Friday, April 30, 2010

The Little Stranger : a review

Dr. Faraday visited Hundreds Hall once as a child when his mother was a servant there, but doesn’t return until he is called there to treat a servant. He is intrigued by the Ayres family and soon begins to visit regularly, becoming involved with the troubled family. He is drawn to them all, but especially to Caroline. But something is happening at Hundreds, and though the family insists they are being haunted, Dr. Faraday explains it away as just symptoms of an old house and overactive imaginations. Despite his rational explanations, whatever it is continues to rip the family apart while he looks on helplessly.

I loved how subtle the story was. There was no ghost that you could see, and all of the incidents could be explained away, yet even Dr. Faraday had some doubts. Whether the house was haunted or whether the family was just haunted by psychological problems and their tragic past remains open to interpretation.

The characters were all complicated and troubled but in different ways. Mrs. Ayres was haunted by the child she lost so long ago, Roderick returned from the war both physically and psychologically damaged, and Caroline was a spinster who felt smothered by Hundreds Hall and wanted nothing more than to escape from it. Even Dr. Faraday had his issues; a confirmed bachelor, he was clumsy in his romantic pursuit of Caroline, and did not see what was obvious to the reader, that her feelings for him were lukewarm at best. I loved the feel of the book. There is something that appeals to me about watching a creepy old house – and the family within in – fall into ruins.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I may need more coffee for this

Last week I completed the first sleeve of my cardigan. The bound-off edge felt a little tight, but I thought I could just block it a bit. So I went ahead and seamed the sleeve, closed up the small hole in the armpit and weaved in the end of my yarn. "Finished!" I thought, and moved on to the next sleeve.

But I knew it was too tight. I tried it on, and it pulled at the sleeve of the shirt I was wearing under it. Maybe blocking would help, but you cannot hold out hope that blocking will solve all of your problems - believe me, I have tried it and been disappointed.

I just finished the second sleeve, using this fabulous stretchy bind-off. It is a miracle! A nice stretchy edge without flaring or otherwise looking odd. (I used this bind-off for my black v-neck sweater and the flaring was fine for that sweater, but not appropriate for this one!) But this new bind-off doesn't at all alter the look of the finished edge, making it just perfect for this sweater.

So. Now I must undo the bind-off for the first sleeve and redo it using this new miracle stretchy bind-off. Had I lazily left my weaving-in until the end it would have been much easier, but no - being Little Miss Knitting Overachiever, I try to weave in my ends as I go to make things easier on myself. Ha! Let this be a lesson to me. Now, you may be thinking that undoing the seam and woven in end is not a big deal, but it can be perilous indeed. For instance, there is that time I had to undo a seam and after undoing my woven in end and continuing along, I realized that I was actually unraveling the piece of knitted fabric.

Luckily, this time I managed to avoid that disaster, and now I have begun undoing my sleeve seam (my lovely, neat seam of which I was so proud!)

The danger has passed and it should be a piece of cake from here on out. I have undone many a standard bind-off so I do not anticipate trouble there. Sure, this has set me back a little, but extra time is well worth it to fix something that may make the difference between wearing the sweater and not wearing sweater. Had I not taken the time to make this better I would surely regret it later!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Something Borrowed : a review

Rachel has always been overshadowed by her friend Darcy. Darcy has always been the prettier one, the happier one, the bossier one, the one who got into the best college, got the ideal guy. Now she is engaged and Rachel is her maid of honor. But one drunken night just a few months before the wedding, Rachel sleeps with Darcy’s fiance, Dex. She decides to put it behind her and pretend it didn’t happen, but that is not so easy. Especially when Dex calls her and says he’s still thinking about her and wants to see her again…

This chick lit novel was fun and engaging, if not especially realistic. It was hard to understand why Rachel would ever want to be friends with someone like Darcy, even given their long history together, though she insisted that she valued their friendship. Dex began to lose his appeal as the story went on too, so I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the way it ended. But it was light and fun and kept my interest. I listened to the audio version and will probably listen to the next one too, as it was perfect for my walk home from work every day.

I listened to the book on playaway, which is a little MP3 player. My mind tends to wander a lot, so I struggle with audiobooks and tend to stick with very particular types of books: chick lit, young adult, and – for some odd reason – Anne Perry’s Victorian-era mysteries. The playaway is definitely my favorite format for audio now – no CDs to copy over to another device, nothing to download, and I can listen to it anywhere, easily. Just get the device from the library, add a battery if needed, and plug in my headphones. The only thing I don’t really like is the display. It counts down the time remaining in each chapter, so the clock is ticking backwards. This confuses me greatly when I’m trying to rewind or fast forward, so I try hard to not miss anything as I’m listening. Because it only counts down the current chapter I have no idea how far through the book I am, which is something I wish I didn't find so important. But that’s a minor quibble about something which is otherwise incredibly convenient. Do try them if you like audiobooks - I bet your library has them!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Peplum of vexation

Well. I have completed the lacy peplum on my cardigan, and I’m sorry to report that it is fraught with problems. I shouldn't blame the peplum itself, of course, when fault actually lies with the chart. It is a very simple chart and the errors aren’t until the end, but that may have made it even more frustrating. There I was knitting along, almost at the end, and all of a sudden – stymied!

It is a 20-row chart, and on row 17 I realized that something was horribly wrong. The number of stitches I had on my needles did not match the chart. It was only off by one, but it was the same for every repeat of the lace pattern (6 total) so I was sure the problem was not me making the same error 6 times. I studied the chart and, sure enough, based on the previous rows, the stitch count for row 17 was incorrect. So I just winged it, because it was rather minor and I was SO close to the end.

The next problem was that in rows 17 and 19 each lace repeat begins and ends with a yarn over – that means there are places where there are two YOs in a row, resulting in a big gaping hole. Intentional? Who knows.

As I studied my knitting, a third issue became apparent. The eyelets made from all those YOs are supposed to make nice even diagonal lines and they do not – they are staggered in groups of 2 eyelets on top of each other. It is very difficult to see, but trust me - each of the eyelets you see has another directly below it. If I pull gently on the fabric, they become more visible, and probably will with blocking too.

The picture in the book clearly shows lovely rows of 10 eyelets, all perfectly diagonal as they were intended.

But when I looked on Ravelry, every single finished version of this sweater looked like mine – a veritable stairstep of eyelets stacked in pairs in such a way that when you don’t look closely it looks like a diagonal line of just 5 eyelets. Not one looked like the sweater pictured in the book.

I can live with how it looks, but I'm not at all happy about the fact that the peplum on the original sweater was obviously not knit from the same chart published in the book. This is all especially disappointing because Fitted Knits has been out for a few years and an errata is available – but it contains nothing about this chart. This is also one of the most popular patterns from the book, so it is even more frustrating that corrections haven’t been provided.

Nevertheless, the sweater is coming out well. Luckily the peplum is just a small part of the sweater that will be down by my waist and therefore not very noticeable. (Except by anyone who is reading this post right now and will consequently spot my faulty eyelets immediately.) I’m hoping it is finished soon because I’ve really been wanting to wear it – the weather is perfect for a short-sleeved cardigan right now!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shutter Island : a review

Two federal marshals are called to Ashecliffe hospital for the criminally insane - located on one of the Boston Harbor Islands - to help find a missing patient. Though she is found right away, they are stuck there because of a hurricane. Soon they begin to learn strange things about the facility and it’s radical treatment of patients. Things are not what they seem, and that is pretty much all I will say about that. The plot of this book is the sort it is best to say little about.

There were a few parts that seemed a little contrived, yet I stayed glued to this book. It was super creepy. Well, I suppose the idea of being stuck on an island in a hurricane with a bunch of dangerous insane criminals is bound to be creepy. It’s not high literature by any means, but it was great indulgent fun.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lengthening the Cardigan

I’ve made a lot of progress on my cardigan since I last showed it to you.

I'm happy to report that my previous concerns about the size of the armholes were apparently unfounded.

The pattern, as written, produces a fairly cropped sweater. It’s not that noticeable from the picture in the book, but the featured photo on the Ravelry page really shows how short it is. Like many others before me, I’ve added several inches of length.

Since it’s knit top-down in one piece it can be tried on periodically and adjusted as needed. It’s a time-consuming process though – having it on the needles distorts it enough that you really need to thread it on a piece of waste yarn to try on. And then put it back on the needles, knit another several rows, and do it all over again.

For anyone who cares about technical specifics, these are the exact changes I have made: Before the waist shaping it says to do 17 rows of stockinette; I did a total of 35. After the waist shaping you are supposed to work 7 rows in stockinette, and I did a total of 19. All together, that’s 30 extra rows, or almost 4 inches (I am getting 8 rows/inch.) Here's a close up of the waist shaping.

Adding length means I’m using more yarn, of course. I have more than enough since I originally bought it for a long-sleeved cardigan, but the small yardage per ball means many ends to weave in. Compounding that is the fact that I keep coming across odd little patches where the yarn appears to have been spliced together with glue (ok, I may be making that up, but that is what it feels like!) and I need to cut those parts out, resulting in more ends. Still, knitting it all in one piece greatly reduces the necessary finishing. And I still really like the yarn – great color and the price is right!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Serena : a review

The novel opens on a train platform in 1929. The Pembertons have just married in Boston and arrived at the logging settlement in North Carolina where Mr. Pemberton is part-owner. Awaiting them is Rachel Harmon, single and pregnant with Pemberton’s child, along with her father and his very large knife.

But he is no match for Pemberton. Formidable enough on his own, Pemberton and his mysterious new wife make an unstoppable team. Serena has grand plans for their business and will stop at nothing to make sure those plans are realized. Woe to anyone who gets in her way. The eerie backdrop – clearcut forests, loggers being maimed and killed – lends to the harsh atmosphere. Serena, who obtains an eagle and trains it to do her bidding, is herself like some wild animal.

I heard about this book from Jennifer Weiner’s blog but despite the promising start, it wasn’t as heartstoppingly exciting as her review suggested. It was a good story, but I didn’t get to know the characters enough to care about them. I was sympathetic to single mom Rachel, but everyone else seemed two-dimensional and emotionless, with few redeeming qualities.

Weiner mentioned Serena not having a backstory, which was frustrating, but I also found Pemberton hard to understand. He is totally entranced by her, but it doesn’t fully explain why he allows her to take charge to the extent that he does. Presumably he had a backbone at one time in order to rise to such heights in business, yet once Serena arrived he let her take complete control without questioning it at all.

On the one hand, I know the writing is good in many ways. But on the other hand, it wasn’t a book I was dying to pick up every time I had a free moment. There were some parts that were compelling, but I didn’t feel a consistent pull towards this novel.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Are you sick of these yet?

In which the Ingalls family lives in a dugout, the girls attend school for the first time, meet Nellie Oleson (who dismisses them as “country girls”), grasshoppers destroy the family’s wheat crop, and Pa gets lost in a snowstorm and eats all the Christmas candy. The girls also attend their first party (at Nellie Oleson’s house, of course) and host one of their own, complete with pretty little sugar-sprinkled vanity cakes.

This is the book in which things start to change. Up until now, the Ingalls family has been mostly secluded and self-sufficient. But living close to town, everything is very civilized and store-bought. The handmade items the girls used to be so thankful for pale in comparison to what some of their friends at school have.

Life will never be the same again. If the last book was the start of big changes for the Ingalls family, this book was the beginning of their new life. Mary is now blind, they have a new little sister, Grace, and they partake in many new experiences that are a far cry from their previous, simple life like riding on a train and eating at a hotel. Also, their faithful dog Jack dies!

Much of the book is concerned with getting a claim on a homestead as the area is becoming populated at a rapid pace. A town is being built and Pa puts up a storefront and, finally, they also get their homestead. It’s an exciting time in the very early days of what will become the town of De Smet, South Dakota.

There’s a big gap between these two books. At the beginning of Silver Lake Grace is just suddenly there and Mary is already blind. There’s a brief explanation that the family was hit with scarlet fever and a bit of flashbacky-ness to the time during which she loses her vision, but not much. (Also since the last book, the family had a son who died as a baby, and they moved to Iowa and then back to Plum Creek. But none of that is touched upon in the books.) The rough times have been glossed over and we are forging onward. What could possibly come next? A very long hard winter, perhaps!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Madelinetosh Sock

Ages ago I promised you pics of my two socks in progress. One stalled after being ripped and re-started a number of times to deal with pooling issues, but finally I set that one aside to concentrate on the one that was going more smoothly.

But I never got around to posting that early progress shot, and now look where I am.

I'm very much enjoying my sock. It's Madelinetosh Tosh Sock in a shade called Pheasant, which is like a forest if a forest could be contained in a sock. (The color is pretty washed out in the second photo, but you can at least see the progress I've made.)

At first I tried to find a pattern from Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn, in which there are many patterns designed explicitly for yarns that tend to pool. Although there are many beautiful patterns in that book, none of them were exactly what I wanted for this particular yarn. In the end, I turned to my old standby, Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch, and chose the slip-stitch rib pattern, one that I have long admired and was happy to finally knit.