Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Knitting

Briefly, I thought I'd have another finished sweater to show you today. Instead, my sweater is languishing in a heap waiting for me to seam the sleeves and knit the neckline.

A couple of weekends ago I was out of town visiting with family and managed to knit almost half a sock. Then I mostly ignored it until last night when I knit the heel flap. Here's a peek.

It's difficult to make a partial sock look good. I have it stretched over my hand in an attempt to give a better idea of what the pattern looks like. It's sort of an openwork cable. 

I've had this yarn sitting around for a few years now. I think it's Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Solids, but can't be sure because I lost the label when I wound the yarn and that was probably a year ago. It's 100% merino so these socks will need to be darned over and over and likely won't last long. But I already own the yarn and it's a pretty color, so why not?

This pattern is Sunshine from Cookie A.'s book Sock Innovation. I grabbed the book, yarn, and needles on my way out of the house for my trip and picked the pattern later at my destination. So it was only upon my return home that I saw the errata and various comments on Ravelry about the mistakes in the pattern. The official errata is minor, just a small change in the setup row, definitely not worth ripping out and starting again. The other online comments are more major and concerning. Apparently the cables are crossing the wrong way or something, but although the publisher was contacted, the errata was not updated. Does this mean the publisher is not being responsive? Or is the pattern not really incorrect? 

For me, there's no going back now and I think it looks fine. Maybe at some point I'll try them on and think it's obviously completely screwed up, but do you know what? They'll still keep my feet warm. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kiss Me First

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach (2013)

A young, socially isolated woman named Leila had been spending some time on a web forum called Red Pill when she was approached with a very unusual offer. It seems that a woman named Tess wanted to commit suicide, but without hurting her friends and loved ones. The proposition was for Leila to impersonate Tess online after her death so that everyone who knew her thought she had just moved away but was still alive.

Leila was very sheltered, having just spent a few years taking care of her mother who was dying from MS. She had no network of friends or family in her life, and keep herself encapsulated in a pretty narrow world in which she worked from home testing software and spent her free time playing World of Warcraft. Tess, on the other hand, was a free spirit who had many friends and romantic relationships. She had experienced many things Leila had not and was a very different person. Leila now had to get to know Tess in a way that it is rare to know another person. She had access to all Tess's accounts - email, Facebook, everything. And for a while, she also had Tess to ask questions about her life and people she would eventually need to communicate with. But then Tess was gone and Leila was on her own. Lines began to blur, and questions arose that she could not answer.

This is a fascinating premise for a novel, and because the emphasis on social networking is sure to become dated I wanted to read it right away. I quickly became captivated by this story and read it in just a couple of days.

It's rather a light read, quickly-paced and without a lot of description or introspection. Perhaps it could have used a bit more, but I think it's just not that kind of book. (Plus, that would have made it longer and maybe I wouldn't have read it then. It's a delicate balance.) It's more about this idea of sustaining a life solely online and being able to impersonate someone else. As you can imagine, this is not a good plan. The story moved back and forth from present day - in which Leila is at a commune in Spain, trying to find out what happened to Tess - to the beginning of her strange journey, and then the two parts of the story meet in the middle in a climax that wasn't especially, climactic. But that is not the point here. (Which makes me question this structure. However, I always question this structure - can't a book be linear anymore?)

Leila was fascinating. She was young, and naive in many ways - she had never so much as been kissed, understandable since she had spent so much time taking care of her sick mother. Socially withdrawn, she had no real friends and spent most of her time online. She's very smart, and enjoyed Red Pill for its philosophical discussions. She was interested in ethics, and was very logical and rational, which was partly why she agreed to this project. She felt strongly that a person should be able to decide if they wanted to die, and that is more important than the feelings of others. The first-person narrative style is very straightforward, with little emotion. Indeed, Leila is more of a thinker than a feeler.

I also loved her relationship with her eventual roommate Jonty. He was pretty much the opposite of what she was looking for (apparently he was hungover when he came to see about the room and she took his silence for a sign of reservedness and, therefore, compatibility). Jonty exuberantly explored the neighborhood, tried to draw Leila into his life, and was very sweet and good-natured.

Kiss Me First is very straightforward, and does not pretend to be literary (which I don't mean in a bad way - I really enjoy books that don't get all self-important) but was a lot of fun. Fast-paced, compelling, and original, I found a lot here to think about. I very much enjoyed every page of this debut novel, and I hope there is more to come from this promising young writer.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Knitting

Today is the first day of fall, so it is a very fitting day to present my finished Humboldt Raglan.

(As well as a huge chin dimple and the weirdest backdrop ever.)

I mostly like it. I'm not super happy with the neckline, which is wider than I'd like. But it's still very wearable, I think. My biggest concern was with the sleeves. If you remember, I was wanted to make them a little longer but was worried that I'd run out of yarn. It turns out that they are longer than I thought they'd be and feel fine. And I was right to worry because I only have about a half skein of yarn left (maybe 50 yards or so.) 

I made it a little longer than the pattern specified because although I have a short torso, I find that sweaters tend to come out short. Grumperina once suggested getting to where you think it's finished and then knitting another two inches, and I think that's a very smart rule of thumb. I've used it ever since.

All in all I'd call this project a success, and I'm looking forward to wearing my new orange sweater this fall!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Slaves of Obsession

Slaves of Obsession (William Monk #11) by Anne Perry

Investigator William Monk is hired to find the parties who are trying to blackmail a gun dealer named Daniel Alberton. But that is not Alberton's only problem - America is in the midst of the Civil War and he has promised to sell a large quantity of guns to the Confederates. Their representative is present when Monk visits, and they are soon joined by a man named Breeland who represents the Union and urges Alberton to sell to his side instead. But Alberton will not go back on his word infuriating Breeland as well as Alberton's own daughter Merrit, who is romantically interested in Breeland. A heated exchange about the war and slavery is followed later that night by a murder, and soon William Monk and his wife Hester find themselves on their way to war-torn America in search of a killer.

I hadn't expected to pick up another Anne Perry mystery so soon, but I needed something comforting and familiar. After finishing When Nights Were Cold, I didn't know what I wanted to read and started about 5 different books, finally settling on MASH Angels and Slaves of Obsession which I ended up reading concurrently. Do you ever get in that sort of a reading funk where nothing seems right? It happens rarely, but I really hate it. I know by now that all I can do is pick something and force my way through while waiting for the feeling to eventually pass. It's a good time to pick up a book where you know what to expect.

There were, however, a couple of things especially interesting about this one. First, the Civil War. This was unexpected but welcome. Slavery is a part of our history that no matter how much I read about it is still somehow difficult to believe, and I liked seeing it from the perspective of the British. But also, the trip to the US during the war was a great opportunity to see Hester in action as a nurse. My favorite part of the story was when Monk and Hester were searching for Breeland and Merrit who had run off together and were suspected murderers. They found Merrit right away and she joined Hester on the battlefields helping wounded soldiers. One of my favorite aspects of this series is Hester's experiences as a nurse and though we learn a bit about her experiences in the Crimea, those are told through flashbacks. I was very happy to get to see her in action on the Civil War battlefield.

Another important thread in this series is Monk's memory loss. In the very first book he wakes up after an accident and cannot remember anything about his life before, or the person he once was. Slowly he discovers things here and there and doesn't like what he learns about himself. In the course of this investigation he stumbles across someone he knew in his previous life and learns something about himself that is especially distasteful and about which he feels quite ashamed. This would have been bad enough before, but now that he is married to Hester - and doesn't keep anything from her - he worries about her reaction when he tells her. This all adds a bit of extra tension to their relationship while all these other events are going on.

I'm over halfway through this series - it's up to #19 as of this year - and still enjoying it. I think now I'm caught up to the point where I can start getting the audio version again (the last few weren't available) so I look forward to that for the winter!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

MASH Angels

MASH Angels: Tales of an Air-Evac Helicopter Pilot in the Korean War by Richard C. Kirkland (2009)

A fighter pilot in World War II, Richard Kirkland was no stranger to war, or to flying. But even he was confounded by helicopters when they first appeared. Nevertheless he tried one out and was intrigued by their design, flexibility, and ability to land anywhere. Still, he was a bit disappointed when he was assigned to be a helicopter in the Korean War but in this memoir he describes his transformation from helicopter skeptic to devoted pilot. His rotation included time at a MASH hospital (also new, and upon which the show MASH was based) where he rescued injured soldiers and brought them to the hospital. During another part of his rotation he flew missions to pick up pilots that had been shot down behind enemy lines. The memoir also includes plenty of stories about friendships, romances, and other aspects of military life during the war.

I've been mildly obsessed with helicopters ever since I flew in one over the Grand Canyon, an experience that I was terrified of (I hate flying in airplanes) but turned out to be fantastic. About a month ago, I finally took an introductory helicopter flying lesson, and that has only fueled the fire. Since lessons are cost-prohibitive, I tried to find books about helicopter pilots and there are surprisingly few. This one apparently isn't well-known but it very much fit the bill.

Now, the writing isn't going to win any prizes - he's primarily a pilot, not an author. The dialogue is quite folksy, with frequent use of "good ole" and "yer" but not bad enough to be a distraction. The stories were good enough to hold my interest and I found the book quite enjoyable. All I know about the Korean War I learned from watching episodes of MASH, and this....well, honestly, it was a little like watching MASH in parts (which is a good thing!) but also really quite exciting and suspenseful. Some of the helicopter rescues were very tense; it's a true story, after all, and they don't always end well during a war.

I almost didn't stick with it at first, but I decided to give it a few chapters and soon I was quite drawn in. Besides the military aspects, Kirkland (who was already married at the time) shared a story about a budding romance with a nurse, a situation which caused him a great deal of consternation. Interestingly, he's also somewhat of an artist and had his painting supplies shipped over as well so he could paint in his free time. Of course, any war story wouldn't be complete without descriptions of mess hall food and C rations. He did a great job of bringing in many different aspects of his experience and personality to give the story a bit more depth and complexity. Although it took me a while to warm up to it, I really became engrossed in Kirkland's story. I kind of wish I could just sit down with him and listen to him tell stories about his experiences because I bet he has many more than he told in this book. (And now I really want to rewatch all those episodes of MASH.)

I did a little googling to find out if Kirkland is still alive, which he is (and his artwork is definitely worth checking out). I found this news story about him and I recommend it if you're at all interested in war experiences. This book obviously isn't for everyone, but if you have a particular interest in Korean War experiences (or helicopters!) I think it's a great bet. I'm quite glad I found it.

Friday, September 13, 2013


VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health...For Good by Mark Bittman (2013)

The title pretty much says it all. In Mark Bittman's new diet/cookbook he promotes the idea of eating totally vegan food up until 6pm, and then eating whatever you want after 6pm. The idea is that 2 out of 3 of your meals will be vegan, a vast improvement in diet for most people, but you won't feel so deprived of the foods you love that you give up the entire endeavor for one chocolate chip cookie or chicken wing. Bittman has been promoting the move to a plant-based diet for years, and after some health scares VB6 is what he has found works for him to balance his need to rein in his health problems while still eating adventurously and decadently.

I picked this book up for the recipes (though I already own Bittman's comprehensive How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) and only ended up reading the rest of it out of curiosity. "Eat vegan before 6" seemed pretty straightforward so I wondered what else there was to say about it. There is a little more to it though, like avoiding processed foods (even the vegan ones). Although nothing is absolutely forbidden, he is pretty clear about the foods we would ideally not eat at all and recommends restricting them as much as possible. Bittman also discusses nutrition and why he is promoting veganism for health. A lot of the nutritional information went way over my head because the science is a bit beyond me, and I don't feel like it's necessary. (A lot of people do like that sort of information, but I feel like any diet could somehow manipulate science to prove their point.) Bittman also discusses the concept of dieting in general, and why it's important to think of it more in terms of permanent changes than an extreme but temporary restriction. He encourages just making small changes, at least at first, and getting used to them before continuing.

Bittman is very laid back, and acknowledges the difficulties of changing one's diet, as well as the parts of our lives that can making food preparation difficult. He even includes a section with suggestions for people with different eating styles. For instance, the Family Gal (or Guy) already spends time cooking, but is cooking for others in addition to him/herself and must take that into account. The Restaurant Regular is an adventurous foodie. The Grazer eats small portions of food all day rather than sitting down for three big meals. Each of these eating styles comes with suggestions geared towards their particular advantages and challenges. I thought this was a helpful addition.

VB6 is rife with the language and self-promotion of diet books. "VB6 is different." "That's why VB6 works." (There's at least one passage in which he acknowledges that what he just said is what everyone says about their diet.) But to give credit where it's due, I do think VB6 is different from and more sensible than most diets, though admittedly I don't spend a lot of time reading about diets. But VB6 more about "diet" as opposed to being "a diet." It's about incrementally making small permanent changes to the way you eat, and in fact it's very much like the gradual changes I implemented in my own diet many years ago, when I became vegetarian and cut way down on junk food and soda. I've been drifting a bit in the other direction and I'm grateful for this reminder about why I changed my diet in the first place.

My only criticism, if I had to pick one, is that he gives us a little too much credit for being able to cook easily. For me, and I know I can't be alone in this, there is no such thing as just "throwing together last night's leftovers" or "throwing some vegetables into a pot." There is an hour of chopping, there is trying to fit together weird incongruous leftovers, there is angst. There is barely anything I can cook without a recipe. An omelet is probably it (and that's not vegan.) In writing about frozen meals, Bittman says "in the time it takes to heat one up, you could cook something." What, exactly, can I cook in three minutes? I'd love to know!

See, the reason I don't even use a lot of my cookbooks is that most of the recipes seem geared towards impressing guests when you have hours in advance to prepare. But I'm not much of an entertainer. I work all day and then come home and need to have dinner, and not at 9pm. I don't enjoy spending time cooking; for me, it's just a means to getting a home-cooked meal. Bittman offers many helpful tips though, and his recipes are pretty basic. If you're not familiar with Mark Bittman's recipes, some are more like methods than recipes, and all come with variations to make them more interesting and complex. I appreciate this a lot since I'm so cooking challenged. His recipes work for me. In VB6, they are divided by meal: breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner. (His dinner recipes - which all include at least a bit of meat - don't appeal to me, but many of the others do.) He also includes a section called "Building Blocks" which are core recipes for the types of things you may eat frequently, including methods for cooking big batches of beans, grains, and vegetable stock.

I think I was hoping for some easy solutions to my lunch challenges. I take my lunch to work every day but I don't cook every single night of the week thus providing leftovers for the next days' lunch. (Usually I cook one night and eat the leftovers on subsequent evenings.) I need something that will be portable and microwaveable or edible without reheating (I don't have a toaster oven at work.) In desperation I recently checked out a copy of Beating the Lunch Box Blues, which has lovely pictures of fun lunches in colorful containers but they are not very healthy and are incredibly meat-heavy. (Oh, there's a vegetarian chapter, but it's short and repetitive.) I was hoping Mark Bittman would have some easy answers for me, but I think I must conclude that there's just no healthy shortcut for my predicament.

Altogether, I found this book helpful and informative, even a bit inspiring. Admittedly, I'm not the audience: it's definitely geared towards people who are moving away from the Standard American Diet of meat, junk food, and soda. I'm coming from the other direction entirely, but still found some helpful recipes many important reminders about why I started cutting out meat and processed foods in the first place.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When Nights Were Cold

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones (2012)

In the early 1900s women are not encouraged to pursue higher education, never mind embarking on dangerous journeys of exploration, but Grace Farringdon dreams of doing both. She defies her mother's wishes and begins college, where she quickly forms an Antarctic Exploration Society with other like-minded women. Fast forward 15 years and Grace is a virtual prisoner in her family home, the only survivor of her Society. Haunted by the ghosts of her past, her mental health deteriorating, Grace may finally be ready to confront the terrible events of her youth.

Growing up, Grace plays an exploration game with her father where they move objects like buttons and thimbles across a map, representing the explorers Shackleton, Scott, and Wilson who were at that time exploring the Antarctic. Grace's older sister, Catherine, was usually at the piano, though her dreams of being a concert pianist were ultimately crushed when her parents refused to let her go to music school. It was a strange family, loving in some ways, and completely stifling in others.

The book shifts back and forth in time, the past slowing work itself towards the present we keep seeing glimpses of. We know at the very beginning that Grace has lived through some sort of tragedy. She hasn't seen her sister in years, though they used to be so close. Grace keeps trying to write Catherine a letter inviting her to stay, but struggles to finish and send it. She is clearly worried about writing it exactly right and enticing Catherine to come live with her, and afraid of just pushing her away forever. The tragedy that claimed the lives of her college friends hovers nearby and we learn more and more as the back story progresses.

As you can see from that big red dot on the cover, the Guardian called this novel "A gripping psychological thriller." This description is baffling because, although there are psychological elements to the story, this is no thriller. There's also a quote on the back cover of my edition that refers to a scene that never took place. Perplexing. Not to mention that the Goodreads description and jacket copy sound like two different books. Never mind - I heard great things about this book in a podcast - I think it was The Readers - and I'm very glad I read it.

I was entrance by the very idea of a woman at that time who was so interested in exploration and who felt compelled to climb mountains. Many parts of the story were murky and dreamlike, either because they held the quality of memories or were illustrating Grace's mental decline. It was pretty fantastic. Her relationships with her mountaineering friends Cicely, Leonora, and Winifred - all dead now - were complex, to say the least.

This is my first book for the R.I.P. VIII Challenge and although it didn't turn out to be a thriller, it was certainly dark. Death, doomed romances, and a whole lot of crazy combined to make a pretty compelling story. If I was young again and could stay up until the wee hours reading, I would have done so. As it was, I sat in bed desperately trying to keep my eyes open while I read the same sentence over and over because I couldn't admit defeat and put it down for the night.

I ordered When Nights Were Cold from Amazon UK because, tragically, it's not available in the US. I cannot imagine why. It was absolutely worth the price of postage and I recommend it to any of you who can get your hands on a copy.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (2008)

Sutter Keely is a fun-loving guy. He's the life of every party, the ladies love him, and if he's barely making it through high school, that's ok - it will all work out in the end. He even has the best girlfriend a guy could want. But things take a nose-dive in the relationship department and next thing he knows, Sutter is single again, and wakes up hungover on a strange lawn. He is greeted by a girl from school named Aimee, a quiet and pale girl who likes science fiction and horses (preferably together.) Sutter decides to do her a favor by pretending to like her, thereby boosting her confidence and putting her in a better position to find a real boyfriend. He just keeps saying what he thinks she wants to hear until he's in way over his head.

This book is very thin on plot. I kept waiting for something to happen and nothing really does. It really is just a story about his love life (with a tiny, tiny subplot about his absentee father). It didn't go anywhere, and I didn't feel like Sutter grew or changed or learned anything during the course of the book.

But I enjoyed his voice. Sutter is drunk, grandiose, and philosophical. He wants people to feel better about themselves, and truly does see the good in most people. He is one of the least judgmental characters I've met, but he's not very realistic, and is prone to lying if he thinks it will make someone feel better. He very earnestly wants everyone to be happy, but doesn't foresee the consequences of his actions. He's so laid back that he doesn't understand why others get jealous, for instance, and somehow he makes it seem like they are the unreasonable ones just for being human and somehow he's a better person for not letting things get to him. I wouldn't want to date him, but feel a little bad for saying that because, although he's a directionless mess, he has the very best of intentions.

The story takes place in Oklahoma and the audiobook narrator has what I must assume is an authentic accent. I wasn't sure how I'd like listening to it at first, but ultimately I couldn't imagine Sutter sounding any other way (and based on the trailer, the movie Sutter Keely is all wrong. He doesn't look right, either.) This book was all about the character, and I think the narrator made me like it more than I would have if I had read it in print. I probably wouldn't have picked this up if it wasn't chosen for my book group, but I found it pretty enjoyable even though it didn't really seem to have a point.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Knitting

I now have two completed sleeves, and both are attached to my Humboldt Raglan.

I'm now working on the raglan decreases, and the project is encumbered with a variety of stitch holders and markers.

The pattern instructs us to place removable markers in certain stitches, but I have terrible luck with those markers. The first time I turn the project a bit, the marker will come out and I won't realize it until I knit past the point where it should have been and then I have to do lots of counting to figure out where it should be. But I have learned from my mistakes. This time I have put TWO markers in each of those stitches and check frequently for the spots where one has fallen out. I grab my container of markers, put in another one in the spot (which is still clearly marked with the back-up marker) and then when I'm done knitting for the evening, I stand up and retrieve all the stray markers from my clothes and couch cushions and replace them in my marker container. It is a system and it works. 

I'm in the home stretch now! My only worry is the shortness of the sleeves, but given my yarn quantity restraints I don't think that can be helped. I knit the sleeves to the length specified, but I would have liked them to be longer. I believe they'll go just past my elbow and feel a bit annoying. Hopefully they're longer than I think they are.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Copycat Covers

Remember a few years ago when seemingly every single book cover had a picture of a woman's legs on it? You would think publishers would learn from this and try to make their books stand out by creating unique covers, but the situation has only worsened.

Recently I've seen some covers that aren't just similar, but use the exact same photo.

Here's a young adult book called The Ruining:

And the nonfiction book Shouting Won't Help:

Oh sure, the color has been altered and the background is different, but you don't fool me, book cover designers. At least they are geared towards totally different audiences.

Not so with the next two.

Here's one of the covers for My Notorious Life by Kate Manning (which, by the way, I want to read):

And another fiction book called A Fatal Likeness:

Ok sure, one is the British edition and one is the American kindle edition, but that doesn't matter much in an age when we can just go on Goodreads and see ALL the covers.

The excuse for this is that they all use stock photos, which isn't much of an excuse if you ask me. It's just sloppy. (This sloppiness isn't just restricted to cover art either. Earlier this year, two books came out within weeks of each other with the exact same title: Life After Life. One by Kate Atkinson and one by Jill McCorkle. At least they had different covers.)

But there ARE still good covers being designed that don't look like replications of other covers. Take a few of my favorite books from last year: Where'd You Go Bernadette, Beautiful Ruins, and The Snow Child. Those covers were clearly designed rather than just assigned a photoshopped stock photo. So it's definitely still possible, and I would really like to see this be the norm rather than the exception.

Some have recently claimed that book covers will become less important now that we're all reading ebooks, but I remain unconvinced of that. First, we're not all reading ebooks and they are unlikely to completely replace paper books anytime soon; even teenagers prefer print. Second, if it wasn't for cover art, how would we make impulsive decisions about what to read? I don't care how judgmental it is, even librarians like me choose books by their covers.

With so many books being published it's difficult to make yours stand out. But it seems like publishers aren't even trying. Creating a unique cover would be an obvious way to do this and yet book covers are looking more and more the same. Of course I realize it's what's inside that is more important, but shoddy marketing is a real disservice to an author's hard work and I really hope this trend changes.

For those who would like to see more book cover lookalikes, I leave you with this Buzzfeed list of Book Cover Cliches. Do you have any to add to the list? And what do you think of this issue? Do you even care?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal (2011)

From the very earliest days of our nation's history, liquor has played a role in American life. By the mid-1800s, however, some began to take note of excessive drinking and so launched the temperance movement. Originally intended to reduce liquor consumption and public drunkenness by encouraging moderation, eventually proponents called for a complete ban on alcohol. Although many laughed off the efforts, eventually the idea took hold and resulted in the eighteenth amendment to the constitution, which prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. Bootleg recounts the story of this movement, the strange decade of the 1920s, and the eventual repeal of Prohibition.

The opening pages describe the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, immediately pulling the reader in before taking a step back to the earliest days, and most important leaders, of the temperance movement. Along the way we learn about trends in liquor consumption (averaging as much as 9 gallons per year per person), the politics of getting a constitutional amendment passed, and the relationship between temperance and the suffragist movement. I've always been interested in the 1920s, but Blumenthal's focus on bootlegging and crime (including an entire chapter devoted to Al Capone) was simply fascinating. Each chapter is packed with facts, but uses actual people - famous or not - to bring the stories alive in a way that helps the reader imagine what it was like to live during that time. She even mentions the difficulty faced by librarians who had to choose whether or not to keep books on the shelves that described how to produce alcohol at home (some did, some didn't.)

Prohibition was clearly a very loosely enforced set of laws, which brings home some important points about legislation and social culture. Although the constitutional amendment passed, buy-in wasn't strong from law enforcers or the general public. For it to work, the larger culture would have had to change. Before the law, everyone drank and heavily, including small children. Parents even gave liquor to babies, and doctors and pharmacists regularly prescribed it to patients. Once Prohibition went into effect, the only thing that changed was the quality of the liquor and the difficulty of getting it. Instances of drunkenness reportedly went down, but all sorts of mayhem took its place and the result was illness from bad booze, the rise of organized crime, and more than a few murders. I couldn't help but think about gun control while reading this. The two issues are very different in a lot of ways, but what is the same is that both alcohol and guns are deeply embedded in our culture. As much as you may to rid ourselves of the disastrous effects, outlawing something that is such a part of people's lives just isn't going to be very successful - the culture itself has to change.

This book was chosen for my Not-So-Young Adult book group at work and it's our first nonfiction selection. Under 150 pages (not including the glossary and bibliography), this was a great overview of this fascinating time in history, packed with information and photos, and written in a clear, simple style. This is exactly how I like to read nonfiction.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson (expected publication 2014)

Janie Ryan is born to an Aberdeen fishwife in the early 1980s and right off the bat the two of them end up in a women's shelter. This is followed by a succession of shoddy council housing and a string of unsuitable boyfriends for Janie's Ma, bumping them from one situation to the next so quickly that change is the only constant.

This isn't a plot-driven story, but more like a slice of life. We follow Janie from birth until she comes of age, all in first person. It seems like this narration would be hard in the infant stages, but it was actually quite clever. I liked seeing working-class people and their lives through the eyes of a child who doesn't know any other life. Her outlook was so positive and happy despite conditions that others (including me) would find downright depressing. As she grew up, she learned a lot from her experiences and I feel like it just made her stronger.

Janie's Ma is a heavy drinker who regularly makes poor life choices, but is devoted to her daughter and strongly determined to make a decent life for her. She was fairly resourceful and quite resilient, putting up with a lot of crap along the way. I found everything about the British welfare system quite interesting, like how they lived in B&B's a number of times for instance. That sounds very posh (to borrow a British term), but it really wasn't at all.

The language might be difficult for some readers, but I got used to it after a page or so. (I've also spent time in Scotland, which may have made it easier.) "And" becomes "an'", "you" is "yeh", and there is a lot of British terminology, which I think just gives it an extra genuine flavor.

Despite the poverty and other hardships, for the most part I found the story fairly upbeat and optimistic. Janie didn't dislike her life, aside from her mother's boyfriends, or spend too much time wishing she had more. She was around a lot of poor people so they were all in the same situations. I think this might be the first book I've read about people living in poverty that wasn't completely bleak, and I really enjoyed it a lot. Kerry Hudson has proven herself a fresh new voice and I look forward to see what she brings us next.

This novel has been available in the UK for a while, but will be published in the US in early 2014.

I received this galley free from Penguin First Flights, and was not compensated for this review.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

R.I.P. VIII Challenge

You may have noticed the new image on my sidebar - that's because I'm participating in a reading challenge called R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril which is hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. It's all about spending September and October reading dark books - horror, mysteries, thriller, anything along those lines. I'm participating in Peril the First, which is to read four such books in the two months. This shouldn't be hard for me as I do love those sorts of books the best.

I've already planned to read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins this fall, as well as the new Stephen King book Doctor Sleep. Perhaps this would also be a good time to finally read 14 by Peter Clines, which has been on my to read list for a while. Another one lurking on my to read list is a short novel called Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. It doesn't have very good ratings on Goodreads, but it sounds very intriguing to me. (And some of my favorite books aren't very popular, so those ratings aren't necessarily a good indicator of what I'd like.)

But I think I'm going to start with When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones, one of the books I ordered from the UK a while back because it's not available here in the US. I remembered it as a story about a woman ahead of her time, who went an arctic exploration in a time when women's lives were mostly confined to the domestic sphere. Upon reading the description again, however, there is much more to this story - something terrible happened on that expedition and our heroine must face up to it years later. What I thought was a just a historical novel is in fact a psychological thriller. Now I'm even more eager to read it.

Since I haven't participated before, I don't know if there are contests or prizes or anything like that. I'm just looking at this as extra incentive to catch up on my horror/mystery/thriller reading.