Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Three

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.

Rating: B

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Two

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.

Rating: C+

Book One

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.

Rating: A-

Monday, January 17, 2011

FOs, WIPs, and plans

So here we are, a little over two weeks into the new year, and so far things are going well. Work is nice, no drama has exploded in my personal life, and I've been pretty productive knitting-wise.

I've even got a FO already!

I got to meet my little brother's girlfriend when I was home for the holidays. I pretty much expected her to be a sweet girl, based on comments from my Nani and parents, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she (like me!) is a great big Harry Potter nerd. We talked a bit about the series, and our favorite characters, and when I found out that her fave is Hermione, I knew I had to make her this hat. Still need to mail it off to her, but I think it'll be a great surprise to get in the mail. I'm looking forward to hearing her reaction to it.

The hat was a quick and easy knit. The pattern actually calls for a DK weight yarn, but I used worsted instead since I do tend to knit a bit tighter than average and I figured it wouldn't affect the finished hat overmuch. The end result is a pretty dense fabric that is very warm. I used Cascade 220 superwash in the colorway Ridge Rock.

In keeping with my New Years resolutions I used up the leftovers from Jon's scarf. Unfortunately, as with most well-intentioned things, it didn't work out quite as planned. I ran out of yarn just shy of the end and had to go buy a second ball to finish it off. So now I've got more grey yarn in the stash than when I started. I'll probably make another hat out of it or something. We'll see.

And speaking of New Years resolutions, I'm working on a lovely blanket for Jason. He liked the zigzag throw blanket for the sofa so much that I'm making him a larger one. Using Lion Brand Homespun (awful, splitty stuff, but it does make a soft squishy blanket -- plus, hey, it's cheap!) for it. I'm crocheting stripes, then will use whatever leftovers that aren't enough to make a full stripe as a border. It's working up pretty quick, and is mindless. Perfect for tv crafting.

Of course, the minute I laid it out on the floor to get a picture, all the cats instantly gravitated to it. Like furry little moths drawn to a warm and fuzzy flame. So, sorry, Jason. It looks like I'm not actually making the blanket for you.

And then just seconds after obligingly lining up for a nice picture, Yarneater (background) tried to make off with the remains of the skein, Kleptocat (center) began a valiant effort at eating the safety pins securing the pieces together for easy sewing, and Nuisance (foreground) flipped out for no discernable reason and rolled over while holding fast to the corner with his claws, thus turning himself into a kitty burrito. The blanket is recovering from this ordeal in its plastic WIP tub.

I've also got a project in the works for me, though it's not going at all as planned. I've been doing quite a lot of crafting for other people. First Christmas knitting, which was followed by the Hermione Hat and the epic stripy catnip blanket. I wanted something for ME. So, I browsed through Rav for a hat pattern, busted out that one lone skein of Lamb's Pride Bulky I've had sitting in the stash forever, and started knitting. What could go wrong? said I. Bulky yarn works up quick and the pattern is easy!

The pattern is indeed easy. However, the designer didn't list a gauge. Meh, I thought to myself, I knit a bit tighter than average so I'll just go up a needle size and it'll be fine! After the first pattern repeat, I thought it was looking a bit small, so I put it on a circ and tried it on. Damned thing wouldn't even fit over my head. Ripped it, increased the number of cast-on stitches and added an extra purl stitch on either side of the cabled columns. That should be fine, right? Yeah. I got up to the decreases and decided that I should probably try it on again just to be on the safe side. Well, it fits. Mostly. But it's pretty snug. Almost uncomfortably so. After some hemming and hawing, I just ripped it out a second time. What's the point of knitting a hat if it's something I won't end up wearing because I don't like the end result?

Quickie project has now taken me three days and a load of frustration. I'm going to reknit it AGAIN because I WANT THIS HAT DAMNIT. I'm probably going to add another cable column instead of more purl stitches, but need to sit down and work the math on it to make sure that I'm not going to be knitting this frigging thing a fourth time. I am irritated that I have to do this. The point of using a pattern to knit something is so I don't have to do the math myself, and all of this could have been avoided if the designer had just taken two frigging seconds to sit down with a ruler and her finished hat, and say "I got X number of stitches to the inch" on her pattern. Because the only way she could have gotten an adult-sized hat out of the numbers she posted is if she's an abnormally loose knitter, which would have also been nice to know.

In the meantime, I'm setting this aside because I can't look at the yarn without wanting to hurl it across the room. Probably later this week I'll go back to it.

I'm also doing one of those yearly challenges that pop up on Rav. Last year I kept seeing the 10 in 2010 shawlette challenge, and wanted to get in on that but didn't find out about it until late spring, by which point it was too late because I'm not that crazy all the time. Well, this year I joined up with the 11 Sweaters in 2011, because I need more sweaters. Of course, I haven't started knitting any sweaters yet, but hey, it's only the third week of the year, I've still got time. I have lots of plans for sweaters, so that's something, yeah?

I'm also planning on doing 52 books in 52 weeks this year. I've always wanted to do it, but back in college I was going through a book to a book and a half per day so 52 books in a year wasn't even remotely a challenge to me, so I never bothered. And then after graduating, I pretty much stopped reading at all (for shame!) so I didn't do it then. Well, this is the year, and I'm actually on track with that so far, so I think I'm going to post them on here just to keep myself motivated. But in separate posts. Yep.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

another new year!

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.

Silly, I know, because logically today is just a day, like any other day. Yesterday, or tomorrow... they won't be any different. But today still feels special, almost magical, to me.

Anyhow, enough of my mawkish ramblings. Time for the fun stuff: end-of-year knitting numbers and resolutions!

So, this year saw a total of 34 finished projects for (an estimated) 7,880 yards of yarn. That puts me far ahead of both 2008 and 2009 in number of finished projects, and ahead of 2009 for yardage, but I still haven't beat my yearly best of 9,979 from 2008. I blame the afghans of that year, but have a couple in the works for this year so, who knows.

And jeez, another year or so of this and I may have to resort to making charts so it's not just a big jumbled block of text peppered with numbers. Bleh.

And the resolutions!

1. I need to be better about housekeeping. Now that I've got a job that doesn't leave me physically and emotionally drained in my downtime, there's really no excuse for letting clutter build up on the dining room table or for not managing to drag the vacuum around more than once a week. And laundry! I mean, the machine does the work for me, there's no reason to let it pile up at all.

(this is more or less the same as my resolution from last year. I did manage to get my crafting room very organized, so I'm leaving that bit out.)

2. Last year I'd also wanted to be more productive knitting-wise, and I'd say I accomplished that quite handily. This year, I'd like to at least maintain that same level of productivity. I'd also like to get more projects for Jason finished. He's so completely and totally supportive of my hobby, and for whatever reason his stuff always seems to drop down to the bottom of my priority list. There are several projects in the works for him that I'd like to get finished up in the first part of the year, and several more that I'd like to get done by the end of the year.

3. Last year I'd also wanted to work through half of my stash yarn. That resolution was naive and utterly unrealistic. I'd also resolved to only purchase one new skein of yarn for each two I knitted up from the stash. That also didn't happen. However, while my stash didn't exactly shrink by any noticeable amount, it also didn't grow noticeably either, so I'm chalking that up as a draw.

This year, I'm going to be a bit more realistic. I'm still going to try very had to use up more stash yarn, but I'm also not going to place any restrictions on my yarn purchasing that will probably just end up broken several months into the year. I only use birthday and Christmas money to buy it, and I've got it confined to a modest stack of plastic containers. As long as it doesn't get any bigger this year, I'll call that a win.

4. My eating habits are quite appalling. Genetics have blessed me with a metabolism that allows me to eat like total crap and still weigh in at well under 100 lbs. So while I am thin, I am probably also not as healthy as I could be. This year I figure it's high time to finally become an adult about it and start eating better. More veggies, cut way back on the soda, try to eat less pre-packaged stuff. I also want to make an effort to quit eating out quite so much by cooking more at home. This will have the added benefit of saving $$$ in the long run.

5. I would like to start exercising more. My last job had me very active, on my feet all day, hauling around large pots of soup, and putting large orders away. I used to enjoy looking at the order invoices for the net weights so I could say "Yeah, go me! I just shifted around a total of 1200 lbs!" Well, my new job has me sitting on my butt in front of a computer screen for most of the day. I've been learning to hoop dance, which is good cardio, but I need to do something to build up a little more muscle.

6. Last year I said I wanted to both read more and work on my writing more. Working at a library has kickstarted my appetite for new books, but I'm still not writing a lot. It's just hard to get motivated with Sarah not around anymore to read my work and keep me motivated or work as a sounding board for ideas and plotlines. But I really love writing and need to put more effort into it.

Overally, I think these are pretty realistic goals that I might actually stand a chance at achieving this year. So here's to hoping! I've got a good feeling about 2011.