Thursday, September 1, 2011

Middle Sister's August Books

Not so many books read this month, as I was reading some textbooks and rewriting lectures for this semester's class. Here are the few books on the fiction/nonfiction front I managed to squeeze in.

  1. The Agony Column by Earl Derr Biggers Fun historical mystery from 1916, Biggers is best remembered for his Charlie Chan novels, but he also wrote stand alones, including this and Seven Keys to Baldpate (one of my favorite classic films). Our narrator is a young man about the town drawn into a mystery in London when he decides to pursue a chance acquaintance. The plot twist is key: he falls madly in love with a woman he sees in a restaurant, writes a note to her via the newspaper's agony column (today's personals), and then writes her a series of letters describing the perilous mystery swirling around him. Extremely enjoyable! I recommend this one highly.
  2.  Lye in Wait by Cricket McRae (2007) First in the Home Crafting mystery series, this cozy introduces us to Sophie Mae Reynolds, her friend Meghan, and Meghan's daughter Erin, all sharing a house outside Seattle. When the neighborhood handyman is killed in Sophie Mae's soap making workroom, she's drawn into a mystery that threatens everyone she loves. Naturally, the investigating officer becomes her love interest (really, authors, this is getting to be a boring cliche), and the coincidences that come with the identification of the murderer are a little farfetched, this is not a bad introduction to the series and the characters. 
  3. The Knitter's Life List by Gwen W. Stenge (2011) Nicely illustrated and laid out introductory guide for new knitters, this books stakes its own claim to the over-saturated knitting book market by providing life lists to introduce each chapter. These life lists include yarn goals, pattern goals, and other bucket list entries (Who came up with the silly term bucket list anyway?). Honestly, this was the part of the book I disliked. I am not less of a knitter because I have no inclination to learn to knit socks; I only wear socks out here for about 3 weeks of the year. Heavy on Internet-promoted designers, with only a few of the older, pre-web designers mentioned. Limited in the kinds of patterns it discusses (scarves, sweaters,socks,, gloves, and bags) when there are tons of other things one can knit.  But, great photos, great hand drawings illustrating the different kinds of sweaters and how their constructions differ (surely a big help to new knitters or those who've never tried a wearable), and hooray for the discussion on various knitting styles and how they are all the right way to knit if it's comfortable to you.Nice bibliography.
  4. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius (2011) Great guide to all animals that provide fleece that can be carded and processed into yarn. This is a unique addition to the knitting literature out there. While it's for serious spinners and weavers out to expand their horizons, knitters with a passing interest in what they are working with will find the book useful for its easy to follow, well executed layout, great photography, and inclusion of more breeds of sheep than I knew existed. The authors included chiengora (spinning dog fur, and yes, they include a photo of a gorgeous Samoyed!), rabbit fur, and other unusual fiber options. Love the photo spreads showing the unprocessed raw fleece, the spun fiber, and gauge swatches for each fiber source. I don't harbor secret fantasies of living on a sheep farm to get all the yarn I want, but maybe some knitters and crocheters do, and if so, this is the book for them. To the rest of us, it's a handy reference to what a qiviut really is.
  5. All Wound Up by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (2011) Latest collection of essays by the Yarn Harlot of blog fame. Pearl-McPhee muses on yarn, stashes thereof, and other mysteries of life. Fans of the Yarn Harlot will love this latest collection. Enjoyable light read. I was only disturbed to find that Pearl-McPhee can't even have dinner with her husband and children without knitting. Really, Stephanie, it's okay to let the needles lay and enjoy the moment. Those girls will be all grown up soon, and gone, and you'll wish you remembered more more about restaurant dinners with them than what socks you were working on. Hopefully, the socks will trigger a memory of the jokes they told, the food they ate, they way their eyes twinkled. But too many new knitters take the words of Serious Knitters like Pearl-McPhee to heart and think it's okay to knit anywhere, including church services, concerts, and anywhere they want to. It's just knitting, folks. You won't die taking an hour off from your current WIP.
I'm hesitant to include the next title, which sucked up several nights of precious reading time. It's one of the few books I've ever stopped reading. Cooking the Books by Bonnie S. Calhoun has a great premise: woman's mother dies, leaves her a bookstore (love that location for a mystery), and as daughter is looking to restart her life, she decides to at least give running the bookstore a try, despite not knowing anything about the business nor being interested in it.This backstory takes place before the book opens. When the story starts, Sloane has already been at the bookstore for a few months, has met a doctor she's romantically interested in, and is trying to figure out what to do with the bookstore. Some developers are trying to buy out the local small business owners to turn this block of Brooklyn into a high rise development, and Sloane is determined not to sell when she knows her mother would have resisted. Sounds great, right? But the book was in need of serious editorial help. After having read one-quarter of the the book, the most mystery we've had is two threatening emails. The author spends an inordinate amount of time trying to develop her characters into quirky, one-of-a-kind eccentrics but failed. Typos, grammatical errors, and ridiculous copy--no thirty-four-year old, even one who doesn't cuss, is going to use the phrase "great googa-mooga!" repeatedly. I stopped reading this galley, the first I've had to decline from NetGalley. As a first draft, this showed some promise, but it needs a lot of editing. A lot.

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