Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (2011)

Lacey has finally gotten her license, and with it just a tiny taste of freedom from her strict parents. Everything will be different this year! Plus now she's eligible to try out for a major part in Hell House and she's hoping for the most coveted part of all - Abortion Girl. By acting out this sin for all the public to see, Lacey will help bring more people into the fold of her church, the church in which she has grown up and which has provided her with all the answers for her whole life.

Then Ty Davis comes to town, and everything begins to change. Lacey's conversations with Ty confuse her and challenge her beliefs. Then as Hell House becomes more surrounded in drama and scandal, Lacey starts to feel uncomfortable with how her parents react to everything, and how she would have reacted herself a few short months ago. For the first time, she finds herself lying to her parents and deliberately defying them as she begins to question everything she has been taught.

In the beginning, I couldn't believe how squeaky-clean everyone in this town was. It's like they were trying to out-goody-two-shoes each other. But it's a very small town in (I think) the Bible Belt, and the teenagers have been pretty coddled and sheltered their whole lives, especially Lacey. All it takes is one cute curly-haired outsider to make her really begin to think about her beliefs and question her faith.

At first I didn't think I'd like this book because I found found Lacey's narrow goody-ness a little annoying, but I very quickly began to enjoy the story. It's complex and so is Lacey. Even the super conservative people like her parents aren't all black and white, nor are they portrayed in a very negative way. It seemed like the author was really trying to understand the mindsets of Evangelical Christians without making them appear too narrow-minded or judgmental. Of course they kind of are, but the book does a good job of differentiating various levels of devoutness and showing how it can change.

Issues such as abortion and homosexuality and not only less black-and-white than Lacey imagined, but are also closer to home. For the first time she is forced to really think about the issues - and the people involved - rather than just spout the dogma she has internalized. And that is the crux of the story - learning to really examine your views and beliefs separately from what you have been taught. Lacey grows up a lot during the course of the novel, and we get to experience all the uncertainty and change along with her.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Knitting : a confession

I'm afraid to go back to my orange sock.

You remember the orange sock, right? It looks like this:

The pattern involves intricate charts and lots of counting. As I recall, in the dark recesses of my memory, in addition to the charts and row counter I also had to take some additional notes to keep track of where I was.

It's been a long time since I picked up this sock. If I go back to it now, will I have any idea what's going on? What if I can't tell where I left off? I'm frequently guilty of not taking very detailed notes even though I'm convinced I write every single thing down.

The longer I wait the worse it will be, I fear.

But I miss the sunny orange and I do so want some new socks. I've been doing a lot of darning but some of those socks can't be saved much longer. (What does one do with too-worn hand-knit socks? I can't possibly throw them in the trash, can I?)

I really need to get knitting. I'm going to have to just sit down and figure it out.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

Meg and her brother Charles Wallace have been waiting a long time for their father to return home. Instead, they are visited by three strange women named Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs Where, who whisk them away (along with their friend Calvin) on a tesseract to the far-away planet of Camazotz so they can try to save their father from the Dark Thing. 

I hadn't revisited this story since I was very young, and it was a fun adventure with likable characters. L'Engle has created  interesting worlds and strange characters, though Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are very relatable kids who experience all the strangeness along with the reader. I still don't exactly understand the tesseract; the explanation of the fifth dimension was hard for me to visualize (and I was never good at science) but luckily it's not integral to following the story.

The only part I didn't like (aside from the numerous religious references peppered throughout) was the really lame simplistic ending. I hate to complain about something being simplistic in a children's book, but I was rather disappointed at the end. I'm sure as a child I found it a revolutionary idea that what defeated the the enemy was love, but as an adult it's hard to swallow. (And sorry for the spoiler - I assume everyone has either read the book or isn't interested.)

There are four more books in the series, and I have no specific plans to read them soon, but eventually I may want to visit again with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace and see what they're up to.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Child 44

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (2008)

In Soviet Russia everyone is equal and they all love their leader, Stalin. Crime is a Western phenomenon and it's of the utmost importance to keep out these dangerous influences. Everyone must be vigilant and report those whose loyalty to the Soviet state appears to be wavering.

When a young boy is found murdered and disemboweled near a set of train tracks, it is a closed case. Clearly he was playing too close to the tracks and was struck. A tragedy, but not murder. As other children die similar deaths, the State's position is that it must be the work of a lunatic, or perhaps a homosexual, definitely some sort of deviant.

Leo Demidov, a war hero who works in the State Security Force and has always been loyal to Soviet Russia, begins to notice the pattern in the murders and question the position taken by the government. He starts to see how he has been blinded by his ideals, and sets out to find the serial killer, risking his own life and the lives of everyone close to him in the pursuit of justice.

The fast-paced action did not come at the expense of well-developed characters, as in so many thrillers. Here the players were fleshed out well, and the dynamics of Leo and Raisa's marriage were sadly realistic. Tension was palpable throughout the novel, in this society where everyone feared being singled out; it was imperative to always say the right things, and even then there is still a danger. All it takes is one bad word - or just a question - from a neighbor being tortured or trying to deflect attention and you are doomed. It was like reading a dystopian novel except that this world actually existed.

The circumstances surrounding the murders of the children were simply chilling, and the visuals have unfortunately stuck with me. The setting was perfect for this story and it all came together in an exciting climax. It was a fantastic novel, and the great news is that there are follow-ups. The second book is The Secret Speech, and Agent 6 was just released last month. So go get 'em!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Knitting

When I finally completed a successful toe on my Grown Up Booties, I assumed the second one would quickly follow. At least, this seems like the only plausible explanation as to why I didn't write down what I did. Now, about a month later when I went back to the project, I looked all over the place for my notes before ultimately having to admit that there just weren't any, so I winged the second slipper just as the first.

It seems a fair approximation. They don't match exactly, but I think they need to be blocked anyhow, maybe even lightly felted, so they can still be shaped into submission.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler (2003)

Virginia Shreves abides by the Fat Girl Code of Conduct. In a nutshell:
1. Any sexual activity is a secret.
2. Don't discuss your weight with him.
3. Go further than skinny girls.
4. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever push the relationship thing.

In between her Monday afternoon make-out sessions with Froggy Welsh the Fourth (his real name) she treats him as just another classmate. She desperately misses her best friend Shannon who moved away, and tries to avoid the snobby girls at school. Things are no better at home. Virginia is convinced she was switched at birth, since she looks nothing like the rest of her family. Her mother, an adolescent therapist, claims that she too once struggled with her weight and is all too happy to provide Virginia with a steady stream of advice on dieting and exercise, obviously uncomfortable with Virginia's appearance. Her father doesn't hide his admiration for very thin women, and these combined pressures from her parents do not help her self-confidence at all. More than anyone, Virginia adores her older brother, but when he is accused of a terrible crime against a girl at college, Virginia begins to question the healthiness of her relationship with him as well. (In fact, one of my favorite scenes in the book was when she finally told Byron what she thought about him. Yes!)

The first few chapters of this book were incredibly painful. Virginia harbors a great deal of self-hatred, and the list above really made me wince. I knew the entire book would be about her growth and self-confidence and learning to love herself so I kept going. It was so worth it. When Virginia began to question her family's judgment and the seemingly perfect lives of the other girls at school and started to take control of her own life and decisions, it was so empowering! 

It became clear that her negative feelings towards herself originated with other people's opinions - or what she perceived them to be anyway - and when she realized that, it made all the difference. Virginia matured a great deal during the course of the book, and became self-confident and gutsy, standing up to her parents and no longer seeking approval from her brother. Her transformation was immensely satisfying. It doesn't look like Carolyn Mackler has written a follow-up, but if she ever does I'd be happy to spend more time with Virginia and see what she's up to, because I'm sure she has grown into an amazing and capable young woman.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1) by Karina Halle (2011)

22-year-old Perry Palomino recently graduated with an advertising degree, and is disappointed to be working as a receptionist. She lives with her parents and younger sister, fashion blogger Ada, and generally feels like her life is without direction. One fateful weekend, she decides to explore the old lighthouse on her Uncle Al's property and meets Dex Foray under the creepiest of circumstances. When Perry posts a video of the evening's strange occurrences in the lighthouse, she's suddenly somewhat famous, and Dex asks her to join with him on a ghost hunting internet show. Perry isn't certain whether she should trust Dex, but at the same time she finds him extremely attractive, even though she knows he has a girlfriend.

The first thing that needs to be gotten out of the way here, is that this book is self-published and therefore hasn't gone through any professional editing process. This is apparent from very early on, and the writing is riddled with awkward phrasing, cliches and poor word choices. I was very surprised to see all the 5-star reviews on Goodreads, and when a reviewer on FYA says she didn't realize the book was self-published, my first thought was "Have you read a book before?"

However, in many cases her writing is spot on (and funny), and even though it can be very stilted, what she says is genuine and believable. On a larger level than word choice, it is clear she has talent. Although it reads sort of like a teenager's blog, her conversational style is a strength that makes the book a breeze to read. It's also just a great idea for a story and the plot is well-developed, as is Perry's character. Halle has found a good balance between action and inner monologue, sprinkling the story with just enough hints about Perry's and Dex's pasts to make the reader intrigued enough to continue on.

There are some great elements to this story - it is genuinely creepy, and even the awkward vocabulary didn't get in the way of that. The spooky lighthouse and its backstory is pretty fantastic. Perry is very likeable, and easy to identify with. She's struggling in her fledgling career in advertising, struggling with her body image, and just trying to figure out who she's going to be now that she's an adult.

Considering that Karina Halle did every bit of work herself including the cover art (which is fantastic), and wrote the whole thing in six weeks, it's pretty impressive. If she gets a traditional publisher to handle editing, marketing and other details, it will allow her to spend more time to hone her talent. I think we can expect to see much more of her in the future.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I still haven't knit a stitch since before my vacation, but I did start something new just before I left which I haven't shown you yet.

This is hopefully going to be the Mottled Rib Sweater from Rebecca. I say hopefully because somehow I bought completely inappropriate yarn so I'm knitting at a different gauge. I've added some extra stitches to make up for it, but I don't think I did any actual math. It is likely that I'll end up ripping out the whole thing and starting over.

The whole reason I was inspired to start this project was that I wanted to make a quick, simple sweater that I could knit up really fast and wear soon. I found the pattern for the Mottled Rib Sweater in an old issue of Rebecca that I had hanging around, and rushed out and bought some nice tweedy and cheap Plymouth Encore Chunky. Although I had extensive notes regarding suggested yarns I still managed to buy the wrong thing.

There are two very similar patterns in the magazine - the one I was aiming for and one in worsted weight. My gauge is between the two so hopefully I can cobble something together that ends up being a sweater that fits me and isn't embarrassing to wear in public. And hopefully I can wear it before spring, which means ramping up the progress. This week has been a total wash from the jet lag - I've gone to bed at 8 or 9 most evenings. (It's almost 9 now, so if this post doesn't make sense or even contain complete sentences, please forgive me.)

In summary, I wanted a quick and easy project. I planned poorly and am not following directions. Then I stopped knitting altogether for about three weeks (so far!) Nothing about this is turning out quick or easy, and yet I am still convinced that I'll have a fantastic new sweater in no time. Stay tuned for updates - they should be entertaining.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Graceling by Kristin Cashore (2008)

Katsa is one of a special type of people known as Gracelings. They are all recognizable for their two different colored eyes, and each has a special power known as a Grace. Katsa's Grace is killing, making her feared and ostracized. She has been forced to work as the king's thug, torturing and killing at his whim. Secretly, she has formed an organization called the Council, a group who works to combat injustice. When the novel opens, Katsa is rescuing the father of the Lienid king, who has been kidnapped for mysterious reasons. As she tries to get to the bottom of the kidnapping, she joins forces with the king's grandson, the mysterious and attractive Po. As Katsa and Po investigate the mystery together, they also make startling discoveries about each other, and themselves.

Katsa takes a little getting used to; she's very stand-offish, sometimes frustratingly so, and refuses to give in to her feelings. But it's easy to see why she has developed such a hard exterior. Forced into committing cruelties and feared by everyone she meets, she hasn't exactly had a fun life with fulfilling relationships. Her power-abusing uncle, the king, is her only family. The best part about Katsa is that she's so incredibly bad-ass, multi-skilled, and independent, truly a woman to admire!

Then Po comes along, and everything begins to change. He is so dreamy! But it takes Katsa a while to admit this, and she's suspicious because it's clear that he has a lot to hide, yet it's very difficult to hide anything from him. Their relationship is tentative at first, but soon heats up and becomes quite dramatic as they must make difficult choices in the interest of their shared quest.

It's taken me years to get around to reading this book, which has been recommended by so many people, and for good reason! An action-filled tale, the novel has a well-crafted storyline and is populated with a diverse cast of characters, both good and evil. Of course, you don't always know which are good and which are evil. I read most of the novel on my long flight to Hong Kong, and it was the perfect escape. Graceling is a great adventure in an unfamiliar land, with lots of surprises. It's also the first in a series so if you start now you can catch up by the time the third book, Bitterblue, is released in May.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hong Kong Vacation

I had a great time on my trip to Hong Kong!

It's a very interesting place, with a mix of old and new, ramshackle little villages in close proximity to (and sometimes within) cities.

I visited some temples

where there was lots of fragrant incense burning.

The temple of A-Ma in Macau had particularly unusual incense.

I also visited a Buddhist monastery

on a foggy day.

There were many street markets

(one of which had a yarn stand)

and some nice scenery

lots of interesting trees

I even saw a couple of rats

(They were part of the leftover Chinese New Year decorations)

and a sheep-themed tea set at the Museum of Teaware.

Speaking of which, I drank lots of tea

and of course ate a lot of tasty food

(That's sweet and sour tofu, not very authentic but completely delicious.)

It was also wonderfully warm most of the time, and I even got a bit of a sunburn. 

I didn't knit a stitch but I did read, so reviews are forthcoming.