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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a pure delight. Clay Jannon, who is that rare mix of competence, dorkiness, and enthusiasm that few writers get right, begins working in a musty, mysterious bookshop only to find himself entangled in an adventure involving secret societies, cutting-edge technology, and a lost book. 

The reader would be forgiven for assuming that Sloan is setting up your standard battle between old and new, paper and computers; instead he does something much more interesting by showing how these two disparate worlds can work together, enhancing each other.  This works in part because the two groups in the novel, the Society of the Unbroken Spine and Google,* want the same thing -- transcendence from the frailties and humiliations of the flesh. They're just other forms of Gnosticism, privileging the mind over the body and hoping for eternal life in one form or another.

This is what the two factions want, but Jannon himself has no such ambitions.  Skeptical of the claims each side makes, he just wants to solve a really cool puzzle.  Which he does, through his knack of putting together people, concepts, and methods from all aspects of life.  That's what the novel is ultimately about -- collaboration.  It makes for a lovely, engaging read.


*Yup, that Google, and it is horrifyingly sterile and perky.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cellini Spiral

A few months ago I was looking for a nice, solid beading project, and I settled on a bangle made with the Cellini spiral stitch -- a good excuse to use some lovely size 6 green beads.  The bangle at the end of this post gave me the idea of using a mix of size 11 beads, inspired by all the blooming flowers I saw this spring.  The result:



While I was poking around the internet, looking at different Cellini projects,  I ran across one woman who claimed to whip up a bangle in an evening.  I'm calling shenanigans on that -- this project was easy, but took a loooooong time.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Overheard on the Street

"I'm not sure whether to be pleased or concerned that my pee smells like champagne and strawberries."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Chemickal Marriage by Gordon Dahlquist

Getting the third volume of Dahlquist's series was a bit of an ordeal; thank you, Public Library of St. Louis, Missouri!

And it was an ordeal to read.  There's just too much -- too many arch-villains, each one stepping in to take over the dastardly plan when the previous one dies.  Too many allies who help the heroes for a moment, only to disappear or be left to their fate. Too many interchangeable underlings. Too many separations and reunions of the protagonist trio. Too many action scenes that don't change the outcome, chases that don't go anywhere, and conversations that don't reveal anything significant. Above all, there is a sense of ugliness that pervades the narrative.

And it's a shame -- there are some wonderful characters in this trilogy and a lot of neat, original concepts, starting with the mysterious blue glass that can take or infuse memories, wipe out a personality or replace it with another, brutally kill the body or give it strength.  Pruning this story down would have done wonders.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Round-up

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy:  I bought this for Beadboy2 ages ago, but couldn't resist reading it myself.  It's a collection of tales from around the world (although most are from the Grimm Brothers) delightfully illustrated by a variety of artists, including the wonderful Hernandez brothers.  The tales have been bowdlerized for children's sensibilities, something I feel was unnecessary, but it well suits the happy, whimsical art.  My favorite was "The Boy Who Drew Cats" by Luke Pearson, especially because the boy in question reminds me so much of Beadboy2.

The Knitting Diaries: since I already read novels centered around embroidery, cross stitch, quilting, and baking, why leave out knitting?  I heard about the collection from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and the first two (by Debbie Macomber and Susan Mallery) were meh.  The third, by Christina Skye, was both more compelling and more touching (and yet had the fewest references to knitting, interestingly enough).  I might check out more of her work.

The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist: I've resorted to skimming these books, because they are far too long and tedious.  There are too many action scenes that last quite a while, place our protagonists in certain danger before abruptly freeing them, and don't actually further the plot at all.  Not until the end, with the final confrontation, did the story engage me.  Still, I want to read how it all turns out.

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook: The second full novel in the Iron Seas series was a bit of a let-down; there weren't any major flaws (except for the female protagonist constantly telling us how badass she is and the fact that the resolution to the central problem was anti-climactic), but it didn't hold my attention as much as The Iron Duke.  I did, however, enjoy the continuing world building. We got to see other countries and cultures, and as I predicted there were scenes that showed the Golden Horde are not a monolithic, faceless enemy.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Having adored Uprooted, I was eager to read The Bear and the Nightingale, described by many reviewers as having a similar vibe.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as engaging, and it left me wanting to reread Novik's book.

Which isn't to say there isn't a lot to like about it -- Arden paints a vivid picture of life in the Rus, describing brutal winters so well I could almost feel my blood freezing (my overly air-conditioned workplace might have helped).  Her characters are for the most part fleshed out from their fairy tale counterparts, humanizing them and giving them believable motives. But after establishing a fascinating world, in the second half of the book she relies on fairy tale tropes too often.  The stepmother is evil because she is supposed to be; much of the antagonism between her and Vasilisa makes sense given their world views and the price (for both of them) of living in such a patriarchal society, but other instances of Anna’s cruelty seem out of place in the narrative.  The impossible task Vasilisa is given is another example -- a common trope that might might make sense in a brief, allegorical tale shows up jarringly and late in the narrative here, serving as an unnecessary excuse to get the heroine into the woods.

Also, Arden sets up an unfortunate and tired dichotomy between Christianity and the old beliefs.  Both human antagonists (who are, to be fair, complex and interesting) are Christian; Vasilisa is not. Worse yet, Christianity is portrayed as useless, even false. But given a world where magic is real and there are loads of non-human spirits, it does not make sense that the Church would ignore that for hundreds of years, would not have investigated and debated and gotten theologians to wrestle with the implications, would not have adjusted to better fight the evil present in the world.  Especially since that evil is ultimately defeated by a willing sacrifice; gee, I wonder where I’ve heard of that concept before?

There is a sequel in the works that will focus more on Vasilisa's sister and brother; her brother in particular is a devout Christian and so far, at least, a good guy, so perhaps the friction between the two belief systems will be better addressed.  Regardless, I look forward to reading more from Arden.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke is billed as a steampunk romance, but it is quite a bit more bonkers than that -- yes, there are airships and clockworks and a Victorianish atmosphere, but there are also secret societies, pirates, radio-controlled nanoagents, zombies, cyborgs, and giant half-metal sharks.  Brook is such a talented writer, however, that you just take all that craziness in stride and enjoy the story.

This is primarily a romance, so there was an awful lot of relationship angst and thinking about feelings; I would have preferred more adventure-having and mystery-solving.  And there is the potential for some ugly racial issues.  According to this alternate history, the Golden Horde successfully took over most of Europe for hundreds of years, and England only recently regained its freedom.  Even in our world, where there was no Mongol empire ruling everyone through the use of mind-controlling nanoagents, white people nonetheless managed to have (still have, in some cases) some ugly opinions about Asians; you can imagine what the fictional English in the novel think of them.  Brook smartly mitigates some of this by making the female protagonist half-Asian, but this can only go so far (especially given that she is the product of a rape) and there is the danger of tokenism.  There are also brief references to a resistance within the Horde, so perhaps later books will widen the scope.

Still, this book was loads of fun.  I also read two novellas set in the same world -- The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked.  As is often the case in romance novellas, the couples go from hate to true love far too quickly, but the novellas a worth reading for the added world-building.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Moda Blockheads

So Moda is running a quilt-along this year -- a series of (48, I think) 6-inch blocks created by six different quilt designers.  Even though I am determined to finish Beadboy1's quilt this year, and start Beadboy2's (and maybe even do Beadboy3's, if I can get the missing block), I can't resist these blocks.

I don't think I'll do all of them, but inspired by a friend I am going to make a bunch using novelty prints I've accumulated over the years.  And where better to start than the Red Sox?
(My friend did hers with the Mets, but that's ok -- we can get along as long as it's not 1986.)

Next up: Milagros fabric (what a coinkydink!)
It was a cloudy day
I'm aiming for a nice little collection of these, enough to make a wall hanging.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cruz de Milagros

I've been meaning to make a cross covered with milagros for a number of years.
I started with a plain wooden cross from the craft store and painted it a deep yellow in the recess and purple elsewhere.  I then glued milagros all over, and for good measure added little pink plastic flowers (really teeny hair barrettes broken in half) to the corners.
I hung it with the painted cross and portrait of La Virgen de Guadalupe my mom gave to me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

I bought this for Beadboy2, and he loved it so much I got intrigued.  Gabriel is a seventh grader with missing parents and a mysterious legacy, who soon learns of the significance of ravens both to his family and the world at large. The obvious comparison is to Harry Potter, but that's fairly superficial; this novel is its own story, based in part on Nordic myths and more grounded in the real world (specifically, Brooklyn).  Hagen develops a rather fascinating avian culture -- ravens use riddles to evaluate the world, owls love puns, and so on -- and ties it to a dangerous magical object that must be kept from those who would use it (shades of LOTR, here).  The literate plot is engaging and moves quickly, so much so that I was disappointed when the book ended.  Good thing there's a sequel coming later this year!

The characters, too, are a step above the ones usually found in these sorts of novels.  We are introduced to certain stock characters like the bully, the clueless adult, and the untrustworthy companion, but they don't remain two-dimensional for long.  Hagen gives his young readers credit for understanding that the world isn't always black and white, and the story is better for it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

I Don't Like Walking Around this Old and Empty House

"Little Talks" by of Monsters and Men:

It's been a while since I made an ATC about song lyrics.  Although this looks similar to the house I made for Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the idea has been floating around in my brain for a few years.

The first step was laying a piece of background fabric onto super thick, stiff interfacing, and sketching out a house shape with the sewing machine:

I then appliqued little scraps of fabric to make the wallpaper for the different rooms:
which I then trimmed close to the stitching:
Next up was the embroidery -- pieces of furniture, decor items, stick-figure ghosts, and, of course, the famale narrator of the song.  I trimmed the result to 2.5 by 3.5 inches, backed it with felt, and zig-zagged twice around the perimeter.

I'd forgotten how much fun these are, and I should start doing more. 


Monday, May 1, 2017

Play Ball!

Baseball earrings, using peyote stitch and delica beads:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bunny Foo Foo Now Has an Egg

Pattern from here.  I used a plastic egg (the kind for kids' egg hunts; there are currently a bunch floating around my living room) rather than a styrofoam one.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Round-Up

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist: What an odd book this was.  It's Victorian steampunk, which I love, but the story is more twisted and ugly than I expected. I didn't love the novel (the first of a trilogy, natch) -- way too long, with too many repetitive and unnecessary action scenes -- but Dahlquist has some intriguing ideas and a good writing style so I will keep reading for now.

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones: What a fun, enjoyable novel this was!  With very little exposition and traditional world-building, Jones nonetheless created a vivid story involving magic and technology, unconventional heroes, multiple worlds, a decaying empire, an a wacky sci-fi convention.  Some elements are a little dated (the portable, magical fax machine cracked me up), but I loved this novel and I was sorry when I finished it.

The Drowning Spool by Monica Ferris: The seventeenth (!) needlecraft mystery wasn't quite as good as the others.  Ferris did an admirable job detailing characters who aren't perfect or don't make great choices but nonetheless deserve justice, but I missed the regular characters, and the mystery itself was forgettable.  She also appears to have dropped the potential storylines she hinted at in the last book, which is too bad.

Hip-Hop Family Tree Book 1 by Ed Piskor: The first comic book in a series that will detail the history of hip-hop.  There's not much of a traditional narrative because Piskor opted to take a more fragmented, impressionistic approach, but that serves the thesis -- that hip-hop resulted from the confluence of many disparate trends, people, and circumstances -- well.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen: Another lovely, comforting read from Allen, whose description of a hot, humid Southern summer practically caused my hair to frizz.  I think the characters were too blasé about a major reveal late in the book, but I especially loved her portrayal of Selma, a character that in other novels would have been a one-dimensional villain.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 15

The picture's not great, but you can see the little motifs I stitched this week -- a crown of thorns, a lamb, and an Easter egg for the holidays.  I also saw the Mummies exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and was inspired to stitch a creepy little Chinchorro death mask.  There was some beautiful embroidery on some of the wraps that I wanted to sketch, but Beadboy1 had other ideas (mainly, to go home) and he pretty much dragged me as fast as he could through the exhibit.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Little Bunny Foo Foo

Last month I itched to start crocheting again, maybe a cute little brown bunny to sit next to Maggie Rabbit.  After searching pinterest and ravelry, I settled on this pattern by Lisa Power.
I used buttons for the eyes, and felt for the nose.  There weren't any specific directions for sewing the bunny parts together so I had to figure it out myself, with mixed results.  Originally I planned a dress for her like Maggie's, but then I was inspired to make a crown of flowers from some scraps of Liberty fabric (and they hide the messy joinder of the ears to the head!).

Here they are together:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I've missed some of the months in the Inspired by Reading group, so I scrambled to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? in time for this week's discussion/reveal. I'm glad I did!  Semple's novel was a thoroughly enjoyable depiction of funny, troubled, exasperating people, and a touching meditation on creativity, mental illness, and responsibility.

Rather than make jewelry, I went in a different direction.  Bernadette is an architect whose masterpiece was a house made entirely of recycled, salvaged, or local materials.  That inspired me to make my own house from my stash:
I placed fabric scraps on a piece of heavy interfacing and sewed all around and across the roof to make a house shape.  A leather tag from an old pair of my husband's jeans and a keyhole doohickey became the door. I attached another hardware doohickey to the roof with beads. The upper windows are scraps of metal mesh from an earring organizer I made, and the bottom windows are the plastic tags from doses of Xopenex I had to give Beadboy1 during one of his many hospital stays -- you see, like Bernadette's daughter, my son was also born with a serious heart defect and needed surgery as an infant.  And like her, he has asthma triggered by viruses (I know all too well how school nurses overreact to coughs out of an abundance of caution).  The hand embroidery was done with floss left over from various stitching kits.  Once I was done with the house I backed it with felt and machine-stitched once more around the perimeter. 

Taking broken, used, defective, discarded things and making a home and a life -- I think Bernadette would approve.

Monday, March 27, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 12


The long-term cross stitch project I'm working on has some pretty little forget-me-nots, so I used the same thread to make an impressionistic version:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 11



I spent St. Patrick's Day sewing with friends, so I stitched this that night:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I'm so Behind!

The Inspired by Reading book club's selection for February was The Ladies of Grace Adieu, but only today did I finish a piece inspired by it (especially sad given I've already read the book twice).  The stories are mostly dark and elegant, so I made something to match:
The beads are vintage faceted glass in deep purple, and I added sections of black chain between each one (I still need a black clasp). I think it will go nicely with a black and purple cross I strung onto purple ribbon a while back:

Still no word on a sequel.  Sigh.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Biggest UFO

... Is the quilt for Beadboy1, started more than a decade ago (good thing I had the sense to make a twin-sized quilt, rather than a crib quilt!).  The problem is that I was overly ambitious, and planned a sampler quilt of star blocks in different styles, techniques, and sizes, which has greatly slowed down my progress.

I'm determined to finish it this year, so the last few months I pieced together the center using a (hand-pieced!) (don't look to closely at the center) lone star as the focus, surrounded by a bunch of 4.5- and 6-inch stars (see what I mean about ambitious?):
That's only about a third of the quilt (minus the borders), and the only other squares I have done are:
So there's still a lot of work to do.  But: progress!


Sunday, March 5, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 9

Another week that kicked my butt.  Not much stitching this time.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 8

Because I am a big dork, I embroidered my name in Tolkien's Elvish script, and his Dwarven runes (Moria-style).  Then Linear B.  Then the dancing men from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock stories, and St. Thomas More's script from Utopia, and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Round-Up

Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber: The movie is a guilty pleasure at Christmastime, so I thought I should finally read the book.  The storylines are fleshed out more, and there were some subplots that were dropped for the movie.  While she has some genuine insights into human behavior, the resolutions of the various storylines were too pat.

And Then You Dye by Monica Ferris: another enjoyable outing with an interesting mystery and, as a bonus, the return of one of my favorite characters.  I am interested to see where she goes in the next few novels, because things seem to be gearing up for a shake-up of the characters and setting.

Death's Old Sweet Song by Jonathan Stagge: An enjoyable, old-school mystery, of the style they really don't write anymore.  It caught my attention because the murders are based on an old, old song I sang as a child (and sing to my children) -- "Green Grow the Rushes-O." The novel had some frank discussions of sexual mores and a touching subplot involving what we now call PTSD, which serve as a reminder that past generations weren't always as naive and ignorant as we like to think.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel: Bechdel's previous comic left me wanting to know more about her mother, so when I saw this at the library I snatched it up.  Unfortunately, it is more about Bechdel's own issues with her mother, and the therapy she's had over the years, rather than her mother herself.  Still, Bechdel's writing and drawing are as compelling as ever.

In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent: a layperson's guide to invented languages, and their (few) successes and (many) failures.  Okrent's writing is delightfully witty and down-to-earth, and she does an excellent job showing the idealism and tragedy that underlie so many efforts to build a better language.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: your standard young-woman-flees-personal-and-professional-disaster-in-the-city-and-finds-true-happiness-in-the-country novel.  Miller's heroine is more unconventional than most, which was a nice change of pace, and the book made me both hungry for the delicious meals the characters made and nostalgic for my childhood in a small New England town.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Calico Heart Garland

The idea came from Sarana Ave's Heart Strings.  I made mine longer and with more hearts, using my pile of new and vintage calicos.  It's all hand-stitched, too.  I used tan wool and a running stitch to sew the fronts and backs together, leaving a gap for stuffing:
Once I stuffed them, I sewed up the last bits and strung them onto hemp cord with a large, dull needle.

For the moment I have them with my birdies:
(I'm still working on the best way to display the birdies.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017