Book reviews: Dreamsongs, Vol. 1, by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs Volume I (Dreamsongs, #1)Dreamsongs Volume I by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time I read an anthology, I kick myself for not making notes along the way of the stories that kick me in the teeth. And it would have been so easy to do so in this one because I read it as an e-book…

Regardless, here’s the gist. George R.R. Martin is gifted. The stuff he published in his early 20s is far better than anything I could write at that age (or today, even, and better than stuff some of his contemporaries publish today, as well). It’s enlightening and just plain fun to read these stories in the (more or less) chronological order of their publication; the chance to study the evolution of Martin’s talent is priceless.

Although I didn’t make notes, I do recall the titles of a few stories that really struck me. “With Morning Comes Mistfall” and its capitalist-vs-environmentalist theme is still relevant 40+ years later; “A Song for Lya” broke my heart; “The Ice Dragon” sets a new bar for the children’s “fairy tale”; and “Nightflyers” is simply stunning.

I picked this up from Amazon a few weeks ago because the Kindle edition was on sale for $1.99. Of course that means I must now pay full price for Volume 2.

It will be worth every penny.

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New York, Day 3

Today the dinosaurs wanted to go to the Natural History Museum.  Luckily, we were in agreement with this agenda.

Metro Ticket 1
The object of all this intrigue.

But first, the rest of the subway story…

After breakfast, we headed down into the 103rd & Broadway station to catch the train.  As we went through the turnstile, we noticed our “friend” from yesterday doing the same fast-talking hustle-’em-through-the turnstile act with another couple.  Spouse told the couple as we walked by, “It’s a scam.  Walk away.”

“What?” they said, because they didn’t hear him over TicketScammerGuy’s patter.  Spouse repeated himself, louder.  “Oh! Thanks!”  They glare at TicketScammerGuy and walk away. TicketScammerGuy calls after us and threatens to shove his fist into spouse’s face.  We ignore him and start down the stairs to the train platform; then suddenly spouse turns around and walks straight to the station agent’s booth.  She’s facing the other way — her window opens into the “lobby” area, before patrons go through the turnstile.  He taps on the window until he gets her attention, and points out TicketScammerGuy , who by this time had taken up his position next to the MetroPass vending machine to await his next victim.

Dinos in TR Park (2)“He’s running a scam.”  Station agent looks puzzled.  Spouse describes him:  “That guy over there in the striped shirt and ball cap; he’s running a scam.” She looks over her shoulder in the direction spouse is pointing and enlightenment dawns.  I think she’s familiar with him.

“Thank you,” she says, and she set her jaw with a determined expression.  “We’ll take care of this.”

We never saw TicketScammerGuy again.

*cue ominous music*

Now, in reality we expect TicketScammerGuy took his show down the road to another subway stop, but it’s tempting to indulge in those New York City transit system stereotypes (read: Teamsters/union thugs/organized crime) (yes, I’ve seen too damn many film noir flicks) and think he was “taken care of” in a more, um, permanent fashion. Regardless of the true circumstances of his sudden absence, he no longer disturbed the patrons of the 103rd and Broadway station.

Hunting for Relatives Address 2Our subway stop for the American Museum of Natural History was at 79th Street, and then we walked a few blocks east, toward Central Park. (Sadly, this is the closest we got to spending time in Central Park during the whole week.)  The museum is nestled at the edge of Central Park, and we went through Theodore Roosevelt Park to get to the entrance.

I’ve mentioned the weather was perfect this whole week, yes?  Oh my gosh.  Mid-70s, mostly, with a hint of a breeze, and blue blue skies every day.  Just amazingly beautiful.

Once in the museum, we wandered around the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians for a while — indigenous textiles fascinate me; the woven capes and clothing were incredible; I only wish I could have touched them — then made our way to the café for a snack and a chance to take a thorough look at the map of the museum.

The dinos, of course, were looking for their relatives’ house.  According to the map, their relatives lived on the fourth floor; we decided to start there and work our way down.

Pictures galore follow.

Found Em 2
May we come in?
Not Much Room for Brains
So, cousin, not much room for brains, huh?
Natural History 5
This guy.  Not a good guy.
Natural History 4
I enter the picture unexpectedly.
Might Be Mom
Mom, is that you?
Natural History 3
Did you know these skeletons are usually plaster casts of the actual bones?  Because the fossilized bones themselves would be much too heavy to articulate and display.
Natural History 2
These creatures amaze me.
Family Tree
Found the family tree.
Natural History 13
More amazement.
Might Be Dad
Dad?

We also went into the special “Dinosaurs Among Us” exhibit, which tells the story of the latest innovation in evolutionary thinking: how dinosaurs became birds. It’s fascinating.  Look at these three photos together.

A quick stop for refreshment:

Dinos Stop for Refreshment

And then we headed downstairs and cruised the other floors.  True confession:  I bypassed several of the halls on each floor because my ankles were starting to hurt.  By the time we got back to the first floor, I was dog tired and my ankles were in agony, so I crashed out on the floor next to an outlet in one of the halls to charge my phone while spouse cruised the North American Mammals exhibit.  A passing security guard just grinned at me as I huddled up in the corner on the floor with my charger.

We had theater tickets that evening.  After taking a brief nap at the hotel, we changed into our theatre duds and hit the town once more.

Book of Mormon

Oh. My. Gosh.  The Book of Mormon might be the funniest thing I’ve seen in my life.  Definitely not family friendly, but side-splittingly hilarious.  The Eugene O’Neill Theatre is gorgeous;

Eugene O'Neill Theatre 3

the set was amazing;

Eugene O'Neill Theatre 4

and our seats were perfect. (Yes, we splurged.  Yes, it was worth it.)

And yes, there’s still more to come.

Book review: Son by Lois Lowry

Son (The Giver, #4)Son by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, here’s the truth. I read this book only because I have a compulsion to finish a series once I start it. It’s true I have bailed out of some series (Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake series, for one), but generally speaking, I am a completist. And these books were short enough that they wouldn’t waste too much of my time.

Son takes us back to the community that first appeared in The Giver and retells parts of that story from another perspective. Additionally, we discover more of the inner workings of that “utopian” village (view spoiler).

I have the same criticism of Son that I have of all the other novels in this series: gaping plot holes, two-dimensional characters, and in this one particularly, a rather stereotypical “bad guy” that must be vanquished. In some ways, though, this installment is the strongest of the four. Claire’s search for truth and for her son leads her into danger, but she doesn’t flinch. She carries on and makes her choices and accepts the consequences as they come. As a wrap-up to the series, Son satisfies.

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New York, Day 2

Dinos Have CoffeeOur week in New York, continued….

We woke up fairly early — not surprising, considering we had crashed at 6:30 the previous evening — and got ready to head out on the town.  The Statue of Liberty was our destination and purpose on this day.  But our first adventure was discovering I did not pack a hairbrush with which to blow-dry my hair.  You’ll see the results of finger-combed blow-drying in the photos.  We walked a couple of blocks and found a different diner for breakfast.  This one was equally good, and we alternated between the two the rest of the week.  (Yesterday’s breakfast was at The Metro; today’s was at The Broadway.  Spouse recommends the corned beef hash at either.)

Dinos on the Subway 3Then it was time to tackle the subway.  And here’s where we confess we got hustled.  *hangs head in shame*  Spouse and I were standing in front of the ticket dispenser, reading the instructions and discussing whether we wanted to buy a multi-day pass rather than trips when some fast-talking guy jumps up and starts pushing buttons and the next thing we knew we were through the turnstile holding tickets in our hands and handing him $60 cash.  I mean it was literally nearly that fast.  (Yes, we should have known better, but just hold on, there’s more to this story.)

Despite our misgivings, we and the dinosaurs took the train to Battery Park, where we picked up our GoNewYorkCard tickets for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.  While we were standing in line, I took a few photos of the skyline surrounding us.

It was a beautiful day.

Next we stood in line for the ferry.  Our dinosaurs are very good at standing in line.  And they were well-behaved while riding the ferry, as well.

The ride out was splendid.  We rode on top of the ferry so we could see everything.  We looked back toward the city:

On the Ferry

We looked ahead toward the Lady:

Approaching the Lady 1

The dinosaurs were especially excited to see her:

Dinos Looking for the Lady 3

After disembarking, we wandered all over Liberty Island.  Tickets to get into the pedestal or climb up to the lamp were sold out, so we stayed outside and took lots of photos.  Here are a few:

Me and The Lady 2

Remember what I said earlier about finger-combing and blow-drying?  Yeah.  This was taken while we were still on the ferry, so we’ve got windblown as well.  Not a good look.  Let’s look at something more beautiful instead.

The Lady 2

She’s gorgeous. And she moved me to tears.

Spouse and the Lady
Spouse and the Lady
Dinos View the Lady 1
Dinos and the Lady
Me and the Lady
Me and the Lady

The view toward the city was spectacular, too.

The City and Me 1

Even the dinosaurs loved it.

Dinos View the City 3

Somewhere, Ray Harryhausen is smiling.

Dinos Grab a SliceAfter a couple of hours on Liberty Island, we were whipped, sunburnt, and hungry, so we caught the ferry back. Neither spouse nor I were particularly interested in Ellis Island, so we skipped that part of the tour.  (I mentioned whipped, sunburnt, and hungry, right?)  At the Battery Park subway station, we tried to use our tickets again; and  we confirmed our suspicions that we had been taken earlier.  So we bought the multi-day passes we had originally intended to buy and caught the train back to Times Square where we grabbed a slice.

After taking the edge off our appetite, we went back to the hotel once more to get some rest before dinner; we had made arrangements for one of my internet friends who lives in New York to join us.  I was a little nervous about this because, although this woman and I had been internet buddies since 2002, and had even talked on the phone once or twice over the years, we had never met in person.  Ever.  I know that’s not unusual in the internet age, but it still feels strange to say that some of my best friends are people I’ve never actually met.

Mural in Penn Station (2)At the appointed hour, Annie arrived.  The restaurant near the hotel where we had thought to have dinner was unexpectedly closed, so we followed her lead on the subway and went on a little adventure.  We took a walk through Columbus Circle, wandered through Penn Station (where I shot this gorgeous Art Deco mural), caught this train and that train, and wound up in Korea Town somewhere around 37th Street.

Dinos Try OctopusI tried bibimbap for the first time. The dinos tried octopus. I think they liked the octopus better than I liked the bibimbap, but one must try new things or one’s horizons remain forever narrow.

Angela and Annie 2And, yes, spouse was kind enough to take a photo of Annie and me.

Isn’t she beautiful?  I love her.

After dinner, Annie got us headed back to the right train, and we called it a night.

Whew.  We, and the dinosaurs, were exhausted.  Once back at the hotel, we turned in and were quickly asleep.  Tomorrow would be another busy day!

Dinos Hit the Hay
Sweet dreams, little dinos.

Oh, by the way, we’re not done with the subway ticket story yet.  Stay tuned.

 

Book review: Messenger by Lois Lowry

Messenger (The Giver, #3)Messenger by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This third installment introduces us to another community within the world of The Giver Quartet, a community that once welcomed refugees from other communities with open arms, but recently has changed its mind and decided to close its borders. Matty, a young man who can travel the hostile forest with impunity, is sent out to warn other villages to stop sending new residents; he is also supposed to find and bring back the daughter of his village’s leader. Messenger takes characters from the first two novels and ties them together so the reader begins to see the whole of the picture Ms. Lowry is painting.

Definitely a YA book, but with just enough provocation of thought that the adult reader doesn’t feel too cheated by the two-dimensional characters and occasional plot hole. Worth reading once.

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New York, Day 1

Dinos 5Spouse and I took the dinosaurs and went to New York for our anniversary.

“Wait,” you say, “took the dinosaurs?”

Yep.  Because dinosaurs need vacation too.

Okay, this all came about because I ran across a Facebook photo of two plastic dinosaurs looking out the window of an airplane, captioned: “Vacation is more fun with dinosaurs.”  Yes, thought I, vacation is more fun with dinosaurs.  So I called them out of the jungle that is our yard (you can see them here, climbing the steps into the house), threw them into my carry-on bag, and away we went.

They were such good dinosaurs, too.  They patiently waited in line for the security check-in.  They sat quietly in their seat for the plane ride.  They helped us get our luggage off the carousel once we arrived at La Guardia.  They suffered quietly in my handbag during the madcap taxi ride from the airport to the hotel.  (Everything they tell you about New York cab drivers is the absolute truth.)

Dinos 11Once we got to the hotel, the dinos inspected the lobby for us.  We arrived well ahead of check in time due to our 6 AM flight out of Atlanta, so the hotel kindly agreed to store our luggage for us until later in the day, and we set out to find some food.

About three blocks down the street from the hotel, we found a little diner and had ourselves a late breakfast.  Over our meal, we discussed what to do with the rest of the day.  We were booked on a bus tour at 4:00 that afternoon, and had nearly six hours to kill.  Out came the little map of Manhattan the hotel thoughtfully provided us.  The place where we needed to board the bus tour was at 43rd and Broadway.  We were currently at 103rd and Broadway.  “Hey,” we thought.  “We have so much time to kill; let’s just walk down there and see the city along the way!”

Native New Yorker
The native New Yorker, back in New York.

Famous. Last. Words.

Thirty blocks later, I was tired.  By the time we reached Times Square, I was dead tired.  After wandering around Times Square and the theatre district for several hours, I was ready to kill something. But I persevered, and more than once just insisted that I needed to sit down to rest, so we made it through until it was time for our tour.

The Tour was fun.  It led by a personable tour guide who told horrible cheesy jokes, and bantered back and forth with the bus.  Yes. The bus. It was a “talking bus”, meaning it had a couple of dozen canned responses that an operator pulled up in response to things the tour guide said. Hokey as it could possibly be, but enjoyable.  We toured mainly in lower Manhattan and had various sights pointed out to us, like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, Columbus Circle (which we had already walked through), and lots more.  It helped us figure out where things were that we wanted to see AND got us off our feet for a couple of hours.

Me and Daniel
Be still, my heart.

After the bus tour, we wandered around Times Square a little more, found some food, and ran into Daniel Craig outside the Wax Museum.  I had my picture taken with him.  I even held his hand.  (I can die happy now.)

By then, though, I was utterly worn out, and spouse said, “Why don’t we take the subway back?”

“Honey, I am way too exhausted to even think about learning to navigate the subway today.”

So we acted like we were guests of one of the hotels near Times Square and had a bellman hail us a cab.  Back we went to the Upper West Side and our real hotel, where we collected our luggage, checked in, and collapsed on the bed in our room at 6:30 PM and didn’t move until the next morning.  We didn’t even eat dinner.

 (More New York adventures and pictures to come.  Stay tuned!)

Book reviews: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Oh, a family saga stretching out over decades. If I’d known that, I probably wouldn’t have picked this book. Well-written, at least.”

That was my reaction upon reaching the end of the first section and jumping forward a decade or so in the second section. Pretty well sums up the book for me, even after finishing it.

One summer, shortly before World War I, George Sawle brings his school chum Cecil Valance home with him for a weekend. (One must use the phrase “school chum” because this IS England after all, and an upper-class Edwardian England, at that.) Cecil is a user and a player, as the astute reader will recognize at once. He’s also a poet, albeit not a particularly good one, but one whose good looks, personal charm, and social graces entice his audience to overlook the banality of his art. This brief summer visit results in a poem that somehow manages to transcend its author’s limitations; and the circumstances that led to the creation of this poem resonate through the decades that follow.

If, like me, you take an instant dislike to young Cecil, the adulation that follows through the rest of the novel (especially in Part 2, the immediate aftermath of WWI) may be annoying. Push through it, though, and pay attention to the damage this young man caused. Actions have consequences, lies beget lies, and some lies and consequences don’t reveal themselves until much, much later.

An engaging read.

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WIP Wednesday: Wildflower approaching harvest time

Wildflower Blocking 2Sunday evening while watching Game of Thrones, I finished the main knitting on the Wildflower Cardigan — finally! — and now have it all laid out for blocking before assembly.  Once the sewing is done, I need to pick up stitches around the neck and front for a ribbed edging and button band.

Speaking of buttons, while we were in New York, I dragged spouse to a nifty vintage button store my friend Annie mentioned:  Tender Buttons.  Oh my gosh, I thought I had died and gone to button heaven.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera with me and my phone battery was dead, so I have no pictures of the inside of this utterly charming little store.  Lucky for you, their website has a virtual tour, so take a few minutes and go visit.  I’ll wait.

[waiting . . . .]

Wildflower Buttons 1Isn’t it fabulous?  I want to go there every single time I need buttons.  I found the perfect buttons for Wildflower, and cast a covetous eye upon many others, but this store takes cash or checks only and my cash was limited.  Probably a good thing for the American Express bill that they don’t take plastic.

It’s doubtful Wildflower will be done for FO Friday this week, but look for it soon.  Next project will be a present for an upcoming great-nephew:  The Tree of Life Baby Afghan in Bernat Handicrafter Cotton.

This post is part of the Stitch-Along Wednesday Round-Up, hosted by Gracey’s Goodies.  And, of course, the Knit Your Library Challenge, hosted by Snapdragon Crafts.  Click the respective badges below to see other posts more or less like this one.

Stitch Along Wednesday knit-your-library_2016

 

Book review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Alchemist is one of those books that I read because it was on a list somewhere of “books you must read in your lifetime”. Lists like that usually contain a number of books I wouldn’t read in a million years (sorry, not sorry, War and Peace), but others, like this one, sounded interesting enough to be worth a gander.

And it IS interesting enough, as far as it goes. As other folks have mentioned, this short novella can be read as a straightforward adventure story, but only if you ignore all the metaphysical “fulfilling your personal legend” stuff that keeps getting in the way. And all the metaphysical “fulfilling your personal legend” stuff is Coelho’s whole point. Unfortunately.

Look, I’m all for someone following their bliss, if they’re are fortunate enough to discover it at an age when they can do something about it that doesn’t wreck or disrupt the lives of the people who depend on them. Trouble is, most of us aren’t and never will be in that position, so books like this turn into annoying self-help new-age treacly bullshit. And if that sounds like a middle-aged cop-out from a community theatre actor with a “real job”, so be it. I am what I am. I’m also content being who I am.

All right, seriously, here’s the bottom line: read this book when you’re 20 years old and trying to figure out what to do with your life. Or when you’re 65 after you’ve raised the kids and saved for retirement, and you’re looking around for the next thing. Otherwise, skip it; be kind to yourself and to others; and be content. Your personal legend is all around you.

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Catching up: a quickie

It’s been a busy month.

Spouse and I had a fabulous anniversary trip to New York that will be the subject of an upcoming blog post; I acquired new stash and pattern books on said anniversary trip; I’m shaping the sleeve cap on the last sleeve Dinos on the Subway 1of the Wildflower Cardigan; my next two projects are planned (despite my year of selfish knitting “resolution”, these won’t be for me; darn these friends and family members who have the audacity to have babies!); multiple finished books require book reviews…

So much stuff to write. And I’m struggling with the motivation to do so. Ah well. Sometimes you just have to force the words out. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of the New York blog post: dinosaurs ride the subway.