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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Having adored Uprooted, I was eager to read The Bear and the Nightingale, described by many reviewers as having a similar vibe.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as engaging, and it left me wanting to reread Novik's book.

Which isn't to say there isn't a lot to like about it -- Arden paints a vivid picture of life in the Rus, describing brutal winters so well I could almost feel my blood freezing (my overly air-conditioned workplace might have helped).  Her characters are for the most part fleshed out from their fairy tale counterparts, humanizing them and giving them believable motives. But after establishing a fascinating world, in the second half of the book she relies on fairy tale tropes too often.  The stepmother is evil because she is supposed to be; much of the antagonism between her and Vasilisa makes sense given their world views and the price (for both of them) of living in such a patriarchal society, but other instances of Anna’s cruelty seem out of place in the narrative.  The impossible task Vasilisa is given is another example -- a common trope that might might make sense in a brief, allegorical tale shows up jarringly and late in the narrative here, serving as an unnecessary excuse to get the heroine into the woods.

Also, Arden sets up an unfortunate and tired dichotomy between Christianity and the old beliefs.  Both human antagonists (who are, to be fair, complex and interesting) are Christian; Vasilisa is not. Worse yet, Christianity is portrayed as useless, even false. But given a world where magic is real and there are loads of non-human spirits, it does not make sense that the Church would ignore that for hundreds of years, would not have investigated and debated and gotten theologians to wrestle with the implications, would not have adjusted to better fight the evil present in the world.  Especially since that evil is ultimately defeated by a willing sacrifice; gee, I wonder where I’ve heard of that concept before?

There is a sequel in the works that will focus more on Vasilisa's sister and brother; her brother in particular is a devout Christian and so far, at least, a good guy, so perhaps the friction between the two belief systems will be better addressed.  Regardless, I look forward to reading more from Arden.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke is billed as a steampunk romance, but it is quite a bit more bonkers than that -- yes, there are airships and clockworks and a Victorianish atmosphere, but there are also secret societies, pirates, radio-controlled nanoagents, zombies, cyborgs, and giant half-metal sharks.  Brook is such a talented writer, however, that you just take all that craziness in stride and enjoy the story.

This is primarily a romance, so there was an awful lot of relationship angst and thinking about feelings; I would have preferred more adventure-having and mystery-solving.  And there is the potential for some ugly racial issues.  According to this alternate history, the Golden Horde successfully took over most of Europe for hundreds of years, and England only recently regained its freedom.  Even in our world, where there was no Mongol empire ruling everyone through the use of mind-controlling nanoagents, white people nonetheless managed to have (still have, in some cases) some ugly opinions about Asians; you can imagine what the fictional English in the novel think of them.  Brook smartly mitigates some of this by making the female protagonist half-Asian, but this can only go so far (especially given that she is the product of a rape) and there is the danger of tokenism.  There are also brief references to a resistance within the Horde, so perhaps later books will widen the scope.

Still, this book was loads of fun.  I also read two novellas set in the same world -- The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked.  As is often the case in romance novellas, the couples go from hate to true love far too quickly, but the novellas a worth reading for the added world-building.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Moda Blockheads

So Moda is running a quilt-along this year -- a series of (48, I think) 6-inch blocks created by six different quilt designers.  Even though I am determined to finish Beadboy1's quilt this year, and start Beadboy2's (and maybe even do Beadboy3's, if I can get the missing block), I can't resist these blocks.

I don't think I'll do all of them, but inspired by a friend I am going to make a bunch using novelty prints I've accumulated over the years.  And where better to start than the Red Sox?
(My friend did hers with the Mets, but that's ok -- we can get along as long as it's not 1986.)

Next up: Milagros fabric (what a coinkydink!)
It was a cloudy day
I'm aiming for a nice little collection of these, enough to make a wall hanging.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cruz de Milagros

I've been meaning to make a cross covered with milagros for a number of years.
I started with a plain wooden cross from the craft store and painted it a deep yellow in the recess and purple elsewhere.  I then glued milagros all over, and for good measure added little pink plastic flowers (really teeny hair barrettes broken in half) to the corners.
I hung it with the painted cross and portrait of La Virgen de Guadalupe my mom gave to me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

I bought this for Beadboy2, and he loved it so much I got intrigued.  Gabriel is a seventh grader with missing parents and a mysterious legacy, who soon learns of the significance of ravens both to his family and the world at large. The obvious comparison is to Harry Potter, but that's fairly superficial; this novel is its own story, based in part on Nordic myths and more grounded in the real world (specifically, Brooklyn).  Hagen develops a rather fascinating avian culture -- ravens use riddles to evaluate the world, owls love puns, and so on -- and ties it to a dangerous magical object that must be kept from those who would use it (shades of LOTR, here).  The literate plot is engaging and moves quickly, so much so that I was disappointed when the book ended.  Good thing there's a sequel coming later this year!

The characters, too, are a step above the ones usually found in these sorts of novels.  We are introduced to certain stock characters like the bully, the clueless adult, and the untrustworthy companion, but they don't remain two-dimensional for long.  Hagen gives his young readers credit for understanding that the world isn't always black and white, and the story is better for it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

I Don't Like Walking Around this Old and Empty House

"Little Talks" by of Monsters and Men:

It's been a while since I made an ATC about song lyrics.  Although this looks similar to the house I made for Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the idea has been floating around in my brain for a few years.

The first step was laying a piece of background fabric onto super thick, stiff interfacing, and sketching out a house shape with the sewing machine:

I then appliqued little scraps of fabric to make the wallpaper for the different rooms:
which I then trimmed close to the stitching:
Next up was the embroidery -- pieces of furniture, decor items, stick-figure ghosts, and, of course, the famale narrator of the song.  I trimmed the result to 2.5 by 3.5 inches, backed it with felt, and zig-zagged twice around the perimeter.

I'd forgotten how much fun these are, and I should start doing more. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Play Ball!

Baseball earrings, using peyote stitch and delica beads:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bunny Foo Foo Now Has an Egg

Pattern from here.  I used a plastic egg (the kind for kids' egg hunts; there are currently a bunch floating around my living room) rather than a styrofoam one.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Round-Up

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist: What an odd book this was.  It's Victorian steampunk, which I love, but the story is more twisted and ugly than I expected. I didn't love the novel (the first of a trilogy, natch) -- way too long, with too many repetitive and unnecessary action scenes -- but Dahlquist has some intriguing ideas and a good writing style so I will keep reading for now.

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones: What a fun, enjoyable novel this was!  With very little exposition and traditional world-building, Jones nonetheless created a vivid story involving magic and technology, unconventional heroes, multiple worlds, a decaying empire, an a wacky sci-fi convention.  Some elements are a little dated (the portable, magical fax machine cracked me up), but I loved this novel and I was sorry when I finished it.

The Drowning Spool by Monica Ferris: The seventeenth (!) needlecraft mystery wasn't quite as good as the others.  Ferris did an admirable job detailing characters who aren't perfect or don't make great choices but nonetheless deserve justice, but I missed the regular characters, and the mystery itself was forgettable.  She also appears to have dropped the potential storylines she hinted at in the last book, which is too bad.

Hip-Hop Family Tree Book 1 by Ed Piskor: The first comic book in a series that will detail the history of hip-hop.  There's not much of a traditional narrative because Piskor opted to take a more fragmented, impressionistic approach, but that serves the thesis -- that hip-hop resulted from the confluence of many disparate trends, people, and circumstances -- well.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen: Another lovely, comforting read from Allen, whose description of a hot, humid Southern summer practically caused my hair to frizz.  I think the characters were too blasé about a major reveal late in the book, but I especially loved her portrayal of Selma, a character that in other novels would have been a one-dimensional villain.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 15

The picture's not great, but you can see the little motifs I stitched this week -- a crown of thorns, a lamb, and an Easter egg for the holidays.  I also saw the Mummies exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and was inspired to stitch a creepy little Chinchorro death mask.  There was some beautiful embroidery on some of the wraps that I wanted to sketch, but Beadboy1 had other ideas (mainly, to go home) and he pretty much dragged me as fast as he could through the exhibit.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Little Bunny Foo Foo

Last month I itched to start crocheting again, maybe a cute little brown bunny to sit next to Maggie Rabbit.  After searching pinterest and ravelry, I settled on this pattern by Lisa Power.
I used buttons for the eyes, and felt for the nose.  There weren't any specific directions for sewing the bunny parts together so I had to figure it out myself, with mixed results.  Originally I planned a dress for her like Maggie's, but then I was inspired to make a crown of flowers from some scraps of Liberty fabric (and they hide the messy joinder of the ears to the head!).

Here they are together:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I've missed some of the months in the Inspired by Reading group, so I scrambled to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? in time for this week's discussion/reveal. I'm glad I did!  Semple's novel was a thoroughly enjoyable depiction of funny, troubled, exasperating people, and a touching meditation on creativity, mental illness, and responsibility.

Rather than make jewelry, I went in a different direction.  Bernadette is an architect whose masterpiece was a house made entirely of recycled, salvaged, or local materials.  That inspired me to make my own house from my stash:
I placed fabric scraps on a piece of heavy interfacing and sewed all around and across the roof to make a house shape.  A leather tag from an old pair of my husband's jeans and a keyhole doohickey became the door. I attached another hardware doohickey to the roof with beads. The upper windows are scraps of metal mesh from an earring organizer I made, and the bottom windows are the plastic tags from doses of Xopenex I had to give Beadboy1 during one of his many hospital stays -- you see, like Bernadette's daughter, my son was also born with a serious heart defect and needed surgery as an infant.  And like her, he has asthma triggered by viruses (I know all too well how school nurses overreact to coughs out of an abundance of caution).  The hand embroidery was done with floss left over from various stitching kits.  Once I was done with the house I backed it with felt and machine-stitched once more around the perimeter. 

Taking broken, used, defective, discarded things and making a home and a life -- I think Bernadette would approve.

Monday, March 27, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 12

The long-term cross stitch project I'm working on has some pretty little forget-me-nots, so I used the same thread to make an impressionistic version:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 11

I spent St. Patrick's Day sewing with friends, so I stitched this that night:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I'm so Behind!

The Inspired by Reading book club's selection for February was The Ladies of Grace Adieu, but only today did I finish a piece inspired by it (especially sad given I've already read the book twice).  The stories are mostly dark and elegant, so I made something to match:
The beads are vintage faceted glass in deep purple, and I added sections of black chain between each one (I still need a black clasp). I think it will go nicely with a black and purple cross I strung onto purple ribbon a while back:

Still no word on a sequel.  Sigh.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Biggest UFO

... Is the quilt for Beadboy1, started more than a decade ago (good thing I had the sense to make a twin-sized quilt, rather than a crib quilt!).  The problem is that I was overly ambitious, and planned a sampler quilt of star blocks in different styles, techniques, and sizes, which has greatly slowed down my progress.

I'm determined to finish it this year, so the last few months I pieced together the center using a (hand-pieced!) (don't look to closely at the center) lone star as the focus, surrounded by a bunch of 4.5- and 6-inch stars (see what I mean about ambitious?):
That's only about a third of the quilt (minus the borders), and the only other squares I have done are:
So there's still a lot of work to do.  But: progress!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 9

Another week that kicked my butt.  Not much stitching this time.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 8

Because I am a big dork, I embroidered my name in Tolkien's Elvish script, and his Dwarven runes (Moria-style).  Then Linear B.  Then the dancing men from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock stories, and St. Thomas More's script from Utopia, and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Round-Up

Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber: The movie is a guilty pleasure at Christmastime, so I thought I should finally read the book.  The storylines are fleshed out more, and there were some subplots that were dropped for the movie.  While she has some genuine insights into human behavior, the resolutions of the various storylines were too pat.

And Then You Dye by Monica Ferris: another enjoyable outing with an interesting mystery and, as a bonus, the return of one of my favorite characters.  I am interested to see where she goes in the next few novels, because things seem to be gearing up for a shake-up of the characters and setting.

Death's Old Sweet Song by Jonathan Stagge: An enjoyable, old-school mystery, of the style they really don't write anymore.  It caught my attention because the murders are based on an old, old song I sang as a child (and sing to my children) -- "Green Grow the Rushes-O." The novel had some frank discussions of sexual mores and a touching subplot involving what we now call PTSD, which serve as a reminder that past generations weren't always as naive and ignorant as we like to think.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel: Bechdel's previous comic left me wanting to know more about her mother, so when I saw this at the library I snatched it up.  Unfortunately, it is more about Bechdel's own issues with her mother, and the therapy she's had over the years, rather than her mother herself.  Still, Bechdel's writing and drawing are as compelling as ever.

In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent: a layperson's guide to invented languages, and their (few) successes and (many) failures.  Okrent's writing is delightfully witty and down-to-earth, and she does an excellent job showing the idealism and tragedy that underlie so many efforts to build a better language.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: your standard young-woman-flees-personal-and-professional-disaster-in-the-city-and-finds-true-happiness-in-the-country novel.  Miller's heroine is more unconventional than most, which was a nice change of pace, and the book made me both hungry for the delicious meals the characters made and nostalgic for my childhood in a small New England town.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Calico Heart Garland

The idea came from Sarana Ave's Heart Strings.  I made mine longer and with more hearts, using my pile of new and vintage calicos.  It's all hand-stitched, too.  I used tan wool and a running stitch to sew the fronts and backs together, leaving a gap for stuffing:
Once I stuffed them, I sewed up the last bits and strung them onto hemp cord with a large, dull needle.

For the moment I have them with my birdies:
(I'm still working on the best way to display the birdies.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

The Privilege of the Sword was unlike any fantasy* novel I've read.  The novel contained all the elements one would expect from a story like this -- the young protagonist who is not as lady-like as she is supposed to be; the flighty, more feminine best friend; the rakish, dangerous lord who breaks all the rules; the corrupt, vengeful antagonist; the aging mentor; the street-wise orphan; quasi-regency society; romances both true and false; the supreme importance of honor -- but nothing played out as I expected.  Kushner did something entirely fresh and unusual, yet mostly plausible, with these tropes.  The result was a compelling novel I took in as if I were completely new to reading fiction; no small feat given how much I've learned about story-telling conventions over the years.

I don't think I will read the other two novels in this series, however.  For all that I appreciated, and even enjoyed, what Kushner did, the world she created is not one I want to return to.  Despite all the ribbons and lace and swordplay and adventure, it is a fundamentally amoral, materialist world, filled with people who are clever and witty but not sincere, always seeking pleasure and never experiencing joy.

*I use the term loosely.  It is set in a world similar to but not our own, yet there was no actual magic.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 5

Tried some new stitches this time in addition to my favorites. The dark fuschia line is the braid stitch, and the purple line next to it is a mystery stitch I found on pinterest (with a dead link, natch); I think it is a combo and variant of the heavy chain and broad chain stitches.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Renaissance Jewels

I got Blueberry Cove Beads' Renaissance Box for my birthday:
Ooh, pretty!
I couldn't resist all those red beads and gold(en) charms, so I made a necklace:

The little treasure chest charm on the top strand opens up; I'll have to find something dear and tiny to put in it.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 4

A new job, the flu, and the current state of political discourse conspired to kick my ass these past two weeks.  Some nights I stitched literally one stitch, and some nights I stitched nothing at all.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Year of the Rooster

The Chinese New Year celebrations of my friends and neighbors reminded me of the March/April issue of Piecework I bought years ago, which had a cute little pattern for an embellished rooster for the Chinese New Year.  I didn't make it that year, though, so I hung on to the pattern.  Periodically I'd pull it out but it was the "wrong" year, and I'd wish I had patterns for the other animals (I even tried my hand at designing a dragon one year).  And what do you know -- it's now twelve years later and the year of the rooster again!  ... And I can't find the pattern anywhere.

While looking for it, I found a pattern for Chinese lanterns by Aimee Ray, from the SewNews holiday issue.  That would work, and has the added benefit of not being tied to any particular year.  ... But apparently I didn't save the templates that came with it.  So I winged it, sketching out a pointed oval about 12 cm by 5 cm and sewing six of them (cut from pale pink felt) to make a fat sphere-like shape. I stitched red flowers and gold stems on each side.  Then, scrutinizing the pictures from the pattern, I added red felt "caps" to the top and bottom.
The pink is much paler in real life
It's kind of wonky, so I suggest getting Ray's etsy pattern, a fancier version than the SewNews pattern.

Friday, January 20, 2017


The White Tree:
The design itself is specifically the White Tree of Gondor, but I did not use a black background and I did not add the stars and crown.  I did use rayon floss to give it a lovely shimmer, as if the tree were glowing.

Before rinsing off the embroidery stabilizer:
I kind of like the nimbus it gives the tree branches; I bet I could get the same effect with netting on a future project.