong to me

Folks, I went a a bit of a shopping spree and might have over-bought yarn. Wait – is that even possible? Probably. I don’t know.

It’s the evening of the end of my Spring Break. I’ve accomplished housework, going to the gym, visiting my mom, reading some books (more on that in this week’s book reviews), and paying a couple really sweet local vendors’ car payments. I’m a giver, what can I say?

First there was A Little Bit Sheepish, where I got a prezzy for my mom: eight skeins of Plymouth Encore in assorted colors and an Addi crochet hook (F, my favorite). I didn’t take any pictures, sorry. I also got a little something for me there, too: one ball of Lana Gatto Feeling (70% merino, 20% silk, 10% cashmere – 100% AWESOME) in pink (the color is a number) and a hank of Shepherd’s Wool in Misty Blue.

Next there was Victorian Charm, where I picked up some gloves on clearance (next Christmas already in the works!) and Very Bradley wallet and ID case that are so fabulously preppy that they make visions of argyle dance through my head. They don’t exactly match my new Kavu purse. I don’t exactly care – I am in love with all of them. So there.

Love, right? Image credit

vb

Sure, I don’t match, but aren’t I cute? Image credit

Then it was on to Kitshy Stitch, after a water-gas-coffee-sammy stop, where even more yarn just decided it needed to come home with me. I got a hank of Malabrigo worsted in sapphire green and two hanks of Cascade 220 sport in navy and light blue.

My final shopping spree stop was Candy Kitchen so I could hook my parentals up with a box of Pony Tails (saltwater taffy). There may have also been some 50% off Valentine’s day candy corn – I can neither confirm nor deny that part.

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All my lovely yarns. There’s a ball of Knit Picks Chroma in the middle.

The shopping spree was wicked, wicked fun. And did I mention that a Knit Picks box came in the mail like two days before? It contained two balls of Chroma in Avalon and a big old pile of Wool of the Andes superwash. I’m up to my ears in really, really nice yarn, y’all. I haven’t even touched the stuff from the OC Fiber Festival yet and more keeps rolling in! It’s getting to the point where Wayne has suggested creating me some sort of yarn storage system. I think I just need to knit/crochet more. He’s probably got the better plan.

I’ve been working on Easter goodies lately. My big projects – the vest-ish and the half-circle shawl – get a couple rows here and there but it’s been mostly amigarumi for the past couple weeks. I’m having fun, which I think is a big part of why I do all of this. And I’m using Meemaw’s yarn, which makes me very happy.

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It’s back to work tomorrow. I might spend at least part of the day dreaming about what to do with all of my lovely new yarn. 🙂

If I had to choose…

I love the “if I had to choose” game. Sometimes I make it difficult – you’re on a sinking ship with your whole family, you can only save three people, who do you choose? Normally, though, I try to keep it lighthearted and fun. If I had to choose between reading and chocolate (or any candy at all really), what would I choose? Reading, of course. If I had to choose between going blind or deaf I’d choose blindness because I can still listen to books (and theoretically learn to read braille) and I would also get to keep music. Sometimes I give myself impossible choices like knitting or books (the answer is I would refuse to choose and take whatever consequences result, while humming Freewill).

I’ve started listening to the podcast Literary Disco. I knew I’d love it based on the opinions of some other podcasters to whom I listen, so I started from Episode 1 and am working my way forward. They do a segment called “Bookshelf Revisit” where they choose a book from their own collections and do a quick review. In Episode 5, Julia reviewed A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. This is one of my favorite books of all time ever, bar none. One of the categories on my reading prompt is “a book from your childhood” and it clicked directly into place – I logged into Amazon and found a boxed set of the five books in the Time series. They are in the cart, waiting for the next Amazon order. I am on the edge of my proverbial seat, imagining reading them all in order. Hopefully I can line up another day like today, which has been the ultimate Lazy Day today. I’ve done a couple small things – laundry, dishes, hanging up the new shower curtain – but mostly I’ve been quite lazy and reading books.

Speaking of books, which I do a lot, here are the books I’ve finished since the last review. It’s been a slow week…

Ordinary Life by Elizabeth Berg

  • Short stories
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: None

AMAZING. Totally, completely, wonderfully amazing. Elizabeth Berg is a storyteller, for sure, whether the story is novel-length or shorter, and this book is a terrific example of her mad story skillz.

I’m not going to talk about the individual stories or pick a favorite, like I even could, that would be like picking a favorite child. I’ll instead talk about what they have in common. Almost all of them are from the point of view of a female, most of them grown women. There are a couple of exceptions, but even with those I got a feeling that there was a grown woman in the background pulling the strings, so to speak. All are wonderfully crafted. All are complete in and of themselves, introducing characters that are staying with me in a similar manner to those in really good novels.

While this book doesn’t really fit in with my reading challenge, it is a direct offspring of the challenge. I didn’t take the time to read short stories before I read One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak and remembered high school English class. Short stories are fabulous! How on earth did I let myself forget that little fact?

I recommend Ordinary Life to anyone over the age of 15 who reads (but I normally don’t read with kids in mind so 15+ a thin line). It’s amazing.

Five Minutes Late by Rich Amooi

  • Romance
  • Free e-book download from Bookbub
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: NONE

This is the story of Ellie the librarian and Cedric the garlic farmer. They’re star-crossed and made for each other (it’s a romance novel so I’m not giving anything away by telling you that). It’s cute and funny and caused me to be late for work because I got easily pulled into its cute-sweetness. It’s a quick and lighthearted read. One of my favorite things about the book was the trivia – Cedric was always challenging Ellie, who is the queen of random facts. I’m assuming her answers were correct but hey, who can really say.

However… there were a couple parts in the book that bothered me. As per the norm in a romance novel, everyone is beautiful, something I always find issue with. Why can’t normal people fall in love? There were more than a couple pronoun issues (they for him and the like). And the ending? Well let’s say it was a HUGE stretch and leave it there. Everything neatly wrapped out, which is something I totally appreciate in a book, but perhaps a bit too neatly.

I’d recommend this book if you’re not a grammar nerd, don’t mind an implausible ending, and like really light-hearted romance.

In Progress:

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell
  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  • Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fennimore Cooper

On Deck:

  • Orphan Train by Christine Baker Klein
  • Jenny Pox by JL Bryan
  • Pam of Babylon by Suzanne Jekins

Yarnaholics anonymous

Next week is Spring Break – the students are off the whole week, and faculty/staff is off Monday – Wednesday. I plan to play little housewife on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Monday will be something totally different.

There are three LYSs (local yearn shops) within driving distance of our house. One is 47 miles south, the second is 25 miles to the east, and the third is 47 miles northeast. The southern one is closed on Mondays, which is actually good for my plan. I’m going to leave my house and go to A Little Bit Sheepish and then from there Kitschy Stitch. What’s super cool is that my parents’ house will then be on my way back home so I can stop there and drop off Mom’s birthday card. Yarn, LYS visits, and Mom and Dad hugs all in the same day! Doesn’t that sound just marvelous?

I’m not planning to buy anything but I’m sure the yarn will call to me in its siren voice and I will be hooked (pun totally intended). I think a skein or two of something soft and lovely would be just fine, don’t you?

And on a related subject, the reservations are made for the weekend of MSW. We’re starting out in Gettysburg on Saturday and then fibering it all up on Sunday. It’s going to be just fantastic, I know it. Plus it’s been a while since the hubs and I have gone away and it will be good to stretch our proverbial wings and see something new.

And I’m pretty sure that knit-crochet group is meeting this Sunday, even though I haven’t gotten the email. I’m guessing that the lack of email is attributable to a user issue, and I intend to assist with that the next time I see our emailer. I’m not a tech for nothing, y’all!

Recent projects:

rabbid

  • My version of rabbid
  • Some Easter eggs (sorry no pics)

Still working on:

On desk:

Ye Olde Weekly Book Post

It’s been a week. There were a few times when I didn’t feel like reading (gasp) so .my word consumption is down a bit. I also found my way to BookBub – a friend pointed me in that direction, and in the odd way that the world is full of coincidences, I saw it mentioned in an article the next day. I signed up, logged in, an proceeded to collect something like forty books. I’m going to give them a try, even if none of them were on my reading list.

And speaking of the reading list, I think I’ve reached a point where it’s not going to be so easy to read for the PopSugar challenge. I’m about 50% done with the list and it’s early March, so I’m not concerned that I won’t finish. I’m sort of liking this whole share what I read thing, though. I’m thinking I’ll just read as I want to, put things on the list when they fit, and then share all of them. This week, though, everything I read fit the challenge.

A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

First, allow me to offer my humblest apologies to Mrs. Jackson, my English teacher for my last three years of school. I am quite sure that she’s the one who assigned this book that I only read the first two or three pages of. I know! How could a nerd like me have participated in such shenanigans? It’s straight up crazy talk.

The real craziness, though, is that this is an extraordinarily awesome book No wonder it’s a classic. No wonder it keeps getting assigned in English classes all over the US. It’s terrific, nearly timeless, and generally wonderful. I’ve read more than a handful of books that attempt to explain, through various methods, the “American condition,” and what it really feels like to be a certain type of person or a given age. None has ever gotten it quite as right as this. Salinger manages to create a character who is simultaneously light-hearted and depressed, who hates everyone but loves a few to absorption, who is bold and afraid. In other words, he shows us the ageless and timeless teenager, in a masterfully well-written manner.

I’m glad I didn’t read this as a teenager; I suspect it hit me harder and settled deeper than it would have thirty years ago. It’s a feeling akin to taking the glasses off of the nerdy girl and discovering beauty.

A book by an author you’ve never read before

While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin

If I was a giver of stars, this book would get 2.5. It was interestingly descriptive and fabulously well-researched. I’m a fool for historical fiction, the more accurate the better, and Austin hit the nail on the head on accuracy.

This is the story of what amounts to three families living in Brooklyn during World War II. Eddie Shaffer decides that he can’t bear the grief of mourning his dead wife and enlists in the Army, even though he has two young children. His assumption that his mother, a hoarder who is nearly immobilized by rheumatism, will take care of them is quickly shown to be false. The shy and overly-protected next-door neighbor of his mom, Penny Goodman, steps in and volunteers.

After a lifetime of thinking she’s in love with the handsome son of her neighbor and being afraid of everything thanks to her controlling and odd parents, Penny packs up a couple paper bags of clothes and moves into Eddie’s apartment. Esther, the older daughter, hates her immediately because she’s not their mom. The other child, Peter, has mysteriously stopped talking. The downstairs neighbor and landlord, Jacob, is Jewish and Penny has been taught to fear Jews. She’s got herself in quite a pickle, in other words.

It’s got the makings of a great story. I read it to the end, even though it fell down for me in a couple places. Many of the sub-plots were so predictable that, when they finally played out, I found myself thankful they were done and we would no longer need to hear about them. The bits and pieces that would have been pretty cool and interesting were repeated so many times that I actually spoke aloud to the book, saying things like “Yes, we know.

It was a great story, the writing itself wasn’t terrible, but it was seriously redundant. 🙂

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

I love Jennifer Weiner – she’s one of those go-to’s for me. If you’re curious, some of the others are Neil Gaiman, Wally Lamb, Sohpie Hanna, and Elizabeth Berg. There are more, but those are the ones that popped right to the front of my head. They all write consistently wonderful stories. They’re all excellent in-betweeners; authors that I know will bring me back to the center of my love of reading when I’ve drifted off to things that don’t necessarily knock my socks off.

In this book, Weiner tells the story of a middle-class housewife with an embarrassing habit: pain meds. We follow Allison through an often painful journey (unintended pun there) as she works through a habit that just might be an addiction.

Allison’s antics made me cringe, laugh, and cry. She’s a terrifically developed character and I can imagine running into her at the library, Yoga Flow, even A Little Bit Sheepish. She reads like every 30-something female’s friend. Her daughter is hilarious and her best friend is the perfect foil. I found to book to be gorgeous and hard to put down. It wasn’t quite the hug-it-to-your-chest-when-you-finish type book, but awfully close. I’m trying to decide what my favorite thing was, the single element that gave me the most joy in reading this, and I think it’s probably the arc that Allison’s character takes. In my head, it’s a nearly perfect sine wave: from dead center to the top, then crashing down past center and farther than she thought she could fall (I agreed with her), then climbing back up again. Her rise-fall-rise is just gorgeous.

Currently Reading

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Ordinary Life by Elizabeth Berg
  • Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

On Deck

  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  • Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fennimore Cooper

And a random note: I just discovered that last week’s book post got lost somehow. I normally create them early in the week and schedule them to publish on Sunday – I imagine something in that process got wonky. Since I write from four different devices (typically, more can pop in from time to time), I’m not sure where it could be. I didn’t forget to write it; rather I forgot to verify. Sorry y’all.

High fiber diet, please!

Looks like another post about yarn. Are you too excited to sleep, or what?

First, let’s talk about my quite wonderful husband. He has many good qualities, more than I could even list, and I keep finding new ones. One quality he does not have tons of is patience. The two (maybe three, but definitely not more than three) times I’ve asked him to hold a hank of yarn while I roll it into a ball, well, he’s done it, but not with what I would call grace or pleasure. It’s more like sighing and eye-rolling. Of course that makes me laugh, but I do my best to stuff it down because I really want his help.

I told you we went to the OC Fiber Festival but I’m not sure I mentioned that I came home with six hanks and two skeins of yarn. Two of the hanks were 600 yards. He stared at them lined up on the kitchen table and got a look in his eye that I think a bear would have just as it feels the trap closing on its foot. And then we did some shopping on Amazon….

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Yep, that’s an umbrella swift (from KnitPicks) and a ball winder. And, of course, coffee. I caked up all that yarn, thousands of yards of it, in an afternoon. And rather than the oh crap what have I agreed to and is it too late to run look on my sweet husband’s face, I had him jumping in to help with tensioning and loading the swift. I say that’s a win-win-WIN situation!

Projects have progressed, mostly forward. Here’s the finished blanket I made for K*, a friend of one of my step-daughters:

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I used a modification of this tutorial from Bob Wilson, basically just making it wider and shorter.

I also threw together a wee hat from this pattern (with some minor mods):

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Isn’t it cool how the colors pooled into those jiggly stripes? The pompom was a last minute thing. I squee’ed at it but doubt I’ll do it again; I’m just not sure how washable it will be. Both the hat and the blanket have been stuck in a gift bag and sent via sneaker-net to the mama-to-be.

On the in-progress front, I got a few more rows done on the thing I am calling Vest-ish, because it’s kind of like a vest. Here’s a progress shot for you:

IMG_0111.JPGThere’s a section of 1X1 twisted rib between the 2-color and solid black sections. The solid black is looser and sort of flowy by comparison. I’m going for something along the lines of an empire-waist and am aiming for approximately mid-hip for the length. I started from this pattern but veered off when I ran out of the lavender.

We finally did a test-fit of the socks that stalled and discovered (again) why we need to check gauge. It looked like Wayne had his toes stuck in a brown paper bag, they were so loose. I’ve frogged and restarted and am going to go with the organic try-as-I-go method that I used when I made my son’s slipper socks for Christmas. I’ll have to take notes so both socks come out the same (ugh! I hate stopping my flow to take notes!).

The final on-the-needles project is the half-round shawl I started a couple weeks ago because I thought it suited the mostly cotton yarn I picked up at Tuesday Morning. I’ve told myself that I must make serious progress on the three current projects before I start something new. I do really want to throw together a pair of fingerless gloves for Wayne and some mittens for me, but I am being good. Plus winter will be all gone soon and the urge for mittens should pass with it. Right?

If you wanna be friends, you’ll find me on Ravelry as TheKnitGeek. Send me a friend request so I can look at your awesomeness and give me a reason to waste even more time on there!

Oh wait, is this non-book thing becoming a THING?

Perhaps it is…

First: some random facts:

  • It’s been cold. I’m clumsy. Add those things together and you get ice-slippage, landing on my bum, and several days of back pain. Hopefully I’m past the worst of it.
  • I’ve been spending less time than I like on things that aren’t related to playing silly games on electronic devices. And a corollary fact: Trivia Crack is extraordinarily well named.
  • And oh yeah – I totally got my acceptance letter (OMG OMG OMG). Graduate school? Possible mid-life career change? Looks like it might be happening. (OMG OMG OMG)

As per the norm, I am all but wrapped up in all things fiber. Wayne and I went to the Ocean City Fiber Festival on Saturday (this is pre-slippage). I was a very good fiber-a-holic. I got enough upcycled merino in this crazy awesome pink color to make a Vitamin D. I got some really pretty wool-acrylic blend that’s destined to be a Now in a Minute. There was also some cloud-soft, hand-spun, undyed cotton that I have no plans for but could not leave there. It was $5.00 for 600 yards! I know!

I saw a good portion of my knit-crochet group at the festival, which made me very happy. My favorite pizelle maker even gave Wayne a great big hug! He looked a little like he was on stage and had never seen a script, but he lived through it. Poor guy – since he met me he has pretty much taken up residence outside his comfort zone. He does indeed love me to bits. 🙂

Plans are in the works for a weekend trip rather soon. We’re talking about going to Maryland Sheep and Wool this year (SQUEE!). Tentative plan is to leave here before sunup on Saturday and drive across the Bay to the festival, and then spend most of the day there. When we leave, we’ll drive up to Gettysburg, where we will spend the night and then wander around the battlegrounds on Sunday morning. We’ll drive back home after lunch on Sunday. In case you missed it, that’s a Saturday of fiber and a Sunday of history – two of my very favorite things. I’m wicked excited.

There’s not a lot to report on the actual construction of items made from yarn this week. I finished one small project but I’m going to wait until I try it out to talk about it – maybe next week if I remember to do this again. I have four things in progress: a baby blanket, a sock, a shawl, and a sweater-vest-thingee. I’m planning to whip up a baby hat as soon as I finish the blanket and get them off to their new home soon – hopefully they will have moved on by this weekend. I’m also putting the sock in my travel project bag so it will go places with me and perhaps receive some love. I mean, seriously – it’s a sock, I cast it on like 2 weeks ago. That’s crazy, right?

In case you’re interested, these are the lovely vendors from whom I purchased awesome fiber at the OC Fiber Festival:

I just hope Wayne understands that MSW will be about 1000 times as awesome, so I’ll have to spend a bunch more money. I mean, seriously? It’s MARYLAND SHEEP AND WOOL. I may possibly be more excited about a wool festival than I am about the whole master’s degree thing. Odd, that. 😉

And the book love continues

It’s time for another stunning and fabulous update on my insane amounts of reading! Aren’t you excited? I know you are.

A book with nonhuman characters

Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan

This is the story of the author and his awesome service dog, Tuesday. You can pick which is the nonhuman. 🙂

Capt Monlalvan is a veteran of the Iraq war. He served two tours. He was injured in the line of duty and was awarded the Purple Heart. His injuries eventually led him to muster out. He then spent a couple years being entirely miserable until he was lucky enough to get matched up with Tuesday. Tuesday offers him a safe place to be when the world around him pecks at his PTSD, a steady back when his brain injuries cause him to get dizzy, a slobbery mouth for shoe-fetching because it’s wicked hard to pick up shoes with a back injury.

I learned a great deal about one man’s point of view of the war, told by a man who is a journalist, a public speaker, and an advocate for disabled vets. The story is interesting, but… in a couple places, Montalvan talks about folks who speak against him. After I finished the book, I did a little Googling and discovered that there are men who served with him who doubt that his injuries were quite as bad as he makes out. One voiced surprise that he won the Purple Heart. My opinion? Even if he is exaggerating his injuries, it’s still a great story. He loves that dog, and following along as they get to know each other was totally worth it.

A book with antonyms in the title

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

You’d think it’s non-fiction week or something! It’s not. Well, not entirely.

So this book. I heard about it on 2 Knit Lit Chicks and it made its way onto my “to read” list because it sounded interesting. And oh yes, it was very interesting.

The author tells the story of what happened at Memorial Medical Center, a mid-sized hospital in New Orleans, during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina. She won the Pulitzer for investigative journalism for this book and yes, it was well-deserved, and then some. No stone was left unturned. No story was left untold. Nothing about the story was beaten to death – rather, it was told without a whole lot of drama on Ms. Fink’s part, but read with a ton on mine. This was one of those books that required me to stop and read things aloud to Wayne, normally followed by a “can you believe that???” or preceded by an “Oh my GOD listen to this” or both.

The nuts and bolts of the story are here in much less detail, but it’s true to Fink’s story. I would recommend reading the book, though, and not just the article. Some of the things that happened made me want to build a time machine, go back in time, and punch some doctors and nurses in the throat. And I’m non-violent. They killed people. Seriously. Killed them. I want to tell you more, but y’all should really read the book and find out for yourselves. It’s a terrifically written saga of some terrifically horrid crap.

A book you can finish in a day

Rising Tides and Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts

Make that two books I read in a day. Yes, two. In one day (I did some other reading, too – it was a snow day after all). I am on a Nora Roberts diet now, I swear. That was a good seven to eight hours that should have been spent on Lonesome Dove. But anyway!

These are books 2 and 3 of the Chesapeake Bay Saga (I read Book 1 last week to fit the “book set in your hometown”). They were sweet little stories, except:

  • Every character is beautiful and lovely and handsome and intelligent except the kid’s crack whore mom
  • Every single person knows how to sail (with one exception… see the next bullet)
  • The only person who can’t sail is oddly and totally unbelievable. She’s some sort of virginal egghead who wears satin undies and thigh-highs? Sorry – no.
  • And my biggest niggling UGH: the fictional town of St. Chris is on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake and the streets in town run westward from the water. Map that out and I’m quite sure you’ll agree with me that the townspeople are merfolk. There’s no other way it could happen.

The only other complaint I have is that since I’ve read six Nora Roberts books in the recent past, my Kindle keeps giving me screen-saver ads for other romance novels. Amazon now thinks I have sponge-brain. Ugh.

Currently Reading

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (initial reaction – slow but good and the 1980’s-era mini-series was dead on)
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King (initial reaction OH MY GOD THIS IS A GOOD BOOK, and the librarian told me there’s a mini-series in the works for this one so yes!)

On Deck

  • Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin