Friday, February 28, 2014

The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (2013), narrated by Sara Zarr

Lucy Beck-Moreau was once on her way to stardom as a concert pianist. But that was before Prague; before she walked out during a performance, leaving her promising career behind. Now it's her younger brother Gus who is being groomed for musical success. When Gus suddenly has a new, young piano teacher with a particular interest in Lucy's abandoned career, she begins to wonder if she is truly done with music after all.

Lucy's story opens with the death of Gus's longtime piano teacher, which not only ushers in Will, the new piano teacher, but also dredges up memories of her grandmother's death eight months before. Wound up in these traumatic events are the complicated feelings Lucy has for her mother and especially her grandfather, who is rigid, demanding, and will accept nothing less than perfection. He rules the household, hires the piano teachers, and basically makes everyone feel like they're not good enough.

Lucy's friendship with Will is complicated. Lucy is sixteen, Will twice her age, and her schoolgirl crush on him only muddies the waters more. He's trying to help her figure out what she wants to do in terms of music, and they develop a friendship, which ends up affecting their other relationships in unexpected ways.

I love Sara Zarr a whole lot, but put off reading this book because I get rather bored with stories about prodigies. (I skimmed that chapter in Far From the Tree.) But of course it's not just about Lucy's musical career - it's about her family and how she deals with her grandmother's death, and her relationships with her friends, and the way she is finally trying to separate her feelings about music from her feelings about the pressure put on her to play music. I came to like her a great deal and felt bad that someone so young is already struggling to figure out the direction of her career.

The audiobook was narrated by the author, and I mostly enjoyed it. Some parts included music, which was usually classical pretty nice. But in a couple of spots it was pop music, once even including vocals. An audiobook is no place for vocals, and I had to struggle to focus on Zarr's narration with singing in the background. That was a poor choice, but luckily it was only once and fairly brief.

The Lucy Variations wasn't my favorite Sara Zarr novel (that is still Sweethearts!) but not only am I glad I finally read it (well, listened to it), it even kind of made me want to learn more about classical music.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

I have just spent what I'm pretty sure is the longest two and a half weeks of my life reading David Copperfield. My edition was over 1000 pages, but even so I can't explain why it took me so long to read it. It was really tough to get through, but now that it's behind me I can look back somewhat fondly on Copperfield's life and the people in it.

The story begins with David's early life, which I can barely remember now because I read that part so long ago. He was orphaned fairly young and associated with a series of colorful characters as he grew up. As with any good Dickensian character, he was misunderstood and mistreated. The novel only has a plot insofar as any of our lives has a plot, and I think that's part of the reason it was so difficult to read. I love Dickens, but my god that book meandered.

A couple of my favorite characters were Clara Peggotty (known simply as Peggotty) and Betsey Trotwood. Peggotty was a servant from David's earliest years who became a mother figure to him after his own mother died, and he always remained fond of her. After she married, David was left in the care of his stepfather, Murdstone, and ended up working at his company until he became fed up and left to find his aunt Betsey. David's aunt hadn't seen him since the night he was born, when she became indignant that he was male and and could not be her namesake. When he finds her, she is standoffish at first, but their relationship developed into one of mutual affection. Aunt Betsey frequently mourns the loss of his sister, Betsey Trotwood, and compares David to her. She even begins referring to him at Trotwood, a nickname he keeps throughout his life.

Then there were the horrible, unappealing characters. As a young man, David fell in love with Dora Spenlow, a simpering idiot who he eventually married. She asked him to call her his "child-wife" which I think is a bit twisted, but appropriate, as she is just as useless as a child when it came to household matters. She accused David of being cruel to her when he suggested that, for example, perhaps they shouldn't allow their servants to rob them blind. The true villain of the novel though is Uriah Heep, a manipulative and sly man who constantly professed to be "umble" as he came from little means, but insinuated himself into business, stealing money and causing others (including Betsey Trotwood) financial ruin for years  before finally being confronted. The description of Heep's strange mannerisms, such as his constant writhing, added to his deviousness and made him easy to picture, and very memorable.

Those are just a few of the major characters, which were so numerous that I had difficulty remembering who some of them were when they left and reappeared much later. Many weren't very well developed when I first met them which made it even more difficult to remember them later, such as David's school friend Traddles who he becomes close to again as an adult. (And I am totally naming my next pet Traddles, which I think would be a fantastic name for any animal.)

One of the more interesting parts of the plot to me was when a few of the characters decided to emigrate to Australia. The Micawbers, a family always perilously close to financial ruin, and Emily, who caused a scandal by leaving her fiance and running off with another man, were among a small group who did not have a bright future awaiting them in England. But in Australia one could leave the past behind and start fresh, and many opportunities awaited those who were willing to give up everything and go. Now this was an intriguing story I wish Dickens had written.

Having complained my entire way through this lengthy and slow-moving tome, I feel a little strange saying that it was pretty good. I'm glad I know the story and the characters now, plus it's always good to have read a classic that is so frequently referenced. The other Dickens book I've been wanting to read is Bleak House, but now I don't know if I have it in me to read another of his super long novels. Next time I have a hankering for Dickens, I may re-read Great Expectations, which remains my favorite.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Knitting

It doesn't look like much right now, but my Geodesic Cardigan is going very well.

Last weekend I devoted myself wholly to finishing up the back and both fronts and attaching them together. I did this all while listening to Tampa, and I fear that book and this cardigan will be forever intertwined.

During the week I knit the sleeve caps and awaited a time when I could sit down and devote myself to seaming them in. I don't hate seaming pieces together the way some knitters do, but I always dread sewing in sleeves because the shape of the sleeve cap is so rarely similar to the shape of the armhole. Happily, these fit together quite nicely.

The seams aren't perfect, but nobody should be close enough to my armpit to notice. They're really not bad.

These sleeves are unusually constructed. I had to use the invisible provisional cast-on, then knit upwards to shape the caps, before casting-off and sewing in the sleeve caps. Now, I pick up the provisional stitches and knit the length of the sleeve. This will actually work quite well because not only is the most difficult part out of the way, but I don't know if I have enough yarn to make the sleeves as long as they're supposed to be. Knitting down from the shoulders is the best direction to go in that situation.

So that is all that's left: knitting the sleeves, and just a few rows of trim around the back neck. I'll start with the neck trim to be sure there's enough yarn, and then see how much sleeve I can get out of the rest. I hope to be done in a couple of weeks, which means the cardigan will be ready in time for the appropriate spring weather in which to wear it!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Tampa by Alissa Nutting (2013), narrated by Kathleen McInerney

A few months ago I tried reading this controversial novel about a female sexual predator and couldn't get past the awkward writing. I was intrigued by this story of a teacher who wants only to have sex with 14-year-old boys - I love a good taboo-centered novel - but struggled through the first two chapters. I could let go the "caffeinated ponytail," but when a character had a "face the color of sunburned meat" I couldn't help but wonder if this was referring to raw or cooked meat and if, in fact, meat could sunburn. I think this is when I put the book down.

I continued to read reviews though, and savored every moralizing word about this degenerate woman and the poor boys she victimized. Then I talked to a friend who casually opined that these boys weren't victims at all, and in fact knew exactly what they were doing and were more than happy to have sex with their teacher. That did it. Last weekend I downloaded the audiobook and binge-listened for the long weekend. Knowing how graphic this novel is, I was dubious about the format, but it proved to be exactly what I needed to get through this guilty pleasure of a train wreck.

Before I go on, I should mention that in my previous failed attempt at this book, the writing wasn't all bad. Nutting uses some good imagery, for instance: "Youths walking home screamed jungle cries and sprinted past one another like feral carnivores, running together toward some invisible, felled big-game carcass just outside the boundaries of school property." Somehow the negative bits outweighed the good parts of her writing enough to be distracting, but this wasn't true with the audio. I think the narrator provided a better voice for Celeste than the one in my head and because I'm not the best listener ever I didn't notice the parts of her writing I found lacking in print.

So, here's the deal. Celeste Price wants only one thing - to have sex with 14-year-old boys. She has meticulously planned her life to achieve this goal. She married someone she doesn't care about, just for his money and security while she became qualified to teach. Now she has a nice private classroom of her own and just needs to carefully choose the right boy and soon zeroes in on Jack Patrick, just the sort of attractive quiet boy who will go along with her plan and not tell anyone. They enter into an affair, and...we all know this cannot end well.

What surprised me the most about this book - and I may incriminate myself by even saying this - is how sexy it was. There was a whole lot of graphic sex and it was written in a fairly enticing way. This does make sense, I suppose, since it's from Celeste's point of view, but it was quite unexpected. And I agree with my friend - Jack, and later Boyd, knew what they were doing. They wanted to have sex with Celeste. I mean, think about it - teenagers have sex all the time and while they're not always making the best choices, they are still doing it of their own free will. Give them some credit for their actions.

At the same time, Celeste was a predator, and she was cold-hearted. What she felt for these boys was simply lust and she knew it would disappear as they aged. She did not care if they became emotionally attached, focusing only on how she'd get herself out of the relationship when the time came. Celeste also cared little for her husband, who she married for his money and the accompanying security. She felt no remorse for the hurt she caused people, and seemed to feel that the laws about sex with minors were unjust. The closest thing she had to a friend (aside from her boy toys) was a teacher who she actually seemed pretty repulsed by. In summary, Celeste is not a pleasant person.

The reviews of this book on Amazon are all over the map, a hefty portion of them seeming to condemn the content in a way suggesting the reviewers need to be reminded of the definition of fiction. No teenage boys were actually touched in the making of this book. I actually wonder why people so offended by the topic would even pick it up to read it - did they really have no idea what it was about? It's also not the first book touching upon this particular theme; there was, of course, Nabokov's Lolita, and I seem to remember some of Anais Nin's short stories that veered a bit towards eroticizing children. Perhaps the more morally outraged are not familiar with these earlier works, which could explain their shock.

As for me, I was not repulsed or disturbed or even especially uncomfortable. But I am not easily offended or unnerved by fiction. I'm all about taboo, as evidenced by my consumption of books like Forbidden, and I'm happy that this one actually was much better story-wise. I feared that Tampa would also veer into an over-the-top ending, but just when that seemed destined to happen, it came to a fairly satisfying and realistic close.

Ultimately, I have only a couple of criticisms. One was Celeste's friendship with the other teacher. Celeste clearly didn't like her, but went out of her way to save the other woman's job when the principal (unrealistically) confided to Celeste that it was in jeopardy. Also, even the most naive 14-year-old boy isn't going to assume that because he's sleeping with someone it means they will get married. Not in this day and age.

Nutting had to know the sort of criticism and controversy this book would stir up, so I think publishing it at all was pretty gutsy. I like an author not afraid to take risks, and I'll consider reading her work again.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (2013), narrated by Christine Lakin

Tana lives in a very different Massachusetts than I do. Vampires are a very real danger, and once people are bitten and infected, they go cold. They will start to hunger for human blood and if they give in, they will turn into vampires. If they resist (or are kept from) this temptation, they may die of their illness. Or maybe they'll live through it. Certain towns, like Springfield, MA, are walled off into Coldtowns, housing vampires, infected people, and those who want to become vampires because they're caught up in the glamour and excitement of the lawless Coldtown lifestyle. Tana has never been drawn to that life, but the day she wakes up after a party to find the remains of a slaughter, a bound vampire, and one of her friends infected, she knows that Coldtown is where she'll now be headed.

So yes, this is about vampires. Please don't dismiss it. Forget all the vampire stories you've read since Twilight made it a thing, because Holly Black's offering far surpasses all of them. She has created a new mythology, a new set of rules, and a captivating story. There was a clear separation between the few vampires of old and all the young vampires created in the current outbreak. Much of the plot centered around the relationship between these two camps and the ways in which the older vampires tried (and failed) to rein in the rampant spread of new vampires, who they viewed as competitors for a limited food supply.

Tana had a bad early experience when her mother was infected and Tana narrowly escaped with her life. She is pretty bad-ass and like any young person she makes mistakes, but she learns from them. She is kind, even to vampires, and selfless. She is especially protective of her younger sister Pearl, but also feels responsible for her infected friend and the vampire she just met. If I had to choose an ally for a trip to Coldtown, I could do much worse than Tana.

Balancing out Tana's smart, reasoned approach was her friend Aidan. It was clear why Tana and Aidan didn't last as a couple, as his uninhibited flirting with seemingly every girl and guy he met was an obvious damper on the relationship. Reckless and a little wild, when he became infected, it was clear he would give into his thirst and become a vampire. Still, he was a good person and made for an appealingly flawed ally.

Most mysterious of all was Gavriel, the vampire that completed the group as they left the massacre at the beginning of the story. Nobody had been kind to Gavriel for longer than he could remember and he was deeply touched at how Tana not only spared his life, but continued to show kindness to him. Gavriel has his share of secrets of course, and I loved his back story of growing up in Russia, becoming a vampire, and his role in the present internal strife in the vampire community.

This was a great choice in the audio format. I could have done without the dramatic music interrupting when I least expected it, but that is my only complaint. The narrator displayed an impressive range, convincingly doing male voices and accents, with enough subtle differences to tell the characters apart without making anyone sound too exaggerated. This is probably the longest audiobook I've listened to, clocking in at a little over 12 hours, and I will hesitate before picking another of that length. Because I rarely listen to more than an hour a day, by the time I finish the beginning is no longer fresh in my mind.

The ending was satisfying to me, but still rather open. I don't know if that means there will be a sequel or not, but I'm happy either way. I don't know how The Coldest Girl in Coldtown compares to Holly Black's other books (since it's my first), but as a vampire novel it definitely rises above the fray. Altogether an excellent choice!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Knitting

I finished my Eunice Socks last Saturday, but didn't manage to get photos in time to post on Sunday. Belatedly, here they are.

I was approaching the end on Friday night while watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics with some friends. One of these friends was wine. This project was no more drinking knitting than it was bus knitting, and I managed to screw up the pattern a bit, and then just fudged it and kept going. I don't think you can tell.

I can't spot the mistake. Can you?

As much as I immediately wanted to cast on for some more socks - and I have a lovely, hopeful spring green waiting in the wings - I've promised myself to finish my Geodesic Cardigan before starting something new. More about that project soon!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Crossing demographic lines in fiction

Recently I was reading the 1988 novel Pearl by Tabitha King, which is written by a white woman but features a biracial protagonist. (Read my post about that book for some observations about how race is treated in that particular novel.) After putting it down, I kept thinking about the idea of writing a character of another race and how politically loaded that can be. Just after finishing Pearl I read this post from Insatiable Booksluts which touches on the same issue, and then found this Slate article in which Michael Chabon discusses his inclusion of black characters in Telegraph Avenue.

Although I am not a writer I've heard "write what you know" many many times, and I've also heard it argued against in the interest of being creative and writing books that aren't all the same story about the same characters. There is nothing wrong living in the suburbs and setting all your books there (see: Tom Perrotta) or having all your main characters be women, or gay men, or horse wranglers. Some writers are able to keep to a theme this way and still turn out a startling variety of books.

But it's not a rule. The only rule (if you want to call it that) in writing fiction is to be creative, and for some writers that means doing a lot of things different from book to book or writing outside of their potentially narrow plane of existence. Think about science fiction for a minute: if it's ok to write about someone from an entirely different planet, why isn't it ok to write about someone who is different from you in a much smaller way? Sure, aliens don't exist (that we know of) but neither does the particular character you are making up.

And yet. It's still somehow discomfiting, this very idea of a white author writing a black character. Race is such a loaded issue here in the U.S. that many white people won't even talk about it, much less presume to create black characters in their novels. But maybe we need to move past this and let go of the idea that race is uniquely sacred and fold it in with all the other ways of being demographically diverse.

Many other lines are crossed by writers all the time. Authors regularly create characters of different genders, nationalities, sexual orientations, or classes than themselves, often with great success. Look at the female characters of Chris Bohjalian, the intersex character in Annabel by Kathleen Winter, or the angry teenaged boy who stars in A.S. King's Reality Boy. Maybe that's not every angry teenage boy's experience, but sure it's not unbelievable as some boy's experience. The character only has to be believable as someone who could exist, not necessarily mirror someone that you actually know, right?

I'm a librarian and it is somewhat inherent in my nature to fall on the side of intellectual freedom. As far as I'm concerned everyone has the right to write about whatever they want, using whatever words they want, to convey any idea they want. I like controversy, and taboo subjects, and politically-incorrect language. Yes, those things make people uncomfortable, but that isn't always a bad thing. Uncomfortable makes you ask questions and challenge your assumptions and start a conversation.

What do you think? Have you read any books in which author crossed these lines, and how do you feel about it?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reality Boy

Reality Boy by A. S. King (2013)

When Gerald Faust was five years old he became a reality tv star. His family's problems (or some version of them) were broadcast to the world and mostly revolved around Gerald's own behavioral issues which earned him the nickname "the Crapper." He's been angry ever since. All he wants is to be free of his past and not wind up in jail.

At 17, Gerald's family situation has not improved. His older sister Tasha lives in the basement with her boyfriend and they do not care that everyone in the house can hear them having very loud sex multiple times a day. The noise drives Gerald crazy, as does the fact that his parents just pretend it isn't happening. They just all go their separate ways when the rhythmic pounding echoes from the basement, his mother turning on the blender to make a smoothie, his father offering to fix Gerald a drink. (Yes, with alcohol.) This is pretty much the same way they deal with all their problems.

Though he is smart, Gerald is in special ed at school, and it is the other students in his class who he really considers his family. They don't judge him or call him the Crapper. This closeness with the special ed kids shows what a good person Gerald really is. He's so nice to all of them because he understands what it's like to be seen as different. He could have tried to align himself with more popular kids to distance himself from his oddball past, but he didn't. He could have turned his anger against people who are outcasts, but instead he uses his experiences to be more compassionate about others. Thus, I love Gerald. I want good things for him. I want him to successfully finish high school, attend the college of his choice, and get a job working with troubled youth who will be inspired by his example. I am convinced that these things will happen.

I'll admit I really, really dislike reality tv though I've seen a few episodes here and there. This story raises some interesting questions about reality shows and how the characters (actors? participants?) and the audience are manipulated. Yes, this family had big problems. Yes, their 5-year-old kid pooped in inappropriate places. But no, his behavior wasn't actually the problem; his behavior was in response to a whole host of problems, most of which were completely omitted or glossed over from the show. The result? Everyone thinks they know everything about Gerald, but nobody really does.

But people in his life weren't all bad. In addition to the special ed kids at school, Gerald had his sister Lisi on his side and also a love interest he first knows as Register #1 girl at his job. And then there's Hockey Lady, who recognized Gerald from the show and immediately gave him a big sympathetic hug and words of encouragement. Gerald also has a rich fantasy life in which he eats ice cream all the time and hangs out with Disney characters. A little weird maybe, but it helps him cope.

There's so much more I want to say about Gerald and his family and the ways in which they are screwed up and why I think he's a better person than any of them, but really you should just read it for yourself. There aren't enough YA books with male protagonists to begin with, but this one also stands out because Gerald has such a unique and well-developed voice. Throw in the anger management issues and reality tv plot and Reality Boy is a winner all around. A.S. King continues to prove herself one of the best YA authors out there - I already can't wait for her next book!

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Pearl by Tabitha King (1988)

Pearl Dickenson inherits a piece of property in Nodd's Ridge, Maine from a great-uncle she has never met. Rather than selling it off, she moves there to settle down. She is biracial and beautiful and her novelty turns heads. She takes over a diner from a local and makes it her own, putting most of her energy into running the business. When she's not at work she is dividing her time between two men, becoming ever more deeply embroiled in her complicated love triangle.

Pearl was making a pretty big mess of her life and seemed completely unconcerned about deceiving two decent men. This is a small town; the heartbreak she may cause won't just go away. Although I never completely sympathized with her, I became quite drawn into her situation and very concerned about which guy she would end up with (if, indeed, she ended up with either after she two-timed them both.) David, a poet with a tragic past, is romantic and passionate. In fact, his passions are so strong they sometimes border on violence, enough to make me a bit uncomfortable with a couple of the sex scenes. Still, he is emotionally fragile and basically a decent person who was just screwed up because of his experiences. Pearl's other flame is Reuben, a single father of two, one of whom was Pearl's employee. Karen is a high school dropout with an older boyfriend and a hot body she likes to show off - basically every father's nightmare. Reuben feels helpless to control Karen, but desperate to make sure his ex-wife (and her preacher husband) don't get custody. He hadn't dated since his marriage and doesn't have especially high self-esteem, but was definitely the front-runner in this race in terms of a potentially stable long-term relationship.

The third person narration stayed fairly distant, and I quickly became frustrated not knowing what was going on in Pearl's head. As she conducted her affairs with both Reuben and David it seems like she had to know what a horrible situation she was creating and that she would eventually be found out. But I only know what she said and did, and had few clues to her motivations. It was also hard to understand why she gave up her life to move to this town and start over, and I didn't feel like it was ever adequately explained. Nor the reason why she got a Master's in Library Science but wanted to own a diner. Her career transition remained mysterious. She wasn't the most convincing out-of-stater either, seamlessly transitioning to this town without even the tiniest complaint of the weather, the distance to nearby towns, or even the most mundane observation to illustrate the fact that she was from someplace else. I grew up in Maine and have met a lot of people who came from other states and believe me, the transition would be noticeable.

I'm conflicted about the way race is treated in the novel. When it came up, as it did when certain characters hurled epithets at Pearl, it was glossed over easily. She would laugh them off and explain that she didn't have time to fret over how other people thought. On the one hand, I sort of gave her props for not bogging herself down in other people's bigotry issues. On the other hand though, what the hell? You are moving to a place where everybody else is white and some people are giving you shit for not being white and that's all you have to say about it? Which brings me to the very interesting subject of authors writing about characters of a different race. This could be an entire blog post (and perhaps it will be.)  In short, I think that part of writing fiction is creating characters who are not you - that is why it's fiction - but there is still something a little discomfiting about white authors creating main characters who are not white. I kind of wonder why King made Pearl biracial at all, because it didn't add a whole lot to the story.

On a lighter note, I found it pretty hilarious that there were references to a character from The Shining, the classic horror novel by Tabitha King's husband Stephen. Pearl learned to cook from one Dick Halloran who worked at her stepfather's diner in the Florida Keys in the winter, but in summer cooked at the infamous Overlook Hotel. (There was also a passing reference to Cujo, but it was the 80s and any mention of dogs at that time conjured up images of that particular rabid canine.)

This sounds fairly complainy, but honestly I enjoyed reading this novel. Pearl isn't the first woman to appear outwardly successful while mucking up her personal life and overall I found whole story quite satisfying. It took me a while to get into, but then I became immersed in the lives of everyone in this small town, and it felt a bit like reading Richard Russo or Stewart O'Nan. Small town stories have great appeal, and I especially like stories about women moving somewhere and making new lives for themselves, fixing up a house or starting a business. Overall a satisfying read.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell (2013)

One morning Gretta Riordan's husband goes out to get the paper and doesn't return. Her children then gather at her house for the first time in years to offer support and try to get to the bottom of their father's disappearance. Michael Francis is married with children of his own, but his marriage is precarious. Aoife returns from New York where she is desperately trying to manage a job and a relationship, while protecting a lifelong secret she won't be able to hide for much longer. Monica, the favorite, is in her second marriage and disliked by her stepdaughters. She and Aoife haven't spoken since a terrible fight three years before. Despite all their troubles the children come together to search for clues in their father's disappearance, all during the worst heatwave Britain had seen for years.

Set in 1976, the family doesn't have the benefit of the internet or cell phones so the clues come slowly. This great for the reader, who can now bask in O'Farrell's gorgeous prose while soaking up all the back stories in this fascinating and troubled family.

Everybody in this novel has secrets and those secrets destroy bits of their lives. The biggest of all, of course, is the one that makes Robert Riordan leave home that day. What was most fascinating, I think, was the way that this family (and many families) talk to each other, or don't. Important stories remain untold, certain situations unexplained. It's probably common, but here it is elevated to something quite artful.

It's not hard to see why their communication is so poor. When Robert first goes missing, Gretta calls one of her kids and starts prattling on about the key to the shed being missing. She off-handedly mentions that if she had any idea where Robert was, she'd have the key, and that's how her family learns that their father is gone. But Gretta isn't a scatterbrain; she's an Irish Catholic mother, stern and quick to judge, just maybe taking a few too many prescription drugs.

While I enjoyed most of the characters, my favorite by far is Aoife. Her situation is precarious and while her family saw her as kind of a mess, she is in fact doing a remarkable job of hiding the fact that she can't read. (This comes up very early in the book so is not a spoiler.) She has made a life for herself far from her family, working for a photographer she greatly admires, and is in a fledging relationship. But all could be lost if her secret is found out. Aoife is vulnerable and misunderstood and I just loved her.

Have I mentioned that Maggie O'Farrell is brilliant? I may have in my reviews of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Hand That First Held Mine. She comes up with a great idea for a story, usually involving family secrets, and then tells it with beautiful language, multi-dimensional characters and a strong atmosphere. She's been around for a while but only now finally gaining popularity in the US, and it is completely deserving. If you haven't tried her books yet, you're in for a treat!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Knitting

It's been a while since I shared the first picture of my Amish Broom Corn Sock, but I've now finished the pair.

I kind of like how the striping looks, especially on the heel. I'm not personally a big fan of high-contrast colorways, but these socks are for Eric and he picked out the yarn.

They were quite simple and straightforward. I had some trouble initially because the yarn is a little thicker than I expected for sock yarn, but once I restarted on size 1.5 needles with fewer stitches it went quite smoothly. There's not a lot to say about these. I'm hoping that now I'll turn to my other unfinished projects rather than immediately casting on for something new, as I'm always tempted to do the moment I finished a project.