02 July 2015

2015 Second Quarter Book Report

Well, 2015 is halfway over, and that just seems weird to me.  Not for any particular reason, more that I hadn't given it a lot of thought until now.  This has been a weird time, this quarter.  Very stressful, but also very fun.  I have been all over the place mentally, but it's not like I'm being graded, so I'm not worried about it.

I did read a few things though, and so here are my reads from April, May, and June.

Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman.  Brigid Quinn is a decommissioned FBI agent living in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and their dogs.  She is starting a new life, having been let go from the agency after shooting a perp in the back.  Her husband doesn't have any idea of any details of her background, and how she worked on homicide.  One of the cases that still haunts her is the Route 66 killer, a serial killer whose last victim was a young female agent trained by Brigid.

When she hears that authorities have located a person of interest after all of these years, she gets back in touch he contacts.  They are happy for her interest, as they know of her past work on the case.  But when the young female agent working the case shows Brigid evidence that could prove they have arrested the wrong person, things begin to get complicated.  Suddenly, Brigid feels that she is being stalked, and just when the young agent she is helping seems to have found something to help the case, she disappears.

I don't want to say much more due to the complicated nature of the story, and because I don't want to give anyone spoilers if they decide to read this.  But I found the story really interesting, and Brigid to be a fascinating character, if not someone you could immediately warm up to.  The details of the serial killings are presented for informational purposes without being gratuitous or even as awful as they could be, so they carry along the story, allowing it to be more of a character study.

I would definitely give other books by this author a look, as I liked this one.

Carsick, by John Waters.  I gave this two stars because there were places where this made me laugh out loud.  But I also have to admit that I didn't finish it.  I like John Waters, but apparently in small doses. Plus, I am just really really really tired of the "f" word, and it is used SO much here, I just got tired of the whole thing.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.  To be honest, I read the first 80 pages, and decided that I didn't like or care about any of the characters.  So I skimmed the rest, to see if it got any more interesting to me.  It didn't, and I liked the characters even less.  The mystery was interesting I guess, but feeling how I did about the people, I just didn't care in the end what happened to any of them.

Oh well.  On to the next book ...

Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner.  This is the first of Anita Brookner's books I have read, and I decided to try it after reading on someone's blog that they found her to be evocative of Barbara Pym.  You may or may not know I truly love Barbara Pym.

Anyway, this is the story of Edith Hope, who writes romance novels under a pseudonym (in the book, her pseudonym is described as a "more thrusting" name, which I LOVE).  She has - at least in the eyes of her friends - disgraced herself  in a relationship, and they convince her to travel to Switzerland to recover and regroup. She seems somewhat unwilling, but ends up at the Hotel du Lac.  It's the end of the tourist season, so only a few guests - mainly regulars - are there.  Edith finds that she is still surrounded by romance, intrigue, and gossip.  The other guests are a mix of different types, all of whom Edith observes through her own experiences and feelings.

I think Brookner's story here is evocative of Barbara Pym, and I did like the book.  I'm curious to read another one or two to see if she becomes one of my favorites.

Little Girl Lost, by Brian McGilloway.  This was the first book in a series featuring DS Lucy Black, a police officer who has returned home to Derry, Northern Ireland to care for her father who is suffering from Alzheimers Disease.  Lucy's parents were both police officers, though their marriage did not survive an attack on their home during The Troubles.

Lucy receives a call from one of the other detectives saying that a young girl wearing only pajamas was spotted by a passing truck driver in the woods near where Lucy lives.  They want her to head out immediately, since it will take them some time to get there in the blizzard conditions of that day.  Lucy finds the young girl, whom everyone suspected/hoped was a local girl who had been kidnapped.  Except this girl is not that girl.  But it turns out that she is a key piece in locating the kidnapped girl.

As things unfold, Lucy deals with family issues, learning more about what may have led to the attack on her childhood home, and how impossible it is for things to tie themselves up neatly with a bow.

I liked Lucy, and found this story interesting.  There were some very disturbing things as well as some sad events, but all within the framework of Lucy's experiences.  I will definitely read the next book in this series.

The Awakening of Miss Prim, by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera.  I really wanted to like this book, and I did finish reading it, but I can't say I liked it.  The story is about Prudencia Prim, a librarian (of course, with that name) who moves to a small European town to become a librarian for a prominent citizen, cataloging his library.  He has custody of a niece and a nephew, and also educates other children in the town in classical languages and literature.

The townspeople are all outcasts from the "modern" world by choice, and the place goes along at its own pace.  Upon Prudencia's arrival, a group of local women determine that they need to help her find a husband, and frankly, I felt that I knew how this would all end.

Disappointing at best.

The Shepherd's Life : A Tale of the Lake District, by James Rebanks.  So good, so informative, and so entertaining to a non-country person like me.  This book makes you realize the hard work that is involved in keeping sheep in a world that is no longer primarily agricultural, but also consumer-oriented.  It's also a story of a family, and how a life that had sustained them for so many years is forced to adapt to the world as it is today.

I see that this author has other books and I will definitely read those.

This was an audiobook that I listened to, and I think in some ways that made it seem more personal and immediate.  I recommend this to anyone who is interested in animals, farming, and the lives of others.

File M for Murder, by Miranda James.  I had just read a book that I didn't like, and was having a stressful week, so I decided I needed something that I would enjoy but that would not be heavy and "meaningful."  This book fit the bill.

In this installment of the series, Charlie Harris is thrilled when his daughter comes home to teach at Athena College for a semester - he seldom sees her now that she lives in California.  It turns out that her boyfriend, a famous playwright, is also teaching there for the semester.  When he is murdered, things get complicated for Charlie, Laura, and their entire family.  It's up to all of them - including Diesel, the Maine Coon cat - to try and find out what happened before one of them is hurt, or something worse.

I enjoyed this book.  It had enough going on to be entertaining, the mystery did not seem immediately solvable (at least not to me).  And of course, I like that Charlie is a librarian who gets to take his cat to work with him!  :-)

Friends in High Places, by Marne Davis Kellogg.  Kick Keswick is enjoying her life in Provence, a quiet and content existence, when she learns that there is trouble brewing at the auction house in London where she used to work.  When her husband Thomas is called away to investigate something for Scotland Yard, she returns to London to see what is going on.  From there, she is thrown back into the world of high end auctions and in this case, a set of particular jeweled Madonnas and a cursed ruby necklace.

Kick investigates as only she can, with her ability to change her looks and identity, her knowledge of gems and history, and her amazing lifestyle.  As usual, the book is a fun read, with exotic locales, amazing food and drink, and adventures that you know will turn out OK, but you are not sure how it will happen.

I enjoy this series, and hadn't read one for a while. I enjoyed hanging out with an old friend again.

Some Luck, by Jane Smiley.  I tried, I really did.  I read to page 86.  But I am not finishing this one.  I can't feel any kind of connection with any of the characters, and then I got to the part where the father in the story shot a dog and her puppies, because she was a stray and he and his wife were afraid they carried disease.

Yes, this happened in the 1920s, on a farm, etc., etc., but since I just wasn't feeling the love for this, that part sealed the deal.

This is the only Jane Smiley book I have ever picked up to read, and it was disappointing.  She has such a wonderful reputation and so many people love her work, I was looking forward to this.

Anyway, not happening - on to the next book.

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell.  Georgie McCool and her friend and writing partner Seth are finally getting the chance to pitch the sitcom they have been developing since college to a network.  They have just a few days to get four episodes ready to present to network brass, and it's their dream come true.  Both have been working on another show as writers, but doing their own thing has always been their dream.

The problem is, this is all happening right before Christmas, and Georgie, her husband Neal, and their two young daughters are supposed to be flying to Omaha to spend the holiday with Neal's mother and family.  Georgie is sure that Neal will understand her situation, and decide they should all stay in California.  The surprise is when Neal and the girls go to Omaha anyway.

At this point, Georgie is at a loss, and begins staying at her mother's house.  One night, using a yellow landline phone from her former teenage bedroom, she manages to get in touch with Neal (he finally picks up instead of his cell going right to voicemail), and they have a wonderful conversation.  Except Georgie becomes convinced that the phone is magic, connecting her to the past when she and Neal first got together.   She decides that if they can talk on that phone, they can avoid their future issues.

The book goes along with Georgie trying to fix things with Neal, decide if phone conversations are real or imagined, trying to work with Seth on their big break, and trying to convince her mother and younger sister that she is not getting a divorce.

This was a good book, and really entertaining in some spots.  It was good at pointing out the way that couples are around one another after they have been married for many years, and how sometimes something drastic needs to happen in order for them to remember why they are together in the first place.

I enjoyed the book, though I didn't love it.  But - I didn't hate it either.  It was worth the time spent reading.

Killer Hair, by Ellen Byerrum.  This is one of those books that was exactly what I needed when I read it.  Life was stressful, and I wanted to read something but nothing that required tons of attention and concentration.  This filled the bill and was entertaining as well.

Lacey Smithsonian (her grandfather changed the name from simply Smith) writes a fashion column for a relatively unknown Washington DC newspaper.  When a stylist at the salon she goes to is found dead, the police are content to think it's suicide, but Lacey's stylist Stella feels sure that the girl was murdered. She knows Lacey has some contacts, and asks her to investigate. Though reluctant at first, she starts to get more involved and pretty soon she discovers some interesting things going on with some of the people involved with the salon and its owners.

When another woman is killed in the same way, Lacey finds herself deeper into the mystery and the investigation.  She gets closer and closer to finding the killer, at great risk to herself.

I enjoyed this book, not just because it was an entertaining mystery, but because of the observations about life in DC and the people who live there.  I lived in DC for seven years, and knew exactly the types she was talking about, as well as the locations she described, even if they had fictional names.

If you want a quick, enjoyable read, you might enjoy this one.


So there you have it.  Have you read any of these?   What are your thoughts?  Let me know, and feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments.

26 June 2015

Personal Opinion

The title says it.  I don't usually get into social/political/religious commentary here, so if you don't want to read any further, please just click close or delete or whatever, and though I hope you'll come back, that is your decision to make.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same sex marriage is legal in all fifty states.

I was raised by a married couple who were male and female.  First and foremost, they wanted us to be good people, with good values.  They were religious and they were spiritual, but they were also realistic and worldly.  They expected nothing less from us.

When I was a kid, I didn't really know or pay attention to whether or not anyone was homosexual (the term "gay" didn't apply at that point), and I do not remember my parents talking about it at all.  As a teenager, I remember being shocked when my mother said something about one of their friends being homosexual.  When I asked who it was, she said it was none of my business.

I am not a perfect person by any means, but I have to truly say that it never even crossed my mind to care if someone was gay or straight.  I dislike a lot of people, but that is not one of the determining factors.  I have never ever felt threatened when I was around someone who was gay, nor have I worried that their existence was a danger to my morals, values, or marriage.

I used to work with a guy who lived with his female partner for fifteen years when I met him.  He was really upset when our employer changed their benefits so that gay couples could share benefits, because they were not offered to opposite sex partner couples as well.  I pointed out that all he would have to do to get those benefits would be to get married, and he said that marriage was a meaningless thing, and he was never getting married. I said that he and his partner could go to a justice of the peace, get married, and the only thing that it would have to mean would be they could share benefits.  I pointed out that gay couples were not allowed to do this no matter what.  He was not in agreement.  But you know what?  We somehow managed to continue working together and we got along, even though I thought he was a jerk, and I'm sure he had his own thoughts about me.

I was raised Catholic, and though I don't spend a lot of time in church now, I still identify as one.  Maybe it's because I attended a Jesuit college, where the most important thing we learned was how to think.  I found out that among clergy, there was as much difference of personal opinion as there was among the general population.  Truth be known, many of the local parish priests felt that the Jesuits were a really suspicious group.

I guess what I'm saying is that I am glad that anyone who wants to get married can now do so legally.  And even if your individual religious beliefs do not embrace the idea, and it makes you uncomfortable, it's still the way things are as of today.  Believe it or not, it won't change my day-to-day existence at all - everyone I know will still be whoever they were yesterday.

I think the Supreme Court ruling is a good one.  I am thrilled for those who fought long and hard for the right to marry, and the other rights and benefits that come from being in a legal relationship.

But mostly, I just plan to live my life.  As I hope everyone else will be allowed to do.

Rainbow crosswalk in Philadelphia

18 June 2015

WIPs Review

Every once in a while, I find that, without realizing it, I suddenly have more than just 1 or 2 WIPs (works-in-progress) on the knitting needles.  Occasionally, it's a situation where all that is needed is a toe on a sock, or a mistake to fix before binding off - you know, small and easily resolved things.

But this is not the case with any of these:

I cannot remember *ever* having six things going and none of them near being finished, ever, since I started knitting!  

Let's review, shall we?

WIP #1 -  Eternal Basalt

This one I am well aware is a long-term WIP.  It's straight garter stitch, and I bring it out when I am in the mood to knit, but not worry about looking at a pattern.  (I must admit that this does not mean I don't still screw it up and have to frog back a few rows ...)

If you click on the link, you see the start of something.  I love this yarn, I love the pattern, and I was loving the way it looked.  Then The Koodle found it.  So now I have my ball of yarn, and will start over.  This one takes more concentration at the beginning, so I don't want to restart until I have a block of time to focus.

WIP #3 - Border Socks

I did have three colors for these socks, and was going to make them as a Christmas gift for 2014 for The Tim.  But first of all, the needles I was using were too slippery for the chosen yarns, and the original third color did not provide enough contrast against the gray, which I will be using for the main color.  So I put these wound skeins away until I was ready to figure out what other color I wanted to use, and the knitting bag was folded and put away as well.  I guess this one is technically no longer a WIP ...

I started this at the end of October 2014, in a class at Loop.  I do want to finish it, I do like the yarn, and the customized pattern.  I just don't work on it that often, and I think it's because I am afraid that even though it's designed to my measurements, I made a swatch, etc., that it won't fit when it is finished.  I need to get over it, so that I have it next fall when the weather gets cool enough to wear it!

I was zipping along on this, and then two things stopped me:  1) I got to the part where you start to knit the edging, and got completely messed up!  I had to tink back six rows of 200+ stitches, and so this project is, er, "resting" for a while.  2) I had to get a longer needle, which has been purchased, so once the "rest" is over, I should be ready to get moving again.  But this one will take some concentration, so it's not to be picked up just anytime ...

These are fun, and I am loving knitting them, but the past couple of weeks I have just not knit a single stitch, so they are waiting for me to move along on them.  I'm starting to get itchy to start knitting again, so they will likely be picked up and be the first thing in this group to be finished in the next few weeks, unless I hit a slump again.  

I have been having problems with my right elbow, and knitting bothers it, so between that and some stressful things, I've only looked at the group of knitting bags with waiting projects, rather than actually working on them.

And of course, like so many other knitters with many projects underway, I really wish I could start something new!   But I have told myself that nothing else can be started until at least one of these is finished.  I don't want things to get any crazier or out of hand than they currently are for me.  

As long as I don't come home some day and find a group of people gathered for an intervention, I think I'll be fine ... ;-)

16 June 2015

Happy Bloomsday! and ... Ugh! Summer!

First and foremost:

Happy Bloomsday!

We are planning to have the same lunch that Stephen Dedalus enjoys in Ulysses, so the gorgonzola cheese, rye bread, and white wine are waiting ...


Then on to this week's Ten on Tuesday, with the topic of "10 Things on Your Summer Bucket List."  Since a bucket list to me implies things I must do before I die, I'm just going to list 10 Things I Hope To Do This Summer.  I don't want to think about dying, as I have enough stress right now as it is, you know?

Unlike most people in the universe, summer is my least favorite season.  I do not like hot weather at all, and add in the humidity, and I end up with Reverse Seasonal Affective  Disorder.  Seriously.  For instance, we've had 90-degree plus days with really high humidity for the last week, and it is not even officially summer yet.  This does not bode well.

But, summer happens no matter what I think, so here are things I hope to do, in no particular order.

1.  Try not to complain as much.  I actually started to consciously try this last year, and did pretty well.  So I'm gonna try again this year.

2.  Go "down the shore" (Philly talk for going to the beach) at least six times.  We love to go and spend the day, but it's hard for our schedules to mesh that often so it can happen.  Last year I didn't get to go at all, since my summer was pretty much taken care of with injuries and surgery, so I'm hoping to go this year.

3.  Find air conditioning whenever I can, and cool off.

4.  Get some Rita's Italian Ice, gelati, twist cones - well, you get the idea - as many times as I can.

5.  Convince The Tim to make Shrimp Summer Rolls.  One of his regular days off is Tuesday, and it's especially nice to come home from work and find that he has made these for dinner!

6.  Enjoy the concert with Diana Krall and the Philadelphia Orchestra in July.  My niece and her husband are joining us.  It should be a great concert, and a fun time.

7.  Finish at least one knitting project.  Everything I'm working on at the moment is languishing.  Surely I can finish one of them, right?

8.  Read even more.

9.  If it ever cools enough for me to be able to enjoy being outside, I'd like to get the garden cleaned up so that we can enjoy sitting out there.  We were otherwise occupied on the weekends when the weather was nice enough to do it earlier in May, so it's still waiting.

10.  DRINK COLD DRINKS.  Iced tea, lemonade, beer, wine, anything that I enjoy that is cold or frozen!

No matter what plans you do or do not have, I hope that your summer is a good one!

12 June 2015

The Good, The Bad, The Annoying

Let's see what is going on with me.

The Good:  I am off work until Wednesday of next week.
The Bad:  It's too hot and humid today to go outside unless you have to.
The Annoying:  I was told I had no vacation at all for this fiscal year, after my surgery last year.  Then I got a message Tuesday, saying that I would lose 5 accrued days if I didn't take them by June 30.  But of course, everyone else had planned their vacations.  So I have these days, plus a day next week.  This after a year of trying to get someone in HR to give me details of whether or not I had time off at all.

The Good:  Pip is home from the animal hospital, and feeling better.
The Bad:  He was at the Veterinary Hospital of the U of Pennsylvania for four days last week for a urethral blockage.  
The Annoying:  He is no longer friends with me since I am the one giving him his medications. 

The Good:  The Tim only has to be at work until 2:00 today, and is off tomorrow.
The Bad:  I have a dr appt at 4:40, so I can't just simply hang out with him when he gets home.
The Annoying:  My appt was originally set for a few weeks ago, in the a.m., but a co-worker said she would be out.  I switched it, and of course she was there that day.  Now I'll be lucky if I get home by 6:00 p.m. tonight.

The Good:  Tomorrow is World Wide Knit in Public Day.
The Bad:  It's supposed to be miserably hot and humid.
The Annoying:  Due to the weather and the fact that my elbow has been bothering me lately if I knit for more than 5 minutes, I'll miss the get-together.

The Good:  I have managed to get myself back into exercising regularly, even if not doing heavy-duty workouts yet.
The Bad:  I've lost so much of the progress I'd made over the past couple of years.
The Annoying:  I have to break down and get a new exercise mat, since Pip did a MAJOR pee on my current one this morning.  It soaked in to the foam, which is old and crumbling anyway.

I'm sure I could go on, but the important thing is that I know that I am lucky and that there are many more good things in my life that I could list than there are bad.  Though I think that sometimes it makes the bad/annoying things seem even worse than they are.  I mean, look at the list above - I have nothing to really complain about, right?

I hope you are able to find the good things as well.  Have a lovely weekend, and stay cool!