Friday, January 29, 2010

A romance and a graphic novel

It's more difficult than I thought to review every book I read. I finished both of these a couple of weeks ago and just realized I hadn't posted the reviews. Whoopsie!

Isn't It Romantic? by Ron Hansen

A young French couple on a bus tour get stranded in Nebraska at a turning point in their relationship. They are welcomed into the homes of some locals and hilarity ensues. Nobody seemed to be clear on which person they should be paired up with, and the language barrier causes various humorous misunderstandings.

This book wasn’t what I expected, which was a quiet little romance. Instead it was farcical, a comedy of errors. I kept picturing it as a movie, certain scenes in particular. But it was an enjoyable story with delightfully interesting charactors. A short, quick read.

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

I recently stumbled upon this graphic novel while shelving in the library. It’s about a girl who survives a bombing in Metro City only to have her parents panic and move the family to the suburbs. She is very upset at having to leave, especially because she has been visiting a comatose stranger injured in the bombing. She takes his art notebook and writes him letters from her new town. At her new school she struggles to fit in and, along with some other misfits, starts an underground art group. Under cover of night, they stage “art attacks” like putting soap bubbles in the town fountain and knitting hats and scarves for fire hydrants. Not everyone in town gets their message though, and they are targeted as vandals.

Although the theme of not fitting in is so common – especially in graphic novels – I loved the story about her newfound friends doing something that was so outrageous and fun and secretive. And I loved that she got the idea from a comatose guy, or his notebook anyway, and that their (mostly one-sided) relationship was so important to Jane throughout the book. There were some great parent/teen interactions – her parents were so protective that Jane worried she would become as scared as they were and never experience anything in the world. Just for good measure, there were also some awkward romantic situations thrown in. All in all, a fun enjoyable book!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane : a review

Graduate student Connie Goodwin has passed her oral qualifying exam and now must begin her dissertation, while simultaneously fixing up her grandmother’s house which needs to be sold after sitting in disrepair for 20 years. When she finds a mysterious key in a bible with a note inside it saying only “Deliverance Dane” her graduate research and her personal life begin to converge in a way she could not have foreseen.

I’ll admit I had my doubts early in the book. There was a chapter or two that ended with Connie seeing something and gasping, which was a bit too Dan Brown for me. There was also a scene in which she and a friend were in a car headed to her grandmother’s house and her friend asks “Who’s house are we going to? And why?,” the sort of scene which always leads me to wonder what could have possibly brought them to this spot. “Hi Liz, please pack your bags and get in my car. We are going to a house. That is all I will tell you.” And then I proceed to imagine other ways in which the author could have written that scene which would have conveyed the needed information in a more realistic way.

But I digress. And those were just minor blips in a book that overall was rather fascinating. I’m kind of a sucker for colonial America, witchcraft, and libraries so really it would be more shocking if I didn’t like this book. I loved the thrill of the chase, the mystery that unraveled in musty archives and an old house filled with secrets. Interspersed throughout the book were chapters that took place in the 1600s leading up to the Salem witch trials, and they painted a very different – and more fleshed out – picture of daily life in this period than I have read before. The author had a rather different take on the trials, and witchcraft, than the usual and it really made the book much more interesting. She was able to add a bit of supernatural to the story without making it a total fantasy, if that makes sense.

Very fun book, and I expect that someday we’ll see the movie, too.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Heather Hoodie Vest

This shouldn't have taken me four months to make. It's made of bulky yarn and has no sleeves. I started it in early September thinking that it would be perfect in November or so, when it's gotten colder but isn't freezing yet. Maybe I'll be wearing it in March.

Pattern: Heather Hoodie Vest from Knitscene, Fall 2009
Yarn: Lamb's Pride Bulky in Blue Flannel
Needles: 10.5

Despite my feelings that I should stick with skinnier yarn for sweaters, I couldn't resist this cute pattern when I saw it. I've never been sure about the color choice, but definitely wanted something sort of neutral-ish. It was a pretty easy knit, I just kept setting it aside to work on other things.

Many who have made this have been unhappy with the bizarrely ginormous hood, so I skipped a lot of the decreases which doesn't seem to have helped much. I've also found that the hood has more problems than just it's vast size - it is oddly shaped so not only can I not really wear it up, it doesn't sit right on my shoulders either.

But the fit is great. Most importantly, it is long enough!

I posted a preview of the buttons, but forgot to discuss my conundrum with attaching them. Pattern instructions will sometimes say to sew them on with some of the yarn, but I don't think I've ever had buttons with large enough buttonholes for that. In the past, I have unplied yarn to sew the buttons on, but doing that reduces the strength of the yarn and now that sweater is in a pile waiting for me to find matching embroidery thread with which to reattach the buttons. Finding matching thread can be difficult though and while I prefer embroidery thread for its thickness, in this case I couldn't find any in a close enough color so I ended up using regular sewing thread I had at home. What do you use to sew on buttons?

The buttons were a bit of a challenge themselves. The day I went to Windsor Button to buy them, it was extremely crowded there and the buttons aren't self-serve. I usually end up lining up a whole bunch of different buttons on the sweater in question before making a decision, but this time the man helping me got busy with a long line of customers and I decided that the first ones I tried really were the best. They are a little darker than the yarn, but shot through with a bit of a lighter blue so I think it works quite well.

For the most part, I'm quite happy with how this sweater turned out. It's not super fashionable and I don't know if I'll wear it to work, but it's very comfy so I'm sure I'll get some use out of it. All in all, a successful project!

Monday, January 18, 2010


I took a little trip to Windsor Button this weekend and bought buttons for my Heather Hoodie Vest. Today I sewed them on using regular sewing thread.

It's blocking upstairs now. I blocked the pieces separately before seaming them together, but then added the button band, which definitely needed blocking. Normally I wouldn't sew the buttons on until afterward, but the button holes are at regular intervals, measured by the rib pattern so it was easy to put the buttons in the right spots. I just sprayed some water on the button band and the ribbing around the sleeves and pinned it out. The part around the hood was harder to pin out but I think it will be ok.

I'm so glad this sweater is done and I can move on with my life. I've been working on it for way too long, especially considering that it's made with bulky yarn and doesn't have real sleeves. It was intended as a quick project to be done sometime in October so I could still wear it before it got too cold. Oh well, there's always next year. I'll have modeled pics soon!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac : a review

After taking a tumble down her school steps, Naomi wakes up with no memory of the last four years of her life. She doesn’t remember her parents’ divorce, her new little sister, her best friend Will, or why she could possibly be dating a tennis player named Ace. Rather than continuing the struggle to try and pick up where she left off, Naomi decides to just go forward and start fresh.

Predictably, she eventually regains her memory, and this is was the one small part of the plot that I thought was a little unrealistic. At this point it would make sense for her to have a revelation about why she liked Ace, didn’t get along with her mother, didn’t like her father’s girlfriend, etc – things that hadn’t made sense before should have fallen into place and there should have been an inner conflict between the person she was before her accident and the person she became afterwards. But this didn’t happen and although she remember a lot of facts, those larger issues weren’t addressed, at least not right away.

Despite this one small flaw, I enjoyed this book a greal deal. I liked the main character a lot, as well as her friend Will (in fact, I wanted more about him, like maybe another whole book.) Tying in her high school photography project with the story of her adoption added another interesting layer. There were some great themes in the novel about memory, the complexity of family relationships, giving yourself and others a second chance, and how your experiences shape you as a person. It’s a good jumping-off point for discussion, but also just a very enjoyable book to read. Recommended!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Two by Dickens

Only a week into the new year and I'm already behind on book reviews!* Here are two that I started in December but didn't finish until recently.

Oliver Twist

I watched the musical “Oliver!” about four hundred times on HBO when I was a kid, and the entire way through this novel I could picture the related part in the movie or I’d think to myself “Oh, this is where they sang ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’!” This story of an orphan who is taken in by a band of thieves and has a great deal of difficulty getting free of them is quite dark. But like the cheery musical tie-in in my head it at least has a happy ending.

As I expected, the plot is much more complicated than in the movie, and there are many more colorful, amusing characters. The edition that I read had illustrations sprinkled throughout, like many Dickens works, and I’m really starting to believe that more adult novels should be illustrated. Why should kids have all the fun?

It took me about 3 weeks to read, but I did really like it. The Dickens experience is weird for me – the enjoyment is all in the reading of it, and few of the details really stick with me for very long. I loved Great Expectations but I can’t remember much about it now. I only remember how much I enjoyed reading it. I guess it's because what I enjoy most about his work is his writing style and his sense of humor, not the plots (though they are good too!)

A Christmas Carol

Always a great story, this particular edition of A Christmas Carol was extra special because of the beautiful illustrations by Roberto Innocenti. I found it in the children’s section of the library, but it’s the full story, just with pictures. It seems more appropriate for adults really, but what do I know? I didn’t even read it until after Christmas but enjoyed it a great deal. This is an edition that would definitely be worth owning.

*I've decided to try and review every book that I read this year.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


That is how many books I read in the last decade. And no, I'm not going to list them all for you.

Actually it's not quite right because I didn't start keeping track until the end of May 2000. Based on the books listed at the beginning of my list, it was apparently just after I finished my library school class on YA literature.

Irony: I went to library school so that I wouldn’t be stuck in a dead-end paraprofessional job. Ten years later, not only am I in a paraprofessional job but it’s temporary. Ah, well – I’ve had several other professional jobs since then and my resume is starting to look quite impressive, so they tell me. But still, it's food for thought.

I considered trying to pick out my favorite books of the decade but the task is way too daunting. Still, it was interesting to skim through my little notebook and see some of the things I read back then. For example, remember how I just read Amy & Isabelle recently and loved it? Well, I read it back in 2001 and didn't remember a thing about it. I wonder what I thought of it back then? Maybe my younger self didn't like it nearly so much, or perhaps it didn't make an impression because I just wasn't in the mood for it at the time. I've also read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston twice and still can't recall what it's about. Yet also way back in 2001 I read Gone Boy by Gregory Gibson and still remember it so vividly that I've recommended it to patrons in the last few years. Isn't it funny how some books stick with us and some are just so fleeting? It's a little sad actually, because I'm tempted to think that if I didn't read in such quantity, I would remember the books better. But I don't think that's true.

I wonder if I'll still be keeping a list of every book that I read ten years from now. And I wonder if I'll still use the same little notebook. I wonder if I'll still be blogging, or if that will even exist.

Enough reflection for one decade. Onward!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

More Christmas Goodies

On New Year's Eve I exchanged gifts with The Cable Girl, who gave me some fantastic and fun gifts as always, including these colorful crocheted vessels in which to put stuff. Yay!

The tall one is for knitting needles, and the other ones are three nested bowls. Here they are un-nested:

I am a fan of cute things in which I can put crap so the clutter looks less untidy, so these will be very useful! Thanks so much, Cable Girl!

In all of my holiday excitement and New Year's Eve party preparations, I forgot to take pictures of the gifts I made for her, but she has posted them so go take a look. I sewed her a bag, made stitch markers out of polymer clay, and also a couple of polymer clay Christmas ornaments.

What a fun and crafty way to end 2009!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Year of Reading: 2009

1. Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
2. Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken
3. Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie
4. Love in the Asylum by Lisa Carey
5. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
6. The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
7. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
8. Courtney Crumrin & the Night Things by Kelly Crumrin (graphic novel)
9. The Good Mother by Sue Miller*
10. Food Matters by Mark Bittman
11. Letter From Point Clear by Dennis McFarland
12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
13. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
14. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
15. The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
16. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn
17. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
18. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
19. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
20. Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
21. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
22. Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
23. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
24. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
25. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
26. A Proper Education for Girls by Elaine diRollo
27. The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
28. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
29. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer*
30. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
31. Rumors by Anna Godbersen
32. The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
33. Envy by Anna Godbersen
34. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
35. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
36. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer*
37. Turn of the Screw by Henry James*
38. Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
39. What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn
40. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
41. Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
42. Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
43. Leadership Simple by Steve and Jill Morris
44. A Tale of Two Cities by Charlies Dickens
45. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin
46. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
47. Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
48. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
49. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
50. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
51. The Hate List by Jennifer Brown
52. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (re-read)
53. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
54. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
55. Map by Audrey Beth Stein
56. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
57. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
58. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
59. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
60. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
61. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (audio)
62. Splendor by Anna Godbersen
63. Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (audio)
64. Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick
65. Fat Cat by Robin Brande
66. Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
67. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

A few less books than last year, which may seem surprising since I was unemployed for close to half the year, but I didn't spend a whole lot of time sitting and reading during my long vacation. There are also some time-consuming reads on this list - books by Charles Dickens, Salman Rushdie, and Henry James take a while to slog through, as well as Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (which is totally worth reading, but is difficult.) I started reading Oliver Twist on December 17th but still have a way to go, so it will be on the 2010 list. Also of course, The English Patient is still languishing on my shelf waiting to be finished. I also usually read more graphic novels, but there only seems to be one on this list - I'll have to catch up on those this year! (I did read some great comics by Cathy Leamy - definitely check out her stuff.)

Should I include children's books? I've been reading more of them. I don't think I'd count Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse even though I think it may be the cutest book in the world, or The Polar Express which I just read for the very first time (!), or Owl At Home, which was one of my favorites as a kid and which I had forgotten about until I rediscovered it at the library recently. But I read a great non-fiction children's biography called Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations by Diane Stanley. I've decided that non-fiction children's books are wonderful and a great way for those of us with short attention spans for non-fiction to learn about something without having to force our way through an adult-length tome. I just can't decide if a book I can read in 20 minutes should be included here.

All in all, I'm very happy with this list - I read some great books this year! I considering putting * next to the ones that I especially enjoyed but there would be so many it's practically meaningless, so instead I've put them on the very few books that I didn't like. Most of the books on this list I'd recommend quite highly!