Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Reading

1.  Cold Eye, Laura Anne Gilman - This very nearly wound up on the unfinished shelf...exept that would have irritated me because, as you may remember, I'm trying to clean that shelf off.  Pros: Gilman has created a very American mythology with her books about the Territory and the Devil's Hand.  Her characters are still fantastic, and I enjoy the relationship between Gabriel and Isobel.  Cons:  lordy, it moves at a snail's pace and the language is often unneccessarily vague.  I wanted something - ANYTHING - to happen...or maybe I wanted the things that were happening to just be described in a more straightforward manner.  Both of those.  These are critisisms I had of the first book...they were just a million times worse this time around.  Final verdict:  Much as I enjoyed the first book, I'm done with this series.

2.  Kindred, Octavia Butler - It's not an easy book to read, but it is a book which I believe should be read because it deepens understanding and hopefully increases empathy and compassion.  I'm impressed with how quickly Butler got right to her story...no need to dilly dally or build a background.  The reader is pushed into it immediately, and has trouble walking away from it later on.  I was glad it wasn't longer.  I'm not sure I could have handled that.  I'm very glad I read it, though, and I appreciate the critical essay and readers' guide in the back.

3.  The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden - I'd preordered this quite some time ago, knowing little to nothing about it other than the brief description on iTunes.  Shortly after it showed up in my inbox, I had two friends post glowing reviews on Facebook...which is something that's never happened before, so I moved it to the top of the list.  My oh my....is this ever one beautiful book!  If I had a checklist to create the perfect book for me, this would hit almost all of the items on that list.  Most notabley, it's an extremly well-told (Russian) fairy tale with a plucky, marvelous female protagonist.  Yes, I need a hardcover copy to add to my shelves...it was that good.

4.  Stars Above, Marissa Meyer (audio) - This is a collection of short stories based on the Lunar Chronicals which I read last month.  It was a largely unneccessary, but still enjoyable book.  Most of the stories just served to fill in the backstories of the main characters from the Lunar Chronicals, which honestly wasn't needed as Meyers had done a great job of that in her series already.  Fortunately, they were fun enough that I didn't mind.  Also not needed was the retelling of one portion of those books from a different point of view.  (That's the one story I didn't finish.)  It was all totally worth it for the last story, though, which was the only one to further the the lives of the characters, adding to the story told in the Luner Chronicles.

5.  Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly  (audio) - If you haven't seen the movie yet, run - do not walk - to your nearest theater as soon as is humanly possible.  I saw it with my girls this month, and was blown away by the story it told.  (As an aside...I'm impressed with how much tension it built around historic events that I already knew the outcome of!)  I wanted more info, so I checked out the book, and I'm glad I did.  Kudos to Shetterly for bringing to light the lives of women who deserve to be recognized for their amazing contributions to our world.

6. Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey - A friend of mine brought this book to my attention after attending a conference with the author.  I was looking for a nourishing Sunday morning book, and snatched this up when I discovered that it was on sale.  When I found myself in tears less than two pages in, I knew I had found something I needed.  Simply put, I am a progressive feminist because I am a Christian...and it was wonderful to read this affirming book which deepened my understanding.

7.  The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher (audio) - OMG, this was sooooo much fun!  I'm so very glad I did the audio.  Fisher reads it herself, and she's a stitch!  I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read any of her works before, but after this I might have to track every bit of it down.  This might not even have come on my radar (I like Star Wars, but am  by no means a superfan.), but for the fact that Fisher did an amazing Fresh Air interview for it about a month before she passed.  She was truly an original, and I'm so glad she left us this book.

8.  Kingfisher, Patricia A McKillip (my unfinished book for the month) - So weird that I didn't finish this.  It became, for some odd reason, the book that I read in the tub during post-long-run soaks while training for my half marathon last spring.  I finished the race before I finished the book, and for no good reason I let it fall off the radar.  So glad to have finally finished it.  I adore McKillip, and this book is just as wonderful as the rest of her work!

9.  The Sun is Also A Star, Nicolla Yoon - Yoon is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine, and this - her second book - was part of my birthday bonanza book purchase.  I knew this book was a YA version of the movie, Before Sunrise (which I've never seen), in which two teens from different worlds spend one perfect day together and fall in love.  Admittedly, I was a touch skeptical because of that. However, I also knew that Yoon is a fantastic writer who has the ability to sweep the reader up in her stories.  My response when I finally sat down to read this book?  Read it in one sitting, loved every minute, cried frequently.  Yes, Yoon is definitly becoming a favorite.  The fact that I was both enjoying the book while simultaneously being carried back to what it felt like when I was 17 and in love?  Well..that was a gift.  (As a side note...really good YA writers get to me because they tend to cut through the BS of so-called 'adult' literature to really get to the heart of the matter.)

10.  The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit (a second unfinished book) - Another oddity.  I adore Solnit's writing, and don't remember why I set this book aside either, especialy as I only had a few chapters to go.  I had a little bit of time, so I decided to pick it up again, and within one page was transported.  Solnit's use of language is amazing, and this work definitly sits close to my heart.  I'll have to persue some of her other works.

11.  The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen - First of all, I have to stop picking up new series before they are finished. I had to hunt down an online synopsis of each of the first two books because I'd forgotten so very much.  Secondly, the first of this series - The Queen of the Tearling - is an absolutely brilliant book, but I should have been forwarned because the second didn't really sit as well with me.  Third, and I haven't quite put my finger on the why of this, the writing is occasionally confusing as to what's going on.  The author says in the back of the book that it's a difficult world and there aren't answers to everything...but I would argue that having so very much shrouded in mystery makes it difficult to follow at times.  Finally, I hated the ending.  I feel pretty cheated, and I don't often say that.  (As a side note, Emma Watson optioned the first book for the movie rights before the second and third were published, and I really wonder how she feels about that now.)  The more I think about it, actually, the angrier I am.  Intellectually, I get it...although I also feel in some ways like the author took the easy way out.  Emotionally, I kind of can't believe I wasted my time and money on these books.  So much potential...for nothing.  (Edited to add:  Shortly after I published this post, I realized exactly what my problem is.  The end plot device is not at all a new idea, and in fact was used in a made for tv movie that I watched back in middle school.  I hated it then...left me angry for days...and I hate it now.  To me, it's the lazy thing...write yourself into a corner and then hit a reset button.  I have always disliked stories that make use of this because I feel it does such a huge diservice to everything that comes before.  Why bother, if this is the way it ends?)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Baby Nemo

On the (very rare) occasion, I take a special request.

This time I said yes because the woman asking was one of my favorite people in the entire world...someone I look up to and admire a very great deal.  

  My friend had a photo of a Nemo costume for a newborn, and she wanted to know if I could  make something similar.  Easy enough...at the very least I knew I could work up something based on the shark hats I made a while back.

The problem was the yarn.  I spent about a week poking around online, trying to find just the right yarn - something heavy enough that it would knit up quickly, but not too expensive, in just the right color.  I'll be honest, this was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.  In fact, I gave up and emailed my friend to tell her I just couldn't do it.  (Time was also a constraint.  I have another gift to make with a deadline, and was rapidly hitting the point where I had to focus on it.)

Then...inspiration.

Years ago I had bought a whole bunch of KnitPicks palette from a friend at $1/ball.  I've used quite a bit of it, but there were 4 skeins of bright orange sitting in my stash that were driving me crazy.  The orange was a totally obnoxious color for most anything else....but, it was perfect for a clownfish costume!

In further good news, there was a perfect pattern available through Ravelry, so I didn't have to reinvent the wheel.  After a quick consult with my friend Sunday morning, I even dropped the scale-like stitch pattern to make it a faster knit. I had a bit of trouble with the row gauge and the proportions for the length (since I didn't use the stitch pattern, it was off), but that was minor.  For the most part, it was a super quick and easy project.

I finished everything and delivered it this evening.  I left yarn with my friend, who will be adding crocheted fins - including Nemo's lucky small fin - for some extra fun.  She's happy with how it turned out, and thinks that her friend will love it!

Truth be told, I will be paid for this project.  It's not much, but it will reimburse me for all materials and will help pay for that other baby gift that I'll be working on, which helps.

by Angie Hartley
Knit Picks Palette (held double)
2 skeins orange, 1 skein white, 1 skein black
Addi Turbo 16" size US 7
Knit Picks Harmony DPN's - US 7
January 6 - 8, 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Birthday Bonanza!

I chose to spend all of my birthday money on books, and it was glorious!

The big debate was whether or not to immediately start reading my birthday book haul because I still had the Telemair series from the library that needed to be read before the library wanted it back.  It was an oddly agonizing debate, one that was settled (more on this later) when I struggled to get through the third Telemair novel (I read the first two in the series a few months ago, and loved them.) because it committed the unpardonable sin of being, well, boring.

Beyond that, you may remember that one of my goals for 2017 was to tackle one book from the unfinished shelf/month.  I took some time to go through that shelf at the beginning of the year, and I pulled about 8 options and put them back on the active to-read shelf.  It's a start!

1. Aerie, Maria Dahvana Headley - Surprise!  A sequel to Headley's brilliant debut novel, Magonia, that I didn't know about!  I just happened to check her author page and discovered this, so it was added to the birthday haul and became the first book I chose to dive into because I was so very excited about it.  Aza and Jason are up there in my personal list of favorite literary couples, and the world that Headley has created for them is so very unique that it makes my heart sing.  I don't honestly know if Magonia needed a sequel, and as sometimes happens the sequel wasn't quite up to the perfection of its predecessor, but by the end it had won me over.  I would have been totally ok if it had never existed, but it did wrap up a lot of loose ends (that hadn't bothered me before) and it allowed me to spend more time with Aza and Jason.  Besides, Headley's language is gorgeous...a real treat!

2.  If I Were Your Girl, Meredith Russo - Truth be told, this is the one book that wasn't at all on my radar.  I discovered it because it wound up on a bunch of Best of 2016 lists, and was subsequently placed on the itunes sale page.  I read the entire book during the course of one insomniac night, and it was beautiful.  As an LGBTQ ally, I think this book should be required reading as it portrays the life of a transgender girl.  It's also a very relatable story of first love, and I found myself reliving my own teen years and my own first love as I was carried through the story.  Absolutely beautiful.  Also, the dedication and the notes at the end are must-reads as well.

3.  White Jenna and 4. The One Armed Queen, Jane Yolen -  These are the second and third book in Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark trilogy.  I fell in love with the first book a few months ago because not only did it contain an excellent plot, original ideas, and interesting characters, but also because Yolen sprinkled the story with myth, legend, song, and scholarly history reports about the world she had created....showing brilliantly how truth is distorted and changed depending on who's telling the tale and how.  That first book was brilliant.  Unfortunately, neither the second nor the third quite lived up to it.  I enjoyed the second...and wound up skimming the third as quickly as possible.  The first two books work together to tell Jenna's story, but the third is about her kids, and I quite frankly didn't find any of them nearly as compelling as their parents.  Also, by that time the myth/legend/story device had grown a little bit old, although I did appreciate the humor in the letters by the historian.  Still glad I read them all, though.

5.  The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson - This is another book that I found via the Best of 2016 lists, this time the 2016 NPR Book Concierge.  (Look it up, it's great fun!).  I've read Johnson before, and loved her, and was captivated by the book description in the Concierge...so I snapped it right up.  This is a very slim book which was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.  I've not read the Lovecraft original (I recommend checking out the Wikipedia entry if you haven't.  It's not neccessary to read it to enjoy this book, but it is fun to find out where much of the inspiration came from.)  I loved every minute of it.  There's a lovely, dream-like quality to Johnson's book that manages to carry the story along without becoming lost in the poetry of the language.  It was also very nice to read a book about a 55 year-old, fully-actualized woman.  Not only is she an amazing character, but she also provided a nice counterbalance to everything else I read this month.  The portions of the book where she sat down and reminisced were poignant, and taken with the YA novels I've been reading led me to some sweet remembrances of my own past.

Which leads me to the library book mentioned earlier:
6.  Black Powder War, Naomi Novik (Telemair, book 3)  - The first two books in this series were among the most delightful dragon books that I've ever read, charming and funny and unique.  It was all I could do not to rush out and buy the full series!  Being practical about the cost, however, I waited...and then checked the entire remaining series out from the library in December.  And....well...book 3 proved to be horribly boring.  Nothing exciting happened until about half way through the book, much of it felt like it was written to just move players around the board, and (truth be told) I realized I just don't have the stomach right now to read about war of any sort (Napoleonic, in this case.) I managed to finish the third book, but honestly don't know if I'll go back and read the rest (6 more)...which is sad, given how very much I loved the first two books.

And then I tackled my January "Unfinished" book:
7.  Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott - Church was canceled for the third Sunday of the month because of winter weather, so I decided to return to this little book on the three essential prayers.  (Also, I'd like to get back to my Sunday morning practice of reading a book that is nourishing to the soul...and this did the trick nicely.)  It's a beautiful reflection, one which drew me to the famous Thomas Merton prayer...which cracked my heart wide open in a really good way. Sometimes a book just needs to find its when to mean something to you.

Back to the birthday fun!
8.  The Just City, Jo Walton - I absolutely adore Jo Walton, and was so excited to purchase her Just City trilogy with my birthday money.  In fact, these were the first books I selected when I turned myself loose in my wish list!  The Just City really tugs on my heartstrings because it reconnects me with one of my first loves - Greek mythology.  That love eventually led me to a minor in the classical Greek language, which included a whole lot of classics courses in college.  However, it's been 20 years since I read Plato....and after this book I feel like I need to dig it out of storage and read it again!  I agree 100% with the reviews of this book which call it a thought experiment.  It is that, and it is beautifully done.  Walton's idea of the gods is pretty genious, and true to my understanding of them, and the Platonic ideal that she builds is both well-thought out and very natural in how it plays out.  Will be reading the second and third books as soon as possible!

9. Cinder, 10. Scarlet, 11. Cress, 12. Winter, Marissa Meyer -  We're going to blame this on a friend of mine, who happens to be the world's best librarian by profession.  She's so wanted me to read Cinder that she decided I needed it for Christmas.  Only the bookstore didn't have a hardback, so she gave me a gift card and loaned me her beloved copy.  I laughed myself silly, and promised to read it asap.   My friend was totally right.  I loved Meyer's take on four very classic fairy tales as she very carefully wove the important elements into a very modern/futuristic plot.  True, I spotted the 'twists' a mile away, and I'm not usually fond of series that leave each book with giant clifhangers.  I'll forgive Meyer for both because she did such an incredible job of making me need to know what happened next.  I hadn't intended to read straight through the series, but I quite simply couldn't help myself!  For added fun, I checked the books out from the library in audio form, and for two of the books I swapped back and forth from audio to print as time allowed.