Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Feb. 27: Mid-week Book Success!

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
's review 
Feb 27, 13  ·  edit

4 of 5 stars false
Read in February, 2013

I may upgrade this to 5 stars/amazing. . . but I just finished it and am still ruminating. Lots of good stuff here:
--really interesting links to Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. Weird little echoes and bits of info that link the two. Hmmmm, says the teacher in me!
--Mathis has a wonderful writing voice. Even when she's just regular, she's interesting and smart; when she pulls out the stops, she's amazing!
--The chapters are almost like individual short stories, and it's fascinating to see how the backdrop and expectations change for each of Hattie's children as time goes on. The first loss was devastating to read about, and the long spiral of how that loss affected Hattie and family throughout the book was the backbone of the story. I didn't have that "awwww. . . " feeling when each new chapter started that some many-voiced stories provoke. I think my favorite was Bell's and my least favorite was Cassie's ? or maybe Franklin's, but each one had a voice and a personality that made it unique.
--The conclusion: hmmmmmm. VERY interesting. Gutsy. Worth discussing.
So happy our library had it!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Feb. 24: Sunday afternoon, post vacation.

Well. Some wonder-glitch of the Chromebased interface led to a breakdown in the communication between Goodreads and blogger--not that it had been great to start with!--so I have edited my earlier posts so they are. . . prettier? I hope? And here they are.

August Folly, by Angela Thirkell, audiobook 

OH, what a pleasure! The reader (I don't think it was my beloved Nadia May, but it was someone equally good) was wonderful, and the story was sheer pleasure: the plot had a bit more direction than hers sometimes do, but still kept a wonderful sense of the community and people of Barsetshire. I truly didn't know who would end up with whom, or what people's secrets were, until everything was calmly, charmingly, deliberately revealed. A genuine delight.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Well. Set this for myself to read since the Cornflower Book Club read it in. . .  March? and I had never read it. The first 100 pages were a true slog: I hated the characters, I hated the way Wilde threw in these oxymorons all the time: "Men only ever blah blah, while women do nothing else." (Cue light laughter). I hated the looooooooooooooooooong passages of emotional or spiritual description. . . I think I was reading a later version that Wilde had added stuff to, because in one of the notes I saw "If you want the sense of the original, read only chapters 1 - 9 and . . ." but I am tough, I had this edition, and I slogged onward, like a character in a Wilfred Owen poem. THEN we got to the really bad stuff, when Dorian is drinking and drugging and he meets a woman who doesn't fall for him right off and oh he murders someone and the last few chapters passed in QUITE a flash! So my "hated it" got upgraded to a tawdry "It was okay" because of the penny-dreadful last quarter of the book. And I am aware that I enjoy Wilde immensely when he's writing comedy. Hmmmm. Portrait is just too damn preachy, I think.

Feb. 24, 2012: Well, I assigned this to my AP Seniors, since my seniors last year had read it in 10th grade and loved it, and my response to it was almost exactly the same as above! This time, I listened to a great deal of it on a librivox recording done by Bob Neufeld, who was stupendously good, and who alleviated the pain of some of the more florid writing by his level, tempered voice. Still, I was yelling at my ipod during the long "things Dorian collected" chapter (11, I think) and during many of Sir Harry's expositions. Still NOT a fan, but still proud of myself!

So now I have to pick a new audiobook for the car, and I have to settle into some prep AND yet more correcting. Ah well. 

The vacation has been a pleasure. High points: seeing Julie and hanging out in Portland; finishing Moth's sweater

hanging out with the family, talking so much to Lyle as he did so well at States, getting the new mattress (love, love, LOVE!), working out, baking, seeing Saki, etc. etc. etc. 

Back to it now, but it's been a nice rejuvenating time. The snow has just picked up, but I am NOT expecting a snow day. However, seeing as I have both The Twelve Tribes of Hattie AND The Casual Vacancy out from the library, I would not be averse to one!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Feb. 23: The Last Weekend

It's the last weekend of vacation and of February: gray, cold (25) but still. Although the last weekend of vacation is always bittersweet, I have several elements that work towards happiness:

1. I have broken the back of the correcting, with only 4 first draft thesis papers and then the outlines for my seniors left to do! This comes perilously close to leaving me with only prep to do tomorrow. Wow.

2. I finished Moth's sweater except for buttons, so my main exciting task for today is to go to Shirley's and get some, sew them on, and pack it up. The front button band (no big surprise there) looks a bit wonky, but I am thinking that's as may be. The pattern SHOWS a wavy front band, so perhaps it will wave once the buttons are attached. Regardless, it's going into the mail and I am not taking "orders" for knitting from anyone I can't fit the item on for a good long while.

3. Our new bed is great! Solid as can be, and wonderful.

4. I had a nice day with Saki yesterday: I picked her up after show choir practice and Andy, she and I went out to lunch, and then she and I made cookies and I taught her how to play Mancala. We played about 12 games, and as she figured out the patterns, she got better and better until I was fighting for my life: I ended up winning ONE of the three championship matches. Sigh.

And that's Saturday! I plan to run, get buttons, do some correcting, work at the church supper. . .  all those good things. I am beginning to regain my sense of taste as my nose slowly unstuffs itself. I wish I knew why my nose has that pattern! Ah well. The Sinusalia pills from the health food store seem to empty things out pretty well. I hope the trend continues.

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img alt="Caddy Ever After (Casson Family, #4)" border="0" src="" /></a><a href="">Caddy Ever After</a> by <a href="">Hilary McKay</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">4 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
Well this is also a reread (July 6, 2011 must've been my last binge of Casson family reading!),  but I didn't post a review last time. This Caddy title is better than Caddy's World, which I read a few days ago: it stars McKay's trademark humor and quirky characters, but the family's unity and love for each other is much clearer, and the dialogue is sharp and funny as it is in McKay's best works. In fact--and maybe just in light of several other books I've read recently--I'm bumping it up from 3 to 4 stars.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Feb. 20: Sunny, Breezy, and Melting!

The weather forecast was for rain/snow and nastiness, and while we had pouring rain at 4 am, it seems to have cleared up! Since I'm due for a run today, I'm especially happy.

Yesterday marked the first "get back to it" day of vacation: I did the cat litter, did a hard swim workout, and had my Lib. Trustees' meeting; we also food-shopped, did a lot of cooking/baking, got my watch battery replaced, ordered a new diamond for my ring with the insurance money, and went to the Library to restock for vacation pleasure books, since Picture of Dorian Gray, my companion to Portland and back, is not exactly "pleasure" reading. Ye Gods. I've also been working away on the collar to Moth's sweater, which is an easy but time consuming section. Today I plan a run and a few hours of school work. . . . Onwards!

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img alt="Caddy's World" border="0" src="" /></a><a href="">Caddy's World</a> by <a href="">Hilary McKay</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">2 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
My first thought was "My, this was a juvenile book"! and then I realized it is, literally, juvenile fiction! However, this entry in the Casson family oeuvre somehow lacks the wit and character development of the other stories. Not sure if it's because it's a prequel, done in retrospect, so we know more about all the characters that we're allowed to know here (none of Caddy's precious friends are mentioned in the other books, so that part feels fake, for example; Rose is there; Bill isn't. . . ) or if it's just that the usual witty writing has been watered down and very small plot issues are puffed up to make them seem major, but this is not a good effort by McKay. "Okay" is as far as I can go!
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Monday, February 18, 2013

Feb. 18: Monday and Home Again!

Nice visit with Julie, though the "blizzard" (which was mostly high wind, tiny snow, and very very low temps) changed our usual out and around plan to one that featured a lot of scuttling from building to building AND a lot of HGTV.

We did spend a lovely afternoon browsing the Portland Museum of Art, which has this amazing painting in its permanent collection:

It's called "The Drop Sinister: What Shall We Do With It?" by Harry Willson Watrous, and it interests me because there's an enormous amount of context around it that I am ignorant of. . . . There's an interesting writeup about it here, and there's a small blurb about it at the PMA itself, but I would love to know more about the story and the symbology behind it.

We also had lunch on Saturday at the PMA Cafe, which felt like something extremely British to do. The food was good, and the setting wonderful. The museum is a wonderful place, and seeing it with Julie was just terrific. Of course, seeing it with Julie on a balmy day in June might be even better, but that's just my winter weariness showing through.

Am home now, after a good (? Got a dress on an impulse. . . not sure if I think it was a good impulse or a bad one) stop at Target in Augusta, and here are my vacation plans, in links:

This to drink:

This to bake and eat:

This to work it all off: swimming at the Y because it's too windy to run right now.

This to finish: MOTH'S SWEATER! (which I can't find a link to). Okay! Onwards!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Feb. 15: This. Vacation.

It's a week after the storm--and though it was possibly the toughest standard week in the school lexicon (though a few in March can be challenging, too), it went well. I fought a cold, my co-teacher and I saw our students do some good, difficult work, I finalized an accreditation report, and the time went slowly by until 2:13 today, when vacation started! Yay!

Amazingly enough, the weather has a blizzard warning, the second in two weeks, up for Saturday night into Sunday for downeast Maine. Happily for Julie and me, the storm doesn't seem to be a big concern in southern Maine and even so seems to be heading for Sunday, when we'll already be in Portland and potentially snowed in, but snowed in together, with plenty of food within walking distance, and perfectly happy to stay where we will be.

Other vacation plans beyond seeing Julie and spending every morning lounging in my jammies with coffee in hand are not huge. I hope to spend some time with Saki, who will be doing a lot of show choir stuff with Nate; I want to finish Moth's cardi, which needs on the buttonhole band and neck band completed and buttons sewn on to be DONE; I do have some correcting/planning, and I'd love to do some luxurious visiting/reading/eating/etc. Maybe I'll also ponder a quilt or a sewing project of some kind.

Little chores? Getting N's passport pic and the Camry's windshield fixed; getting the diamond replaced in my ring, and, most excitingly, buying a new mattress for our big bed.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Feb. 9: Here's Nemo!

The storm didn't really arrive till about 9 pm, but we stayed tucked in and cozy nonetheless, and it looks like most people have done as as well. Southern coastal Maine has broken records already, and when we woke up this morning, we already had about a foot and it's been snowing and blowing steadily since. I'm feeling grateful for a secure, warm house and plenty of food--so many people don't have those two blessings, an awareness that tempers my enjoyment of the storm!

I had a long nap on the couch yesterday after my lovely lunch, read quite a bit, and then sewed the other two raglan seams during two episodes of "Downton Abbey, I", but today pushed through my reading. Next on the agenda: listening to Enter a Murderer on my ipod while I work on the collar and button bands of the cardigan, then head out for a bundled up walk OR do something active inside--yoga perhaps.

Luxurious to be able just to be in the house!

Private EnterprisePrivate Enterprise by Angela Thirkell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems that any Thirkell book I decide to order shows up at the perfect time: a few times I got one just before a snow day; other times one has fallen into a gap in my other reading. Private Enterprise, which I don't think I've read before, followed that pattern, arriving just  when I needed/wanted a break and was ready for some good reading to get me through The Blizzard of 2013, aka "Nemo." Even tho we didn't get a whole day off for snow, I did take to the couch with Private Enterprise during our early release afternoon, and I read and snoozed quite pleasantly.

While not one of Thirkell's best books, PE is enjoyable and informative. If one has read a lot of the other books in the series, one knows the plot already: Noel's little flirtation, Lydia's measles, etc, but it was good to read it firsthand. The informative part is the details that Thirkell provides about the on-going rationing and privation that "They" (the post-War gov't) inflicted on the British population--I felt that I could really see the start of the meager times ahead, the unemployment, lack of expectation, and even the obsession with food (something I noticed when I was living in Colchester and involved in the non-university community there, and that was 1983!). A little more troubling was Thirkell's not-altogether-satirical sneery attitude toward women and other newcomers in the work force. Ouch. The old guard was not always graceful in its retirement! Certainly it was an interesting juxtaposition to watch "Downton Abbey," Season I, and then read this novel and be living in the US, 2013. How times change.

And now: back to the storm watching.

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And, having cast on the button band three times to get it right (which is actually yet to be determined as the proof is in the wearing), I was able to finish my audiobook as well. Great thanks to the two sites that helped me figure out what to do to get my numbers and stitches possibly correct/less wrong/potentially functional: this knitty tutorial and also this helpful blog. The wonders of the Interwebs. Thank you, Al Gore.

Anyway: here's my review!

Enter a MurdererEnter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an early Alleyn novel, I think, and it was more thinly written and plotted, but otherwise, it was a pleasurable "listen."  Alleyn was a little annoying (Saxon's reading made him sound quite flip in spots) and I missed the more developed and solid Alleyn of the later books, but Marsh is a good writer regardless. I finished it as I worked on the button band for the cardigan--a nice way to pass the time! Thanks to my sister for my gift membership to!

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The storm continues after a small lull. I am guessing it will be a record-breaker!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Feb. 8: Brrrrrace Yourself, Bridget! Blizzard!

I'm home early this Friday with a planned early release due to a much-hyped superstorm/blizzard/Nor'easter/storm named "Nemo" (!!!). Many of us had hoped for a full day off, but I have to admit that the half day was a wise move. My classes were packed with productivity (and 50 mins long), the driving was fine both arriving and departing, and the "will they/won't they" hysteria was completely absent. Still.

My plans for this afternoon include:
--lunch from 86 This!, a great little wrap place downtown which makes an awesome beet/feta/walnut/greens sandwich
--a nap
--lazy reading on the couch/mixed with item #2 above
--possible baking activity
--work on The Cardigan, which I am in my usual state of flat-out dismay and dislike about at the moment. But still.

So. I soldier on. Am listening to Marsh's Enter a Murderer, which is vintage Marsh and thus wonderful, and one big attraction of working on the sweater is that I can listen some more!

Stay warm. Be safe. Don't be dumb. Enjoy.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Feb. 4: Monday Reading Catch Up!

ManhuntingManhunting by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An early effort by Crusie, and it shows. Characters are thin and plot is skimpy, but her usual warmth and commitment to small town, slow-lane living are there. It was a pleasant, skimmable read.

A Lady Cyclists Guide to KashgarA Lady Cyclists Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wow. Not sure whether it was the TERRIBLE, ATROCIOUS, WHAT-THE-HELL-WERE-THEY-THINKING reader or the pretty much random plot that got to me worse. . .  but listening to this book became an effort of will. I finished it this evening with a sigh of relief, decided to pan it (I had honestly been thinking quite hard about whether it was good and I had just lost patience or was being short-sighted), and then cracked up when reading the review below this one, which clearly agrees with me about the reader. So I'll start there:

Sussssannnnn Duerdannnnnnn. The readah. Has an affffffffffffffffected. Way of speakinggggggggggggggg. She is whispery and pretentious,  over enunciating virtually everything--until she reads a man's voice in the modern part of the story and suddenly she is loud and emphatic. WEIRD. She should never be employed as a reader again. EVER. Check out a sample if you don't believe me. Luckily, this was a library download/mp3 book, so I am not stuck having wasted $20 or so.

The story: well, it seems like it was an attempt to ride the tide of "spunky ladies who break stereotypes" stories, blended with a "blending time periods" story. . . but it is odd, unfinished, and confusing. There seems to be a big theme of "hey! homosexuality!" and then a modern theme of unhappy love, unfinished business, bad parents, smoking, and birds. No joke: the heroine inherits an OWL. Does anything happen with it? Nope. It escapes, then returns, eats, hoots, nearly gets released, and then moves to the sea with the heroine. Do we know why it's there? Um. No. Oh, there's also a bad skin motif, and a mucous motif (no joke. Long descrip. of a bad mother coughing mucous onto her hand and not having anything to wipe it off with.).

So. Spare yourself. Don't listen to this.

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I'm going back to a for-sure hit: Ngaio Marsh, Angela Thirkell, or PG Wodehouse.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Feb. 2: Calloo! Callay!

A sunny but cold day--finally, no wind, and Nate and I took Zeus for a long hike/walk/ramble as my calf has been sore so a run seemed unwise. We had a great walk, and topped it off with treats at Morton's Moo. YUM.

In addition, I'm waiting for Moth's sweater to finish blocking so I can begin to sew it together--I am doing it right this time and wet-blocking it to size:

Despite my concerns with making a sweater for a tiny woman without her present and having to adapt a few things AND using a magazine pattern (which seemed a little haphazard in spots), I am modestly optimistic. Many things added up!

So now I plan to heave myself off the couch, plug in my ipod, and make oatcakes and also sweet potato/apple soup, which I've meant to do for about two weeks now. Onwards!