Knit Happened

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Expectations, a Song, and a Muse

What do the above all have in common? Snippets from the titles of the books that I recently finished reading. And now here are the reviews:

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: Interesting reading again later in life
Genre: Classic
Number of pages: 564
Finished: 1-27-08
Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously, Chunkster, Mini challenge #7, A to z Title (G), themed, Back to history, 101 Books in 1,001 Days

I have to confess that I kept putting off snapping the binding on this book because it started to feel like I had a college assignment that I truly didn't want to read. However, I am glad that I read Great Expectations. It was actually my second time through as I realized when I started reading...I discovered that this book was one of the classics that I read in between college and dental school when I was bound and determined to read as many of the classics as possible. I have to confess that it was definitely a different experience reading as a seasoned adult versus a naive 20 year old. Great Expectations follows the classic Dickensian plot of an orphan who comes of age and learns valuable life lessons along the way. Written in the first person by Pip, you are constantly coming in contact with characters that you love or hate with very little in between gray. There are definite high points in the the scenes with Miss Haversham and low points...did not enjoy the years when Pip is an apprentice with his brother-in-law Joe. Looking forward to tackling the discussion questions at My Year of Reading Dangerously.

Title: The Nixie's Song: Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles
Author: Tony diTerlizzi and Holly Black
Rating: Disappointed
Genre: Children
Number of pages: 162
Finished: 1-27-08
Challenges: Mini challenge #2, A to Z Author (D), 101 Books in 1,001 Days

I'm always on the hunt for a book to get E excited about reading...he loves Harry Potter, Hatchett, and Old Yeller. He has never embraced reading for the joy of reading like mom and continues to view it as a chore. So after seeing the commercials for the upcoming Spiderwick movie I thought perhaps this is something that he might enjoy. When I put a hold on The Nixie's Song at the library I thought it was the first book but alas when I retrieved it, it was apparently book one in the second series and way out of the age range for something that E could read. But I read it anyway...and sorry I did. Trite and predictable and I think that if I read this when I was 7 years old I would have been turned off to reading. Here's the gist...Nick Vargas' dad has recently remarried and with the new wife comes a new sister for Nick and his brother Jules/Julian (authors constantly switch between the two names). Laurie is nerdy and fascinated by fairies. A fairy in the form of a nixie is discovered in the Vargas' backyard, the fairy is saved from the giant but at the end, the pair still need to find the nixie's missing sisters. If I had to read another children's book, I would re-read From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler. Loved that book growing up!

Title: The Muse Asylum
Author: David Czuchlewski
Rating: Enjoyed immensely!
Genre: Literary fiction
Number of pages: 225
Finished: 1-28-08
Challenges: A to Z Authors (C), 101 Books in 1,001 Days
After The Nixie's Song, I really needed to pick up and read something that would get the bad taste out of my mouth and I certainly did with The Muse Asylum. Recommended to me by Jill who knows my taste in books so well, I quickly immersed myself in the words of this first-time author who had been mentored by Joyce Carol Oates (although I personally don't care for her writing, I knew that the writing had to be top notch). The telling of the story alternates between journalist Jake Burnett and the writings of Andrew Wallace who just happens to be the resident of a psychiatric hospital. Both men's lives have been affected by a reclusive author by the name of Horace Jacob Little who no one has ever seen, nor has the author ever granted an interview. Both men also are in love with the same woman, Lara Knowles. The author takes you on a journey of discovery for both men that leaves the reader with a satisfying end to the tale...can't say too much more...just know that if you have enjoyed The Keep and most any Chuck Palahniuk book you will not be disappointed. Thanks Jill!

And now I am currently almost a 100 pages into the Pulitzer-prize winning The Road.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Salon

It's that time of week again for Sunday Salon. Well so far today I read the last 80 pages of Great Expectations...I originally thought it would be a lot more but yesterday was Saturday Salon while we waited for the cable company to fix our box for the third time this week. Currently reading The Nixie's Song, which I thought was Book One of the Spiderwick Chronicles but in actuality it is Beyond Spiderwick. I wanted to read it first and then pass along to E to read but the target age is way lower than I had thought...i was expecting more along the lines of the Chronicles of Narnia but sadly not. At least when I'm done I will have completed another mini challenge and can then pick up The Muse Asylum. Plans later are to write up the reviews all at one time and then hop over to My Year of Reading Dangerously blog to comment on Great Expectations.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WIP Wednesday

Knitting content again! So here is one of the projects that is currently on my needles...Brooklyn Tweed's infamous Hemlock Ring Blanket. What an addictive pattern...and what a clever discovery...taking a doily pattern and using worsted yarn to create a blanket. I originally had my eye on some Cascade Heather in the Lake Chelton (I believe it's the name of the colorway...turquoise/green) that totally didn't match our couch in the family room...the main purpose for the knit. Once at the store I fell in love with my choice, Mirasol Miski in lilac and a totally yummy, soft 100% baby alpaca. Can't wait to finish this one!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

TBR Tuesday

Title: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Author: Kim Edwards
Rating: Thought provoking
Genre: Contemplative fiction
Number of pages: 401
Finished: 1-21-08
Challenges: TBR, A to Z Authors (E), 101 Books in 1,001 Days

When I first started to read The Memory Keeper's Daughter I couldn't help but have a flashback to when I first read Chris Bohjalian's Midwives many moons ago. A birth during a snowstorm conjures up all kinds of images alongside the obvious stress of delivering a baby. And in the case of this book add to the mix an orthopaedic surgeon having to deliver his baby or so he thought. In 1964, where this story begins, a family with a Down's Syndrome child rarely took care of the child...the child usually was placed in a home. With that precedent in his mind, Dr. David Henry truly believed that having the nurse who helped deliver his Down's daughter, Phoebe, (and his healthy son, Paul) bring her to a home would be best for the whole family. The reader knows from the beginning that this fateful decision will impact everyone's lives in ways, often times dramatic, that were never foreseen. Throughout the book, you are along for the journey and always wondering will the secret be revealed..when, how, and what will the reaction from all be. Edwards does not disappoint. A college professor once said that the hallmark of a great writer is one who creates characters who elicits strong reactions (positive and negative) from the reader...Edwards definitely created strong characters in this book. Goodness, if I had a dollar for every instance when I wanted to shake sense into David, wife Norah, nurse Caroline, and son Paul, I'd be able to retire. I truly enjoy thought-provoking books that make you ponder ethical issues. I'm definitely glad that I can cross this book off my TBR list...just wish I hadn't waited so long.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Salon

Title: Night Fall
Author: Nelson DeMille
Rating: Disappointing
Genre: Thriller
Number of pages: 488
Finished: 1-18-08
Challenges: Chunkster, A to Z Titles (N), 101 Books in 1,001 Days
I really enjoy reading thrillers...the adrenaline rush as you turn pages to see what happens next and vicariously live through the characters. Not so much with Night Fall. Don't get me wrong the premise was good...a couple who are both married to other people decide to videotape having sex on the beach (that definitely sounds crass) and manage to film the crash of TWA Flight 800. The tape would prove to the world that the crash was precipitated by a missile rather than mechanical failure as the government has claimed. Enter our hero John Corey who five years later becomes embroiled in finding out the truth. I have to say that I felt extremely gypped by the ending...major cop out by the author. If you are in the mood for a thriller, pick up The General's Daughter by Nelson DeMille instead.

So yesterday to get the bitter taste out of my mouth, I started to read The Memory Keeper's Daughter...yes, a little late to the party just like I did with The Kite Runner. And as part of Sunday Salon, I've read about 140 pages so far today with about another 80 to go. And truthfully, as soon as I'm done I will REALLY start reading Great Expectations.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Finished Friday

Finally back to some knitting content. Well this FO was started in December of 2006 and was finally completed in November 2007 (I took the November dedication to completing sweaters to heart...another FO but more on that another time).
Pattern: Poppy by Lisa Shobhana Mason featured on the cover of "Yarnplay"
Yarn: Noro Cash Iroha, Noro Silk Garden and Lisa Souza Max in Lime & Violet
Needle: KnitPicks Options Size 8

Random Thoughts: I absolutely love this pattern and this is now my favorite knitted object (used to be my Flower Basket Shawl). It feels great on...although I truly need to soak and block as the bottom edge rolls. More later...

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

TBR 2008 Tuesday

Yes...another challenge...lo and behold, I have a cause to deplete the stack that resides on the nightstand!
It's the "To Be Read" Challenge...12 books that I've wanted to read for 6 months or longer and the following definitely qualify. Plus I have another 8 as alternates!

1. Burning Bright (Chevalier): read already and reviewed...this had been around so long that it was actually an advanced copy!
2. Suite Francoise (Nemirovsky)
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns (Hosseini)
4. Memory Keeper's Daughter (Edwards)
5. Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver)
6. Sliver of Truth (Unger)
7. The Italian Lover (Hellenga)
8. Electric Michelangelo (Hall)
9. Magical Thinking (Burroughs)
10. Paradise (Morrison)
11. In the Company of a Courtesan (Durant)
12. The Road (McCarthy)

And the alternates:
1. Widow of the South (Hicks)
2. The Doctor (Ducker)
3. Memoirs of a Geisha (Golden)
4. On Beauty (Smith)
5. Inheritance of Loss (Desai)
6. Exit Ghost (Roth)
7. Yiddish Policeman's Union (Chabon)
8. Emperor's Children (Messud)
9. Everyman (Roth)


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Salon

Jill kindly told me about the fact that many readers on Sunday post their thoughts on reading under the title of "Sunday Salon" I'm following in kind. I read Sherlock in Love from start to finish...reading some in the morning and then during commercial breaks and half time during the Colts Game (unfortunately I'm a big Peyton Manning fan so I'm still hoping that little bro' can pull it off during today's second playoff game).

Title: Sherlock in Love
Author: Sena Jeter Naslund
Rating: Thoroughly enjoyed
Genre: Historical fiction, mystery
Number of pages: 225
Finished: 1-13-08
Challenges: A to Z Author Challenge (N); Themed; Back to History; 101 books in 1,001 days

I have tried many times in the past to read other selections by Sena Jeter Naslund and I always hit a brick wall...namely with Ahab's Wife (but I think I might try picking her up again). The story of Sherlock Holmes in love is told in the first person by Dr. Watson and immediately when you read the first sentence you are hooked. You know that there will be a mystery involved that will take you down a classic path of Holmesian logic. The drama begins in the present day...late in Dr. Watson's life and two years after Holmes has died. The classic second fiddle companion decided to put forth the request for letters, stories, and information about Holmes that would allow him to compose a complete biography. Shortly thereafter weird things happen to Watson...pages of his notebooks are cut out with a razor, threatening letters appear, and he is even assaulted! All is clear in the end and the reader even goes on a journey back in time to when Holmes is still alive and meets Crazy Ludwig of Bavaria. Another read that surprised me...and enjoyed so much that I read it in a day.

And here's another review...I was able to read when watching over E who had a headache and stomach and wanted mom's care:

Title: Madeline's Ghost
Author: Robert Girardi
Rating: Pleasantly surprised
Genre: Literary mystery
Number of pages: 356
Finished: 1-12-08
Challenges: A to Z Title Challenge (M); Mini-Challenge (New to me); 101 books in 1,001 days

If I remember correctly I was pointed in the direction of this novel based on a review I read of one of Carol Goodman's books...that if you like her writing and stories than you will enjoy this book. And I did, once I got past the first 50 pages and then I couldn't put it down. The story begins in New York when you meet a down and out historian named Ned Conti. He has just managed to sweet-talk his way into a job with a church to find documentation that could me submitted to the Vatican in order to declare a sister in the order a saint. Religion, redemption, spirits and the spiritual world, narcissism, and addiction all factor into the lives of the various clearly delineated characters in this book. I definitely enjoyed the chapters that took place in New Orleans and the bayou over the dark and dangerous streets of New York, and the most the chat with the ghost. A thoroughly entertaining read and I hope that Girardi didn't stop writing after this, his first novel.

Next up...I think will be for just a change of pace a thriller by Nelson DeMille Night Fall.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Burning Bright and Mini's

Here's my review of Burning Bright and some Mini news:
Title: Burning Bright
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Rating: Ambivalent
Genre: Historical fiction
Number of pages: 311
Finished: 1-9-08
Challenges: A to Z Title Challenge (B); Themed Challenge; Back to History Challenge; Book Around the World (England); 101 books in 1,001 days (#3)

After thoroughly enjoying Girl with Pearl Earring, I was looking forward to a second go at reading a Tracy Chevalier novel. There are some definite highlights to this book but then some low points as well. The development of the atmosphere and climate of l790s England is truly amazing. I could close my eyes and feel as though I was on the streets of London near Haymarket in a heartbeat. The characters are well-defined from main to secondary in a few short sentences the reader "gets" what they are all about. Where I find Burning Bright falls short is in the plot. Throughout the book, I keeping wondering where the story was going...meandered a bit off track three-quarters of the way through but neatly tied up at the end. Here are the basics of the of four moves from the English countryside to big bad London after the untimely death of the favorite son and the fact that the owner of the circus that came to town off-handedly offered the father a job making Windsor chairs. Another family of four...Londoners born and bred are neighbors...fatefully befriend the newcomers (nice contrast of opposites which plays a big role in some of Blake's theories). Add to the mix the famous essayist William Blake as another neighbor and you have a story. I have to confess that at the end of the book I did want to learn more of the behind the scenes of William Blake's life as his character in the book fascinated me along with the owner of the circus Phillip Astley (who I had believed all along throughout was a fabricated character). In the end, this book is a fast read and gave me insight to a time in history that had previously been dark.

Mini-challenges completed to date:
#5. Give a book away: On January 8, 2008, I gave Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella away to a friend and now co-worker, Gina, who originally hails from London. I had previously given her the other 'Shopaholic' books to read as I thought it would be fun to hear how someone who wasn't American by birth felt about the shenanigans of the heroine. All these books are fun to read...Beach reading genre and a total escape from reality.

#6. Read two articles from any one magazine: Today, January 10, I chose two articles from Vegetarian Times ( a portion of my holiday gift from Will...another friend and co-worker...and family). This is a new magazine to me and I started by thumbing through and being pleasantly surprised. I was then drawn to the interview with Alice Walker (fatefully chosen as one of my Pulitzer authors to read in this year's challenge. Walker is a vegetarian and arrived at this life choice early on in life. She grew up on a dairy farm and discovered that becoming attached to a specific cow, Suki, made her swear off beef. She has an extensive garden and is quite passionate about championing the rights of animals.
The other article I read and will review is one entitled "Put the Veg back in vegetarian," which at the end features some very yummy recipes by Mollie Katzen of Moosewood Cookbook fame. I have most of her earlier cookbooks and was glad to discover a new one that I'll take a gander at the next time I'm at Borders...The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without. Great article to read to get the desire and wherewithall going to try to start the new year making the conscientious decision to eat more veggies and get healthy. The statistics used in the article were startling and frightening...back in 2003/2004, the estimate was that 66% of American adults are overweight and that 60% don't eat fruits and veggies as recommended. Great easy tips to change being that instead of making 2 cups of pasta at 420 calories, make one cup and add a cup of zucchini and that's 250 calories.

#12. Book discussion: On January 7, 2008, I went to the first meeting of my Women's Reading Group for 2008 (we only read female authors). And in fact, the selection was one that I had put forth "Seduction of Water" by Carol Goodman...a literary mystery that I had discovered and read in November 2007. Everyone agreed that the book was written beautifully and the descriptions of the Catskills in New York made you feel as though you were there. Everyone who reads mysteries on a regular basis figured out the mystery and twist early on but that it did not distract from the joy of reading the story. We did get off topic a bit when we started a discussion on folk stories that we were told growing up as folk/fairy tales played an important role in the book. Most of us recalled having stories read to us...the usual fair of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, but no one had a parent make up any bedtime stories. Having read all of Carol Goodman's books to date, I did share the fact that she has developed as a writer after this her second book with The Sonnet Lover being her best in my opinion. Next up for us is The Night Watch by Sarah Waters...and no one could remember who had suggested it (we pick out all of our books in early November for the next year).

Next blog post will definitely be about knitting!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Challenge-crazed Wednesday

So now I'm obsessed with reading challenges thanks to that evil Magic Lasso Mrs. Treme! But I'm not that crazy because many of the reading challenges that I signed up for can overlap...thereby maximizing my reading time (freeing up some time to still knit!)
So here are my current (and I'm sure not finalized challenge list for 2008):
1. My Year of Reading Dangerously: 12 books in 12 months that make you read outside your boundaries
2. Chunkster Challenge: read 4 books, one per quarter that is over 450 pages...I think that I read at least 6 that I know of last year that would have worked!
3. Mini-challenges: 12 mini challenges in 12 months that range form reading a banned book to an inspirational book with a lot in between. Incidentally, I have completed 2 already, which I will relate in a day or two.
4. A to Z Titles: self-explanatory
5. A to Z Authors: ditto
6. Themed Challenge: 4 books with a "you choose your own" theme completed by 6-30-08, and my choice was Merry Ole England...past and present.
7. Book Around the World: 4 books from anywhere in the world that allow you to truly learn about the country.
8. Notable Books: I'm challenging myself to read at least 6 from the list that is featured on this site.
9. Pub 2008 challenge: read a minimum of 8 books published in 2008 with at least 4 being fiction.
10. Short Story Challenge: I will probably combine option 1 and option 2 and read 10 short stories but not necessarily by 10 different authors but a good smattering by at least one....this is a genre that I know that I need to explore more.
11. Pulitzer Project: the ultimate goal is to read all 81 winners but for me in 2008, I want to read 6 more (having already read Empire Falls in 2003 and To Kill a Mockingbird in 2007.)

12. Back to History: 12 books in 12 months with a combo of historical fiction and non-fiction) and here are my 12:

1. Burning Bright- Tracy Chevalier (18th century England)
2. Great Expectations- Charles Dickens (19th century England)
3. Paradise Alley- Kevin Baker (Civil War)
4. Electric Michelangelo- Sara Hall (1930s Coney Island)
5. Suite Francaise- Irene Nemirovsky (WWII France)
6. Fire in the Blood- Irene Nemirovsky (WWII France)
7. Dancing in Almedra-Mayra Montero (1950s Cuba)

8. Journeys to the Mythical Past- Zecharia Sitchin (Egypt and its pyramids)
9. Unveiled- Deborah Kanafani (Middle East memoir)
10. Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier- Ishmaell Beah (Sierra Leone War)
11. Night- Elie Wiesel (Holocaust)
12. Until We Meet Again- Michael Korenbeit/Kathleen Janger (Holocaust)

Wish me luck!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Novel Sunday

I'm back from the greater beyond...nothing wrong, just extremely busy between work and home and trying to fight the boys for time on the computer. I thought that if I designated certain days with a task it would be easier to keep up with the blog.
So starting with Novel Sundays...the goal this year is to try to read 60 books (to give some perspective...2005 I made it to 59, 2006 it was only 50 and last year I read 53 books). I have some tricks up my sleeve to keep me on task...namely my friend Jill who read almost 80 books last year, the writers' strike, and some reading challenges. I have already read two and just started the third.

Here are the pages that I have turned already:
A Thread of Grace by Maria Doria Russell

Let me set the of my favorite books of all time is the author's very first book, The Sparrow, although the sequel left a lot to be desired. Glad to report that I'm back to being a devoted fan! This story is set in the latter stages of World War II in the mountains of Italy where I was fascinated to learn that many native-born Italians took in Jewish refugees saving them from the horrors of the concentration camps. There are multiple characters to keep track of and thankfully there is a cheat sheet at the beginning of the book so I didn't get thoroughly lost. The reader is immersed wholeheartedly in the almost feel as though you are hiding out along with the refugees fighting the elements in the dead of winter in the Italian Alps. If you love good historical fiction, pick up this book.

The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman

I only discovered this author in November and promptly read everything that she has written to date with The Sonnet Lover being her latest (and I believe best so far). The author's books can best be described as literary thrillers. This novel takes the reader to present-day Tuscany and I can still recall the overwhelming scent of lemons and figs from her descriptions. The college professor heroine of the novel is on a mission to unravel the mystery behind the mysterious death of one of her students while at the same time trying to find the missing sonnets by Shakespeare's presumed Dark Lady. I always enjoy a book where I lose track of time and get annoyed if I'm interrupted in my reading. A page turner to the very end!

Current is an advanced copy of Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright, which I'm just getting to reading now so not so advanced anymore. After that the plan is to pick up Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for this year's first reading challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously.