Saturday, March 31, 2012

Biscuit and Nibbles

I've had my new rats for about a month now and just realized I haven't shared them with the blog yet. They don't like to sit still for photos but I have a couple of hammock shots.

The tan one is Biscuit and the black one is Nibbles. Biscuit actually paused a couple of times so I was able to get a couple more of him.

Finally, a poor quality one from my iphone, but he looks very cute so I didn't want to leave it out.

These two were from a group of 71 - yes, that is seventy-one - rats brought to the MSPCA recently by someone who bought two rats from a pet store and learned the hard way that they were not of the same sex. Rats can reproduce quickly and prolifically.

These guys are a little odd. These are the first rats I've had who absolutely cannot grasp the purpose of the litterbox. They also don't care for dried bananas. According to every other rat I've known, dried bananas are extremely exciting and worthy of celebration.

Despite their minor quirks, they are pretty well-behaved and fun to have around. I think they like it here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Locke and Key v.1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke and Key volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2009)

At PLA I attended a session on trends in genre series, and the presenter on horror highly recommended Joe Hill's graphic novel series Locke & Key.

It begins with a murder - the father of the Locke family is killed by a former student, after which the family moves to Maine to live with the deceased's brother. The kids try to cope with their grief and adjust to their new life on the island of Lovecraft. The youngest, Bode, soon discovers a magical door that turns him into a ghost and begins communicating with a mysterious woman seemingly trapped in their well. Meanwhile, the psycho who killed their father is still on the loose and moving ever closer to the family.

I thought this was a good story with good illustrations, but I didn't find it especially scary. It has all the elements of scariness - creepy house, psycho killer - but it didn't even give me the creeps. Maybe I am just desensitized after all the horror I read as a teenager. The setup was good though, and I think the characters hold a lot of potential for the series but I'm not sure I'll continue.  Graphic novels are nice palate-cleansers now and then, but I do get a whole lot more out of regular novels.

Have any of you read this series? What did you think? I'm wondering if I should try volume 2. The reviews of this book are all so glowing that I feel like I'm missing something.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Lifeboat

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (2012)

I recently attended the Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia (and hopefully will share more about that with you soon). One of the sessions I attended was on debut authors, and I got a free copy of each of the four authors' books. It was really enjoyable listening to them talk about their books, which all sounded very interesting. I don't usually try to get free books at conferences because I have enough books I want to read without adding to the list, but I was very happy to bring all of these home with me. 

Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat, didn't begin writing until in her mid-30s and says she has a whole drawer full of manuscripts. Her break came when she was being interviewed for an article on sending multiples to college (oh yeah, she was doing all this writing while raising triplets!) The journalist interviewing her ended up introducing her to an agent, and now we all get to read The Lifeboat. You will be as grateful as I am when it comes out on April 9 and you can finally read it.

The protagonist, Grace Winter, had only been married for about 4 weeks when the ship on which she and her husband were traveling went down. Grace was lucky enough to get a place in a lifeboat (or perhaps her husband paid a bribe, we'll never know for sure) though she did not see what became of Henry. There were 38 people on the lifeboat and although it was intended for 40 people, it was clearly too crowded. Of course they thought they'd be rescued right away and it wouldn't matter. In the end they were on the lifeboat for three weeks before the remaining survivors were rescued, after which Grace found herself on trial for murder. The novel is filled with ethical questions about survival and what constitutes murder in extreme situations, and whether it's justifiable to kill one person to save many. 

During her time on the lifeboat Grace had plenty of time for thought, and the reader learns a great deal about her early life and relationship with Henry. Grace is much more complex, and less morally absolute, than at first we may believe. She is also rather admirable with her sensible way of looking at her situation and her strong ability to reason. 

There were some wonderful passages that captured Grace's observations in a way that felt so realistic it was like I was on the boat myself. A change in the weather could affect her entire outlook, a cold breeze on a clear morning making her feel settled and less afraid. Her thoughts about the interpersonal relationships with the other occupants of the boat added depth and complexity to the situation. 

I was captivated from the very first page. This is an exciting story with relatable and imperfect characters, and I think it will appeal to a wide audience. There is much fodder for discussion, making this an ideal choice for book groups. I predict this book will be popular, and deservedly so.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I'm limping along on my projects, but I won't bore you with photos of the two rows I've completed on my cardigan, or the toe of my orange sock. Neither of them look different enough since you last saw them to merit a post.

I'll just show you some yarn.

It's very difficult to take photos of dark colored yarn, but the one in the middle looks nice here, doesn't it? On impulse, I decided to go to Windsor Button for what I'm referring to as "practical-colored" sock yarn. The owner agreed that these are, indeed, practical colors. I explained about my orange socks and how I don't know when I'll ever wear them and she sympathized with my plight. I think anyone who knits socks understands how we fall into this brightly-hued trap.

Two of the skeins above are Cascade Heritage, my new favorite sock yarn. The bluish middle skein is similar to what I used for these socks (but more blue), and the black yarn in the front is a solid of the same brand. In the back is a skein of Regia, a well-wearing yarn I've used before. It's a striping yarn in a few different dark colors, including purple (a practical color which, of course, goes with everything.)

As you can see, I've already begun with the solid black. As far as I am concerned black is the most practical color for socks so I didn't want to waste any time on those, especially since my one other pair of black hand-knit socks may be close to the end of its life. Although I'm already knitting socks right now, the orange ones are too complicated to knit on the bus which is where I've been doing most of my knitting recently. Thank deity-of-your-choice and the good people at Overdrive for the few iThing-compatible audiobooks available to me. They make busride knitting so much more pleasant.

I'll post more about the black socks sometime soon when I've made more progress and managed to get decent photos.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman (2011)

In this collaboration between the author popularly known as Lemony Snicket and a talented illustrator, a story of ill-fated romance is told through the objects being returned from Min to Ed after their breakup. Each object is rendered in brilliant illustration and the accompanying prose describes the object, the place it had in their relationship, and maybe another reason why the romance failed.

It's a great concept and I wish I loved it as much as I anticipated. My biggest problem was that I can't understand why Min and Ed ever got together in the first place. They had nothing in common and he was a complete ass, totally inconsiderate, and frequently called people fags. There was just nothing appealing about him. No matter how much they kept saying they loved each other, I just couldn't see it. The way their relationship ended was just one more instance of Ed's douchebaggery, and not worthy of a book, just as he was not worthy of Min.

But the writing and the illustrations were really wonderful. Narrated by Min as a long letter to Ed, the style was a little stream-of-consciousness with many run-on sentences. Sometimes that made it a little hard to follow, but mostly it was just really lovely writing which I enjoyed. Before this book I already admired Maira Kalman's photo essays and these designs were just as beautiful and expressive as her other work.

Other than Ed, the characters were appealing. There is a part near the end when Ed has wronged Min for the final time, and she launches into a 2-page litany of everything that is wrong with her, and I just want to take her our for an ice cream and talk some self-esteem into her. She is too good for him. Ed's sister was also fantastic with her amazing culinary creations and distaste for her brother's evil ways. I also really liked Min's friends Al and Lauren, who were both devoted yet not so devoted they could pretend to like or even really approve of Ed. 

The book was executed most beautifully, but its an elegy to a relationship that was doomed from the start. Both Ed and Min were allegedly heartbroken over the breakup, but it was hard to sympathize. He never deserved her, and she's so much better off without him. Despite all that, it was compelling and fun to read. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (2011)

It's 1996 and Emma has just set up her new computer when her friend and neighbor Josh comes over with an AOL CD for her. Later when she loads the disc, a site called Facebook pops up and Emma sees a thirty-something woman named Emma Nelson Jones who looks a whole lot like her. Josh is on the site too and his information says that he is married to Sydney Mills, who is the most popular girl in school and has never even spoken to him. At first thinking it's a prank website, Emma and Josh are soon convinced that it's a window to their futures. And those futures appear to change based on actions they take now. Emma keeps deliberately trying to prevent what she sees as her future unhappiness, while Josh wants to keep his seemingly perfect future life as he first saw it.

What a great premise for a book! If you could see what your future is like, what kinds of changes would you make to your life now? Would you make decisions that feel wrong because you think it will get you to the right place later? There are so many questions, and it was fun to experience it all along with Emma and Josh.

But Facebook isn't the only thing causing angst in their lives. A few months ago, Josh misread some signals and thought Emma wanted to move their relationship beyond friendship. She didn't. Awkward! So although they remain friends, there's a lot of tension between them, which increases as they navigate their dating lives.

This is a perfect crossover book, as adults who remember the 90s will appreciate many of the references. There's a some speculation that Ellen Degeneres might be gay, not to mention frequent use of pay phones. Observing Emma and Josh read status updates is hilarious as they wonder what a blog is, or the time someone says they miss Pluto, and they both wonder "What happened to Pluto? Did it get hit by a meteor?"

The writing was a bit awkward in places, with some stilted conversations that just didn't feel real. Emma also once used the phrase "baby bump" in 1996, though that phrase didn't come into use until the mid-00's. But mostly it was a fun ride with many interesting questions and a good ending. Like Facebook itself, this book was hard to close when real life beckoned.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Knitting

Surprisingly, I had no trouble picking up where I left off on my Milo sock.

Just a few more rows to the toe decreases!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weighed in the Balance

Weighed in the Balance by Anne Perry (1996)

Prince Friedrich and his wife Gisela lived one of the great love stories of their time. They left Felzberg because the Queen did not approve of their marriage and Friedrich chose exile rather than give up the woman he loved. Now, Prince Friedrich has died as a result of complications from an accident, and Countess Zorah Rostova has accused Gisela of murdering him. Gisela in turn is charging Zorah with slander and has hired Sir Oliver Rathbone to defend her. The case seems hopeless as soon as Rathbone learns of Friedrich and Gisela's almost mythical and very public love, even more so when he learns that Gisela didn't leave Friedrich's side during his illness and would therefore be unable to procure poison with which to kill him as accused. Though Rathbone implores Zorah to retract her statements, she insists on their truth. Rathbone soon employs the help of William Monk and, to a lesser extent, Hester Latterly to help investigate the case.

In addition to the complicated personal relationships, this novel was filled with a great deal of political intrigue. Prince Friedrich's family and associates were split over unifying the German provinces under Prussia or continued independence. If I were a good librarian I'd do a little history reading to find out how much of that story was based on actual history, but I am lazy about that sort of thing. It would have been awesome to have a couple of pages at the end explaining the facts behind the novel.

A noticeable aspect of Anne Perry's books is the amount of internal dialogue in the form of analysis of people's personalities and motivations. Every conversation is broken up by thoughtful deconstruction and observations of one character about another. Are people really that insightful? Can that much information really be gleaned from a look in someone's eyes? I tend to think it's all a bit much, but then again I've never been accused of being insightful myself. This analysis adds a lot of information to the story I suppose, but I can't decide whether I consider it a positive or negative aspect of her writing. I think I would just little a tiny bit less of it.

Mysteries are kind of great for me because I'm always surprised. I have no idea where they're going, nor do I particularly try to figure it out. I just happily ride along, learning more and more about the story until finally the secrets are uncovered and I am satisfied. I found this one slightly more predictable than previous books in the series but that may just be because I've gotten used to reading this genre.

As much as I enjoy reading about William Monk and Sir Oliver Rathbone, it's Hester Latterly who I really enjoy and there was less of her in this book than I like. Hopefully she will be more present in future books in this series. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where She Went

Where She Went by Gayle Forman (2011)

This book is the sequel to If I Stay and therefore contains pretty major spoilers.

Three years after Mia's accident she is playing the cello in Carnegie Hall. Adam, whose band Shooting Star shot to fame after he and Mia broke up, is getting ready to fly to London for a tour. But letting his band go ahead without him, he's staying an extra night in New York where, on impulse, he buys a ticket to Mia's performance. A lot has been left unsaid between them, so when they meet for the first time in almost three years, emotions run high and Adam's night in New York is a very long night indeed, full of anger, doubt, and finally hope for the future. Told from Adam's point of view, the short novel spans just a 24-hour period (much like it's predecessor) but this time it's a very different story.

There are lots of flashbacks to the time between when the two books take place, as well as some from before Mia's accident. Since this book is focused on Adam we don't know a lot about Mia's life since the accident but we learn a lot about Adam's end of the breakup with Mia, his subsequent rise to fame, his relationship with his current girlfriend, and problems within his band. He has a lot of unresolved feelings about Mia and together with his uncertain career plans, I found him a wonderfully complicated and compelling character to spend time with.

I listened to the audio and perhaps I would have loved it a teensy bit more had I read the print version. As I have mentioned before I dislike male narrators reading female voices, but since this book is from Adam's point of view, a male narrator was necessary. He was good too, just not...female.

This book received many great reviews, though I'm not sure if I think they are warranted. It didn't have the emotional impact of the first book for me, but I still found the relationship between Adam and Mia compelling. And in a way I feel this book was necessary to complete the story, an aspect of it that I found very satisfying. The writing was really nice as in the first book and I will definitely keep my eye out for more books from this author.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I'll Be There

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2011)

Sam and Riddle have lived in a lot of places, they don't go to school, and they are afraid of their emotionally unstable father, Clarence. Sam sometimes goes to churches to get away and be alone and one day he is drawn by the music to a church where a young woman is singing terribly, but staring at Sam the whole time. He meets her only briefly, but can't forget about her. Emily keeps looking for the mysterious young man from church who she can't get out of her mind. When they reconnect, Emily's whole family becomes attached to Sam and Riddle, but inevitably Clarence suddenly decides that once again it's time to skip town, taking the boys with him. Told in alternating chapters from Emily's and Sam's perspectives, this was a well-told and - dare I say it? heartwarming - story about fate, family, and friendship.

There is much to love about this book, but I especially liked how the lives of the main characters were so incredibly different from each other, and they kept feeling thrust into unfamiliar worlds. Sam and Riddle were poor, without a real home, and their only family was their abusive father. Visiting Emily's regular middle-class household was just amazing and luxurious to them. Similarly, Emily went to dinner at the local Country Club with Bobby Ellis, a boy who liked her much more than she liked him, and she felt completely out of her element around these people who dressed up for dinner and were disappointed that they no longer had lobster tails at the Country Club, a delicacy Emily had never in her life eaten. Bobby, of course, had no idea that this was all new to Emily, just as she didn't realize how her life felt to Sam and Riddle.

Until near the end I thought that Riddle was 7 or 8 years old, and was surprised when I saw that he was twelve. Emily also came across younger than her years; her chapters were written very simplistically, reminding me of a long-ago style like Nancy Drew or the Betsy-Tacy books. She definitely had some complicated emotions, but everything was expressed in simple, somewhat formal, sentences. Whether or not this was intentional, it's quite a contrast from the chatty tones used in most young adult novels. I'm still unsure how I feel about it.

The story was very good, and there's much more to it then I've described here, but I really think you should all read it for yourselves. This is an incredibly compelling novel with a lot going on, yet is very quick to read. It is quite poignant, with many heartfelt moments and a satisfying, if not quite believable, ending. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I've just completed the second sleeve of my Coraline Cardigan.

Right now it just looks like a lumpy mess with various colored waste yarn hanging off it, like some sort of wool-based Frankenstein, but I assure you that someday it will be beautiful. I keep telling myself this although my gauge is off and I only have two full balls of yarn left. I also made a poor decision way back at the hem which I am now beginning to regret.

But! It's purple!

Now I need to connect all those pieces and knit the smocked yoke. I've never knitting smocking before, but I'm sure it will be easy. Just like I'm sure I'll have enough yarn and I'm sure the sweater will fit.

The spring weather may be making me delusional, but I'm enjoying this happy state of mind so I won't trouble myself with details like math and gauge and yardage.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (2009)

When she was a child Grace survived a wolf attack, and since then has been obsessed with the wolves that live in the woods behind her house. There is one wolf in particular with whom she feels a kinship, a wolf that appears in her back yard every year on Christmas. But when one of her high school peers is killed by the wolves, she suddenly fears for their safety, convinced that "her" wolf was not to blame. Around this time she meets Sam, a boy with yellow eyes, and immediately recognizes him as the wolf with whom she is so familiar. Sam and Grace are strongly drawn to each other, but as Sam explains about the wolves and the pattern of turning from wolf to human to wolf again, they both begin marking the dwindling amount of time they have left together.

The tone of the novel is serious and heavy, without a trace of humor, and a bit otherworldly, like a dark fairy tale. The relationship between Sam and Grace was fantastically crafted, with all the anticipation, tension, and longing that go into any great romance. I kind of liked the wolf theme of the story, but it was their romance that clinched it for me.

There are very few faults with this book. Sam is very swoonworthy, and though his poetry/song lyrics are embarrassingly bad I suppose they are typically adolescent, so it's appropriate. Grace's absentee parents were a little unrealistic, are werewolves. It was believable in the context.

The audiobook had two narrators; one for chapters narrated by Grace, and one for chapters narrated by Sam. The female narrator was exceptional. The male narrator was good, though he put heavy emphasis on certain words that made it sound a little awkward. But luckily this didn't diminish Sam as a character at all. In general the audio is quite well done and that's how I'm planning to continue the series.

I didn't expect to like this book. Although I heard great reviews I thought it was going to be a fairytale retelling, which isn't my sort of thing (and which it is not). Even when I started listening to the audiobook I wasn't so sure I was going to like it, but I slowly became more involved in the story and now there's just no question of not continuing with the sequel.

Monday, March 5, 2012

If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman (2009)

Seventeen-year-old Mia has a rising rock star for a boyfriend, hipster rock-music-loving parents, a little brother who she adores, and is awaiting possible acceptance to Juilliard where she hopes to continue playing the cello. But then, in an instant, everything changes. Her family is gone and Mia lies in the hospital in a coma. Separated from her body, she watches herself in the hospital, observes the friends and family who come to visit her, and reflects on her charmed life, now ruined. Will she ever wake up? Does she even want to?

In Mia's rock-loving family, playing the cello is almost rebellious, but her dedication to music comes through vividly. Before the accident Mia struggled with the decision to move far away to music school leaving behind her family and her boyfriend Adam. Only friends and family are important enough to compete with Mia's love for music, and as she lay in the coma she weighed the loss of her family against her living grandparents, friends, and future musical career.

With this premise, the book could easily have been melodramatic, but it's not at all. Mia was very close to her family and the loss is just staggering, but the author manages to capture it in a way that makes it completely heartwrenching while keeping it real. Many authors would not be able to do this story justice, but Forman handles it deftly and beautifully.

If I Stay is under 200 pages and is a breeze to read, despite its serious themes. The vivid images - of her dad in his bow-tie smoking a pipe, the accident scene, Mia playing Adam's body like a cello - will stick with you long after you've turned the final page. I'd normally be wary of the sequel to such a book, but Where She Went has gotten rave reviews, I think more than this first book, so I've already begun listening to the audio. I'll be posting a review soon!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Knitting

These socks should not have taken me four months to knit.

But they are kind of nice, and I'm happy to see that the legs seem to be the same length. I was worried about that as I was binding off the other night.

These are an improvised pattern, cobbled together from Sensational Knitted Socks. I used the toe from one pattern, the heel from another, and cast on the number of stitches that seemed appropriate. The stitch pattern is just a 2x2 rib.

This yarn is Cascade sock yarn, which is 25% nylon, the only way to go with socks I've decided. No more 100% wool for me. I can't darn fast enough to keep up. 

They're knit on size 0 needles, for a nice tight non-hole-wearing gauge. I used an extra strand of yarn on the heel so they are nice and firm. If this all doesn't keep the socks from getting holes, my next step is to investigate steel yarn. 

(Sorry for the crappy iphone photo. The regular camera isn't cooperating with me right now.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Descendants

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings (2007)

Matt King's wife Joanie is in a coma following a boating accident. He is trying to step up to the plate in parenthood and see his two daughters through the difficult time, but he just doesn't know how to relate to them. The situation is further complicated when he learns that his wife had been having an affair, and Matt is understandably compelled to find out who the guy is and track him down.

Meanwhile, he has a tough decision to make. His family, who has lived on Hawaii for many generations and is descended from royalty, owns a huge parcel of land. They are in the midst of making a decision about selling it and Matt has the largest vote in the matter, so a lot is riding on him.

I saw the movie based on this book just a few days before I began reading. I apologize for the constant comparisons between the book and movie - I'm having a hard time separating the two!

Throughout the novel I pictured the characters as the actors from the movie, which is great since I thought it was very well cast. Aside from that, the book was better. There's just a lot going on in Matt's head, and his internal narration - which of course is missing from the movie - was one of my favorite aspects of the book. His observations are unflinchingly honest and don't always flatter him. Many of his thoughts are the sort you might be uncomfortable admitting, and at times I related, and was grateful someone else felt the same (even if he's a fictional character.)

Scottie, at ten years old, is precocious and quirky, still a child but quickly approaching adolescence and occasionally getting ahead of herself. Eighteen-year-old Alex has left behind a history of drugs and is pulling herself together though her parents haven't noticed since they sent her away to boarding school. She is strangely dependent on her seemingly dull-witted friend Sid, who Matt instantly dislikes. Sid was probably my favorite character of all, an outsider who suddenly appeared during the most difficult time the family has faced. At various times he acts as a buffer, an observer, an objective bystander. There is more about Sid in the novel than the movie, as well as a more fleshed-out background of Matt's relationship with his wife and daughters.

We knew almost nothing of the sort of person Matt's wife was before in her accident in the movie version, but in the novel she was a more complete character. Matt thought a lot about his conflicting feelings towards her and reflected a great deal on their rocky marriage, and through these reflections the reader gets to know her. Joanie was a model, an alcoholic, and from what I could tell, not a particularly nice person. I didn't know enough to care about her one way or another in the movie, but in the book I distinctively disliked her.

But it doesn't matter, because the point is that you care about the rest of the family. In both the film and novel I couldn't help but want everything to turn out ok for Matt and his daughters, and I feel pretty confident they will. Whether or not you've seen the movie, this is a book well worth checking out.