Book review: California by Edan Lepucki

CaliforniaCalifornia by Edan Lepucki

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cal and Frida live in a little house in the woods. They farm what they can, they trade for goods they can’t make themselves, and they make the best of their primitive existence. Frida occasionally longs for the days when she had electronics and warm clothes, but this is the life they’ve chosen, and it was the best choice they could make at the time. Then Frida discovers she’s pregnant, and now the two of them have to choose anew: stay where they are, by themselves, and hope they and the baby survive; or travel to a nearby secretive settlement and hope to be taken in?

Set some 100 years or so into the future, California is a bleak vision of a possible future world, one wrecked by climate change and pollution; stratified by extreme income inequality; a world in which people escape dangerous cities rife with domestic terrorism to eke out a desperate existence in the wilderness because it’s safer to starve in the forest than scrounge in the suburbs.

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Book review: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Sisterland, population 2” was the sign Violet and Daisy posted on the door to their room when they were children. As twins, and specifically as twins within a dysfunctional family unit, it was often the two of them pitted against the world, at least until they were grown and left the family home to forge their separate ways.

In college, Daisy shed her childhood identity and became Kate (her middle name); she avoided mention of her twin with whom she shared a psychic talent; she deliberately suffocated that talent itself; and when she married and changed her name, she put behind her virtually all easily recognizable association with her family of origin. In the suburbs of a city the size of St. Louis, it was relatively easy to avoid anyone who may have known her when she was young.

Violet, on the other hand, failed at everything — college, relationships, jobs — and eventually embraced her psychic talent and turned it into her livelihood. When she predicts a major earthquake will hit soon, Violet attracts national attention, and Kate’s quiet suburban life is thrown into an uproar.

Sittenfeld has written a thoughtful examination of sisterhood and marriage, friendship and family, and how the choices we make affect not only ourselves but the people around us. Lovely work.

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FO Friday: Move along, nothing to see here

FO Friday Avantaknits Badge (2)No finished projects for me this week, not even a book.

No, I take that back.  I finished Sisterland several days ago but have yet to write the review.  Between work and rehearsal, we’re lucky if dinner is something other than fast food.

Busy weekend ahead.  Spouse and I have theatre tickets for tonight and tickets to the premiere of a friend’s film tomorrow.  Then I have a coffee date with a girlfriend Sunday morning and rehearsal Sunday afternoon.  Somewhere in there I hope the laundry will get done and the rest of the Christmas decorations put away (don’t even ask).

Plod plod plod on the Wildflower Cardigan.  Still fighting cast-on-itis for a quickie project.  If you were a crafting whiz this week and managed to finish something, or just want to commiserate about not finishing, do link up here!

WIP Wednesday: Still Gathering Wildflowers

Wildflower 11

I finished up the right front of the Wildflower Cardigan over the weekend and got started on the left front.  You can just barely see the cable crossing that marks the bottom of the flower pocket detail.  I haven’t touched any of the other WIPs that are floating around in my craft room — all of which are either cardigans or socks — and I’m fighting what may be a losing battle to cast on a quickie instant-gratification hat project.

Current Kindle book: California by Edan Lepucki, a collapse-of-civilization/survivalist story of the near future.  I use “survivalist” in the sense that the characters are out there in the wilderness doing their best to keep body and soul together, not in the hunkered-down-in-the-bunker, got-my-guns-n-ammo-n-MREs, looking-out-for-number-one sense that word usually implies.  However, I have just reached a part of the story where that latter definition might come into play.  Good story.

Current physical book: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.  This is the January selection for a Ravelry reading group, and I’ve barely started it.  Although I really like what I’ve read so far, I daresay it will not get finished before the end of the month.

Stitch Along WednesdayCurrently in rehearsal for Clybourne Park, playing Bev and Kathy.  Every time I take a part in a play, I remember why I don’t take parts in plays very often, especially as I get older.  I hate hate hate learning lines.  I want to place my script under my pillow and have the words I’m supposed to say magically appear in my memory through some form of osmosis.

This post is part of the Stitch-Along Wednesday round up.  Click that badge over there to see what other folks have been working on this week.

FO Friday: Nothing to see here

FO Friday Avantaknits Badge (2)I have absolutely nothing to share this week because I’m still plugging away at the Wildflower Cardigan, but feel free to link here anyway.  And my apologies for not setting up a link last Friday.  I was so concerned about getting ready for the trip and catching a plane that it completely slipped my mind.

(I’m half-tempted to make a quickie project like a hat just to have something to show next week.)

Please add your blog entry to the link-up below.  And you can use that badge to the right to make a link back here.

Book review: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #3)Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Library of Souls begins immediately where Hollow City left off, and plunges the reader head-first into the action. If it has been some time since reading Volume 2 (as it had been for me) and if your retention of the previous novel isn’t stellar (as mine wasn’t), this can be a little confusing. But within five or 10 pages, I had caught enough clues to ping my memory bank, and was able to run along with the characters at their break-neck pace.

And I do mean break-neck. This novel is fast-paced from page one and doesn’t let up until the very end. Jacob, Emma, talking dog Addison, and their compatriots are still in Victorian London, and still working on rescuing Miss Peregrine from the clutches of some mysterious and fell mastermind. The trail leads through Devil’s Acre, a hidden horrendous slum of “peculiars” and other people who have fallen through the cracks of society, where our heroes are endangered by their very nature: they need to use their powers to protect themselves, but those powers draw unwanted and perilous attention.

Reluctantly, they enlist the aid of a boatman named Sharon (yes, I know) whose hooded face they never see, but who occasionally allows others to catch a glimpse; said others quickly comply with whatever request Sharon has made of them. Thus defended, Jacob and company make their way through the Acre, following Addison’s trusty nose as he sniffs out the scent of their fellow peculiars. Much danger, excitement, and explosions ensue.

As with the other novels in this series, vintage photographs illustrate scenes throughout the story. Also as with the other novels, this conceit doesn’t always work. At times — more so in this third installment than in the others — the text pertaining to the photograph seems forced and unnatural, as if the author felt he needed to shoehorn one more photo into the narrative because it was such an interesting shot and not necessarily because it served the story. It’s also possible that the photos didn’t work so well for me because I read this on a Kindle rather than in paper.

Regardless, this was a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy. While nothing was left unresolved, it left a little room for a continuation of the series, should Mr. Riggs feel so inclined. If that occurs, and if I decide to continue following along, I’ll make a point of reading a physical book rather than an e-book.

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WIP Wednesday: Wildflower progress

Wildflower 10I took the Wildflower Cardigan with me to California over the weekend.  With all the time spent waiting around in airports and in the air, plus the evenings filled with chitchat with the girls, you’d think more would have been accomplished.  But there were books to read and movies to watch and photographs to share…  Still, it’s almost to the point where I can start binding off/decreasing for the armhole.

Knitting around non-knitters is eye-opening.  They think it’s magic.  Several of my girlfriends marveled at the tiny stitches.  “It’s tiny yarn and tiny needles,” I explained.  (This pattern uses sport-weight yarn and size 3 needles — while that is small, it’s not excessively tiny to a knitter.  Had I been using lace- or cobweb-weight and size 0 needles, they might have thought I was a sorcerer.)

This post is part of the Stitch Along Wednesday and Knit Your Library round-ups.  Click the badges below to see what everyone else has been doing.

Stitch Along Wednesdayknit-your-library_2016

New pretty string, plus other life events

I went to California for my annual weekend with the girls over the MLK holiday.

Westward Bound 2
Westward bound.

I flew from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Friday, picked up the rental car at LAX, and drove out to Kim’s house near Chino.  Traffic was unbelievable, even for LA.  You need to know this:  I learned to drive in California and spent nearly 10 years negotiating Bay Area traffic before leaving the state in the early 90s.  And I’ve been living in Atlanta for over three years now.   I am no stranger to backed-up freeways that move at a glacial pace for miles at a time.  Usually these slowdowns ease off and speed up after a few miles, seven or eight at most; and even in the middle of it, you can usually count on moving along at 20 or 30 mph for a good distance before needing to slow back down to 10 mph or so.

But this was something else indeed.

When I picked up the rental car and plugged Kim’s address into the GPS on my phone, the navigation program told me the trip would take approximate 1 hr and 40 minutes.  “Cool,” thought I, “I’ll get there right about dinner time as planned,” and I set out on my way.  Got on the first freeway; it’s a little backed up, which I expected since it was so close to the airport.  As I exited that freeway, I could see from my position on the elevated LA Trafficramp that the second freeway was moving slower than the freeway I was leaving.  Hm.  Well, it was getting close to the 5 PM rush hour, but I should still be ahead of most of the traffic.

Then I hit the 91.

Oh. Dear. God.  I had died and gone to Traffic Hell.  Cars moved along at 10-15 mph when we were lucky; most of the time, it was 4 mph or a dead stop.  For at least 20 miles.  I kept looking at the estimated time of arrival on the navigator, and it kept getting pushed back further and further…

Three and a half hours after picking up the car, I arrived at Kim’s house.  Even she was surprised at the travel time, and she lives there.  We later decided the excessively heavy traffic volume was due to the Monday holiday, and people leaving work early to head for the mountains or the lake for a long weekend.

Curses be upon their heads.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early and headed west to spend some time in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach: a botanical garden, lunch, and a trip to Balboa Island.

I bought some pretty jewelry at the botanical gardens gift shop.  The earrings are for me.  The necklace will be a gift.

And I bought yarn Saturday.

“Wait a minute!  I thought you said you weren’t going to buy new yarn!”  I hear you exclaim.

Remember? I gave myself an out.  If I went on a trip, I was allowed to purchase souvenir yarn.  So after lunch, we found a nearby yarn store (thank you, Google) and I bought these pretty things:

SLO Bunch 2016 Acquisition 2

Left to right, that’s one skein of MadTosh Twist Light, one skein of Dream in Color Smooshy with Cashmere, and one skein of MadTosh Merino Light.  Both MadTosh skeins will be socks, eventually (I think), and the Smooshy is destined for a lacy shawlette.

My friends were rather impressed with the yarn store (Sheared Sheep in Newport Beach), and next year’s big adventure may involve me teaching them all to knit.  Speaking of my friends, here we are at Sherman Gardens.

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I love these women with all my heart.  We’ve been friends since we were about 11 years old.

After yarn, we took the ferry to Balboa Island and had a nice walk.  By then, it was late afternoon, so we ferried back and hurried over to the Newport Pier to watch the sunset.

Sunset on Newport Beach 2

Leaving LA 5

Then we drove back to Kim’s house for dinner and the annual slide show of what we all did since our last get-together.  Sunday morning, we had one last walk on the river trail near Kim’s house, and then I had to get to the airport to catch my plane.  Thank goodness the traffic Sunday wasn’t anywhere nearly as awful as it had been Friday night, and I made it to the rental car return and subsequently to my departure gate at LAX with hours to spare.

Hours.

But LAX has free wi-fi, so all was well.

The flight was fully booked.  Let me tell you, there’s nothing like hearing the gate attendant announce the flight is “completely full” to engender gratitude for that splurge on a first-class seat.  Those seats are soooo much more comfortable than steerage, I mean, economy.

So long, Los Angeles.  See you next year, maybe, unless (a) we decide to go north to Michelle’s parents’ beach house in, um, Marin County, I think, or (b) they all come to my house in Atlanta.  (Either option is fine with me, by the way.)

Book review: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3)The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anti-hero, magician, and failed monarch Quentin Coldwater is back in New York, trying to make sense of life after Fillory. Some months after being expelled from his kingdom, in a last-ditch attempt to earn a living, Quentin takes a job with a band of other “renegade” magicians. Their assignment: to retrieve a magical object from a pair of thieves. Said magical object leads Quentin and his cohorts on a merry and dangerous chase. Meanwhile, back in Fillory, Eliot and Janet embark upon a quest of their own. Fillory, they are told, is dying, and they must find a sacred object of their own to save their land from utter destruction. These disparate storylines inevitably coincide, with some unexpected results and the return of a character or two we thought lost forever.

To get the best feel for this series, all three books (the other two titles are The Magicians and The Magician King) should be read one right after the other. It’s much easier to follow Quentin’s evolution as a character: from a whiny self-involved teenager to a 30-year-old man who makes a bad decision and does his best to make up for it. He’s not a saint by any means — and will never be one — but Quentin eventually acquires a little humility and grace and becomes a decent human being. That’s a satisfactory conclusion to this story all by itself.

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Book review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Barry Fairbrother, city councilman of the small English village of Pagford, dies at the beginning of this book, and everything we learn about him is filtered through the eyes of the people who knew him — with the single exception of his wife; everything we learn about her is also filtered through the people who know her. It’s an interesting way to construct a story: the two individuals at the center at the entire plot have no say in how they’re perceived by the reader. I suspect that if Barry and his widow Mary could speak for themselves, we’d have an entirely different story.

At any rate, Barry’s unexpected death leaves a “casual vacancy” on the city council. Said vacancy quickly becomes a hotly-contested seat in a hastily-called special election. A zoning decision hinges on the outcome: Barry and his allies had been fighting to keep the slum-ridden “The Fields” connected to Pagford while other council members had been equally adamant about cutting the neighborhood loose and giving it back to a neighboring township to better preserve the beauty and quality of their fair city.

Said beauty and quality aside, Pagford is an English Peyton Place filled with backstabbing, infidelity, and unrequited love. During the run-up to and aftermath of this election, vicious rivalries erupt, families and relationships fall apart, teenagers rebel in spectacular and destructive fashion, and further tragedy strikes down the innocent.

An engaging read, well-written, and genuinely shocking in some parts. Recommended.

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