Monday, July 31, 2017

A Very Good Month of Books Indeed

1.  The Girl From Everywhere, Heidi Heilig - I discovered this book through NPR's 2016 book concierge, one of several I put on my wish list.  Oh my.  It's a true delight!  Truly unique idea, fantastic characters that really drew me in, excellent pacing, and thought-provoking concepts.  Mostly, though, it's just a really good story.

2.  The Ship Beyond Time, Heidi Heilig - So of course, I had to read the follow-up.  It wasn't quite as magical, but I loved it as well.  I love that Heilig used her books to ask really big questions, and I love the way she navigated those questions.  In retrospect, this could have been one of those books with the 'twist' ending that I hate (ahem, remember how ticked off I was with the Queen of the Tearling books?), but Heilig didn't go there at all, instead crafting an ending that was deeply, deeply satisfying.

3.  The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova - Oh.  My.  Lord.  I can't believe I forced myself through this awful book.  I LOVED Kostova's first book, The Historian.  Perhaps I should have paid better attention when the reviews said her second book wasn't good.  The third....well, it's ridiculous that I pushed myself to read this all the way through.  If the book were 1/3 of what it is then perhaps it would have been good.  The central story that Kostova is trying to tell could be an important one.  Unfortunately, she muddied it with a worthless framing device, pointless digressions, and writing techniques that tried to be fancier than was warranted.

4.  Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (audio) - It's been less than a year since I discovered this book, so to return with a reread so soon is unusual for me...but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to discover what the audio added to the story.

5.  Hunger, Roxane Gay (audio, read by the author) - As someone with a complicated relationship with my own body and with food, I related to this book in a way that some may consider surprising even though the details of my life and Gay's are not at all similar.  It's an important book, and I highly recommend it.  We don't talk honestly enough about our bodies, and this is an important first step.

6.  March, Geraldine Brooks - I think Louisa May Alcott would have approved of this beautiful novel that tells the story of what happened to the father of her "Little Women" while he was off at war.  It's a beautiful book - well-deserving of the accolades it received.  I've often been critical of writers who seek to capitalize on the classics, but this is one of the few cases where I've truly seen it done right.  Bravo, Ms. Brooks.

7.  Magic For Nothing, Seanan McGuire - Truth time, I was getting a bit tired of the Incryptid series, and the our youngest sibling just didn't capture my attention like her big sister and brother did. My one big problem with the entire series is that it takes too long to really get into the books.  In this case, I was 100 pages in before it captured my attention.  The entire first act was m'eh.  Oh well.  Still planning on reading the next one!

8.  The Changeling, Victor Lavelle - Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It was a perfect modern-day fairy tale, and I loved every minute.  Hands down, one of the best books I've read this year so far.  I've read one other Lavelle book, and knew I liked his writing style, but I honestly wasn't expecting a straight-up urban fairy tale.  Now I feel like I need to go read everything else he's ever done!

9. Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck - In doing a bit of research for my current job, I discovered a phenomenal website (Storytelling Nonprofit) run by a brilliant writer who recommended this book in one of her posts.  I was intrigued as it seemed to fit a particular need I have had for quite some time.  Haven't finished it yet because I'm working through the exercises, and it's just going to take time.  Truthfully, there's nothing in here that's new or surprising - it's a variation on a common theme with these sorts of books - but it is speaking my language, so I'm enjoying it.

10. Buried Heart, Kate Elliot - The final in the Fives trilogy.  Oddly enough, I had trouble getting into it.  The pacing felt different from the others, with the beginning being an extension of the end of the second book in a way that was a bit jarring to start with.  Overall, I'm satisfied with the series and I very much appreciated the way that Elliot finished it up, even though I felt it petered out a bit in the third book as if she'd lost a little bit of steam, and/or didn't have quite enough material to actually fill a third book.  That makes it sound worse than it was....I"m only a little bit disappointed that it wasn't as great as the first two.  Elliot will always be one of my favorites.

Giving Up On 'Em (for now):

11. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber - I wanted to like it, but ultimately it committed the crime of failing to make me actually care about any of the characters.  Life is just too short.

12. Mile Markers, Kristin Armstrong - Too precious, not enough insight, too suburban mommy blogger, nothing unique....too something, not enough substance.

13. One Square Inch of Silence, Gordon Hempton - I loved the interview that drew me to this book, but I just couldn't connect for whatever reason.  I suspect it's timing and it may go better at another time.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Reading Once Again

Apparently, all I needed to do to kick my reading into overdrive again was to declare that I had let go of my expectations for myself.

That, and I started focusing on finding good audio and tumbled into a series I enjoyed mightely....

1. Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell - Um...I'm not sure why I hadn't already read this, and am rather embarrassed about that oversite.  I finally did because it turned up on the itunes sale page, and I decided to snag it and give it a go.  So.  Much.  Fun.  And so much that was relatable for me.  Now I need to reread Carry On.  

2. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Sugestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (audio) - It's a brief book, but it's important.  I'll be buying copies for my daughters.   For all that I have made some very 'traditional' choices for myself, I'm a raging feminist at heart and I want my girls to have better.

3.  The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison, Mikita Brottman (audio) - Very interesting.  This is the author's memoir of her time running a book club in a men's prison, and I was captivated by both the books she taught and by the characters she  met.  It was fascinating, and humanizing.

4.  Word By Word, Kory Stamper - I heard an interview with Stamper on NPR, and immediatly put the book on hold.  Stamper is a lexicographer with Merriam-Webster, and this delightful book is both a memoir/slice of life and a book about words.  Now I think I know what I want to be when I grow up....or when I snap and finally become a hermit.

5.  Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire (novella) - This lovely little book is a Wayward Children book, following McGuire's brilliant Every Heart a Doorway.  It tells the backstory of Jack and Jill, and it will utterly and completely break your heart.  The Wayward Children books are very different than McGuire's other works, with beautiful language and a fairytale atmosphere that are a delight.  These are the McGuire books that really get into your heart and soul.

6.  Discount Armageddon, 7.  Midnight Blue-Light Special, 8. Half-Off Ragnarok, 9.  Pocket Apocalypse, 10.  Chaos Choreography, Seanan McGuire - Having read the novella, I decided to finally try McGuire's InCryptid series.  Truth be told, it was a huge shock switching from the Wayward Children novella (MCGuire's best writing is clearly in this series) to the InCryptid books, which are little more than popcorn fluff novels.  (This series is nowhere near as good as the October Daye books either.)  But, they were fun and unusual enough that I enjoyed them.  Every once in a while I had to work to keep reading (slow getting started in a couple of the books), but for the most part they kept me turning the 'page.'  I do enjoy that the series is about an entire family, as the change in characters between books kept it from becoming boring.  I am dissapointed with how flat the characters are...but then in this type of book that's almost to be expected.

11.  Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami (audio) - My first Murakami novel, and I'm in love.  It was lyrical with a slight tilt into the fantastic....and I enjoyed every minute.  (Bonus, multiple readers who were all amazing.)  I'm not at all sure I actually understood the whole thing.  Curiously enough, that's fine with me.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Books

1.  Assassin's Fate, Robin Hobb - This one was a doozy, both in length (864 pages) and scope (not only does it complete a trilogy, it completes a story that Hobb began 20 some years ago).  I've always loved Hobb's books, which not only give me grand fantasy epics, but which are also deeply character driven.  It says something that I've been reading her books for years and years and years, and I still remember details from all of them.  Hobb always writes in trilogies, and they are all connected in some way.  This actually marks the end of the third and final trilogy about Fitz and the Fool, and I believe it may also mark the end of Hobb's playing in this particular world.  I say this because in many ways this last book was a who's who, in which we revisited the lead characters and locations of all of Hobb's other books.  Felt very much like a last harrah, which was both fun and a little bit eyerolling at times.  It was a slow read.  These books are so character driven that sometimes there's a lack of urgency.  I finally blocked in an entire day to finish the last half.  (The pace, mercifully, picked up.)  I will make a complaint that the first half felt at times that it was recycling plot with one character.  (How many times can this happen....) Overall, though, it was a satisfying end.  Now...I wonder where Hobb will go next?

2. The Runner's Guide to Yoga, Sage Rountree - I've wanted this book for a long time, and finally invested in it.  First step, read it.  Second step, implement.  (That's going to happen after my race!)  I can't remember where I first came across Rountree, but I do love her style and appreciate her approach to yoga and running, which focuses on balance.

3. Miracle Mindset, JJ Virgin (audio, read by author) - JJ Virgin is a health and nutrition expert who's been around for quite some time.  I've never read her books, but I've seen her in various tv spots and know enough to have a healthy dose of respect for her.  Years ago I remember watching an interview with her in which she described her son's near fatal accident and spoke of how important it was to focus on her own health during his time in the hospital.  It made a big impression.  The message was, if you don't take care of yourself you can't take care of others.  Well, she's now written a book about that experience and about the life lessons she learned along the way.  Miracle Mindset is an interesting cross between memoir and the sort of self-help book that is about sharing life lessons rather than preaching at you.  I very much enjoyed it, and although I don't relate to Virgin in many ways (she's a very different personality than I am), it did leave me with some things to think about.

A note about my reading as of late:  Truth be told, now that I'm working full time I'm having to make some decisions about how to spend my limited free time, and reading is lower on the priority list than running (which I HAVE to do for my health) and knitting.  I realized too, that staring at a computer screen for much of the day leaves me not really wanting to stare at a book or a screen in my free time. My eyes and my brain need a break.  SOoooo....I'm revising my reading goals in order to make sure reading does continue.

1.  I'll be working to find more audio...and will be cutting back somewhat on the number of podcasts I listen to.
2.  Reducing my goals to five books/month, with one of them being an unfinished book.
3.  Oddly, I'll probably be reading more nonfiction for a while.  I find that as much as I love fiction, I don't have the emotional energy to invest in it right now.  That's ok, because I have a pile of nonfiction to get through!

Sunday, May 21, 2017


 As many of you know, I've been unable to shop in our local yarn stores for quite some time because of my alpaca allergies.  Well, to my selfish delight, the owner of True Blewe has developed the same problem, and so the store is now free of all alpaca products...which means I can shop again!  

(I should be clear - I'm VERY sorry that someone else has this problem, and I'm also not at all surprised given the market saturation/overexposure of alpaca products that they've reported that there are a lot of customers who share the same problem.)
 I found myself at True Blewe shortly after I was offered my job, and so I decided to treat myself to something new and different....and it just so happens that they had laceweight yarn made of yak in just exactly the shade of salmony pink that I love best.  It was meant to be.
 Words cannot describe how delicious this yarn is (or how much fun it is to say YAK YARN!!!).  It's buttery soft with a barely existing halo, and it knits up like a dream.  The silk adds sheen and is helping the finished shawl hold it's shape beautifully.

Given the hefty pricetag, I decided to work on a smaller shawl - more of a shawlette/scarf than anything else.  I'd fallen in love with Anna Victoria's patterns some time ago, and this gave me the perfect excuse to try one out.

Originally, I worked up the fancier version of Hortense - which has a lace pattern in the upper section - but I was never very happy with it.  It didn't flow into the beautiful lace as well as I'd hoped, and it was too fussy.  I wanted this shawl to show off the yarn AND the I ripped it out and started over with the 'plain version.'

Also, the pattern calls for beads, and as much as I love beads that would have been much too much for this particular yarn, which was luxurious enough on its own.
 Hortense by Anna Victoria
Reywa Fibers Bloom
50% Yak 50% silk
Addi Turbo 32" US 4, 3.5mm
March 23 - May 11, 2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Did I Read In April?

OK. Let's get real.  Going back to work after 14 years as a stay at home mom means that a lot is going to change.  One of the things that happened this month was that I just flat out didn't have time or energy to do much reading.  Trying to find balance to make sure I still get to enjoy the things I enjoy while giving my family what they need is tricky!  So this is the shortest list I've ever presented.  Hopefully next month will be better!

Interesting note:  nonfiction was considerably more appealling for some reason this month.  I've actually started a couple of other nonfiction books to share next month.  I'm normally a fiction girl, so this is an intersting development.

1.  Searching For Sunday, Rachel Held Evans - Beautiful.  Another lovely book in line with my religious viewpoints, this time on what it means to search for a church that is truly Christ-like.  Evens will be speaking at SPEC this summer, and I can't wait.

2.  The Ask, Laura Fredricks - This was a career development book that was recommended by my new boss..  It's about how to be a fundraiser in the nonprofit world, and was actually quite helpful as it focuses on direct asks, which is an area I need to develop!  Also gave me an opportunity to do some serious reflecting about some serious topics.

3.  First Ladies of Running, Amby Burfoot - I needed some inspiration, and had picked this up quite a while ago on sale.  I didn't expect to be quite so moved by it...and many times I found myself in tears over various stories.  Burfoot's writing style got a little bit repetative, but that's a quibble.

4.  Within The Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan - The final Lady Trent book was released this month, and it's the one fictional book I made it through.  Win!  (Truth:  I started three other novels, and kept getting distracted despite the fact that they were all fun.)  I'm going to miss Lady Trent...and I may have to put these books on the list of hardbacks to acquire.  Isabella is just exactly the sort of plucky female I love...and I ADORE the fact that these books took her from childhood through middle-age with hints into her elder years (from when she is writing).  It was a gift!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saying Good-Bye Is Hard To Do

 Let's pause for a moment to acknowledge the awesomeness that was my 50th pair of handknit socks. 


Socks aren't forever, and normally I can let them go with ease....but this kind of hurts.

You see, this was the very first sock yarn I bought.  Not knowing, exactly, how much yarn I needed to knit a pair of socks, I bought two skeins of Opal instead of just one.  My dad was the recipient of my very first pair, and years later I celebrated a milestone by using that second skein to knit my 50th pair for myself.

And today they gave up the ghost.


All good things come to an end, thank you beloved socks for years of awesome warm, comfortable service to my tootsies.

Friday, March 31, 2017

March Reading

1. A Conjuring of Light, V.E Schwab -That loud squealing you heard at the end of February was my excitement when this book showed up in my inbox!  It's the final book in one of the most amazing trilogies I've come across in a really long time, and I'm happy to say that it more than lived up to the awesomeness that was the first two books.  (And as a reading experience, this more than made up for the dissapointment in the Tearling books)  Schwab is a gifted writer who's managed to craft a series that's well balanced with strong world building, characters, plot, and action, which makes for an excellent read.  If I had to pick one thing that I love the most, though, I would have to say that I absolutely adore the characters that she's created.  They are all complex, interesting, flawed, and uniquely cardboard characters here.  Pretty spectacular.  May need to buy this series in's that good!

2.  A Shadow In Summer, Daniel Abraham - This is the first of a quartet that a friend of mine recommended a while back.  It also happens to be in the essential reading list on the iTunes fantasy page, so I decided to try it out.  So it's good, and very well written, but I'm not sure I fell in love with it enough to read the next three books in the series.   It didn't bode well that I put it down for a week and almost forgot to finish it.  Wish I could put my finger on what the problem is.  It's not exactly that anything is wrong with it so much as that it just didn't capture my interest.

3.  Gather Her Round, Alex Bledsoe - The newest of the Tufa novels, released just this month, and I'm happy to say that Bledsoe is back in form!  At this point these characters feel like old friends, and so I have high expectations about how they are treated in the books.  If you haven't read them, I wouldn't start here.  It's not that it wouldn't work as a stand's just that the series deserves to be started from the beginning.  This is what a truly unique, American fairy tale looks like.

4.  The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel (audio) - I'd seen this listed in the new books section on several sights, and was intrigued.  I snapped it up when I found it available immediately through the library.  Excellent book, intriguing subject, loved the way he handled it....telling the story with occasional philisophic breaks.  Two thumbs up from this wanna be hermit!  (Seriously, though, crazy!)

5.  Shockaholic, Carrie Fisher (audio) - Yep, I enjoyed The Princess Diarist that much.  It's just a treat to listen to Fisher read her own books!  Not much else to say about it though...

6. Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor -   I found Okorafor in a Neil Gaiman edited anthology, and picked up this award nominated book as part of my birthday binge.  I was blown away by this book.  It's beautiful, and mythic, and hard to read because you care about the characters so very much and you know bad stuff is going to happen.  I loved the ending more than I can possibly say.  I loved what it had to say about gender and power.  I loved reading a book in which a beautifully well-rounded woman drives the entire story.  Now, I must read everything Okorafor has ever read.  

7.  Luka and the Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie - I have tickets to see Rushdie at a local book festival next month, and it's been rather a bit of a question as to whether or not I should actually go given that I hadn't read any of his work before.  Problem was, I didn't have much interest in reading any of his books.  I dutifully checked them all out from the library...and then ignored them.  After an intersting conversation on FB on the subject, I tried listening to Rushdie's memoir...but, charming as it was, I had trouble working up interest for a 27 hour book about someone I hadn't read.  Then this book showed up...the last of the available digital books, finally available.  And my oh my, I fell in love.  I adore fairy tales and whimsy, but it's hard to do right and too often it comes across as being too precious.  This was just perfect.

8.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman (audio) - Because really, is there anything better than Gaiman reading his own work?  It reads like a child's mythology book, and I loved every minute even as I understand the criticism that's coming from some quarters that it's not scholarly enough.  This is a realm of myth that I'm not so familiar with, so it's all good to me!

Some Shorter Stuff, with a note:
My life changed pretty dramatically this month, as I went back to work full-time after 14 years as a Stay At Home Mom.  I stumbled upon the following short stories and novellas while browsing iTunes the week before my job started, and felt like they would be a great way to incorporate some reading once my reading time became more limited.  Plus, I just didn't have the attention span for a lot of long books this month.

9.  For Want of a Nail, Mary Robinette Kowel (short story) - I'm not typically in to Science Fiction, but this story won the Hugo in 2011, and I was curious, given how much I enjoyed Kowel's Glamourist Histories.  What I found was a curious story that posed more questions than it answered, which is what I think great Science Fiction is supposed to do.

10.  Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, Seanan McGuire (novella) - McGuire is extremely prolific - as in 'i kind of don't know how she manages to produce so many books.'  Fortunately, she also happens to be an extremely good writer.  This book is a ghost story, and it just so happens to be the sort of ghost story that I like best.  In fact, I cried buckets at the end.  In terms of her other work, this is more like McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway than her October Daye series...beautifully written, deeply emotional, speaking to the heart.

11. A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (novella) - This novella grabbed my attention because N.K. Jemisin had given it a blurb.  It's a love story with an ending I didn't see ending that made me cry buckets.  Totally worth it.

12.  The Escapement of Blackledge, Mary Robinette Kowel (novella) - This snagged  my attention because it was tagged as being for fans of Kowel's Glamourist Histories, which I most certainly am.  In a!  and hot!  oh my!

13.  Cold-Forged Flame, Marie Brennan (novella) - meh, which surprised me.  I expected more because Brennan is so much fun in her Lady Trent works.  Makes me question whether or not I want to try her other series.

And a note:  No unfinished books this month.  Whoops!