Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge - Week 8

This week, I read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann for week 15, A Book with A Unique Format/Writing Structure.

Summary: In the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.” Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars.  Okay - I'm going to be honest here.  I had a bit of trouble keeping all the characters straight in this book.  The book starts out with 3 main story lines and then begins to join them together, but the storylines aren't told in chronological order, so I had to keep reminding myself who the daughter and who the mother of so-and-so were to make sense out of the narrative.  That said... I did really enjoy this book.  The only part I had trouble engaging with was the New York 1998 story of Sen. George Mitchell.  The author has interwoven real events and real persons with fictional characters who relate to these original 3 chapters and those peoples' stories.  I was particularly impressed with how nicely the author (who is male) handled what are essentially woman-character-driven stories.  No caricatures here, but rather, full-drawn portraits of women who had ups and downs throughout their lives, sometimes more down than up.  I found the last chapter heart-wrenching and difficult to read but worth it for the story it told.  No magic or fairy tales here, but this one definitely hit the historian buttons for me.  Worth a read if you enjoy historical fiction. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 7 (and playing some catch-up)

I am VERY overdue for a book update, so I'm just going to jump right in since I've been reading a lot since I last posted!  I thought I'd do a slightly shortened version of reviews on these since there are so many but I'll get back to my usual posting method for subsequent posts.

For week 6 topic - A Book Originally Written in a Language Other than English - I read Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. 

SummaryShe thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love.  She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories--a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land.  And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime...

It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice....

My Rating/Review:  3 out of 5 stars.  There are plenty of reviews on Goodreads which hit the proverbial nail on the head with this book.  The beginning third is strong and the ending third is strong.  The middle meanders around the North Sea for reasons I couldn't fathom at all.  I got completely bogged down in the center third of this book.  I also found the ending very unsatisfactory - it sort of ended without ending.  The main character is reminds me a bit of Lisbeth Salander in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  She is definitely a flawed individual but I could cheer for her - this book just didn't let me do that.  I should also mention that it is very dark and brooding.  If that sort of writing isn't your thing, I suspect you won't find anything of merit here.

Next, for week 27 - A Book about Surviving a Hardship - I read In Praise of the Bees by Kristin Gleeson.

Summary: A woman is found by a track, nearly dead from appalling wounds and remembers nothing. Her terror and her injuries are so great that she is given sanctuary in Mother Gobnait's unusual community of nuns, while all around her a war is being waged in which she is a pawn. The women name her Aine. 

Disturbing fragments of Áine’s memory begin to surface, and in desperation she asks to remain in the safety of the community, but is it really safe for her anywhere? 

It is only after events take another terrible turn that Áine is forced to discover who she really is and make life-changing choices – but will they prove to be her undoing? 

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars.  I loved this quiet little book.  While the main story thread is about the young woman known as Aine coming back to life as she heals from her injuries, the book deftly weaves the story of the abbey and the abbess who runs it where she is recovering together with a nicely developed picture of Ireland in the late 6th century.  The author obviously has done extensive research and the abbess is based on an actual person who obviously was a force of her time in terms of both social and religious barrier breaking. Interwoven with the story is a chronicle of the agricultural seasons, and specifically the bees the abbess lovingly cares for and who provide the abbey with an important food stuff for their table, as well as for trade.  The mystery surrounding Aine drives the story but I wouldn't consider this book a true historical mystery.  The mystery storyline takes a back seat to the beautifully painted picture of life in this time and a portrait of women and their lives in Ireland during this era.  A nicely written, recommended book for historical fiction fans. 

Then I tackled The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden for week 3's topic - A Book from the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Summary:  At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Rating/Review:  5 out of 5 stars.  If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a huge fan of fairy tale re-tellings.  This book actually lived up to the award - it was well-written, entertaining, engaging and I loved it.  I probably should mention I read it in basically 2 sittings because I could NOT put it down.  The main character is a girl I can get behind - she's different, outspoken and headstrong.  The author interwove Russian culture in the time of the czars with several Russian fairy tales, and then tossed in some history with the spread of Christianity  and the power of the orthodox church in Russia. The characters were strongly developed and I was happy to cheer for Vasilisa as she grew up and grew into a strong young woman, more than able to take on The Bear.  I won't spoil who the Nightingale is in the book, but I loved that reveal towards the end of the novel and it makes me want to read the other installments in this series!  A highly recommended read for those who like magic, strong heroines and a good story.

Last for this update, I read Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden for week #22 - A Book You Have High Expectations or Hopes For.

Summary: The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives. 

In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters' lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.

From the town's founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.

At the center of everyone's life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.

My Rating/Review: 4-1/2 of 5 stars.  I'll start by saying I'm an Alice Hoffman fan.  In general, I'll read anything with her name on it.  This lovely collection of stories interwines the lives of generations living in Blackwell, a small town in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts.  Hoffman weaves the stories together around the center of town where one of the founding wives has planted a garden.  The gardn makes everything grown in it turn red - a mystery that remains through the centuries.  I also loved that Hoffman tied in bears with the stories - they pop up frequently throughout, wandering in and out of the storyline as talismans for the characters.  Lovely sweet stories about people who you'd want to be in your own family tree, this was an entertaining read with just a sprinkling of magic in the lives of those people. 

Whew! I think that's it for this installment.  I just finished up another book last night, but I'll save that for a different post since I think this one is plenty long already! 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 2018 WIPocalypse Check-In

I was pretty pleased with my progress on things this month: One finish (actually an FFO), and good progress on 3 other projects as well.

I finished the February Word Play WIP.  Design by Brenda Gervais.  I stitched this 1 over 2 on a 32-count R&R Reproductions linen in Creme Brulee'.  I used most of the called-for GAST threads but substituted a Classic Colorworks (Cherry Cobbler) for the red that I didn't have and Colour and Cotton's Heirloom Gold for the palest yellow that I was missing.

A fun, cute small-ish stitch and a nice balance to the seemingly never-ending list of BAPs I keep starting.  I finished this off with a red/natural cotton ticking backing and I have it out on a table in the living room near the door.

I managed a page finish on my Winter's Encounter.  Charted by Heaven and Earth Designs with artwork by Laura Prindle.  I'm stitching this 1 over 1 full-crosses on a 25-count Easy Guide Lugana with DMC.

I made some good progress on my Desert Mandala. Design by Martina Rosenberg/Chatelaine.  Mostly the called-for floss with a couple of minor substitutions and I'm stitching this 2 over 2 on a 28-count Lugana from Picture This Plus in Calypso.  This month's rotation I managed to finish half of the cacti around the interior border.  Next month, I'll move the fabric down and work on the top half.

Finally, I put in 5 days' of stitching on my Six of Swords from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's Tarot series.  Charted by Heaven and Earth Designs and worked in the called-for DMC.  I'll be putting in another 5 days on this at least this month as I'd like to meet my page finish goal on it. 

The January Question of The Month is: What SALs are you participating in this year, and if you are participating in the Olympic Stitching Challenge, what challenge are you accepting?

I'm really only doing this WIPocalypse SAL and the Full Coverage Fanatic group themed SALs.  I may pop in and do a few of the Stitch Maynia ones as the year progresses, but I am so swamped at work for the next 3 months, I don't really have bandwidth for the Olympic challenge, unfortunately, but maybe for the summer Olympics when they roll around again!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Spinning Friday: January 26, 2018

I finished up my first official spin of 2018.

Fiber: 100% superwash merino wool.
Dyer: Oceanwind Knits, from the 2017 Oh Canada fiber club.
Colorway: Lake Louise.
Specs: 230 yards/4 oz of DK-weight 2-ply.

I loved spinning up this soft, bouncy fiber.  It was an easy spin which I spun fractally, splitting one half of the braid into 8ths and one half into 3rds. No specific project earmarked for this, although it's a guy-friendly enough colorway I might use it for a hat or other accessory for the Mittens for Akkol group.

Currently on the wheel is a set of 1-oz colorways from a 4-color Potions Pack, dyed by Two If By Hand.  Colorways include: Luna Lovegood, My Little Pony, Shimmer and Fairy Wings.  I'll be spinning these up into little mini skeins and then will use them (and possibly also the other 2 packs' worth I've got) for striped socks or mittens.

I've got the first oz spun up, and I've started on the singles of the second.  Probably won't get much work done on these this weekend while I'm visiting with family, but will get back to them next week.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stitching Update: January 23, 2018

Last week, I had 5 days slated to work on my Desert Mandala from Chatelaine.   Here's my stopping point after those 5 days' worth of time with it:

I've finished about half of the cacti motifs around the center panel.  These are almost all worked in silks (so pretty! so soft!) with the exception of the little orange blossoms and the pale yellow on the sagebrush. I'm stitching this on a 28-count Lugana in the Calypso colorway from Picture This Plus fabrics. I'm at the point where it's time to roll the fabric up so I can work on the top portion, which is what I will do next go-round and try to finish up the remaining cacti motifs.

I think my plan once those are done will be to work just on the top half until that is finished and then move the fabric again to work on the bottom half.  (I say this like I'll be zipping through that, but this is a BIG project with lots of detail, so it'll be a while).  The next sections to be worked on this will be a speciality stitch octagon-shaped border around the cacti, and then the exterior landscape motifs and the feathers that go between them.  

Once I had finished work for this rotation on my Chatelaine, I moved over to work on another full coverage piece.  This is Six of Swords from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's Tarot collection, charted by Heaven and Earth Designs.  I'm stitching this on 25-count Easy Guide fabric.  I had the first 800 stitches put in to this already, and I'll be working on this through the end of the month of January (albeit a bit hit and miss since I've got some travel coming up).

I'll see how far I get on this one, but I'd like to try for a page finish by the end of February, if I can, to keep up with my personal Year of WIPs/WIPocalypse goals of a page finish on each of my full-coverage pieces in 2018.  (For those of you keeping score, there will be 6 full-coverage pieces on the go this year.)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 4

I finished In the Belly of the Elephant by Susan Corbett this week.  This was for the week 5 topic - a book about or inspired by real events.

Book Summary:  Everybody needs to run away from home at least once. Susan Corbett told people she was out to save the world, but really she was running--running from her home as much as to anywhere. Like many women, she was searching for meaning to her life or for a good man to share it with. In Africa, she hoped to find both. 

Compelling and compassionate, In the Belly of the Elephant is Susan's transformative story of what happens when you decide to try to achieve world peace while searching for a good man. More than a fish-out-of-water story, it's a surprising and heart-rending account of her time in Africa trying to change the world as she battles heat, sandstorms, drought, riots, intestinal bugs, burnout, love affairs and more than one meeting with death. Against a backdrop of vivid beauty and culture, in a narrative interwoven with a rich tapestry of African myths and fables, Susan learns the true simplicity of life, and discovers people full of kindness, wisdom and resilience, and shares with us lessons we, too, can learn from her experiences.

My Rating/Review:  3/5 stars.  What I liked:  This was a fascinating personal story about one woman's desire to find a place for herself in the world.  Raised in a conservative (Catholic and Mormon) family in rural Idaho, the author decided to join the Peace Corps and worked overseas in Africa.  This book covers the course of 2 of those years overseas.  During her time as a relief worker, she comes to know (and love like family) the people in the small town she is  based in.  Her descriptions of her fellow aid workers, the villagers, the landscape that is her part of Africa were wonderful, and I appreciated that she pulled in more of the unrest and war that was happening in Africa in the mid-90s (especially in Somalia) without bashing you over the head with it.  What I didn't like: All very well and good that she was "looking for a good man", but there was a bit more navel gazing about this topic than I really needed to hear.  For me, it kept being an interruption of the rest of the storyline, which I very much wanted to read more about, and by the end of the book, I found it disruptive enough I skimmed over those parts to get back to hearing about her trip to Kenya, and whether or not the local weaver's guild was able to repay their thread loans at the end of the year.  

I am glad I picked up this book and read it.  It's outside my normal go-to kind of reading, which, for me, is all about why I do this yearly reading challenge.  It's not one I would put on a permanent bookshelf and go back and read again, but I am glad I read it, which I suppose is a recommendation to some extent in and of itself. I also really enjoyed how the author interwove traditional African folklore with her own personal journey (the title refers to one of these tales) - a nice addition to her own personal tale of growth and personal development. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Knitting Update: January 19, 2018

I finished up my Bolt Shawl this week.  I knit mine using 2 colors of Aerten Sock (80/10/10 SW merino/cashmere/nylon) in Soot (dark gray) and Chimney Sweep (speckle dye).

Pattern design by Veera Valimaki.  I used approximately 260 yards/60 g of Chimney Sweep and 218 yards/50 g of Soot to knit mine.

Very fun construction - and a quick knit to boot.  It features garter stitch stripes, short row shaping, multidirectional knitting and some plain garter stitch.   I would categorize this more as a large scarf than a true shawl - it's not very big - but it was a blast to knit AND I got to use a couple of my favorite colorways for the Wooly Wonkapalooza "gray" prompt. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stitching Update: January 16, 2018

I rotated back to my Winter's Encounter project for the past 5 days and made some good progress on it.

I managed to finish all of page 1 (which is the top left-hand corder of the piece), and added another 300 stitches just below that page to start page...uh.... 5, I think it is?  Whatever the next row of the pattern would be - and that puts me just over the halfway mark in that first column of stitches!

This one will be on hold for the next 5 days while I work on my Chatelaine Desert Mandala.  I think I will probably work on that and then switch off to another full coverage piece, my Six of Swords tarot card image by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law for the remainder of the month. 

I'd like to see if I can make a page finish happen on Six of Swords while it's up for rotation as my "Air" element project in the Full Coverage Fanatics group.

Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 3

I did a lot of reading this week!  First up, I finished my choice for week 4's prompt: Books linked by the 4 elements - earth.  I selected Breath of Earth by Beth Cato.

Book Summary:  In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer Wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills. 

When assassins kill the Wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . . 

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

My Rating/Review:  4/5 stars.  A fun read.  I particularly liked the fact that our heroine is a mix of different cultures, while still managing to kick-butt in a girl power sort of way.  I also appreciated this was not the typical Steampunk Victorian England setting, but rather San Francisco on the eve of what would be the Great Earthquake.  A good cast of characters - I enjoyed finding out about Ingrid's powers/skills as she discovered them for herself, and loved the mythology tie-ins.  The book is obviously meant to be a set-up to the rest of the series, which I will probably read.  It reached a semi-satisfactory conclusion where some of the loose ends were tied up.  I'll be interested to see how the author develops the rest of the plot since there's obviously a lot that we, the readers, and Ingrid don't yet know about the forces behind the forces. 

I also started and finished The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco this week, for the week 9 prompt: A book with a body part in the title.

Book Summary:  Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My Rating/Review:  4/5 stars.  A very well-written, almost lyrical book. My main complaint is that it really doesn't finish the story here - I know... I complain about this a lot... but I think books should be able to stand alone with a completed story and not leave one hanging waiting for the next in the series.  (And there is a second one in the works, due out this year - 2018 - at some point).  That said, this was a great young adult-type read.  The main character, Tea, is strong and intelligent, and while she has a lot of growing up to do in the book, she's still a great role model-type character. I liked the way the author bracketed each chapter of the history of her development as a dark Asha and her exploration of her magical powers with a contemporary storyline (which I am hoping is further developed and expanded on in the sequel).  I was also impressed with the level of descriptive details included in the story - they always make or break a book for me and there were lots of them here.  I bookmarked many of the descriptions of the kimono-type garments the Ashas wear as design inspiration for "someday".  A wonderful adventure story, a great heroine and good supporting cast = lots to enjoy in this one.  A recommended read. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Stitching Update: January 11, 2018

A few things to update y'all on over the last week:

I finished up Wipocalypse/Year of WIPs 2018 project #1.  This is February Word Play by Brenda Gervais.

I stitched this 1/2 on a 32-count linen from R&R Reproductions in the Creme Brulee colorway.  I used mostly the called-for GAST threads, although I didn't have 2 of the colors, so I substituted Cherry Cobbler from Classic Colorworks for the red and Heirloom Gold from Colour and Cotton for the pale yellow in the center of the flowers.  I backed this using a red and white striped cotton ticking fabric.

I'm quite fond of the little Colonial couple - super cute!

Since I had set aside 5 days in my rotation to work on this project, and it only took me 2 to finish it up, I used the remaining 3 days to pull out the Every Heart pincushion from Shepherd's Bush.  This little kit came with everything to stitch up the design - pattern, linen, needle, threads, buttons and finishing ribbon/seed pearls.  I didn't quite it finished, but I did make enough progress I think I can finish it up in February during my WIP project 5-day rotation slot. I'd really like to have this one to display during July this year!

Finally, I got my Colour and Cotton FOTM club fabric.  This gorgeous colorway is "Oasis" and it's shown here on 28-count Jobelan. 

Happy Stitching!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Knitting Wednesday: January 10, 2018

Happy ro report I have the finished sample/contract knit done!  It's blocked, buttons are sewn on and after I do some photographs shortly, it'll be ready to go to layout.  This one will be an exclusive pattern available only through Greenwood Fiberworks, and my lovely friend, Carolyn's shop.  She'll have it for sale (and the yarn to go with it at Stitches West too!)  Yes..yes... it's a tease since I can't show it to you yet, but it a really pretty piece.

With that off the needles Monday, I've been putting some stitches into my Bolt shawl.  Here's where I am on that one currently:

I'll likely focus on making some progress on that over the next week. 

In the meantime, however, I've also started swatching for my next sekret design knit project - this one for the next issue of Filament magazine. I'm playing around with some colorway options, but I do know it will be knit from Miss Babs Yet which is a heavy laceweight, 80/20 merino/silk yarn.  I've picked some totally "me" colors for this one too!

This is swatching up really nicely - I like the slightly crisp hand from the tight yarn twist and I think it's still going to have gorgeous drape when it's done.

2018 Reading Challenge - Week 8

This week, I read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann for week 15, A Book with A Unique Format/Writing Structure. Summary:  In the National ...