Monday, February 29, 2016

February Books

My pile of purchased and unread books - both in print and digital - has gotten a tad out of hand, so I'll be working over the next couple of months to read down that pile. 

1.  The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver - I decided to start cleaning up my to-read piles this month, both on the shelves and in my ipad.  I bought this one on sale through ibooks quite some time ago, and while I like Kingsolver she's not my normal cup of tea so it's gone unread for quite some time.  I really enjoyed it, but truth be told it didn't make much of a dent.  For me it was a pretty fast/easy/lighthearted read for all that it touches on some pretty deep subjects.  Ultimately, and I hate to admit it, it was pretty forgettable, though. 

2.  Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente - I'm not entirely sure why I bought this, other than because it was on the sale page.  I've shared before that I've had Valente fatigue, much as I admire her for what she's done.  This book, though....this was something else, and that something was pretty darn amazing.  It's a Wild West version of Snow White, and it's both achingly beautiful and pitch perfect.  (Truthfully, it reminded me of Susan Lowell's delightful children's books, which are southwestern versions of classic tales.  My husband's aunt lives in AZ, and she sent us many of the Lowell books when our girls were small.  Dustylocks was a great favorite!)  I kind of felt like the ending was a bit weak, but I'll forgive it because the rest was so good.  I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale, and reworkings of the classics have always been dear to my heart. 

3.  Six Months, Three Days, Charlie Jane Anders (short story) - I wanted to read more from Anders, so I picked up this short story.  I've got to say, the idea that the story based on was truly, truly original, and while it wasn't a story I particularly *enjoyed* it did give me a whole lot to think about.  (Incidentally, just the day before I read it I'd listened to an interview with one of the writers from the X-Files, and one of the subjects they talked about was very close indeed to the subject of this story  Fascinating!)

4.  Court of Fives, Kate Elliott - I adore Elliott, and so I quite naturally snapped this up - her newest book, and her first attempt at YA.  I most certainly enjoyed reading it, devouring it in 24 hours in a binge reading haze....but I'm not 100% sure how I feel about it.  Loved the idea, loved the characters.  Elliott specializes in feisty female leads, and Jess was wonderful as expected.  Maybe it's just that I love her *regular* novels so much, which made this feel a bit washed thin in comparison.  Maybe it's that there are other writers out there (ahem, Leigh Bardugo) who have done such a brilliant job with YA fantasy that everyone else pales in comparison.  Not quite sure what my problem is, but something was a tad off from a normal Elliott reading experience.  Nevertheless, I immediately went and preordered the next in the series!

5.  Carry On, Rainbow Rowell (audio) - Much was made about Lev Grossman's The Magicians trilogy...a so-called grown-up/more realistic take on the Harry Potter/Narnia books.  (and by realistic, I mean that the characters act like real, totally screwed up teens/young adults)  I enjoyed them, but I found them hard to relate to and wasn't quite so enamoured of Grossman as the rest of the world is.  All that to say that I had some reservations about trying Rowell's book, which I knew was also a riff on the "Chosen One" theme that permeates fantasy.  Silly me, Carry On was pretty darn amazing.  It's very much a take on Harry Potter, and it calls out all of the things that maybe niggle in the back of the head.

6.  Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art, Christopher Moore - This was a gift from a friend, which I received well over a year ago.  I'm rather embarrassed I hadn't read it until now because that particular friend is an amazing person who tends to like the same sort of books I like.  I have a hard time describing this book, other than to say that I adored it because it included all of my favorite artists as characters and was generous about including some of their art, which was woven into the storyline.  It was a lot of fun to read!

7.  Rose of Fire, Carlos Ruiz Zafron (short story) - Truth.  I bought Zafon's Shadow of the Wind on the advice of a trusted book friend...and I've never read it.  Can't seem to get past the first chapter, for whatever reason.  Why I then bought this short story and a sequel...just because they were on sale?  Who the heck knows!  This short story was absolutely lovely, so I need to try again. 

Truth Time:  I spent a lot of time this month finishing up books that I'd left undone for whatever reason.  Sooooo....they are listed in other months, and I'm not going to move them around, but I will make a few additional comments. 

1.  All the Birds In the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders - I just listed this last month, but wound up not having the time I expected over the last couple of days of the month to finish it.  It's an amazing book, and is definitely on my list for the best of 2016.  I've been recommending it to everyone. 

2.  Tower of Thorns, Juliet Marillier - Truth be told, I didn't finish this book back when the preorder for it arrived because I was rather disappointed by it.  That was weird because I generally love Marillier.  I finished the second half of the book, and I'm quite happy to say that it not only returned to form, but that there were sections that were quite frankly amazing.  Will I get the next one in the series?  Probably...but maybe not immediately upon release. 

3.  Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Craner - Just as the podcast needs to be digested in smaller chunks, so does the book.  I still love it, but a little goes a long way sometimes.  I found it in audio format through my library, and as I was out of stuff to listen to I went ahead and borrowed it so that I could finish the book a bit quicker.  Honestly, this stuff is more fun to listen to than to read. I'm not sure the book was either necessary or a good idea. 
4.  The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin - It's better if you wait until the entire series is released, which is part of why I'd set this aside after my initial review.  Plus, Jemisin's one great flaw is that her writing is so literary and her universes are so unique that it can be difficult to really settle into them.  I find that when I start a new series with her it takes half of the first book to really get attached and start enjoying my reading.  In a lesser author, I wouldn't bother to push past that initial phase.  With Jemisin, it's totally worth it.  Not ashamed to admit I was sobbing by the end. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Progress Report

About a year ago I shared the following pictures with you - my stash, in all of it's glory:
 My sock yarns
 My laceweight.
 Potential sweaters
 That mountain of palette (this picture doesn't do it justice)
And my handspun.
It was the stash toss to end all stash tosses.  I fell in love with my yarn all over again, and I challenged myself to see just how much of it I could knit up in 2015.
My original intent was to check back in with that project at the end of December, but I decided to give it until February so that it would more accurately reflect a year of work.
SO...I tried to recreate the pictures to show the progress....and here they are in reverse order.
I am delighted that I actually made a dent in my handspun yarn.  A hat and a scarf might not seem much, but they were a pleasure to knit and as they were made out of bulky yarn it did make a dent in the stash.
 I said last year that the picture of my Palette yarn didn't do it justice.  I made TWO blankets out of it this year...and this is how much I have left.  I am quite pleased with my progress here.

I'm also pleased with my progress on the potential sweater yarn.  I made one sweater for myself and a baby surprise jacket.  Not seen in the original picture was a batch of yarn I'd bought years ago and had given to my mom.  She didn't really want it, so I took it back...and later this week there will be another new sweater post for me!  I also gifted the red yarn to my aunt.  It was leftover from multiple projects, and I was just done with it.

Even better, I've made solid plans for four more sweaters from this pile this year - including a couple of summer shells.  So exciting to find uses for this!
I put a dent in the laceweight yarn - two shawls, which for me is a huge reduction in the amount of lace I usually knit.  Ah well.

The kicker is that last year when I did the original post I'd put this lace yarn in the donations bin....and just before we carted all of that stuff off I pulled it out to keep.  Sigh.
The big kicker is the sock yarn....sort of.
From the original picture, this is all that's left that hasn't been attached to a project yet.

And while I did knit up a lot with it...this hasn't been touched yet, but is designated for specific projects over the next few months.

 Ahem.  I did buy a bit of sock yarn last year, but not much.  (and some went straight into a project)  The red you see actually is from the same batch as the red in the undesignated sock yarn picture.  I had bought four skeins years ago, eventually sold half to my BKB, and recently took it back so that I could use it for a substantial project.  Having yarn come home seems to be a minor theme this year.
And then this happened.  One of my favorite online resources put my favorite sock yarn - Opal - on a massive sale.  While in general I still want to work the stash down as much as is humanly possible, this is definitely a yarn I don't mind having on hand for a variety of reasons....and the sale was just too darn good to pass up.  I won't need to buy sock yarn again for another couple of years.
Looking back in the year since I made that vow, I used my stash to make:
2 blankets
2 shawls
8 pair of socks
3 gifts
2 sweaters
4 warm things (hat/scarf/mittens)
I bought yarn for:
1 sweater
2 small gifts
1 large gift
I'm pretty pleased with those results!  I'm also very happy about the fact that I happily have plans for so much more of the yarn that I own.  In fact, at this point there are absolutely no plans to buy anymore yarn this year!
Let's see how far I can get in another 12 months!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Valentine's Day Treat

It was love at first sight.
KnitPicks released a new collection of fair isle inspired projects just over a year ago, and I fell head over heels in love with the Mesmeric cardigan as soon as I saw it.  I'm not ordinarily one to jump in and order materials for a new project right away, but the kit was affordable, so I took a leap. 
When it arrived, I was delighted to find that the colors were even more delicious in person than they had been in pictures.  The curious thing is that I don't normally wear red.  It's just not a color I usually feel comfortable in.  So why this cardigan?  Why these particular reds?  Who knows.  Some things are a mystery.
Although I cast on right away, working the first shoulder saddle, it would be months before I seriously got to work on my new cardigan.  There was some fear involved, given my past issues with trying to fit myself, and that was no small matter.  Also, I started actively losing weight in April, so trying to pick a size was complete guesswork as I had no idea where I'd end up. 
 By the early fall, though, I was ready to commit to a size...and to doing something nice for myself.
This cardigan was a joy to knit.  Fun patterns, tricky construction that engaged the brain, and colors that sang.  Once I truly got to work it took less than two months to finish.  It was so lovely.  I was obsessed, and knit it up in record time.
But then I stalled out for a few months - over buttons, of all crazy things.  Long story short, I finally ordered from an Etsy seller after giving up trying to find anything locally.  To my great relief, when they arrived I found they were even more perfect than I had imagined.
I finished it this week so that I could wear it today for Valentine's Day, and I must say that it is quite possibly one of the most perfect things I've ever knit.  Ordinarily, I'm a process knitter - but this may be one time when having the finished product to wear is every bit as awesome as the joy of making it was.
My one note on fit - I truly had to guess at the size, and I'm glad I wound up knitting it as I did.  The fit is currently a tad small, but not so much that it's unwearable.  If my size does keep changing, great!  The fit will only get better.  If my size doesn't change, great!  I've seen big name designers tell women this is how they should wear their cardigans anyway.  It works, and that's what matters.
Did I mention I'm in love?
Happy Valentine's Day to me!
Mesmeric Cardigan
by Katy Banks in the 2015 Fair Isle Collection by KnitPicks
KnitPicks Palette - 4 Hollyberry, 3 Oyster Heather, 2 Regal, 2 Rose Hip
(purchased in kit)
Addi Turbo DPN's (oddly, I didn't record sizes....I think as per pattern)
Knitting - February 12, 2015 - October 5, 2015
Finish Work - February 12 - 13, 2016
My friends...I think my weird bad luck streak with knitting sweaters for myself is officially over!
And to prove that...I'll have a second new sweater to introduce later this week!
PS.  Sorry about the dark pictures....the lighting was really bad outside when we took them.  If I have time this week I might rope someone into helping me redo them for you.