LexiconLexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you a cat person or a dog person?
What’s your favorite color?
Do you love your family?
Why did you do it?

Answering those four simple questions enables someone who has been expertly trained in the art of persuasion to tag you, bag you, and manipulate you into doing anything, anything at all, simply by speaking a few words. Or so says Max Barry in this lightning-fast paranoid fantasy of a novel.

Some years ago, Emily Ruff, a teenage runaway living on the streets of San Francisco by her wits and a facility for sleight-of-hand, is recruited to enter an exclusive school for the purpose of training her to use words as weapons in the manner described above. She’s rebellious and disdainful of authority and the curriculum, but avoids being expelled because Eliot, the operative who recruited her, defends her and her capabilities to the higher-ups.

Then things go awry. And I mean awry in a destructive, deadly fashion.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Wil Parke is abducted in broad daylight and administered the test questions listed at the top of this review, but he then fails to follow the instructions he is given by his abductors. “Yep, he’s the one,” they conclude and drag him off to parts unknown, where he is informed by Eliot of a mission he must fulfill because he’s the only one immune to “the Word.”

The story bounces back and forth between Emily in the past and Wil in the present, and eventually leads the reader to the connection between them, and something horrific that happened in a remote Australian town.

In between, we are treated to multiple examples of how the information and personality traits we inadvertently reveal through conversation and those seemingly-innocuous online quizzes can be turned against us. It’s enough to make one’s skin crawl.

Max Barry has a gift for plot-driven stories that move forward at Warp 10 but still manage to give the reader decently-realized characters and generally plausible storylines. Lexicon is no different. I picked this book up at the library yesterday afternoon, spent about two hours reading it while having a pedicure, and then another two hours while waiting for my car to be serviced, then finished the last 60 or 70 pages left this morning. I thought it was great fun. And more than a little creepy.

And I doubt I’ll be taking any more of those stupid quizzes that get posted to Facebook.

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Perdido Street StationPerdido Street Station by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Seriously, just wow.

Isaac, a scientist living on the fringes of respectability in the sprawling polluted city of New Crobuzon, works quietly on his theories and experiments in the warehouse-turned-laboratory he shares with two other scientists. He meets his friends for drinks and dinner and debate; and he revels in his secretive relationship with his lover, Lin. Lin, an artist, an outcast member of the Khepri, an insectoid race, struggles to come to terms with her self-imposed exile while she navigates a society filled with prejudice and bigotry.

Both of them accept commissions from strangers: Isaac is engaged by one of the Garudi, a bird-like race, to replace his lost wings; and Lin is employed by an underworld crime boss, an individual who has undergone so many surgeries and body enhancements that no one can determine what his original race may have been, to sculpt his monstrous life-size likeness. These commissions shatter Lin’s and Isaac’s quiet lives and lead them down, literally, into the city’s murky depths along unexpected and dangerous paths.

Perdido Street Station is astonishing, brilliant, frightening, grotesque, sickening, disturbing, and jaw-droppingly amazing. The reader is plunged headlong with Lin and Isaac into the rabbit warren of New Crobuzon’s slums and ghettos, where he lives and breathes and struggles and fights next to the human and non-human denizens of those squalid neighborhoods oozing with magic and technology and crime and grime and gore and the occasional glitter of kindness.

A book like this may not be for everyone, and it’s certainly not an easy read, both vocabulary-wise — I had to resort to my dictionary more than once — and content-wise, but it’s well worth making the effort. Don’t miss it.

(For mature audiences only. Contains adult language and explicit sex.)

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At the time I write this, it’s shortly before 1PM Eastern Daylight Time.

I’ve been up since 4:30. That’s AM.

My husband snores like a freight train. *sigh*

© Debbie Bliss Knitting Magazine

© Debbie Bliss Knitting Magazine

But I’ve tried to put the time to good use. A few days ago, I started making a little lace shrug, using a bright turquoise cotton DK I’ve had in my stash forever. The pattern I chose (pictured left) isn’t exactly what I want, but it’s the closest thing to what I want that I found while searching Ravelry. I’m not even two inches into the project yet, and I’m already not liking the pattern. This is now the third time I’ve started something with this yarn and started hating it (the pattern, not the yarn) before getting very far. It’s rather frustrating.

Why am I so determined to make this yarn into a lace cardigan? I have a sleeveless dress that is in desperate need of a cover-up to make it suitable to wear on camera. Ultra pima 1And besides, who couldn’t use a turquoise blue lace cardi? The yarn, by the way, is Cascade Ultra Pima. It knits beautifully, and I will find the right pattern for it, or die trying.

So, while I was awake in the wee hours of the night, I started searching Ravelry again, and expanded my parameters somewhat. Free patterns or in my library; 3/4 sleeve, V-neck, buttons optional, DK or sport-weight, leave off the yardage limit, leave off the lace requirement, but specify plant fibers rather than animal fibers. Maybe I’d find a coat or a tunic-length cardigan that I could shorten and adapt to meet my yardage requirements. And I found something. Still not exactly what I want, but in my bleary-eyed befogged state, I saw past the pattern and into the nebulous realm of …

© Vogue Knitting

© Vogue Knitting

(cue dramatic music)

Design!!

Or at least major modifications.

I looked at this coat and ticked off the things I don’t like: Can’t stand the lace patterns, and it’s waaaaayyyy too long. But it has a V-neck, buttons, and 3/4 sleeves. I pulled the magazine off the shelf and read the pattern. Okay, I see the spot where I can cut off the bottom two-thirds of the coat and turn it into a cropped cardi. What about the lace pattern? Next I pulled a stitch dictionary off the shelf. And I found a lace pattern that will work with the number of stitches needed for the back…but not the front. Wait, what if I…? And here’s where the calculator came out.

A rough sketch has been made. No, you can’t see it because my drawing skills are crap. The rough dimensions and a preliminary stitch count are calculated for a cardigan in my size. The rest of the math is still pending because a swatch has yet to be knitted.

In between all this calculation, I’ve eaten breakfast and weeded the backyard (spouse helped with both).

Now, I’m hot, sweaty, and tired, but a little exhilarated. I think a shower is in order, and then I’m going to resume work on the Debbie Bliss cardigan. Because I read that pattern again, too, and realized my frustration and dislike was due to a misreading of a particular line in the written lace instructions. (This is why I prefer charts.) I’ve tinked back to the beginning of the error and will start afresh. And continue the design work a little later on.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress on all fronts.

Once Upon A Time 8 Journey Banner

I’ve decided the Once Upon A Time 8 book challenge category my reading falls into best is “The Journey”, because I don’t know what I’ll be reading next. My library holds are coming in fast and furious now, for some reason; to keep my “good library patron” street cred, I have to pick up the holds — physical and electronic — within just a few days of being notified they’re available, and then read and return them within three weeks. This past week, the library notified me that my turn had come on three separate requests, so I’m busy busy busy reading them, and none of them qualify as folklore, fairy tale, fantasy, or mythology.

That said, I’ve gathered the reviews below for the three qualifying books I have read since the beginning of this challenge. These are all part of George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” cycle. I’ve done my best to review them without spoilers for those of you whose only knowledge comes from the HBO series, Game of Thrones.


 

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. Some big (and unexpected) events that I totally didn’t see coming, and one I did because I’d already seen it on television.

War is still raging throughout Westeros — a storm of swords, indeed — and an ancient threat from the North has manifested. Lots of blood and death and sex and violence. The constant action and shifting viewpoints make this a relatively fast read for all its 1100+ pages; I finished it in less than two weeks, reading mostly while on my daily train commute and several hours on weekends.

That 1100+ pages bit is significant. I rarely tackle epic fantasy such as this because of the sheer volume and the fear that once I get started, my completionist nature will force me to finish long after I’ve lost interest in the series. It’s a credit to Mr. Martin’s talent that I’m still fascinated with the world he’s built.

Bring on A Feast for Crows!


 

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a bit of a slog. Lots of story elements from some major and more minor players; lots of death, including one I didn’t even notice had happened until another character mentioned it and one that happened completely offstage (I assume it will be covered in the next book); and one character I really like had deadly stuff happen but may or may not actually be dead — I’m really not sure. And then there’s the return from the dead of a major player. Ick. Still enjoying the series because Martin can certainly tell a story, but I’m ready to get back to the dragons now.

Theory and speculation: Just to preserve my thoughts at this point in the series. I believe Jon Snow is Robert Baratheon’s legitimate son, and the rightful heir to the throne. Here’s how I think it happened. Robert married Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna in secret right before the Civil War that deposed the Targaryens and set Robert on the Iron Throne. During the war, Lyanna died in childbirth (in “a bed of blood”, according to A Wiki of Ice and Fire) but before she died, believing the child to be in danger (from Targaryens, probably), she made Ned promise to take the child and raise him, saying the child was his own bastard. Now that all the major players in this speculation are dead, though, it’s anyone’s guess who Jon Snow’s mother might be.


 

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first reaction upon finishing this book? “Curse you, George R. R. Martin!”

Lots of stuff going on with Danaerys and her dragons. Theon reappears, causing me to wonder if he’s going to redeem himself. I never particularly liked him, especially after Winterfell, but no one deserves to receive the kind of treatment he’s gotten from The Bastard. Not even Joffrey. Okay, maybe Joffrey, although he’s long since been dealt with, so that’s rather a moot observation. Plotting and conniving and political maneuvering, and a rather unexpected backfiring of same, takes place in King’s Landing. Another character I thought was dead isn’t, and this one I was glad to see return. More plotting and maneuvering going on at The Wall. And an ending twist that caused me to throw the book down in the last pages and curse GRRM to the skies.

When’s the next in the series scheduled to be released? Oh. We don’t know. *sigh* Now I know how my friends who read The Wheel of Time felt.

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Once Upon A Time 8If you’re interested in seeing what other folks have read during this challenge, click the banner at the very top of this post. If you think you might want to join in, click the badge next to this paragraph to read all about the challenge. I hope you join us!

The Serpent of Venice: A NovelThe Serpent of Venice: A Novel by Christopher Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pocket is back, and as irreverent as ever.

We first made Pocket’s acquaintance in Fool, a comic re-imagining of King Lear. (Yeah, I don’t know exactly what magic Authorguy used to pull off that feat, either, but it worked.)

Here, Christopher Moore plunks Pocket down smack dab in the middle of a combination of Othello and The Merchant of Venice, with a little The Cask of Amontillado tossed in for seasoning. Add a mysterious “mermaid” with rather specialized sexual proclivities and a taste for blood, and you’ve got all the right ingredients for the stew entitled The Serpent of Venice: A Novel. And I mean “stew” in a good way: tasty beef and potatoes and carrots and celery and herbs and spices, simmered just long enough for the ingredients to blend and become flavorful.

So, Pocket is in Venice after Cordelia’s untimely death. But because he is who he is, he opens his mouth once too often and finds himself chained to a wall in a dungeon, where he makes the acquaintance of that mermaid. His mates, Drool the Natural and Jeff the Monkey, are imprisoned, as well, albeit elsewhere. Plot points and hijinks ensue as Moore’s mash-up of two of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, one a comedy, the other a tragedy, unfold their convoluted and, yes, somewhat twisted, plots.

Personally, I never really considered The Merchant of Venice a comedy; it’s awfully dark behind all those lovely speeches. I was pleased to see Moore’s reinvention take some of the sting out of that play’s ending. Regardless, Moore has a gift for seeing the absurd in classic literature, and he uses that gift well here.

That said, I’m giving three stars for “I liked it” only because Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars. It’s a 3-1/2 star, enjoyable, fluffy read. With lots of bad language and sex. So, yeah, for mature audiences only.

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7cde9-fofridayYes, my entry for FO Friday is a finished book. Wanna make something of it? I thought not. So, why don’t you click on the badge over there, instead, to see what other folks have finished this week?

Mom's Tunisian 11Slow but steady progress on the Tunisian Terror, as seen here. I’ve noticed my tension seems to have relaxed some on the later squares, now that I’m comfortable with the Tunisian Simple Stitch. This means the later squares are slightly larger than the first few. I’m hoping this won’t create a major issue when it comes to assembly. Someday in the not-quite-foreseeable future. Ten squares down, 53 to go.

I hope my mother realizes how much I love her. ;)

After the highly unusual feat of posting for seven consecutive days last week (yay, Blog Week!), I took a short break to read a little, spend some time with the spouse, pamper the critters, and start getting my mind in gear for our upcoming class. I’m a technical and policy instructor for a government agency; and we have almost 300 students registered for our next 14-week course, with more expected, so I may be a little scarce around here very shortly. But I will also do my best to keep up with WIP Wednesdays, and maybe a book review once a week.

Miss Q in the SunshineIn other news, my ancient tabby Jacquenetta (who turned 20 earlier this year) has made a remarkable comeback from the health scare she gave us several weeks ago. Seriously, I thought when we took her to the vet that day in late April that she wouldn’t be coming home again. She’ll be on medication the rest of her life, but she’s regained a good portion of her strength and can once again climb up and down the stairs and jump on the sofa under her own power. There she is, having a wash and enjoying the sunshine. She just loves a good stretch out there on the warm concrete of the front walk.

ab2a5-tami_wipThis post is part of the WIP Wednesday Round-up hosted by Tami’s Amis. Click that badge over there and go see what other crafters have been crafting this week, and tell them avantaknits sent you.

Blog Week 2014 Banner

Blog prompt: Look back on last year’s Day Seven post. Did any of the techniques, ideas and hopes for the last 12 months that you wrote about ever make it onto the hook or needles? Did anyone cast on and complete the project researched in last year’s Day 2 post? One year from now, where do you hope your crafting will have taken you to? What new skills, projects and experiences do you hope you might have conquered or tried?


 
Last year I discussed several things:

  • Making the cardigan worn by the little girl in the movie The Fall.
  • Organizing my craft room
  • Attempting Fair Isle
  • Attempting Tunisian
  • Making sock puppets for my friend based on a photograph

Success rate? 60%. I achieved three out of the five goals. Behold the craft room:

Craft Room 1

And the Tunisian:

Mom's Tunisian 9

And those sock puppets, which got their own dating profile in this year’s Blog Week Extravaganza:

Avatars 1

For next year, I’m putting Fair Isle and The Fall Cardigan back on this list. Also, I want to finally write up and publish the pattern for a pair of fingerless mitts I designed as a gift several years ago.

San Luis Mitts

I’ve gotten multiple requests for this pattern, but have procrastinated writing it up for so long that I may have lost my initial notes on the project. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I originally designed the mitts in a bulky yarn and have since decided a lesser-weight yarn is a better choice.

Magazine Review: Vogue Knitting, Spring/Summer 2009Blog content-wise, I’m considering a return to magazine reviews. I pared my knit and crochet magazine subscriptions down to two (from a high of seven), Rowan and Vogue Knitting. Back when I had so many subscriptions, I was trying to review each magazine as it came in. That meant upwards of 30 magazine reviews per year, which resulted in a stack of unread issues sitting next to the computer, giving me guilt. I don’t need more guilt, thank you very much, so I stopped the reviews. Vogue and Rowan only may be manageable: Rowan publishes two issues per year, and Vogue publishes five (six if you count the special crochet issue, but that’s not included in the subscription). Rowan CoverWriting timely reviews will require a certain amount of self-discipline. I’m not good with self-discipline, and I need to be, because the next step for this blog — not next year, but within the next five — is to turn it into something that generates a little income. That means content other than me running my mouth about my latest project or the last book I read. It means patterns and tutorials mainly; perhaps little stuffies, if I ever design any. I don’t expect to make excessive bank here, just enough to cover the domain fees.

And that’s quite enough ambition for my little corner of the interwebz.

As Blog Week draws to a close, I just want to say I appreciate each and every one of you who’ve dropped by during this past week. I found a few new bloggers to follow and hope at least one or two of you enjoyed my articles as much as I’ve enjoyed yours. See you around! And y’all come back now, y’hear?

Gone Girl
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick’s beautiful wife Amy disappeared on their fifth wedding anniversary. To all appearances, Amy was kidnapped with some violence from their riverfront home in North Carthage, Missouri. And naturally, suspicion for such foul play falls on Nick. As the police become more and more focused on his possible involvement, to the point that even Amy’s parents think him guilty, and as national media attention falls on Amy’s disappearance, Nick becomes more and more desperate to prove his innocence.

I wish GoodReads allowed 1/2 stars, because I would rate this somewhere between 3 stars “I liked it” and 4 stars “I really liked it”. I mean, I liked it more than most books I’ve rated three stars but less than most books I’ve rated four stars.

And finding a way to review this without spoilers? Hoo buddy. Suffice to say I alternated between “He didn’t do it” and “Of course, he did it!” for at least half of the book, then got hit with a “Holy cow!” moment, subsequently followed by an intense dislike of everyone involved in this mess. Except for Margo, Nick’s twin sister. Margo is only innocent among these players, presenting a loyal family front to the vulture throngs of media correspondents, while asking sincere and probing questions of her brother in private.

Gone Girl is truly a “good read”, filled with twists and turns and mindbending WTF moments. I don’t think it’s as good as Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s previous novel, but it’s definitely worth the time spent reading.

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Blog Week 2014 Banner

Blog prompt: Write about another knitter or crocheter that you admire. Write about if anyone has ever told you how they feel about your knitting.


 
I almost wish this were an easier topic. Being a solitary stitcher for the most part, there aren’t many fellow knitters and crocheters that I know well enough to be that familiar with their work. And I say “almost” because, although I wouldn’t necessarily mind knowing and interacting with other crafters, the process of getting to know them is uncomfortable for an introvert like me. Which is why blogging is such a perfect activity.

Kelly and me last August when I visited DC

Kelly and me last August when I visited DC

That said, two people jumped to mind immediately for the first part of this blog prompt. The first is my friend Kelly, screen name BunRab. I first met Kelly online sometime in 2002, I believe, on a website called BookCrossing. We met in person a couple of years later, and in recent years have made a point of attending Stitches South together as often as we can.

Kelly is one of those über-confident knitters who can choose a yarn and a needle size and just. start. knitting.  No pattern, no gauge swatching, no agonizing over stitch pattern: she simply casts on and starts knitting a sleeveless shell, relying on her years of experience and math skills to make it come out right.  And it does.  I want to do that. Maybe someday I will.

The second is Alana Dakos (nevernotknitting). She is the first designer I’ve ever encountered that caused me to want to Make All The Things. Seriously. I adore her patterns. I discovered her for the first time right around a year ago (so, that would be May 2013) when I was with a friend in Lovin’ Knit in Marietta, buying yarn for her special project. We were literally on our way out the door, when I glanced at a display and saw this book.

Botanical KnitsIt stopped me in my tracks. Something about that model’s face called me on some level I can’t begin to fathom. I turned around, picked up the book, glanced through it for less than a minute, and went back to the cash wrap to make the purchase.

Most impulse buys are later regretted, right? Not this one. When I got home, I sat down with the pattern book for a thorough study of the designs. And I knew I had to make every one of them. Never has every single design in an entire pattern book struck such a resonance in my soul; usually, if I like four or five out of a dozen or so, it’s worth the money to buy the book. I loved these so much that I looked up its companion volume, Coastal Knits, and promptly ordered that as well. Alana’s next book, Botanical Knits 2, is on pre-order.

I’ve never met Alana, although we’ve corresponded a bit by email when I had a question while I was making one of her patterns. I think I feel connected to her, and to her designs, because she lives and works in the area where I grew up — a place that I love desperately — and I can feel the locale come through in her patterns. Okay, that’s vaguely stalker-ish, isn’t it? I don’t mean it that way, honest. It’s just that, for me, her designs are both comforting and comfortable, and they feel like home.
~~~~
The rest of this blog prompt suggests I tell you about anyone telling me how they feel about my knitting, positive or negative. I can’t say that I’ve had many conversations where someone’s emotions about my needlework have come under discussion. I’ve shown a couple of tricks or techniques to strangers while sitting in a waiting room and they expressed gratitude, but that’s about it. Unless you want to count my husband’s occasional griping about the amount of money I’ve spent on yarn… No? That’s okay; neither do I.

Blog Week 2014 Banner

Blog prompt: Blog in a way different to how you normally blog.


 
A poem I wrote about ten years ago.

Sunday Afternoon, August

A row of pink crepe myrtles lines the driveway
Branches move in the soft afternoon breeze
A trumpet vine’s bright orange flowers peek
From the foliage of the ancient chokecherry
Towering above the myrtles

A mourning dove perches on a drooping electric cable
The rhythmic buzz of cicadas punctuates the clatter of keys as I type
A cheery red cardinal hops from one myrtle branch to another
Chirping, chattering at his reflection in the glass

Water beads course their way down the side
Of the tumbler; ice melts
The house is silent

Eyelids droop as naptime beckons
Close the laptop

Ceiling fan and cool cotton sheets

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