Book 12 - Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
I really enjoyed this book. It started off a bit slow and gradually built up anticipation. The long build-up really worked well, and by about page 200 the story really took off with a bang and I had a difficult time setting the book aside at all. Marillier does a brilliant job of foreshadowing, and she sets (and sticks to) a slow but relentless build-up to the climax that I found to be very effective.
Book 13 - Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb
To save on time, I'm just going to recommend my earlier review for previous book in the In Death series. I don't have anything new to say about the writing, but Robb is an absolute beast when it comes to pumping out the fiction.
Book 14 - Bar None: A Tale of Chilling Suspense, Apocalyptic Beauty, and Fine Ales by Tim Lebbon
A very intersting take on zombie apocalypse with a supernatural twist. At just under 200 pages it was a very quick read. The main character marks important moments of his life with different ales, much as other people do with songs, which I found interesting.
Book 15 - The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip
I loved this book. The world had depth, the characters were intriguing, and it was some of the most beautiful writing I've encountered in quite some time. The descriptions were phenomenal.
I feel like I fell down on these reviews somewhat, but I didn't sleep well last night so my brain is about fried. Might come back and edit later if I remember.
Book 9: The Romance of Tristan and Iseult - Published 1945, New York, NY
This is one of those stories that I've read a dozen times, and will probably read a dozen times more. This review is not going to address the story; rather, I will talk about this particular translation.
While this is not my favorite interpretation of Tristan and Iseult, I did enjoy it. It read less like a medieval romance (or indeed, a romance at all) and more like a fairy tale from The Brothers Grimm. As with any Grimm fairy tale, very little detail is given. The language is very plain. I thought it was very interesting to read this epic tale of treachery and battle and adventure and romance and suffering (oh the suffering!) and have the prose remain so stiff and detached throughout. It has the same feel as a Grimm fairy tale... I am especially reminded of "Briar Rose" (aka Sleeping Beauty) where the hedge of thorns that has grown around the castle is described, and it says how many suitors tried to break through the thorny barrier, only to have the thorns hold fast to them, "as it were with hands" and they could not break free. "They died wretchedly," is added almost as an afterthought.
Book 10: Naked Heat by Richard Castle
This is the second novel by the fictional character Richard Castle, which comes from the very awesome tv show Castle. For those who haven't seen the show, it's about a mystery writer who tags along with a homicide detective, seeking inspiration for his new series of books. The first one was entertaining enough that I picked up the second.
For a book supposedly written by a New York Times bestselling author (albeit a fictional one) the writing was pretty sloppy in parts. The writer/editor in me was constantly adjusting syntax and swapping diction in my head. It wasn't sloppy enough to really impact the enjoyability of the story (here's looking at you, Stephenie Meyer!) but it was just bad enough to be noticeable.
The story itself was pretty good. It had an over-the-top pulp fiction detective feel to it that I really dig. Whoever wrote the book did a great job of evoking feelings of that genre without going overboard on it. Mad love to them for it. Also, more love for the Firefly references.
Books 11 and 11.5: Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English and Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing, both by Patricia T O'Conner
These were both pretty quick reads so I'm bundling them together in one review. As a writer, I am always looking for ways to improve my writing. The primary way I do this is by reading as much as I can. Occasionally I'll read books that are actually about writing.
Words Fail Me was, for the most part, unhelpful. The first section of the book focused on the methods for writing, overcoming writer's block, etc etc. I've already got my methods down, so that didn't do anything for me. The rest of the book focused on a lot of the nitty-gritty writing details of writing. Clarity, sentence structure, using strong verbs, so on and so forth. It's mostly things that I knew already, but it's good to be refreshed every once in a while. And as for the few things I hadn't realized, well, any improvement is welcome, no matter how small.
Woe Is I focuses exclusively on grammar. I am in kind of an odd position when it comes to grammar. I was never formally taught anything about grammar in all of my years of schooling. However, I am and have always been an avid reader and, as a result of learning grammar only by reading properly constructed sentences, my grasp of grammar is based solely on what "sounds right" to me as opposed to any of the rules or reasons behind it. So, it's intersting to me to read about why a correctly structured sentence is correct.
Both books were written with a straightforward attitude, a dash of humor, and (obviously) grammatically correct sentences abound.
Book 6: Matched by Ally Condie
This is a young adult book. I admit it, I read young adult books. Some of them are very very awesome and perfectly able to be enjoyed by adults (Garth Nix, to name one. For all of you who have not read Sabriel I would highly recommend it!)
I read Matched because I noticed a lot of people at the Library requesting it, and was curious. Please don't make the same mistake I did.
General impression of this book is a cross between a poorly-written Giver and a watered-down 1984. It's about a young girl in a utopian society, her eyes are opened and she breaks free of the brainwashing. Yada yada, you know the drill. However, the characters have no depth, the dialogue is wooden, and the plot meanders aimlessly without accomplishing anything. The main character continuously makes little side comments about the way things used to be, etc etc, that are entirely inappropriate for a character who was raised in that society. Yes, I get that Condie wants to contrast how things are vs. how things were, but it's entirely unnecessary for the main character to do so; we know how things "were" because we, the readers, are living in that world now. Events happend with no foreshadowing and no buildup. Characters were introduced and then never mentioned again. There were inconsistancies galore. The nicest thing I have to say about this book is that it only took me 2 hours to read.
Book 7: Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
I enjoyed this book. The plot was light on the action, but the writing is solid, the characters were well-developed, and the descriptions were very good. The world was extremely well-developed. Though it wasn't much of a page-turner and I didn't eagerly await the next twist of the plot in between readings, I did find it overall to be a very pleasant read.
One thing that I especially liked a lot was that while it did edge close to the cliche of small-town gal grows up, embarks on adventure and does Great Things, it didn't quite fall into it. The main character starts out knowing that she's going to do Great Things because she comes from a long line of rich and powerful people, though she is in exile. She doesn't know how powerful she will become, but the potential is already laid out there. I found that somewhat refreshing, and it felt more believeable than "random child becomes a great hero." I will certainly be seeking out more of Shinn's work to read.
So far I'm still on track with this, even if I am falling down a bit on the blogging part.
No images, because I'm lazy.
Book 4: Indulgence in Death by J.D. Robb.
This book was predictable: someone is murdered, homicide detective gets put on the case, someone else is killed, the case unravels, someone else is killed, the stakes are upped! Bad guys are caught, the good guys win again. But the dialogue is always great, the details of each case are varried enough to keep the reader guessing, and it's just plain interesting to read. And as the 38th book in a series, I commend Robb for that going.
The "In Death" series is what I view as the literary equivalent of a summer action movie: it's fantastic for an afternoon's entertainment, but probably not worth revisiting once you find out who the killer is.
Book 5: Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara
Not the best book I've ever read. The main character alternates between overly dramatic and forcibly blasé. I spent most of the book wanting to slap her, which hasn't happened since Bella Swan. It had that same fan-fictiony air about it, but the writing itself was solid, and the descriptions were pretty good. It's the first book of the series, but I didn't feel compelled to find the next one; in fact, I only skimmed the last 50 pages and feel that I didn't miss all that much. That's not a good sign -- your reader should NEVER be willing to "just skim" the ending you've spent the entire book building up to.
Book almost-6: The Key: A Rachel Benjamin Mystery by Jennifer Sturman
I never start out with exceptionally high expectations when it comes to "chick lit." I sort of view it like watching something silly on tv: it's fluffy and entertaining and doesn't require a whole lot of mental processing to get through. I don't anticipate a complicated plot with tons of twists and turns, I don't expect deep and complex characterization. But there is never, ever, ever an excuse for bad writing. EVER. I quit reading this book about 20 pages in, when the main character meets her love interest and describes him as having "a regular-size nose, and normal-size eyes." WTF, normal-size eyes?? Is everyone else in this fictional city cursed with either itty bitty eyes or cartoonishly large ones? (if so, that's exactly the sort of thing that's important to tell your readers and makes all the difference.) Otherwise, it's just sloppy writing. Also, is eye color too much to ask for?
So far so good with this 52-book-in-52-weeks thing. I'm on schedule thus far, which is actually a little surprising. There's no doubt that I'm capable of reading that many books in a year -- hell, in college when I had tons of free time, I went through a book to a book and a half per day. It's more the matter of not only making myself keep to a schedule on it, but also keeping up with the commitment to blog about it as well.
Anyhow, book three...
Yep, same author from Dogs in the Moonlight. Though both deal with the fantastic, they were very very different books in all other respects.
One thing an author can always do to impress me (as a writer myself) is to, in separate works, maintain different styles and tones without compromising either their talents or their own "voice." Lake manages that beautifully, at least between these two books. That's something that I've always struggled with, and I've noticed in others as well. Even if you love an author, it's somewhat off-putting to hear the same voice coming out of the mouths of character after character in world after world. (Sorry, Simon R. Green, I love you but it's true...)
Unlike Dogs in the Moonlight, which added a dash of the supernatural to everyday people set against the gritty backdrop of rural Texas, Green is set in a mythical world. Yet somehow Lake manages to take that gritty realism and transpose it to his made-up world as well. In the very first pages, I could feel the unrelenting sun beating down on my head and taste the dust as I breathed. This continued for the entire book. The setting descriptions were amazingly detailed without being tedious or overwhelming or dragging down the plot. The thing I found most interesting about that was how exactly the details were conveyed. The story is told in First Person, but from an indeterminate amount of years later. The main character is reflecting back on her life, and while her overal tone is detached by the power of years, and in fact nearly clinical in its deliverance of amazingly detailed descriptions of events, the reader still cares. I found it an interesting trick to make the reader feel more passionately about the tale than the narrator does. To her these are just old memories; to us this is an exciting new story.
Another interesting thing about this story was the lack of a romantic sub-plot. It's very rare to read a story without any sory of love interest or relationship development being part of what moves the plot forward. Often, the main character's love interest is a large and important part of the plot. In this story, however, that is not the case. The main character does have relationships, but they are treated as something that just happens alongside the main action, and indeed are mostly not treated as the typical understanding of "relationships" at all, but as just a convenient opportunity for sex.
My only real complaint about this story was the ending. The climax of the story didn't feel any bigger or more spectacular than the events leading up to it. And the only way that I knew that that particular section of action was the climax at all was by the small number of pages left in the book. Very unsatisfying.
It was an interesting read overall, and while I probably won't be itching for a reread any time soon, I'll definitely be on the lookout for more by this author.
Since I was apparently on a short story kick, here's my second book:
This is a collection of short stories set in Texas, and themed around the supernatural. The book is divided into four sections: ghosts, angels, gods, and aliens.
The book started off strong with the short story from which the collection got its name, "Dogs in the Moonlight." I went into it with no expectations, having never read anything by Jay Lake previously, and so the twists and turns this tale took caught me completely by surprise.
The stories were told in first person, and the vernacular that Lake uses to tell the tales is strong enough to let the reader hear the blue-collar Texas twang of the characters, yet subtle enough that it doesn't interfere with the reader's ability to enjoy the story or force the reader to puzzle out what the everloving-eff is going on (I'm looking at you, Charles W. Chesnutt!)
I felt that Lake also did a good job of balancing between the supernatural and the mundane. There were enough of the nitty-gritty everyday details to keep the stories well-grounded, but it was mixed with events fantastical enough to make the story worth telling. The first three sections were very strong, but I felt that the portion about Aliens fell down, especially when it was forced to not only follow the previous three sections but also to end the collection. I found myself skimming most of the stories in that section, and felt that it would have been better served to be placed in the middle of the book and allow one of the other sections to serve as the conclusion.
I've decided that maintaining a separate blog for my reading will just be more of a headache than I'm probably willing to deal with, so I'm just going to keep track of it on here. After all, reading is inherently geeky, right? So there's half the title. I'll just throw in a knitting book every now and then and that'll all even out, yeah?
Okay, so, first book!
It's a collection of short stories themed around (you guessed it!) love gone awry. Some of them have happy endings, some are more Romeo-and-Juliet like, but all of them have romance as a plotline. I'd selected it because Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher both contributed to this book.
I'm not normally one for collections of short stories, and anticipated reading the ones I wanted to read along with a few others, skimming through the rest, and that being the end of it. However, I actually ended up reading all but one of these stories, and enjoyed them all very much. Some were more bodice-ripper-romance-themed than I would have liked, but I was pleasantly surprised by most.
Jim Butcher: A short story set in his Dresden Files world. It addressed the unresolved romantic tension between Dresden and Murphy. As with all of Butcher's writing, it was just the right balance of entertaining dialogue and fast-paced action. A quick and enjoyable read.
Neil Gaiman: He is the most phenomenal writer of short stories that I have ever encountered in my two decades of reading. He can pack such a big twist into such a short story that I always need to take a minute, back up a page or so, and let my mind unbend itself. This story was no exception. Love love love.
There were a couple others that had Gaiman-esque twists to them, but most simply told an entertaining story. Nice, enjoyable read.
The first of January is probably my favorite day out of the whole year. It's better than my birthday, better than Christmas, even better than Halloween! Waking up on January first feels like turning to a fresh page, and the air practically vibrates with all the possibilities contained in the year ahead. It's a new beginning, a chance to lay to rest all of the negative things of the previous year, and to select the positive things to carry forward with me. The last half of 2010 was very hard for me, and I feel relieved to be able to leave that behind.
I suppose it wouldn't surprise anyone if I said that I was still working on my Christmas knitting, would it?
I thought not.
I did, however, finish the vast majority of what I'd set out to do. I knit a hat for my father-in-law, a cup cozy for my brother-in-law's lady friend, and finally finally FINALLY finished J-L's damn hat. And there were a lot of socks involved. Lots and lots of socks.
Because I'm kind of an idiot, I completely neglected to snap pictures of all of these things before I gifted them away. So, some were taken after the fact, and one was not taken at all. I don't know why I always forget to do this... Sigh.
So, first the hat. Plain top-down stockinette with a 2x2 ribbed brim. I used Jason as a model and knit it long enough to cover the ears. I knit it up in Malabrigo Rios in the Azul Profundo colorway, which is lovely without being girly. It was my first time working with Rios, and I definitely see what some people meant when they said it was "limp," especially when compared to the un-superwash-treated worsted. But it did knit up into a soft, firm fabric that looks like it will hold up better than the single-ply worsted. It wasn't quite as deliciously squooshy to knit with as the Twist, but still a pleasure. I will certainly be using it again!
Next up is the cup cozy. Brother-in-law's girlfriend had added a cup cozy from Etsy to her Christmas wishlist. The cozy had the little thumbs up thing from Facebook on it, along with the words "like this" embroidered onto a white felt background. The cozy itself was single-crocheted from blue yarn.
I took one look at that thing and said to myself "What the hell!? Charging $20 for that thing?!? It looks like a five year old did the embroidery!" The cozy itself, while much more neatly constructed, was flawed as well. It was basically a crocheted cup with a slit in one side for a mug handle to go through. I felt that having a crocheted bottom would make a mug wobbly and unstable, and it would only work on a certain-sized mug. So I made a knit version that could be used either with a mug or a to-go cup.
It's secured with two buttons. I wish I'd gotten a pic of the back of it because I'm rather proud of my solution to convert it between to-go cup and mug. For a to-go cup it simply secures with two buttons. For the mug, I knit up two short tabs, each with a button on one end and a button hole on the other, that can be used to make the cozy wider and to fit around the handle. I'm really quite pleased with the end result, and she really seemed to like it.
My other great big knitting conquest was J-L's hat. I hate this thing. I hated it from start to finish. I hated every stitch, every color change, every stupid bit of knotted fringe. I had an enormous tangled pile of yarn, I had issues getting the fringe even, I ran out of yarn, I now have a crap ton of yarn left over that I want to burn because my brain associates it with the nightmare that was knitting this awful thing.
But J-L loves it. I mean, loves it. And that makes every painful minutes spent fighting that thing worth it.
And lastly we have the ongoing sock invasion. I got it into my head to knit socks for Mom and Nani. And not just one pair for each, no, I wanted to knit TWO pairs for each! Of course I didn't finish. I had one pair each of the purple completed by Christmas Eve when we exchanged gifts, and one pair of the blue done by the time I left Tampa. I've got one and a half blue socks left to knit, and then they'll be mailed to their new home. Both Mom and Nani loved them, and the aran weight yarn makes them go pretty quick at only 3-4 hours per sock.
And just like that, the year is nearly over. Of course I'll put together my annual New Year's post (the one time of year my blogging is consistent!) on Friday. I'm eager to see how much knitting I've done as compared to last year. And also the annual tradition of making resolutions that I'll break in the coming months. :)
Remember last post how I was whinging about this scarf that I was knitting that was taking FOR-EV-ER? Whelp, I finished it. I've currently got it pinned down to the blocking board and drying out, so hopefully it'll be totally done in the next few days and I can take some pretty pretty pictures of it.
In the meantime there's this crappy cameraphone shot of it stretched out. Ignore my messy crafting room.
Now do you see why I was whinging? It'd be one thing if it was just the scarf, but this sucker is knit in the round. It's warm and thick and squishy and I'm kind of in love with it. At some point I plan on knitting me a Hogwarts scarf in this same method, and I'm really super looking forward to it now. Pesky Cold Sheep. Sigh. Someday.
Anyhow! Scarf! The only downside was that the colorwork sections tended to pull in. But not by much, and I'm optimistic that the blocking will take care of it. Because blocking is magical and can fix everything. Almost anything. Well, some things. But I'm optimistic that this is one of them.
This was my first large project with colorwork in the round. The first end took me a week to do. The second only took half the time, it seemed like. Just took some getting used to, but once I fell into a rhythm it just flew.
The fingerless gloves that go along with these are nearly done as well. They just need thumbs. I wanted to wait until I could get my friend to try them on, since I've been tweaking the pattern to fit him better, and that didn't happen for a couple of weeks. However, that delay gave me time to finish up the scarf, so now I'll be able to present them both at once, yay!
It also just occured to me that I've been sadly negligent about posting FO pics here. Luckily I don't have all that many FOs to catch up on.
Apparition Socks. Test knit for a fellow raveler. Knit in Toefutsies in Vic-Toe-Rian which I scored on sale for half off. I'm not entirely pleased with them. The yarn is too "busy" and obscures the pattern, and the leg is a bit loose so it tends to scrunch up. Which of course further obscures the pattern. But the foot fits well, and I have knit some very lovely memories in these socks so they will not be banished to the frog pond. They will, however, probably be worn with jeans.
Munich Multnomah. Knit in Knipicks Imagination in Munchkin. This knit was something of an adventure. I, of course, waited until the last minute before my wedding/honeymoon trip to print out the pattern, and when I did I made the horrifying discovery that the English copy was unavailable and I couldn't read any of the translation languages. However, I picked the pattern originally because it wasn't complicated and thus would make perfect travel knitting, and I was able to cobble together a working pattern by stalking FO pics on Ravelry. I've worn it several times so far, and have gotten tons of compliments every time.
Thirdly: I FINALLY knit up my awesome Jayne hat, and have been proudly wearing it around the 'burgh. Cunning, ain't it?
After seeing me wearing knit items a couple of times, a coworker asked me to knit her something. She purchased the yarn and I'm doing the knitting in exchange for baked goods. She's a phenomenal baker, and I seem to recall the word "cupcakes" being involved in our negotiations. I'm knitting Spring Thaw in Malabrigo Sock (mmm, you see why it didn't take much to convince me to do this knit) in Abril. I am in LOVE with this colorway, and foresee myself doing another project in it for me.
So far it's been behaving itself quite nicely, which in of itself is a little suspect. Makes me wonder what might go wrong...
Oh, and a little update on Cold Sheep. I'm doing well so far, mostly thanks to Jason. Last week he bought me a couple of skeins of Malabrigo Worsted in Burgandy so I've got enough to make a pullover with the leftovers of Mom's February Lady. And that's got me thinking about NaKniSweMo. And then I recall the spectacular failure of last year in which I didn't even manage to cast on.
I think I still might give it a go. I need to rip and reknit my Lichen, which I foolishly attempted while proudly waving a banner that read "I DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' PATTERN!!" in great big glaring letters. It should be pretty obvious how that ended. Anyhow, I need to frog and reknit. It's a bulky yarn so it goes fast, and it's a top-down raglan sweater in stockinette so it's simple. Stay tuned for further adventures on that front...