what I like in a book

First of all, thank you so much to all the Ravelry users for the warm response to my pattern! There are 40+ likes and lots of queuing as of this morning. I really didn't expect so much! Now that it's there, I'm feeling a little more confident, I think it looks quite nice. I have to give Mr. HeyLucy some credit for helping with the photography, too. 

And now, I think it's about time for a book report. I didn't read nearly as much in 2011 as I did in 2010, but I did read a few very good books. I've also gotten a couple advance reader's copies from publishers, so I wanted to be sure and let you know about those. There were two, in particular, that I recently read, and they got me thinking about just what makes a good book. The Night Swimmer was just released, and is the story of an American couple that win an Irish pub on the southern tip of Ireland. They have high hopes, but things don't quite work out as expected. Matt Bondurant is an eloquent, gifted writer, but there was a subtlety to his storytelling that I never really understood. I'm still not sure just why certain things happened as they did. I found it interesting to read a story told in a female voice, written by a male author (as I would if roles were reversed). He was convincing, and yet I never really cared all that much for Elly, and I didn't understand her attractions to swimming in the ocean and to her husband Fred. I need to feel like I know and understand the characters in a book to really like it. So my review, in this case, is a totally subjective two-and-a-half out of five stars. I think some readers will love it, in all its subtlety, but even the intriguing location of the story wasn't enough to win me over. 

And now, a brief intermission, so we can enjoy this entertaining video: 

Okay, next up on my ARC list, History of a Pleasure Seeker, which comes out February 7. It's just after the turn of the century in Amsterdam (+1, I particularly like this time period and location), and handsome, talented Piet is attempting to rise above his station and secures a job as tutor to a troubled boy in a very wealthy family (+1, I can get behind that, it's an interesting challenge). Told in vivid detail, the author successfully brings a glamorous world to life (+1 for descriptive writing). Ultimately, however, the negatives are glaring. Piet is quite devious and while he admires his employer, he takes advantage of his trust (-1, first and foremost, he is a selfish bastard). He does succeed in helping some of the other characters, but often inadvertently, while single-mindedly pursuing his own interests (-1 more for more unlikeability). There's also an awful lot of excruciatingly detailed sex, both hetero- and homosexual (-1 for unexpected erotica). I prefer a more subtle approach, and there was just more than I thought was necessary to move the plot forward. I don't want characters in a book to be perfect, but when they succeed time and time again, despite their flaws, I find that they grow tiresome. So the pluses and minuses end up cancelling each other out. I'll be generous, however, and give it three out of five stars. 

My very favorite book of 2011 was Ready Player One. I actually listened to the audio version of this one, read by Wil Wheaton, who was pitch perfect as the voice of Wade Watts, treasure seeker/hacker/80s pop culture expert. Set in a bleak and hopeless 2044, most of humanity spends it's time plugged in to the virtual OASIS, where they attend school, work, and socialize. The developer of this virtual world has died and his will stipulates that the person who can unlock the three hidden gates and solve the subsequent puzzles will inherit the entire thing. It's been years, and so far no one has made any progress until one day when Wade finds the first gate, and the competition heats up fast. As a child of the 80s, the nostagia factor was high for me. I really grew to care about the characters, and the action and suspense kept me listening. It was just so, so much fun.

Currently, I'm in the middle of Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm loving it so much. She has a way of giving her characters a voice that really expresses who they are. I recently finished Year of Wonders, and had the same feeling. I enjoyed the whole book, until the ending, which felt rushed and was so unlikely, I found it hard to believe. Fingers-crossed that it doesn't happen again, it was so perfect up to that point. 

What was your favorite book of 2011? What do you like in a book.   

recommended

    
Butcherveg
   

I have a whole bunch of recommendations for you in this post, but mostly I want to talk about the book in the photo up there. I was quite lucky to be offered a copy from the publisher to read and review quite a little while ago, and I finally managed to site down and read last weekend. 

The Butcher and the Vegetarian was written by Tara Austen Weaver, author of the lovely Tea and Cookies blog, which I don't know how I've missed all this time, but it's now bookmarked in my cooking folder. In her book she tells her story of her encounters with meat (recommended by her doctor to help her overcome some health issues) after a lifetime as a vegetarian. There are a lot of books out there these days about our food supply and eating responsibly, and I've found some of them to be rather preachy and alarmist, but this was much different. Tara is very balanced in her book, and she writes with warmth and a little self-deprecating humor that I really connected with. I have actually been thinking about eating less meat, and eating better, more humanely raised meat when I do. I especially liked the sections  where she visited some smaller farms where the farmers are doing just that, and I definitely want to start looking for some sources for those types of products in my area. I was just the sort of thing I've been wanting to learn more about.

I think a lot of this thinking on my part has come from having my chickens for the last three and a half years. I love gathering and cooking their eggs, knowing that they spend their days wandering wherever they please, pecking and scratching and eating a diet with such variety. Those girls are spoiled, I tell you. They get fruit and vegetable scraps from the little café at work, all sorts of bugs, a handful of scratch every morning, and also their regular chicken feed. When I hear about factory egg farms, and how the birds are treated I know I never want to have a store bought egg again. 

So anyway, I highly recommend The Butcher and the Vegetarian, it's a good read, particularly if you are thinking about improving the way you eat.

So here are some other things I recommend right now:

  • In my continuing quest to drink more water, I've started filling a pitcher with water filtered in our Brita filter and then adding ribbons of cucumber sliced lengthwise and a few sprigs of mint. So much better than plain! I'm not sure why, but I think it is much more thirst quenching.
  • Netflix has all eight seasons of McLeod's Daughters, and I've been totally addicted. It's an Australian series about a bunch of women ranchers. I have to say, however, it went downhill into soap opera territory the last couple seasons. I loved the first three seasons the best. 
  • I've reviewed a lot of cooking apps for the iPhone over at APPlesauce, and now that I've been trying them all out for a little while, the Epicurious app seems to be winning as my favorite. It's free, which of course earns it bonus points, but I would have paid for it if I had to. 
  • My current favorite podcast (well, videocast, really) is Working Class Foodies. They're quick, just six or eight minutes, and full of all sorts of delicious recipes and tips, and everything is fresh but also cheap.

  
Pearsframed
 
 
I bought some tiny Forelle pears, just because they were so pretty. 

 

 

reviews and opinions

Good grief it's been gloomy and dark around here. I attempted to take some photos of knitting projects Monday morning and this was the best I could do:

 Blankie 

I know I have my Ravelympics project, and I have been working on it, but it's laceweight yarn, and I needed a break. This is the opposite of laceweight, it's two strands of yarn held together and knit on giant (size 17) needles. Plus, it's a blanket, so it kept me warm while I was knitting it. This pattern is from Lion Brand, it's called Cascading Colors blanket, and it's made with Lion Brand Jiffy and Cotton Ease. I love the colors. It's pretty small, but just perfect for a stroller or car seat, or for a toddler to drag around. I blocked it by throwing it in the washer and then in the drier, and the Jiffy yarn got pretty fuzzy and pill-y. Also, every single end that I had carefully woven in popped through to the front side. I trimmed everything neatly, and now it looks pretty good, If I do say so. 

And now I have some opinions and reviews for you, whether you want them or not. I splurged on a set of Zephyr knitting needles from Knit Picks, since they are on sale right now. They're clear acrylic, and I think I rather like them. They're slick, although not as slick as nickel-plated needles. I switched my Featherweight cardigan from a pair of plastic needles to these, and it's going much more smoothly. The yarn slides nicely, and the tips are nice and pointy, so they're especially nice for this very fine yarn.

I watched Bright Star this week. My goodness, it was boring, but so very beautiful. I'm not really one for wimpy poets, and Fannie was kind of bratty, but her clothes were wonderful and every scene was like a painting. I could look at it over and over. How's that for the oddest review ever? I loved it, even though the story was slow. Maybe I'll just let it play without sound next time, and enjoy the eye candy.

I went to the Asian grocery store and bought ingredients for Tom Yum soup, which is very easy when you use the paste mix from a jar. I got a big bag of shiitake mushrooms for just $2.99 a pound. When I was at Vons a few days later, I noticed their price for shiitake mushrooms was $15.99 a pound. That's just crazy, how can they do that? My cheap mushrooms were delicious in the soup, they absorbed all that sweet and sour broth and just melted in your mouth. I don't think they would have done that if I had paid $15.99 for them. 

of books

Aww, you guys! I can’t believe how fast the chick and pincushions went. There will be more of both just as soon as I can get to them. Too bad I have an actual full time job. It just keeps getting in the way of the fun stuff! My biggest problem during the week is actually being able to take pictures. It’s dark now when I get home, and mornings can get a little hectic. I’d like to make a light box, but I’m really trying to clean my workshop out so I can paint and fix it up all pretty, not bring more stuff in. There must be a space-saving light box contraption out there somewhere, or maybe I just have to invent one myself.

This picture was not taken with the use of a light box, just the pale morning light from my kitchen window, which is quite nice, really. If only it didn’t hang around for such a limited time each day.

Page

Enough about that, I actually wanted to talk about books again! First of all, I finished one of two books I’m working on for the shop, and have listed it. The second one is a little bigger, and nearly done too. I’ll let you read all about it over there, if you are interested in that sort of thing. I think I have enough of this lovely French printmaking paper left for one, or maybe two more books. I should look for a less expensive alternative, but it’s just so nice, and stands up well to ink and watercolors. It’s just right for a commonplace book, or a travel journal.

Translations3

I’ve also squeezed in a bit of reading, some from the list, and some not. First of all, those of you who recommended The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, what are you trying to do to me?! Heart-wrenching would be the best description I can give you. For those of you interested in WWII/Holocaust books, put this one at the top of your list right now. And even if you’re not interested in that period of history, it still should be high on your list.

I’ve also continued with the Fablehaven books, and I think they are getting better. I finished the second and just started the third. I think kids that are Harry Potter fans and looking for something else to read would really enjoy this series. Fantastical, magical creatures are always fun, and the stories are suspenseful and keep you reading.

The Dew Breaker is also on my list, and I have the CD recording of it from the library, so I can listen while driving to and from work. I have to be in just the right mood to listen to a book, so maybe I’ll get to this one later this week. Looking at my to-do list I don’t see any spare time for reading, so this may be the best way to fit it in.

a few pictures from the farm and a list

I’m still trying to learn how to use my zoom lens, and I was practicing this morning. Sally kept walking closer and closer. I think I have a picture that is nearly all beak. In this one you can see her pretty blue eyes. Er, eye.

Sally

The dogs run through the dew and drink out of Sally’s pool in the morning, then go lay in the dirt, so they’re always a bit disheveled looking in the morning. Here’s Winston’s dirty face:

Winstondirty

There has been quite the chicken soap opera going on around these parts, but it will take several entries to share that tale. In the meantime, meet Colonel Sanders:

Colnol

Something I really need to work on: check the white balance before taking pictures! I was so concerned about my aperture and shutter speed that I forgot that the last time I used my camera I was taking pictures in the kitchen in the evening and had the white balance set on incandescent. Doh! So that’s why everything is blue. That’s also not the first time I’ve done that. When will I learn?

And now, a list of movies that should not be viewed on an empty stomach:

  • Big Night
  • Eat Drink Man Woman
  • Howard’s End
  • Mostly Martha

Do you have any to add to the list? I’m just trying to serve the public here at Hey Lucy, and prevent any unnecessary hunger pangs.

I watched Mostly Martha last night, but it was after dinner, so I was okay. Next on my Netflix queue is No Reservations. I’m going to see how it compares to Mostly Martha. I usually hate Hollywood remakes (for example, Shall We Dance, the Japanese version, is far superior to the U.S. version), so I have very low expectations.

goodreads

Due to my current allergy situation (and resulting grumpiness), I’ve not felt like doing much more than reading in he evening. A good book is definitely something that can cheer me up and make me forget about my snuffly nose. In the past I’ve tried to keep a list of what I’ve read and books I’d like to read, but my record keeping has been pretty sporadic. Recently I discovered GoodReads, which makes keeping track so much easier. If you join, please do feel free to add me as a friend. I think you can invite me using my lucy at heylucy dot net address. It’s so easy to find, add, and rate books. I’ve been adding books I’ve read over the last couple years here and there.

So, I thought I’d share some recent reads, and ask for some recommendations. I am waiting for a couple books to arrive at the library, but you can never have too many book recommendations to fall back on, can you? Speaking of the library, does your local library have their catalog online? I love that I can just go to the San Diego County Library website, find a book, and have it sent to my little local branch. If you haven’t tried doing that with your local library, I would suggest trying it out.

Bookthief

My first, and strongest recommendation is The Book Thief. Set in Germany during WWII, and narrated by the Grim Reaper himself, it’s the story of a young girl growing up during the Holocaust. There were so many great characters, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but I sobbed at the end of this one, and I’m not really one to cry when reading books or watching movies.

Water

I also recently finished Water for Elephants, which is one of those books everyone has read and loved. I did like it, but I wouldn’t call it a five star read, but I’d give it a solid three stars. There were some quirky characters, which was a lot of fun, but the story itself was a little predictable, or at least as predictable as a story set on a circus train during the Great Depression could be.

Assembly
Dutydesire
Thesethree

Like most women, I love Jane Austen, and can’t get enough, but I’ve always drawn the line at cheesy fan fiction. So I was a little reluctant to give Pamela Aidan’s Darcy Trilogy a fair chance, but I have to say, I really enjoyed what she did with the character. The first book, An Assembly Such as This, covers the first few meetings between Elizabeth and Darcy during his stay at Netherfield. The second book, Duty and Desire, wasn’t nearly as good, mainly because there was so little Elizabeth. It started to veer into Gothic mystery territory, but luckily didn’t go all the way there. Then, the last book in the series, These Three Remain picked up the pace, and of course had all the really great stuff, so it was worth slogging through the second book to get there.

Hugocabret

Finally, a quick little read that I really enjoyed was The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’s a YA book, and I checked it out from the library on the recommendation of a friend. While not really a graphic novel, there are a lot of really lovely illustrations. This story of a boy living in the walls of a Paris train station, fixing the station clocks is a big, thick book, but only took about an hour to read.

And now, a surprise for those of you who have scrolled this far in this long, long post, since you must obviously like books as much as I do. I loved The Book Thief so much that I want to share my copy with another reader. It’s the copy that I read, so it’s not a brand new book, but if you don’t mind slightly dog-eared corners, hey, it’s free! Just leave a recommendation for one of your favorite books in the comments, and I’ll draw a name this weekend, and send it to the winner! So give me your recommendations! Do you like when I get all bossy? I can’t help it, I’m an oldest child.

two t-shirts

I ripped this picture out of an Anthropologie catalog awhile back, and remembered it while on a recent trip to Old Navy:
Anthrotop

Cute, right? The price? $98. It’s a t-shirt people. Who pays $98 for a t-shirt? Not me, but I really do like this t-shirt. So, back at Old Navy; they have lots of t-shirts for just $10 each, and they’re a lovely soft cotton knit. I bought two stone colored t-shirts, and cut one up and stitched the little heart shaped pieces to the other. I’m not sure if I’m done yet, but I think it’s looking pretty good.
Myversion

I’m a bit on the busty side, so I may not want to add more. We’ll see.

I also got an unexpected package in the mail this weekend. It’s the second book which includes a pattern by moi:
Quiltwbeads

I love those pomegranates on the cover. My creation didn’t make the front cover this time, but it did show up on the back, which was a nice surprise.
Backcover

And here’s a look inside:
Insidebook

It’s a lovely book, although more for inspiration than actually making any of the projects exactly as they appear, I think. I love the flower magnets (also on the back cover), and think they would be a fun little project. It also makes me want to make another mini-quilt. They’re just so much fun.

Speaking of books, I’ve been doing a little reading lately. I was just browsing at the library and happened upon The Friday Night Knitting Club. New York Times Bestseller! the cover proudly proclaimed. And it’s about knitting, so I’m sure I would like it, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. I don’t think I got past the third chapter. It was so poorly written, I kept wondering why the author didn’t have an editor. She couldn’t have with all the awkward sentences. Most knitters that I know are also pretty smart people, bad writing isn’t going to get past them. The characters were all such cliche’s, I just couldn’t take it. And then the main character gets all pissy because the father of her daughter comes back into her life, and she doesn’t want him to have anything to do with them. I get that the guy cheated on her and dumped her, and that was a really jerk-y move, but now he does want to be a part of his daughter’s life and she’s so selfish that she’s going to deny her daughter that opportunity out of spite? He’s not abusive, he paid child support, there’s no reason for her daughter not to get to know her father. Better late than never. I hate it when chick-lit books have to be all "girl-power" and we don’t need no stinkin’ men to be happy. Blah blah blah. Why belittle men to give a woman a sense of self-worth. Maybe it all turned out different in the end, but I can’t be bothered. And that’s what I thought of that :o)   

four unrelated paragraphs

Birdie I can’t post a blog entry without a picture, but I’ve got no pictures. I did get a few new Photoshop brushes, however, and have been playing around with them a little bit. I made a new banner, but I may need to work on it a little more. It seems just a little off to me somehow. At least the colors are bright and cheerful on this dreary day. It’s been snowing this morning, but by the time I get home from work tonight it should be clear and cloudless and the snow will probably be all gone.

Blooms My reading cycle has slowed a bit, but I always must have something to read, so I’m quite interested in this new website, Revish. You can go sign up now and possibly become a tester, and share book reviews and recommendations with others. I’m still finding my way around, but it’s sort of like Flickr for book lovers. Come and try it out!

Dandilion I have a little bad news on the chicken front. It seems that the co-worker with the three chickens, one of which was General Tso, has yet another rooster. So tomorrow we’re going to switch out his Rhode Island Red rooster for another of my hens. I know it’s silly, but I just feel so bad disrupting our little flocks like this. They’ve got brains the size of peas, and so they have a day of big changes and re-adjusting their chicken hierarchy, and then they’re fine. I’m sure they don’t actually remember the trauma of it all, and just go back to scratching and pecking and pooping and sleeping, but I still feel bad about the whole thing. Luckily, their third hen has started laying eggs, so we shouldn’t have to go through this again. What are the chances, eh? I’m just hoping that the two roosters will be okay together. They were once before, obviously, so I’m hoping they’ll be able to live in peace and harmony again.

Butterfly I mentioned in my anniversary post that I wanted to have a little Heylucy blog reader appreciation giveaway, and I’ve been getting a few things together, so come back this weekend, and all will be revealed!

Edit: It appears that Typepad doesn’t like paragraphs today. Does anyone have any idea why?

gothic

I sadly finished The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield last night. Sadly, because I was so enjoying this book, and found myself completely sucked into the story and characters from the first chapter and I didn’t want it to end, but also sadly because the ending didn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.

The story begins in an antiquarian bookstore, where Margaret Lea works with her father. An amateur biographer, and confirmed bibliophile, she receives an odd letter requesting that she write the biography of Vida Winter, a world renowned novelist who has never told the true story of her life. Like many 19th century Gothic novels, much of the story takes place in rambling country manor houses, each with their fair share of ghosts, and if that fact doesn’t convince you of it’s Gothic status, the author repeatedly mentions Jane Eyre. I got the Gothic connection after the first eleven mentions of Charlotte Bronte’s heroine, thanks.  I did love the timeless feel of the novel, and was never sure exactly when it took place. The characters won me over quickly, and the interweaving of the past and present was so effectively done. My only problem with the story (other than the repeated mentions of Jane Eyre) was the last chapters, when everything is hurriedly and neatly resolved. It all came together too quickly, I thought, as if the author simply wanted to hurry up and finish the story.  I  also didn’t feel as if all the ghost stories were completely explained. 

If you like a good, Gothic mystery, I’d still recommend The Thirteenth Tale, it’s well-written and entertaining, and a good book for a rainy day, a cup of Mango Chamomile tea, and some oatmeal toffee cookies.
Teaandcookies
I’m going to call it 3.5 out of 5 stars, and I’m definitely looking forward to more from Ms. Setterfield. Other Gothic novels you might enjoy: anything by Wilkie Collins, such as The Woman in White, The Dead Secret or The Moonstone, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca is also good. Does anyone have any other suggestions? I have a weakness for Victorian mysteries, I have to admit :o) 

reviews

Extremelyloud_2 Spotofbother Ghostwritten Riversecrets
I don’t remember reading a lot over the past couple weeks, but I guess I did, because when I thought about it I’d read all those books you see pictured above. I tend to do things in  cycles and I guess I’ve been on a reading cycle lately, there hasn’t been much else going on creatively speaking. So here are my one (or two) paragraph reviews:

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I quite enjoyed this book, and will probably read his others. This is the story of Oskar, a young boy who lost his father on September 11th, and finds a key amongst his belongings that doesn’t open any locks in his home. He decides to find the lock that belongs to the key. He also invents things, my favorite invention was a duct system flowing from everyone’s pillows in New York to a pond in Central Park that would fill with everyone’s tears. He proposes that there could then be regular reports of the water levels so people would know if there was a particularly sad day ahead. The passage was much more eloquent then that, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

There are some interesting illustrations and typographic techniques throughout, which I am not sure I like, such as a passage in which the type becomes progressively tighter and tighter until it overlaps itself completely and becomes illegible. Is it now necessary for authors to throw in little tricks like that to make their books different and therefore better than the competition? Is good writing no longer enough to sell books? I suppose if it’s carefully done, it can enhance the story, but if it’s becoming the trendy thing to do, I don’t like it. For the most part, such typographical tricks were well used here, but if there had been any more it would have become tiresome. The diagrams and such in Mark Haddon’s The Mysterious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime were definitely well done as well, as they illustrated the way the narrator, a boy with profound autism, saw the world with his damaged brain.

Speaking of, I also read Mark Haddon’s latest book, A Spot of Bother. Again he tackles the subject of a damaged brain, although this time it’s a recently retired man who finds himself slowly, quietly going crazy while his family members all deal with their own problems. There were some quite funny bits, which because of the subject matter are sort of bittersweet. I do like his very straightforward narration style, and while the characters are not really lovable at first, I eventually developed a real affection for them individually and for the family as a whole. It was a quick read, and very entertaining.

After finishing Cloud Atlas, I decided to read David Mitchell’s first book, Ghostwritten. He uses the same technique he used in Cloud Atlas, in that the book is actually a series of short stories, each linked to the previous. The structure isn’t as complex in Ghostwritten, but still interesting. It reminded my of a chain the way one story was linked to the next. What I like about his writing, which I mentioned when talking about Cloud Atlas, is his ability to write in many different voices so effectively.

River Secrets is the third Bayern book by Shannon Hale. I guess her books are technically considered Young Adult Literature, but I don’t care, I’ve loved them all. She can tell a story that will keep you completely enthralled and her characters are wonderfully human, flawed and yet still immensely likeable, like your best friend. I would recommend reading The Goose Girl and Enna Burning before reading River Secrets, as everything will make much more sense.

I’ve also been listening to some new music lately. With a brother who’s a musician and another brother who has a talent for finding the newest, coolest indy artists, I’m always finding good stuff to listen to. Cary introduced me to the music of Vienna Teng. I think he opened for her last year some time. Vienna is a piannist, singer, songwriter, musician extraordinnaire, and her music doesn’t fit easily into any particular genre. There’s a little jazz, a little folk, a little pop and a little something different in her sound.  I love her smooth as silk voice, which is high and sweet but never cloyingly so. If you’re looking for something soothing but not sappy, interesting and energizing, then I’d suggest giving her a listen. I’ve got all three of her albums, but I haven’t decided if there’s one I like better than the others, although Harbor on Warm Strangers is one of those songs I just loved the very first minute I heard it.

I’m not a very good reviewer, sometimes I just like what I like because, well, I like it, but maybe someone will find these little reviews interesting :o)