Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dark Spooky Forest


Credits~
Background by Nancy Comelab; forest flora by Jen Ulasiewicz; frame by Christina Renee; alpha by Katie Pertiet; font is FranciscoLucas Llana.

Swing


Credits~
Background by Nancy Comelab; shells by Jen Ulasiewicz; frame by Natali Design; alpha by Jen Wilson; font is FranciscoLucas Llana.

Ah, summer

Cricket and cross stitch. Ah, the joys of summer.

So why is it pouring with rain outside?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How cool is this?


I got this from Bookwyrm Chrysalis (a really cool - and very pretty - site), who got it from Boing Boing. A staircase that is a bookshelf. This is totally cool and I want one.

For the details about it, follow the Boing Boing link.

Books and Reading

Well, the request for suggestions from my TBR lead to an almost unanimous response for Stolen.

Right now, in my recovering-from-cold stage, I'm reading Robin D. Owens' Heart Dance, which has been on the TBR for way too long. This is one of those series where I always let the latest book languish for ages, finally start reading it (often when I hear the next one will be out soon) and remember how much I enjoy the series. That leads me to buy the next one and the cycle starts over again.

After that I am set and determined to finish The Spring of the Ram.

Once that is completed I'll be picking up Stolen as recommended by so many of you. (And of course, once I start Stolen the next book in the series will end up on the TBR, so you haven't helped me reduce the dreaded TBR at all!)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Gourmet Garden by Little House Needleworks


The Gourmet Garden by Little House Needleworks
Started: 28 January 2008
Finished: 8 February 2008
Stitched on: 32-ct Golden Harvest Belfast linen from Silkweaver

I just love how this turned out. This is my first Little House Needleworks design and I'm sure I'll be doing more. (Okay, so I'm already redesigning The Bookshelf in my head.)

Lots of Hair

Here's my latest progress on Defender of the Kingdom. This is the point I had wanted to reach during the February SAL, but I didn't make it. So I kept stitching until I did. I'm really pleased with how she's looking.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tummy Time


I haven't scrapped in absolutely ages, but I bought the cutest baby kit from Sweet Shoppe Designs last week, called The Land of Nod. I thought I could get back to Marcus' birth journal (my goal is to do it before he's five and that's less than a year away now) and it was also perfect for this photo, which I love.

Credits~
Frame from "Peekaboo Bits" by Tracy Ann Robinson; hearts spray from "Sweethearts" by Tracy Ann Robinson; everything else from "The Land of Nod" by Dani Mogstad.

My TBR pile

Partly to try and stay organised, partly for the fun of it, I've just put my immediate TBR (to be read) pile up on Flickr.

Please take a look and then tell me what you think I should read next - I struggle to choose.

I do have to finish The Spring of the Ram next as I'm way behind reading with the Dunnett group and need to catch up. But after that I haven't a clue. All suggestions and comments appreciated.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rocalisa/sets/72157603918868853/detail/

Friday, February 15, 2008

Defender of the Kingdom after Feb SAL

I got next to nothing done on Defender of the Kingdom last weekend. It was the first few days after being on holiday and I was just too tired to do much. I did try as I wanted to achieve something in the HAED BB SAL so there is a tiny bit of progress. I've kept on working on her for the rest of the week and will probably go back to my focus piece - Michael Powell's Greek Islands Mini - on Monday. But basically, I'm just going with the flow and working on what I feel like.

Before

After

Pride and Prescience - Carrie Bebris

Mr. & Mrs. Darcy, the joyous newlyweds from Pride and Prejudice, have not even left for their honeymoon when they find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving one of their wedding guests. The lovely Caroline Bingley is engaged to marry a rich and charismatic American. Unfortunately this windswept courtship is marred by many strange events such as nocturnal wanderings, spooked horses, carriage accidents, and atypical incidents of mortal consequence. Soon the whole Bingley family seems the target of a sinister plot, with only the Darcys recognizing the danger.

blurb from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk
I got about half way through this before giving up because I wasn't enjoying it. The characterisation of Elizabeth and Darcy starts off okay, but as the story takes a turn into the supernatural, so does the characterisation, especially of Elizabeth who takes this all in her stride, begins to fail. To me, the supernatural doesn't belong with these characters and the story soon failed for me. I skipped to the end, but didn't really care.

Pride and Prescience, Or a Truth Universally Acknowledged
Mr and Mrs Darcy Mysteries, Book 1
Carrie Bebris
DNF

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley


Jake Mendoza lives at the Makepeace Institute of Integrated Dragon Studies in Smokehill National Park. Smokehill is home to about two hundred of the few remaining draco australiensis, which is extinct in the wild. Keeping a preserve for dragons is controversial: detractors say dragons are extremely dangerous and unjustifiably expensive to keep and should be destroyed. Environmentalists and friends say there are no records of them eating humans and they are a unique example of specialist evolution and must be protected. But they are up to eighty feet long and breathe fire.

On his first overnight solo trek, Jake finds a dragon...a dragon dying next to the human she killed. Jake realizes this news could destroy Smokehill...even though the dead man is clearly a poacher who had attacked the dragon first, that fact will be lost in the outcry against dragons.

But then Jake is struck by something more urgent...he sees that the dragon has just given birth, and one of the babies is still alive. What he decides to do will determine not only their futures, but the future of Smokehill itself.

blurb from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk
I've loved Robin McKinley's writing ever since I first read The Blue Sword many years ago when it first came out. (Although I admit I haven't managed to read Sunshine yet.) I was sorry not to see anything new from her in recent years and felt a certain connection (totally one-sided of course) when I read her livejournal and discovered she has ME like me. I saw Dragonhaven reviewed by another participant in the Here be Dragons challenge and decided to try it myself. Luckily it was in at the library and I had it in time to take on holiday with me.

I'll start with a small negative and move on to what I liked. The tone of this book won't suit everyone. It is written in Jake's POV and in his voice. That means long, rambling, sometimes confusing teenage boy sentences that occasionally run on and on and on. It's a memoir really, but written by a young enough author to not yet have a great sophistication of style. That means there's a lot of description and discussion and not a lot of dialogue. It took me a chapter or two to get used to, but I found myself enjoying it once I got into the flow of it.

I liked Jake; he grew up in a certain isolation and lost his mother young and this means he has a slightly skewed vision of the world, but I like it - and him - all the same. His adventures are well described as are his reactions to them. It's all rather rambling, but everything is there and the pacing is solid. He describes himself as being rather "out of it" at the time he "adopts" the dragonet and this is also well shown within the text. He is indeed not quite in a solid headspace and probably wouldn't have done what he did if he had been, making this an important part of the story.

Ms McKinley's dragons are lovely. Well described and well realised. Lois, the dragonet Jake rescues, is totally ugly, but cute with it, and her growth and development are well followed. Jake has some rambling discourses on dragon intelligence - whether they have it and what form it might take - early in the book which sets up well his experiences when he makes contact with the adult dragons.

Happily, the dragons are intelligent, if not in the same way humans are, and Jake manages to get across their attempts to communicate without words while using words, something that is always a difficult feat.

This is not a perfect book - I didn't love it the way I do Beauty or her Damar books - but it is a good, solid read and I'm glad I decided to pick it up. I also find myself wondering if Jake's somewhat tangential storytelling comes from Ms McKinley's experience with ME (and I acknowledge I'm totally reaching here). I have real trouble with seeing the "big picture" and getting a good, linear feel of things which I attribute to my own ME and Jake's rambling memoir reminded me of what I might write if I tried to write a book (or perhaps even how these book reviews come out). Probably there's no connection at all, but the similarity did strike me.

Dragonhaven
Robin McKinley
7/10

Whiskey and Water - Elizabeth Bear

Several years ago, Matthew the Magician ended an age-old war. It only cost him everything-and everyone-he knew and loved. Turning against his mentor, Jane Andraste, in the realm of Faerie left him physically crippled and his power shattered.

But Matthew remains the protector of New York City. So when he finds a young woman brutally murdered by a Fae creature, he must bring her killer to justice before Jane uses the crime to justify more war-and before he confronts an even larger threat in the greatest Adversary of all...

blurb from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk
I might sound from this review that I didn't like Whiskey and Water. That's not true. I loved this book; maybe not quite as much as the preceding volume, Blood and Iron, but still lots.

But here's the thing. Elizabeth Bear doesn't write a simple, straightforward tale where event A leads to event B which leads to event C and so on. Instead, she takes you on a magical, lyrical, strange and fantastic trip into a complicated and convoluted world where nothing is ever exactly as it seems and the author rarely lets you have anything for free.

The writing is beautiful - I think of it as poetry in prose - but I found myself never 100% sure what was going on. All the same, I didn't particularly care. These books are about the journey more than they are about the destination. It may also be that since I have never really "got" poetry (I have come to suspect my brain doesn't work that way), I have the same problem here. Or is poetry also about the words and the journey rather than A goes to B goes to C? It's not something I have a lot of experience with.

The words Bear uses and the ways she puts them together are beautiful. In the end I only wrote down one quote from the book, but she weaves words into beautiful images. I am not a visual reader, I gather the feeling of a book from the words themselves and these words are beautiful. As an example, this is a sentence that really spoke to me. The imagery and the way the words are put together are lovely.

The loneliness was an ache in her breast, a hollowness like a scooped-out heart, a gasping stillness that echoed when she listened into it.
So while I have to admit that I didn't understand everything in this book and I'm `kind of vague on a lot of character motivation or the exact progression of the plot, I found reading it a delight. I know where the characters are at the end of the book compared to where they were at the beginning and I want to read more about them. You kind of pick up the story by osmosis rather than following a clear plotline.

Maybe the bottom line is that Bear is very smart and I'm kind of dumb. I don't care. These books are beautiful and I'm going to keep reading them. (Although, if anyone wants to send me a quick synopsis to help me with the plotline, I wouldn't complain. I'm also very interested to read some of Bear's science fiction, to see how she writes that and if it is similar or different to her so lyrical fantasy.

I've already pre-ordered the next two Promethean Age books, these two set back in the sixteenth century, and I'm looking forward to getting to read them.

Whiskey and Water
Novels of the Promethean Age, Book 2
Elizabeth Bear
9/10

The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde

It's Easter in Reading--a bad time for eggs--and no one can remember the last sunny day. Ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III, minor baronet, ex-convict, and former millionaire philanthropist, is found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. All the evidence points to his ex-wife, who has conveniently shot herself.
But Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary remain unconvinced, a sentiment not shared with their superiors at the Reading Police Department, who are still smarting over their failure to convict the Three Pigs of murdering Mr. Wolff. Before long Jack and Mary find themselves grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, bullion smuggling, problems with beanstalks, titans seeking asylum, and the cut and thrust world of international chiropody.
And on top of all that, the JellyMan is coming to town . . .

blurb from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk
After thoroughly enjoying Fforde's Thursday Next book, and having been told that the events of The Big Over Easy take place in some of the locations used in The Well of Lost Plots I decided to make this my next Fforde book. I got the audio from the library, started listening and continued to alternate between the audio and the book itself.

This is indeed the book being proposed at the end of The Well of Lost Plots, but I never felt it was made clear if I, as the reader, was supposed to be reading it in my "real" universe, Thursday's universe or the universe established in the book itself. This left me a bit confused to begin with, and unfortunately that never really cleared up.

I didn't dislike this book, but I didn't like it nearly as much as the Thursday Next books. There's a certain witty sense to the Thursday books, but this was just too over the top for me. Fforde has tried to toss in too much - as many nursery rhymes and fairy tales as he can think of, whether they are needed or not. I also felt that this determined cleverness was to the detriment of the characterisation, meaning I never really cared about any of the characters. Jack was just "nice" without having any real depth, while Mary was really somewhat unpleasant. And why he needed to throw aliens into the mix as well, I really have no idea.

I was also frustrated with the way Fforde set up the solution of the mystery. Sure, the clues were all there, but every time it was announced that the murder had been solved, suddenly there was a new situation, new clues and it hadn't been after all. Each progressive solution got sillier and more complicated and by the end I found I didn't really care.

All the same, I kept reading. I did want to know how it ended and I did enjoy the read. Perhaps the book didn't stand a chance because I read it in the midst of the Thursday books, which I just love. But basically, there was just too much going on here and it ended up very messy.

An okay book, but I'm going back to Thursday now.

The Big Over Easy
Nursery Crime, Book 1
Jasper Fforde
7/10

Iron Kissed - Patricia Briggs

When her former boss and mentor is arrested for murder and left to rot behind bars by his own kind, it's up to shapeshifting car mechanic Mercy Thompson to clear his name, whether he wants her to or not. And she'll have to choose between the two werewolves in her life-whether she wants to or not.

Blurb from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk
We've had a werewolf book with Mercy and a vampire book with Mercy; this one is about the Fae. It opens with Mercy's mentor and former boss - and fae - Zee asking her to check out a murder at the fae reservation. He hopes her coyote nose may pick up something the fae themselves have missed. The idea of the fae on a reservation and the dichotomy between the faƧade they present and the truth they were hiding was beautifully shown. Mercy, of course, sees more than she is supposed to do and almost gets herself in a lot of trouble as a result. Her steps into the Otherworld are beautiful and I hope we get to visit here again in a later book.

Mercy does indeed identify the murderer, but that's the beginning of the story, not the end. When Zee and other fae go to confront the murderer they find him already dead and Zee ends up arrested for the murder.

From there, Mercy quickly finds herself caught up in high fae politics - not at all a comfortable place to be, haunted by a mystical walking stick that seems to have taken a liking to her and also forced to accept that it is time to choose between Adam, her neighbour and local werewolf alpha to whom she is attracted and Sam, her first love who has reappeared in her life.

I was happy with Mercy's decision and the thought processes that brought her there. (It helped she picked the one I wanted her to, but I would have been happy with either of them really.) I've seen some readers comment that they thought it all happened a bit too fast, but that still worked for me. It was like her coming to a realisation that had been there all along but she hadn't been ready to accept, rather than a new decision. It seemed right to me and I look forward to seeing how her relationships with both men progress as the series progresses.

The villain of the piece was well thought out and I felt realistically described. I had some suspicions about his identity and when I was proved right felt satisfied that my suspicions had been correct.

There's an unpleasant scene near the end that I've heard complaints about, but again I felt it worked properly within the context of the book. It certainly wouldn't have been in character for the villain not to attempt this and for all that the result was unpleasant, I think the book is stronger for it. (I'm trying not to give any spoilers here, which will make the rest of my comments unfortunately vague and only understandable if you've read the book. Sorry about that.)

The aftermath was beautifully done, especially Mercy's retreat and Adam's reactions. The way Ben stepped in to give his alpha a talking to (not an easy thing for a werewolf to do) and also reveal the pain of his own past was beautiful. Ben has not been an easy character to like - deliberately I am sure - and here at last we see some of his deeper layers and the why of the way he is. I hope he will continue to feature in the series as I suddenly find myself wanting to know all about him.

I was a bit unsettled by the ending, as I felt Mercy wasn't ready for the step she had decided to take and things were likely to go badly. I hoped the next book would pick up where this one left off to show what happened next. I've since learned that this is indeed the case - Briggs has started writing it, hooray! - and that makes me much happier with how thing novel finished. It wasn't really a cliffhanger, but it did leave things up in the air, but I feel I understand now and I can live with it better.

This series continues to be great and Briggs has cemented her place in my auto-buy list.

Iron Kissed
Mercy Thompson, Book 3
Patricia Briggs
9/10

Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next, Head of JurisFiction and ex-SpecOps agent, returns to her native Swindon accompanied by a child of two, a pair of dodos and Hamlet, who is on a fact-finding mission in the real world. Thursday has been despatched to capture escaped Fictioneer Yorrick Kaine but even so, now seems as good a time as any to retrieve her husband Landen from his state of eradication at the hands of the Chronoguard. It's not going to be easy. Thursday's former colleagues at the department of Literary Detectives want her to investigate a spate of cloned Shakespeares, the Goliath Corporation are planning to switch to a new Faith based corporate management system and the Neanderthals feel she might be the Chosen One who will lead them to genetic self-determination. With help from Hamlet, her uncle and time-travelling father, Thursday faces the toughest adventure of her career. Where is the missing President-for-life George Formby? Why is it imperative for the Swindon Mallets to win the World Croquet League final? And why is it so difficult to find reliable childcare?

blurb fromwww.fantasticfiction.co.uk
Thursday is back from the Book World, accompanied by her two year old son Friday and her cousin Eddie (aka Hamlet, Prince of Denmark). Old foe Yorrick Kane is plotting to take over the country, Goliath is up to something major and her husband Landen is still eradicated.

Like Fforde's previous Thursday Next books, this is a wild and crazy ride through, well, pretty much anything he feels like throwing into the mix. Once again, I loved the book and devoured it at great speed. There's little I can say to capture the delightful craziness of this series beyond "read it!", and action I whole-heartedly recommend.

Like my (in the end, incorrect) rationale for not reading The Well of Lost Plots, I was worried that never having read, studied or seen Hamlet (I know, that makes me a philistine) I would get lost, but once again Fforde walks an excellent balance between literary in-jokes and staying within a range the average reader can understand. I might not have ever explored Hamlet in detail, but I know the basic plot and characters and that was quite enough to follow the goings on in Something Rotten.

The book was filled with silly moments and a few favourites included the encounter between Napoleon and Wellington clones in the forests of Wales, the very idea of croquet as a "superbowl" (or in this case "superhoop") sport and the solution to beating Yorrick Kane, as undertaken by the Cheshire Cat, was brilliant.

My only complaint is that I felt Landen's un-eradication was a bit of a let-down as it didn't result so much from Thursday's actions as from the very unreliable Goliath actually doing what they promised, something I wouldn't personally trust them to do.

All the same, this was another great read and while still working my way through it I had already put the next Thursday Next book on reserve at the library.

Something Rotten
Thursday Next, Book 4
Jasper Fforde
9/10

Catching Up

Well, I back from holiday. I had a lovely time, even got a bit of reading and stitching done, but I've been very tired ever since I got home. I going to try to catch up with my posting slowly - I have a lot of book reviews I'd like to do as well as some stitching pics and cute photos of Marcus from holiday. So bear with me as I try to catch up.