Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

On the morning of Nick and Amy's fifth anniversary, she got up early and made crepes for their breakfast. Then she disappeared - Nick returning home later to find overturned and smashed furniture in the living room. He calls the police to report her missing, but during questioning evades certain topics while ignoring a mysterious caller who keeps ringing his phone. Soon, eyes turn towards Nick as the prime suspect. In alternating chapters, we learn their story - or what they want us to know of it - through Nick's evasive narration and Amy's revealing diary.

Their marriage, we quickly learn, was fraught with tension. Amy struggles between being a "cool girl" who doesn't nag her husband, and wanting him to have some consideration for her. She makes fun of the "dancing monkeys" - men who she feels do whatever their wives tell them - while trying not to be upset at Nick's failure to show up when they had plans. Nick harbors his own resentments and frequently seems more allied with his twin sister than his wife. The more we learn about their relationship, the more the plot is complicated, and the more terrifying the story becomes.

There are so many delicious little secrets unveiled one by one throughout the book, changing the game again and again. One of the best things about it was that even though a lot of the story is told first-person by Nick, you just can't tell whether or not he's guilty - I turned back many times to re-read passages that could be interpreted in different ways. Amy too, is hard to get a handle on. Just who is this woman?

Just as compelling as the story is its backdrop, a town economically destroyed, full of the bitter unemployed. An abandoned mall full of squatters is an eerie and almost dystopian touch. This bleak setting only added to the unsettled feeling that grew steadily with every page.

This brilliant psychological novel is a page-turner, manipulating the reader the way the characters manipulate each other. I sort of felt like I needed to see a therapist when I finished, but I mean that in the best way possible.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Knitting

My Puff-Sleeved Cardigan with the redone peplum.

I wish I could say I was happy with it, but I think it's only a slight improvement over the original. Somehow it seems a bit too big around the torso, and I'm still not sure it's the right length.

The photos didn't come out as well as I'd hoped, but then it rained for a large part of the weekend so there was no opportunity to take more pictures. The button band is all crooked and it looks a little weird with the two unbuttoned buttons at the bottom, but when I tried it on in front of the mirror it looked more like this, which I liked:

And here's the back, just cuz:

So....better than it was, but I'm not sure I'll wear it. I'll try though. I just don't want the other kids laughing at me for wearing funny clothes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven (Smythe-Smith Quartet #1) by Julia Quinn (2011)

I have long felt like I've neglected the entire romance genre and as a librarian, I should probably be a little more familiar with it.

Also, I really felt like reading a trashy romance.

But you know - this book turned out to be much better than expected. I'm such a sucker for historical romances anyhow - for example, I've watched Pride & Prejudice more times than I can count and many of the novels I love revolve around love stories. When I think of romance as a genre though, I assume it's stereotypical and formulaic and boring. Apparently, that's not necessarily the case.

Anyhow, the novel. Our heroine, Honoria Smythe-Smith is going into her third season without so far securing a husband. She is becoming desperate. When she runs into family friend Marcus Holroyd under unusual circumstances, they are suddenly thrown together in a crisis situation and before they know it, sparks fly.

First of all, I love this cover. (I actually read this because of a review of the second book in the series, which also has a gorgeous cover.) I do love a lady in a pretty dress. But there is much to love inside the book too.

I was pleasantly surprised that this book and its characters have a sense of humor. Honoria's quartet has NO musical talent whatsoever and even Marcus finds listening to them to be torture, which provided a great deal of comic relief. The perspective shifts between Honor and Marcus, which makes it even more amusing when they realize their attraction to each other and become awkward. Honoria inwardly curses herself when she panics and curtsies at Marcus (curtsies!) and meanwhile, Marcus ruminates on how to properly court a woman ("Flowers? He'd seen other men with flowers. Women liked flowers. Hell, he liked flowers, too. Who didn't like flowers?") I think one of the turn-offs of that lone Harlequin romance I read as a teenager was that it took itself way too seriously. What a pleasant surprise this funny novel was!

Also, Honoria and Marcus shared a love of sweets that was quite endearing. There is a scene where she smuggles a tart into his sickroom and they eat the entire thing together, quickly before they are caught. A relationship based on a shared love of baked goods is one I can certainly relate to.

The story was a little sexier than I thought a Regency romance would be. There's a great scene in which Marcus is extremely ill in bed and Honoria is watching over him, and keeps becoming distracted by his muscular arms and bare chest. Then there is also actual sex, which took me a little by surprise. Not to spoil anything, but if sex would appear, I assumed it would be on their honeymoon. Clearly, I have a lot to learn about this genre. (Further research may be needed.)

This book was like candy. It didn't last very long, and it wasn't very deep or complex, but it's totally yummy and I could eat a whole bunch of them. And knowing how I am around candy, I probably will.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Secret Speech

The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov #2) by Tom Rob Smith (2009)

This is the second in a series, so there are spoilers here if you haven't read the first one (which you should have because it is awesome).

Leo and Raisa are raising the two girls they rescued in the first book, but although Elena seems to be adjusting, teenager Zoya cannot forget the role Leo played in her parents' deaths. Meanwhile, Stalin is no longer in power and Leo is now working in homicide. Khrushchev releases a speech admitting the crimes of Stalin's regime and the new paradigm - with police as criminals and former criminals are innocent - creates dangerous turmoil. In this new landscape it is not only Zoya who cannot forgive Leo his crimes, and soon his entire family is in danger, sending him on a quest into the dangerous Siberian Gulags and the violent Hungarian uprising.

Just like in Child 44, Smith has created a fast-paced action-filled story without overlooking the importance of character development. In the last novel, a serial killer plot was set in a backdrop that made investigating the crimes more difficult, but here the plot is more closely related to the complicated political situation. The changes created by Khrushchev's speech weren't clear - many resisted the implications, while many remained unsure, creating an even more volatile and dangerous situation for everyone. Leo, a former employer of the State Security Force, is at special risk, especially when he is forced to enter a gulag and is faced with people he may have himself condemned.

Nothing is black and white in this novel, and there are no clear good guys or bad guys. Even the villain is someone who was just reacting to past injustices. The second in a trilogy is frequently the weakest link, but not so here. The Secret Speech is fresh and compelling and just as hard to put down as Child 44. Fans of crime fiction absolutely should not miss this series!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I'm on a mini-vacation in Maine this weekend so I don't have any knitting updates, but I do have a little review on a knitting book that you might be interested in.

Sweet Shawlettes by Jean Moss (2012)

As the subtitle says, this book focuses on cowls and small wraps. There are 25 patterns, ranging from little collars and thin scarves to full shawls. The styles vary as well, some dressy, some funky, some casual. There really is something for everyone.

What I really love about this collection is the sheer variety - not just in style, but in technique. There's entrelac, cables, fair isle, lace, shadow knitting using yarns ranging from lace weight to bulky. It's not forced either - sometimes you can tell a pattern was added because something with a particular technique was needed, but it's not a great pattern. Here, each pattern really stands on its own. Nothing was ugly or laughable, which is rare for a book of patterns with such variety.

It is always difficult to judge patterns without trying them, but the layout and instructions appear clear for the patterns that I read through. I also checked Ravelry to see what people thought of the patterns they've tried. There weren't a ton of projects from the book (it's only been out for a few months, after all) and it mostly seems like people are pretty happy with how their projects have turned out.

And the pictures are gorgeous. Sometimes a knitting book is worth it for the photography even if you don't even make anything from it. I have knitting books that I take out every now and then and just look through and never make any of the patterns, but they're still worth it for the sheer enjoyment. This could be one of those books, but I'll bet any knitter can find something worth knitting here.

Although I don't tend to make or wear these types of garments a whole lot, I'll admit I've already queued a few of the patterns on Ravelry. The entrelac piece on the front is probably my favorite, but I also love Ceilidh and Penumbra. I looked at a copy of the book through NetGalley, but I may need to buy myself a copy. Even if I just look at the pictures.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2010)

When you think about astronauts and going to space, are you the sort of person who thinks about the science and technology and amazing discoveries, or the person who wonders how the hell they use the bathroom in zero gravity? If, like me, you're the latter type, you're in luck because Mary Roach has written a book that answers that and many other questions about life in space.

In Packing for Mars, Roach investigates many practicalities including eating, throwing up, sex, and hygiene. She also explores topics such as gravity, isolation and confinement, how astronauts are chosen, planning space missions, and the history of animals in space.

I've never been interested in space travel. Not because I find it boring or anything like that, but because I find everything about it absolutely terrifying. But recently the hosts of The Readers podcast interviewed Mary Roach about her book and these more day-to-day and comparatively non-terrifying aspects of space flight. The interview was pretty hilarious and it was clear that this book is not only funny, but totally accessible for non-sciency types (and also not scary).

There IS science, but just enough to understand the basics of things like gravity, which is definitely good to know about. (I even learned that my alma matar has an anti-gravity stone which I somehow missed during my four years of college.) Roach doesn't get bogged down in detailed explanations, instead giving just enough background to understand the concepts and mostly sticking to anecdotes from her interviews or from history. She keeps it light and funny and interesting.

My only -and minor- quibble with the book is the near-constant* use of footnotes. They contained some of the funniest information in the book**, but seriously interrupted the flow.*** It became very distracting.****

Mary Roach has also written books about cadavers (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook), and sex (Bonk) and is immensely popular. Now I understand why, and will likely read at least one of those books as well. Space travel is ever so slightly less terrifying now that I understand it more. Upon finishing the book I immediately watched Apollo 13 and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you haven't read anything of hers yet - even if you find nonfiction as difficult to get into as I do - you should definitely give one of her books a try.

*Seriously, on almost every page.
**So I don't think those bits should have been omitted, just worked into the regular part of the text.
***Especially since some of them were so long that by the time I finished reading them, I had lost the flow of the main part of the text and had to re-read the last sentence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Railsea by China Miéville (2012)

Sham Yes ap Soorap is a doctor's assistant aboard the moletrain Medes, traveling the rails in search of the moldywarpe named Mocker-Jack. Instead they come across a wrecked train in which Sham finds several pictures that set him on a hunt of a different kind. As he searches for something that should be impossible to exist, he encounters monsters, pirates, and - most dangerous of all - the truth about the railsea.

Though I've been curious about China Miéville for a long time, this is the book I ended up choosing for one reason above all: giant naked mole rats. I was not disappointed. The naked mole rat is not a pretty animal; in the form of a giant, burrowing through the ground and heading toward the train you are riding, it would be truly monstrous. Between the giant rats and the sea of railroads, Railsea contained some of the best imagery I've come across in a while. I really want this to be a movie.

Apparently, there are echoes of Moby-Dick here, in the determination of Captain Naphi to hunt down the mole that bit off her arm. Having never read Moby-Dick, I can't speak to this comparison or the extent of the Moby-Dick theme, but it comes up in most reviews.

Audio probably wasn't the best choice for me for this book. Aside from being distracted a number of times (through no fault of the great narrator, Jonathan Cowley), I didn't realize until reading reviews afterward that the book contains drawings. Also, several reviews mentioned heavy use of ampersands in the text, which may have added something stylistically which I missed in the audio version.

The story was good, if a little slow at times, but the best part was the world-building.  I wanted to learn more and more about the world Miéville created, and I hope there will be a sequel because I see a lot more adventure in Sham's future and I want to learn more about his world and its people.

I also want to read more by China Miéville. Perdido Street Station has been on my radar for a long time and I've avoided it because of its length. Starting with a young adult novel was probably a good choice, but now that I've gotten a good taste of Miéville and his talent, I think that novel may drift higher in my queue.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I promise I won't post about Les Miserables every time I've done another inch, or even foot. But I last showed it to you when I first cast on, so I think it's safe to show you an update now.

Also, I still haven't sewn the buttons on my cardigan.

Or started another pair of socks (though I did get caught up on darning.)

Nor have I even touched my Mottled Rib Sweater. (You forgot all about that project, didn't you? Yeah, so did I.)

But Les Mis is going strong! It has to. This is the sort of project that if I let my guard down at all, it will just stop entirely before I'm even halfway done, and I'm not sure that's something from which I could recover. I'm determined to keep up my momentum and plow through this thing so I can wear it in the fall.

(This fall. Not some fall far off in the future.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2012)

Inexplicably, the Earth's rotation began to slow. As the days got longer, the tides got higher, the weather changed, birds began to die, relationships suffered. "But," says our protagonist Julia, "no force on earth could slow the forward march of sixth grade."

Eleven-year-old Julia has a lot to contend with. The environmental calamities are almost more than she can comprehend, and she now lives in a strange society in which people on "clock time" are at odds with those attempting to remain in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. On top of all that are the bullies at the bus stop, her suddenly tenuous friendships, and the boy she has a crush on but doesn't know how to talk to.

"The slowing" and its effects are fascinating and scary and create powerful imagery, such as beach houses missing entire walls to expose contents encrusted with barnacles and anemones. But the everyday struggles are, of course, what makes it personal and relatable. Families become ripped apart when someone decides to leave for a "real time" colony, people begin building bunkers and hoarding supplies, impulsiveness becomes rampant as part of the new gravity sickness. Then there are the challenges that may have nothing to do with the disaster - the strain in Julia's parents marriage, for instance, and Julia's changing friendships. Maybe it's from the stress of the situation, but maybe it's just part of middle school. One of my favorite scenes was when Julia skipped soccer practice to go buy a bra, beautiful in the store but cheap and ill-fitting when she got home. How small the disappointment in comparison to the loss of entire species of animals, but how important to the life of one sixth-grader!

Similar to Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, this novel focused a lot on the reaction to disaster, the continuation on with normal life in a world that is suddenly uncertain. But of course that was a one-time event and this is an ongoing catastrophe, more similar to Life As We Knew It - and if you like either of those books, you will probably like this one.

Although not considered YA, The Age of Miracles reads like a young adult novel - fast-paced with a simple, straight-forward writing style. Combined with the compelling story, it was incredibly quick to read. I don't remember when I last read a book in a day. There's good reason why this book is such a hit right now - go get yourself a copy immediately!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Game of Kings

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (1961)

In 16th century Scotland a man exiled for committing treason has returned to his native soil. Francis Crawford of Lymond, the younger son of the Crawfords of Culter, is educated and multi-lingual, charismatic and witty, and has formed a band of mercenaries wreaking havoc all over the countryside even as Scotland braces itself for attacks from the English. Lymond seeks three men who he thinks may have information about the crimes he is accused of committing, but finding them proves difficult because of the political climate and his disadvantaged position. A large cast of characters and complicated story lines make this first book of the Lymond Chronicles difficult, yet satisfying, reading.

This was the most dense and complex story I've read in a while, and it took me a surprisingly long time to read. I'm very weak on Scottish history, despite studying it during a semester abroad at Glasgow University, but as with many aspects of this book it's mostly important to just get the gist of it. This is lucky for me, because throughout the novel I felt a little lost, but although I know I missed some things I know I got the main points and was able to enjoy the characters and the story.

This may sound suspiciously like I didn't like it, but really I did. There were great descriptions and conversations and relationships and funny bits, including a fantastic scene in which a Gypsy performs a feat of alchemy for an audience of ladies, one of whom is a bit too smart to fall for his stunts. The sense of history is just so authentic here, and incredibly detailed and well thought out. As I mentioned, there's a lot I didn't exactly understand, and I'm a little awestruck at the feat this author accomplished. I definitely have a lot of appreciation for the novel, even if I didn't love it.

This is just the first in a series and though I find the story interesting, I'm unlikely to read more of them. What I'd love though, is to watch it as a series. I'm surprised it hasn't been adapted by BBC already, or HBO, which I'm sure could also do a great job. The imagery of the setting would translate well to the screen (many times I pictured it all happening as though I were watching it onscreen), and there are plenty of colorful and complicated characters who would have wide appeal. I'm sure Dunnett's legions of fans disagree with me, but they are just better people than I to have the fortitude to make it through the whole series.

(I won my copy of the book from a contest over at Shelf Love, a really fantastic book blog.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I was really hoping to have a finished Puff-Sleeved Cardigan to show you today but alas, it is not finished. Various events conspired against my progress such as last weekend's camping trip, Independence Day, and my insurmountable distaste for figuring out how to space button holes.

This is where I am.

I zipped through the button band in one evening. Soon thereafter I began the buttonhole band. The instructions say to pick up stitches and then place markers evenly to denote where the buttonholes will go. That of course is silly, since there are three whole rows of knitting to be done before making the button holes, so I just went ahead and knit those rows. Then stopped. And here I am.

Unlike many people, I don't actually dislike making button holes. It's just the maddening process of figuring out where to put them that drives me into a rage. I always think I'm being very smarty pants with my math and then realize I've overlooked some minor but important detail. And the fact that I can't remember where it is that I always go wrong just increases the likelihood of making the same mistake again. I suppose I should just get it over with, shouldn't I?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Baby Proof

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin (2006)

Claudia and Ben are the perfect couple - not only are they completely in love, but they both agree that they don't want to have children and each feels incredibly glad to have found a mate compatible in this most important way. Until one of them changes their mind. What do you do when the very foundation of your relationship suddenly changes? And how much are you willing to compromise for love? 

I am always a little skeptical of books about The Most Perfect True Love of All Time because I am nothing if not a cynic about romance, but then again this is chick lit and the ridiculousness of that genre is also what I love about it. Chick lit can be rather hit-or-miss, but I've listened to three of Emily Giffin's other books on audio, and liked them all. She is not only consistent, but has a talent for making you like characters who are doing things you strongly disapprove of. Particularly appealing about Emily Giffin's writing is that she adds minor characters who were major characters in other books. Here too, were two major players just mentioned off-handedly a couple of times (though one had a profound impact on the plot.) 

There are certain issues that I don't especially like reading about because I hold positions about which I feel, shall we say, a little sensitive. Not so much in real life, but just in books. Like, I'll talk about animal rights with people and feel totally comfortable, but I really put off reading Before You Know Kindness because I was afraid it would make me angry. So too with this book - I sort of dreaded it because of the main plot point. I am absolutely totally comfortable with being a child-free person and am fine talking to people about it, but nothing irks me more than a character in a book who is staunchly child-free until they realize that in fact they are just AFRAID of having children or have issues with their own mother and once they get past this they will totally change their minds and start producing offspring immediately. Obviously there are people for whom this is true, but can't there be a character who simply doesn't want to be a parent the way someone else simply doesn't want to be an accountant or an Evangelical Christian?

Anyhow (see how this kind of thing puts me on a tangent?) I am happy to report that as tense as I got during the course of this book, ultimately it did not make me angry. Say what you want about chick lit, but there are subtleties and nuances here that really do justice to an issue that could easily have been oversimplified. 

Somehow it wasn't quite as good as her other books that I've read, but it was still a good bit of fun. I'll definitely continue reading her stuff, though I'll probably go back to the audio since I've had such good experiences with her novels in that format. I do love some chick lit in the summertime.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th!

I hope all the Americans are enjoying a fun Independence Day, and that all the Canadians had a great one over the weekend. Everyone else, happy Wednesday!

I apologize for my lack of a book review, and it will probably be at least a few days before there is one. I've been reading a lot, I swear - in fact, I spent most of my weekend camping trip with my butt in a chair and my nose in a book. Dorothy Dunnett's The Game of Kings is proving to be very time-consuming. It's a good book and I'll absolutely finish it, but getting there is taking me longer than I expected. It is dense and confusing and I really want it to be a tv series, preferably from the BBC or HBO.

In addition to this historical novel, I'm also reading a bit of chick lit and listening to an audiobook, so I'm bound to finish something and review it sooner or later.

In other book-related news, you may have noticed the new little pink banner on my sidebar. I just recently found the Insatiable Booksluts blog, and they are hosting a reading challenge in which participants compete to read the most pages by the end of the year. There are various giveaways along the way, which is good because there's no way I'm going to win this thing and it's nice to have a chance at a consolation prize. I'm doing what I need to do to qualify, but not changing my reading habits at all (like reading only books that go quickly. Obviously.) Anyhow, it's all good fun!

This morning, I impulsively signed up on NetGalley to get free pre-pub ebooks to review. The publishers pick and choose who to give the books to and I probably won't ask for many (because dog knows I don't need to add to my to-read list!) but I thought it would be fun to try. And they have knitting books, which are always welcome at my house.

What about you? Reading anything interesting? Participating in any contests? Writing filler posts on your blog to deflect from your sorry lack of content? Do share!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Knitting

Here's my latest knit-on-the-bus project.

It's hard to get good pictures of socks that are such dark colors!

These are part of my ongoing effort to knit socks that are practical (i.e. not bright orange). Don't get me wrong - I love my impractical, bright socks. I just need a little balance in my foot wardrobe.

These are just plain stockinette with an Eye of Partridge heel. I used basic instructions from Sensational Knitted Socks, my go-to sock book. The yarn is Regia Design Line Random Stripe by Kaffe Fassett.

I'm feeling unreasonably proud of myself for already using 2 of the 3 skeins of sensibly hued yarn I bought in March, and I should continue on to the third, but I may wait. As usual, I want to use the summer to catch up on knitting and darning socks and though I'm closer than usual to my goal this year I want to put a little extra effort into my Les Miserables wrap. It's grown quite a bit since that photo, and I'd really like to keep the momentum going so I'm thinking of working on that during my bus commute.