Book review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

They called it “dragonscale”. And no one knew where it came from. It showed up as fine lines of black and gold, tracing the skin in loops and swirls and delicate patterns. Eventually, those who contracted the disease burst into flames and died, often taking buildings and other people with them. The uninfected feared the infected and began to set them aside in hospitals and camps and detention centers.

But some of the infected learned to control their fiery outbursts and channel them into a semblance of productivity or protection. Harper, a nurse, abandoned by her husband when she contracts the disease, is taken in by such a group in need of her medical abilities. They live in secret, hiding from the self-appointed Cremation Squads who scour the country looking for the infected. The group itself, however, is not ideal, and seems to headed down the path of becoming a religious cult. Harper and a few of her new friends begin looking for a way out.

I liked this well enough. It’s reasonably well-written; the story is engaging and the characters are mostly sympathetic; but the “…they would never do that/see each other/be here again” thing at the end of most chapters eventually became annoying. And the ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger, unless you’re like me and read all the acknowledgments, etc., at the end of the story. Because the real ending is hidden away back there.

Worth reading once.

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Sock yarn plans

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Sock yarn pile #1, to be used for actual socks

Some time ago, I pulled all the sock yarn out of stash and sorted it into two piles.

Into pile number one went the sock yarn that is suitable to be used for actual socks:  it has nylon or some other such fiber content that makes it suitable to take the abuse on being worn on feet, walked upon, and rubbed against the inside of shoes.

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Sock yarn pile #2, to be used for other accessories like shawls or scarves

Pile number two contained all the sock yarn that will not be used for socks.  Now, this could be yarn that is 100% wool with no other strengthening fibers; or it could be a single ply with no twist that can’t take the abuse; or maybe the yardage is far too excessive for socks and must be made into some other accessory; or it could be yarn that’s just too dang pretty to be hidden inside shoes.  The yarn sorted into this pile is destined for scarves, or shawls, or in a few cases where the yardage will allow, perhaps even a lacy shrug or cropped cardigan.

Progress notes:  I made a pair of socks from one of the skeins in Pile #1 already (Dragonfly and Rosebud, blogged here); tried a second skein but, after struggling with it and its splitty nature, relegated it to Pile #2; and am currently knitting socks with a third skein.

True confession:  Since these photos were taken, I’ve added more sock yarn to the stash.  They were pretty evenly divided. Four of the new skeins went into Pile #1; five into Pile #2.

Measurements

HomCom 34 x 27 x 35 Fashion Mannequin Female Dress Form w/ Base, White

As of March 18, 2017:

  • Bust 43″
  • Waist 40″
  • Hip 45″
  • Thigh 25″
  • Calf 17″
  • Upper arm 14″
  • Neck 14.5″

Before anyone freaks out about the bust/waist/hip ratio, I always had a fairly straight figure.  Not too many curves,which is why dress mannequins never worked for me when I sewed my own clothes.  If I remember correctly, my measurements in my early 20s were approximately 33/27/35.  When I gained weight, most of it was gained in the belly, and there were times when my waist measurement exceeded my bust measurement.  Believe me, this is progress.

Book review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The heat is nearly unbearable.

The ice caps melted; the sea-level rose; the fossil-fuel economy collapsed; worldwide famine ensued; and Asia took the lead in science- and technology-driven solutions. Unfortunately, the genetically-engineered crops produced by the agricultural research companies also produced horrific diseases for crops and for people, further decimating global population and food supply. Riots, black markets, corporate espionage, ethnic cleansing…the world of 100 years or so from now is not a pleasant place, unless one is very wealthy.

And in Paolo Bacigalupi’s future vision, one is either very wealthy, or one is not. The only denizens of a nearly non-existent middle class are the calorie-men, like Anderson Lake, the manager of the factory where much of the action of this novel centers.

Anderson Lake prowls the street markets of Bangkok, hoping to find pure, unaltered food — a real canteloupe, an actual vine-grown tomato — that he can purchase and take back to his employer for gene analysis and modification. What he finds, eventually, is Enniko.

Enniko — the Windup Girl of the title — is a “New Person”, the genetically-engineered, vat-grown human-like plaything of a Japanese businessman, who left her behind in Bangkok when he grew tired of her. Her unaccompanied presence in the city is problematic, and she places herself under the protection of unsavory individuals for her personal safety.

Around both of them, Bangkok is aswirl with civil unrest, thievery, police corruption, political assassination attempts, and the outbreak of a new and mysterious disease. There’s so much going on in this story that it’s nearly impossible to synopsize.

It’s not an easy read: lots of characters and subplots to follow; lots of Bacigalupi-created neologisms; lots of untranslated Asian-language words (presumably Thai, but I could be wrong). The word meanings can be gathered from context, but it makes for slow going initially.

Have I mentioned that I loved it? I did. It’s fabulous. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, horrifying, and spectacular. Once I finally got into the story, I could hardly bear to put it down.

2017SFFReadingChallengeThis is not a story for everyone. But it was the story for me.

(If you like China Miéville, you will love this. Trust me.)

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

Book review: Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

Bright's PassageBright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Henry Bright was one of the lucky ones. He came home from The Great War. But he wasn’t entirely unscathed. He has, um, issues. When his wife dies in childbirth, he sets fire to their home and takes off across the countryside with his newborn son, fleeing his wife’s vengeful family and the wildfire he inadvertently caused.

This is one of those library books I must have put on my list because the cover blurb sounded so good. Kudos to the blurb writer, because that blurb was the best thing about this book.

No. The best thing about this book is it’s short.

Okay, it wasn’t really THAT bad. I gave it three stars, after all; it was readable and even enjoyable in a few spots. But I feel like there was a much better book lurking in there somewhere — a book that deeply explored Henry Bright’s trauma and coping mechanisms rather than presenting them in a whimsical fashion. Not that I didn’t appreciate the talking horse, or the goat, or the tree…I don’t know.

I finished this book in just a few hours. I don’t necessarily want the time back. I just wish the time spent had been more satisfying.

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A blanket for Liam

Stripes and Hearts 10I have a new grand-nephew on the way. And, of course, I made him a blanket.

Pattern:  I Got You Babe-y by Marty Miller, from the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of the now-defunct Crochet Today.

Yarn:  Bernat Gloucester Sport, 2.8 skeins (308 yds), colorway “French Blue”; Mirasol T’ika, 4 skeins (364 yds), colorway 502 “Light Blue”.

Hook:  H for body, I for borders.

Mods: Did not do the lacy attach-as-you-go border between panels. Rather, did single crochet edging around each panel and sewed them together. Three rounds of single crochet in alternating colors around entire blanket for the edging.

84df2-knit-your-library_2016Satisfaction with end product:  I think it’s lovely.  The 100% cotton yarn makes it soft and absorbent, besides making it an easy-care baby item; I’m sure my niece-in-law will appreciate that.

You can see more project pics at the Ravelry project page.

Still “knitting” my library.  Please join us!

Further musing on this year’s SF/F Reading Challenge

Because I’m doing my best to “shop” my bookshelves and the public library, I’ve reviewed the awards lists carefully to find books already in hand, so to speak, to meet this challenge.  So far, I’ve found these here at home:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2006 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2006 Locus Awards.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  Nominated for 2002 World Fantasy Awards. Nominated for the 2002 British SF Association Awards.  Winner of the 2002 Hugo.  Winner of the 2002 Bram Stoker Award.  Winner of the 2002 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2002 Locus Awards. Winner of the 2003 Nebula. This would be a re-read in preparation for the TV series that debuts on Starz in April 2017.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2009 Hugo.  Nominated for the 2009 World Fantasy Award.  Nominated for the 2009 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards).

(Aside:  This is only a partial list of the nearly uncountable awards Neil Gaiman has been nominated for or won.  Why isn’t he a Grand Master already?)

The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll.  Nominated best novel for 2002 World Fantasy Awards.

Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons.  Simmons was voted a Grand Master of Horror in 2013, so any of his works will qualify.  Ilium was nominated for the 2004 Hugo; and Olympos was nominated for the 2006 Locus Award.  Also on my shelf are Lovedeath, nominated for the 1994 Bram Stoker Award and 1994 Locus; Phases of Gravity, 1990 Locus nominee; Drood, 2010 Locus nominee; Worlds Enough and Time, 2003 Locus nominee; and The Terror, 2008 Shirley Jackson Award nominee.  Can you tell I like Dan Simmons?  A lot?

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury is a Grand Master of long standing in several categories so, again, any of his works will qualify.  From the Dust Returned was nominated for several awards in 2002: World Fantasy; Bram Stoker; and Locus.  I have lots more Bradbury on the shelf, but this one, Farewell Summer, and A Pleasure to Burn are the only titles I haven’t already read.

Horns by Joe Hill.  2011 Bram Stoker nominee.  Currently reading NOS4A2, winner of the 2014 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards), and nominee for the 2014 Bram Stoker and Locus Awards.

Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe.  Another Grand Master.

Embassytown by China Miéville.  2012 Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award nominee.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.  2016 Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy winner; 2016 Locus nominee; and so far the only female author on this list.  I have other female authors on my library wishlist, such as Elizabeth Moon, Lauren Beukes, and Octavia Butler.  I must make a point of checking out those books.

2017SFFReadingChallengeOkay, that’s 19 named books and three authors without named books, so let’s try for the Hydra Category (21+ novels).

Care to join us in this reading challenge?  Click the badge to the left to be taken to the sign up page.

Award Winning SF/F Reading Challenge

2017SFFReadingChallengeRemember last year when Shaunesay of The Space Between hosted the fabulous 2016 Award Winning SF/F reading challenge?  She’s doing it again this year.  You can post your sign-up blog entry here.  I’ll be posting a link to this blog entry as my official yet belated notice of participation.  Yes, belated, because the challenge actually began January 1.  Oops.

If you are looking for some award-winning books to read, here’s a link to the Science Fiction Awards Database, where you will find everything you could ever possibly want in the way of lists.

Join us!

Socks! And a shawl.

While I was off work in January recovering from surgery, I went on a bit of a sock binge.  Results below.

temperance-2 First up, the Temperance socks (Ravelry project page).

Pattern: Temperance by Liz Abinante

Yarn:  Footprints by Blue Ridge Yarn, colorway Secret Garden.  Per Webs, this yarn’s total weight for the full put-up is 108 grams. That means it’s 81 grams for the 300 yard skein and 27 grams for the 100 yard skein. When I was finished, I had 18 grams and 8 grams left, respectively.

Total yardage used: 304 yds.

temperance-1Needles:  US size 2 DPNS.  Pattern calls for using US size 1 1/2 needles. I need size 2 to achieve gauge.

New techniques? Yes!  First toe up socks, first short row heel, first time using different colors for different parts of the sock.  I discovered  I don’t like toe up socks.  The cast on and first couple of rows are really REALLY fiddly and annoying.  That was with DPNs.  I may try again using two circs.  Maybe.

Satisfaction with end product:  Pleased!  They fit pretty well, and I’ve worn them several times since completing them.  In fact, I’m wearing them as I type this blog entry. The yarn is soft and warm and comfy, especially after having been washed a couple of times.  The socks come through the washer and dryer just fine; I wash them inside a mesh bag so they’re protected from rubbing against other clothing, and I use the gentle/delicate cold water wash cycle and a low heat dry cycle.

Next, Hummingbird Spring (Ravelry project page).

hummingbird-4Pattern:  Hummingbird by Sandi Rosner

Yarn: Stardust by Magic & Moonshine, colorway “Crocus”. I love this yarn. It’s soft on the hands, comfy on the feet, and has a hint of sparkle when the light catches it just right.

Total yardage used: Roughly 293 yards

Needles: US size 1 1/2 DPNs

hummingbird-1New techniques? Short heel sock #2.  Progress, not perfection.

Satisfaction with end product:  Good enough, even with the following hiccup.  According to the pattern blurb in the book (The Knitter’s Book of Socks), this pattern was written specifically for a “highly-variegated colorway”. They must not have meant THIS highly-variegated because the lace pattern is virtually invisible.  Still, it’s a nicely written pattern, and fun to make. I may try it again in yarn with less contrast in color values.  The completed socks are machine washable (on gentle, in a mesh bag, as explained above) for ease of care.

Finally, Dragonfly and Rosebud (Ravelry project page).

dragonfly-rosebuds-1

You may notice that this photo employs sock blockers.  Yes, I finally bought some.

Pattern:  Veil of Rosebuds by Anne Hanson

Size: Medium

Yarn:  Skinny Bugga! by Cephalopod Yarns, colorway “Dragonfly Tattoo”.  This yarn is amazing. It’s too bad Cephalopod Yarns closed up shop and took down its shingle.

Total yardage used:  274 yds.

Needles:  US Size 1 DPNs

Mods: Medium size called for casting on 56 stitches at the cuff. That’s too small for me, so I cast on 64, knit the ribbed cuff, and then decreased by 8 stitches in the first row of the lace.

New techniques? Still working on perfecting that short row heel.  This technique has entailed a bit of a learning curve but I’m getting better.

pussy-hat-1Satisfaction with end product:  I love how these turned out!  Excellent match of yarn and pattern.  The lace pattern is gorgeous and highly visible in this colorway.  The only issue has to do with the short row heel.  I need to remember to knit the foot a teensy bit longer than I do with a flap-and-gusset heel to make sure the heel turn fits on my actual heel instead of getting pulled under.

Somewhere in the middle of all the sock knitting, I made three PussyHats. Two were dropped off at a collection point for the January 21st march that took place in Atlanta and worldwide, and one I kept for myself for future marches.  You can visit my Ravelry project page here.  Bet you can guess my politics now!

I finished the Cadence Shawlette (Ravelry project page) a couple of weeks before surgery in December.

cadence-4Pattern:  Cadence Shawlette by Emily Straw; 5 full repeats and 1 partial repeat (up to row 21) before the garter stitch edging and the bind off.

Yarn:  Brisbane by Queensland Collection, colorway “Coral Trout”.  This colorway name tickles me:  I can’t see it without thinking of Pete Dexter’s novel, Paris Trout.

cadence-5Total yardage:  288 yds, plus a little extra (see notes below)

Needles: US 9 circs

Satisfaction with end product:  Love it.  It’s warm and cozy and colorful, just right to brighten up drab winter days.

Notes: I wanted to use every inch of the Brisbane, so I essentially played yarn chicken and kept knitting until I thought I had just enough for the bind off. As it turned out, I got 3/4 of the way through the bind off before I ran out of yarn. Luckily, I had remnants of another worsted wool (Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted) in a colorway similar to the color section of Brisbane at the bound edge, so I was able to finish the bind off instead of tinking back 200+ stitches.

I’m knitting my library.  Well, mostly.  Maybe you can join us!

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Weight loss check in

two-color-lace-cowl-7

Picture taken December 3, 2017

The stats:

  • Eight and a half weeks since surgery
  • Total weight loss: 34 lbs.
  • 68 pounds to goal

I never took my measurements before surgery, so I can’t tell you how many inches I’ve lost anywhere.  Next time my husband and I are in the same room with a tape measure, we’ll remedy that situation and have inches to report in the future.

What I can tell you is most of my weight loss has been belly fat, so several pairs of pants now fit that previously I couldn’t even button.  Some of them I haven’t worn in three or more years.  More clothes await me in the upstairs closet.  Drop another 10 or 15 pounds, and I’m in.

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Picture taken February 25, 2017.

What’s funny about that is every single item of clothing that I can now wear, including virtually everything I’ve been wearing for the last year or so, is labeled size 16.  And so are the clothes in the upstairs closet that I can’t wear yet.  Okay, there are a couple of 16W labels in the mix, but come on.  How can I have gained 40ish lbs. since moving to Atlanta over four years ago and STILL wear a size 16?  Vanity size inflation by the clothing manufacturers, that’s how.

Here’s another odd thing.  I don’t seem to have lost any in breast size, which is totally unexpected.  Ordinarily, when women lose weight, the boobs go too.  But my bra cups still fit just like before, although the bands are less tight.  That probably won’t last long.  We’ll see how it goes.

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