Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is the first book in Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, which I recently re-read in preparation for the third.  Like The Angel's Game, this is Gothic in tone, but more romantic tragedy than tragic horror.  The protagonist, David, is the son of a character in the second book, and on his first expedition to the Cemetery he discovers the book The Shadow of the Wind (see what Ruiz Zafón did there?).  When he tries to find other books by the author, he discovers not only that very little is known about him, but also that someone has been systematically destroying his books.

As I've written before, Ruiz Zafón excels at creating atmosphere, and this is no exception.  Moreover, the eventual solution to the central mystery is satisfying, melodramatic (in a good way), and plausible (an underrated quality in this genre).  My only quibble with this book, and the second, is the female characters, almost all of whom are weak in one way or another -- either dominated by their worst qualities, or powerless in the face of a dangerous or inappropriate passion.  Some of this is attributable to the setting.  Even today, there is a surprising amount of sexism in Spain, and Ruiz Zafón is sensitive to the lack of power and agency most women had at the turn of the century.  These women are at the mercy of their fathers, brothers, and husbands, and have little to do except get married and have children.  Still, it would have been nice to see a woman find a way to rise above her circumstances, or find some sense of purpose in them, or even demonstrate dignity in the face of them. (There is one notable exception, but she suffers the fate of many idealized women -- tragic early death from illness.)

On to the third volume!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gingham Hearts

This kit came from one of those British cross-stitching magazines, I forget which.  The instructions had one cross stitching on the gingham (duh), but I thought I'd try some chicken scratch stitching, which I learned about from Alicia Paulson's Embroidery Companion (a great book, by the way).

Only, I didn't take into account how tiny this gingham is -- at least sixteen squares per inch, when most chicken scratch is done on 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch gingham.  I used just one strand of floss and spent a lot of time with the hoop just a few inches from my face.  Three of Paulson's diamond motifs created too tiny a heart, so I expanded the design using this heart pattern (that site also has some info about this style of embroidery).
The effect of the loop stitches is pretty neat; there's a reason why this stitch is also called Depression Lace or Amish Lace.  I recommend a Flickr search to see all sorts of nifty patterns.

For the second heart I took the easy way out and just sewed on some pink seed beads:
The resulting texture is great, and fun to play with.

The hearts, all sewn up:
The chicken-scratch one came out kind of lumpy and misshapen, because the not-high-quality fabric slid around while I was sewing it.  For the beaded heart I basted the fabric to the felt backing first, and that worked much better.  In both cases, I forgot to sew in the ribbon hangers, so I had to tack those on later.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Silver Stitches

Ok, so it's a little late, but I did finish one last ornament -- Charlotte's Web Needlework's "Silver Stitches" from the 2008 Just Cross Stitch Ornaments mag:
I'm a sucker for anything with a variety of stitches.  I finished it in yet another wooden hoop, but to dress it up a bit I wrapped the outer hoop with a fuzzy white yarn from Beadmom's stash.

And now I can move on to other projects:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Angel's Game is the second novel in Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  The Cemetery itself (as intriguing as it is) does not have much of a role in the books, serving instead as an impetus that gets the plot moving.  In this case, David Martín, a frustrated but ambitious writer, has made a Fausian bargain to write a dangerous book in exchange for wealth and health.  A trip to the Cemetery leads him to discover a book written under similar circumstances, and he becomes obsessed with discovering his predecessor's fate.

Ruiz Zafón's talent is in atmosphere, the way he writes about the sights, sounds, and feel of 1920's Barcelona, resulting in genuine Gothic horror -- a sub-genre I consider hard to pull off in a century saturated with irony, skepticism, and (supposed) sophistication.  I found Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho to be melodramatic and silly when I read it way back in college (I am not immune to today's irony and skepticism), but The Angel's Game is genuinely dark and eerie and kinda scary, and Martín a disturbing and unreliable narrator.

My one complaint is with the coda -- a turn of events that is creepy (as expected) but could also be read as profoundly icky and perverted, and not in a good way.  The problem is that it is just ambiguous enough that I don't know what Ruiz Zafón's intent is; the fact that the third novel in the series apparently reveals Martín to be delusional doesn't help.  Other parts of the plot, of course, remained unexplained and uncertain, as is appropriate to the genre, but the particular details of this event make it yucky, not enjoyable.  Maybe The Prisoner of Heaven will resolve it for me.

I'm rereading (really, skimming) the first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, before picking up the third, which apparently ties the two together.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather is one of Pratchett's Discworld novels, and my Christmas reading for the year.  If you haven't read one of the Discworld books yet, you must.  Pratchett has created an alternate universe loaded with parodies of fantasy conventions, satires of the modern world, and lots and lots of silliness.  This book is no different -- on Hogswatchnight, someone has hired the Assasin's Guild to take out the Hogfather, with major consequences to Discworld's faith/mythology/deity complex.  Death (arguably the best character Pratchett has created) steps in to contain the damage, donning a red suit and fake belly and trying his best to be jolly, while his exceedingly practical granddaughter tries to figure what happened, with the help of a new deity, the oh god of hangovers.

Not surprisingly, this book had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion (to the consternation of my fellow commuters).  But such broad comedy would be tiring to read after a while, if it weren't for the fact that Pratchett manages to work in profound insight into the human condition -- a testament to his intelligence and skill.  Underneath all the flying pigs, adorable tots, verruca gnomes, incompetent wizards, and mince pies and sherries, Hogfather is really about the power of mythology, and the necessity of faith.  I'm hard-pressed to come up with a more succinct description than this:
"You mean sort of fear and awe and not knowing whether to laugh or cry or wet their pants?"

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

I finished Moss Creek Designs's "Julbock" from the 2004 Just Cross Stitch Christmas Ornaments mag:
I eliminated the cross stitch border (too much cross stitch!) and finished the ornament on a round disk, with yarn for trim. I also replaced a row of green cross stitch with a red backstitch, because I like the look of red and gold together. Like this, which I made for Beadmom ages ago:
I keep thinking maybe some day I'll make another for myself, but who am I kidding?  It's too big a design.

Even though the twelfth day of Christmas is past, Christmas doesn't end until next Sunday, with the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  So I have a week to finish the last two ornaments I was determined to create this season.

Today was Three Kings' Day, so in a last-minute attempt to be festive I made a cake.  The recipe was from Cocina Criolla, chosen because it called for guava paste, of which I had a lot in my fridge.  Only, once I combined the ingredients I had a batter that was like a cookie dough -- stiff enough to roll out.  Repeated reviews of the recipe and a couple of google searches did not reveal a mistake on my part or the recipe's, yet clearly something was wrong.  Cake batters often have milk in them, so I added a half cup and an extra egg for good measure, and finally got something resembling cake batter.

The original recipe called for pieces of guava paste placed in the batter, with the baked cake cut so each slice has one piece, so I made cupcakes -- same idea, easier to execute.  The paste sunk to the bottom, though, so I probably should have put it closer to the top.

I had leftover white frosting to which I intended to add orange extract (I thought it would go well with the guava), but that seemed to have disappeared from the cabinet.  Instead I found rainbow jimmies, so I used that:
They were a little bland, but the Beadboys enjoyed them.  Next year I should plan out my Three Kings' Feast ahead of time. (Fortunately, the homemade platanutres and Mr. Beadgirl's pernil were successes.)