Tuesday, August 30, 2011

{read: debut novel} Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

This crisp debut novel by Amor Towles will transport you into the world of New York City in 1938. Katey Kontent (pronounced like the state of mind) and her roommate, Eve, are two secretaries trying to stretch $3 in a bar on New Year's Eve, 1937. Tinker Grey, a man of obvious means, buys them drinks, and this meeting ends up changing all of their lives. The three are just beginning to get to know each other when a terrible mishap alters the balance among them. How this affects the three of them and the choices they make during the rest of the year is told by Katey. I loved everything about Katey except her  name, which seems to belong in a comic strip. She's sharp, she's funny, and she's willing to take a chance to try to get what she wants. She'll sometimes surprise you with what she says and does. I could have read 100 more pages in her voice, but 1938 came to an end and so does this story. I especially loved these two paragraphs on p. 323:

It is a bit of a cliche to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time--by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries. But for the most of us, life is nothing like that. Instead, we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options. Do I take this job or that job? In Chicago or New York? Do I join this circle of friends or that one, and with whom do I go home at the end of the night? And does one make time for children now? Or later? Or later still?

In that sense, life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge. In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions--we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.

Don't miss this chance to immerse yourself in this era of New York City. You'll taste the martinis, smell the cigarette smoke, and hear the music from the clubs and parties that keep everyone up til the wee hours before they head into work, again, the next day.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Viking Penguin, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, August 25, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Words for everything

"In England there's a hell of different words for everything. It's for if you forget one, there's always another one left over. It's very helpful." - Harrison in Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

{read: romp through history} Centuries of June by Keith Donohue

A man gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom but falls and hits his head. As he tries to figure out what happened, he is interrupted by seven different women from different centuries, all with a story to tell -- and all with murder in their hearts. I am often impatient with the story-within-a-story structure (think of I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb) but in this case, the stories were so well-written and the characters so engaging that I found myself looking forward to the next one. Donohue made the connections between the stories flow so that it all came together naturally. After reading several books that seem to be no more than very loosely linked short stories billed as novels, I was glad that this romp through American history read like one cohesive story.

I had read Donohue's first book (The Stolen Child) several years ago, and I remember thinking that it was dark and sad. This is neither - an enjoyable read.

Centuries of June by Keith Donohue (Crown Publishers, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Monday, August 22, 2011

{crafts} Yoga Mat Bag

Over the weekend I pulled out some batik material that I had made a while back. It got me inspired to do it again. I love the way a finished piece of batik fabric looks, but I never know what to do with it. Then I found this Yoga Mat bag tutorial. I think the batik fabric would work great with a project like this one:

This project shows you how to make a basic yoga mat bag. It's a great way to keep your bag clean and rolled up in between classes. Before you begin you will need to measure your yoga mat. Roll up your Yoga mat and measure the length of it and the circumference and add 3 inches (7.5cm)for the seams and add an additional 3 inches (7.5cm) to the length for the drawstring top. Fabric 1: My mat is 21 inch (53cm)in length and has a circumference of 20 inches(50cm). My fabric needs to be : 27 inches (68cm) by 23 inches(58.5cm). Strap: Your strap needs to be the same length as your yoga mat bag which is 27inches (68cm). You can use wide ribbon, binding, string or make a strap using the same fabric bu cutting a 27inch(68cm) by 4 inch (20cm) piece out and sewing it into a tube to form the strap. Fabric 2: You will need a circle for the base of the bag. This should measure the circumference of your mat 20 inches (50cm)and allow a 2 inch (5cm) seam. Cut a 22inch (56cm)Circle out of fabric. Hem C line first. Sew A & B together to form a tube remembering to leave the hem line open. Sew strap ends to E & F. Pin the bottom of the tube to G then sew together. Thread your cord through the C hem. Turn your bag the right way out and you are finished.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Spaghetti and writing

"Writing a novel is like carrying around armfuls of spaghetti and meatballs without a bowl." -- Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

{read: snippets from a debut novel} Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

I've just started this, but it's so good so far that I wanted to share a few snippets in hopes of enticing some of you to read it before my review comes along.

Harri has recently emigrated from Ghana to London lives with his mother and sister in its housing projects. He's in Year 7. As the story opens, one of his classmates has been murdered.

Here are the snippets:

"I pretended like if I kept looking hard enough I could make the blood move and go back in the shape of a boy. I could bring him back alive that way."

"In England there's a hell of different words for everything. If's for if you forget one, there's always another one left over. It's very helpful."

"An orange lady got hit by a tro-tro, nobody even saw it coming. I pretended like all the oranges rolling everywhere were her happy memories and they were looking for a new person to stick to so they didn't get wasted."

{His friend Manik's father shows him how to tie a tie and how to take it off without untying it.}
"Now I'll never have to tie my tie my whole life. I beat the tie at his own game!"

If you liked Incendiary by Chris Cleave or Room by Emma Donoghue, this will be one you'll enjoy. I can't wait to read more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Travel on the couch

“Life is limited, but by writing, and reading, we can live in different worlds, get inside the skins and minds of other people, and, in this way, push out the boundaries of our own lifes.” — Joan Lingard

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

{read: great chick lit} Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

I've been a fan of Jennifer Weiner since she started to publish novels, in part because I followed close upon her footsteps as a reporter at the Centre Daily Times newspaper in State College, Pa. In fact, one of the superintendents that I covered used to call me Jennifer sometimes. I look forward to her books because they're usually a light, refreshing, quick read, like eating a dish of orange sherbet while you're dangling your feet in the pool. All of that being said, this is by far her strongest book. She uses a rotating point of view to tell the story of Jules (egg donor), Annie (surrogate mother), India (adopting mother), and Bettina (India's stepdaughter) and delve into the stories of these very different women who become linked by one baby. The plot may be somewhat predictable, but I enjoyed the character development and thought that the writing grew stronger and the novel went on. I'd definitely recommend this as a good book to read this summer.

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner (Atria, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, August 4, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} More

"So often a thing makes more of itself. Love begets love, and cruelty engenders more cruelty. Chaos, once opened, births chaos." -- Stefan Merrill Block, The Storm at the Door

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

{read: vacation book} To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

More than just a love story or an exploration of what marriage is or isn't, this novel explores how we deal with the choices we've made when we stop to take stock of our lives. Judith has always been a planner, but she suddenly thinks that perhaps she should have made different choices in love and marriage. The suspicion that her husband is sleeping with his assistant prompts her to use a fake name to rent a storage unit, where she sets up her girlhood bedroom. She spends many afternoons there napping, recovering from migraines that have suddenly begun to plague her. Even her work as a television producer has begun to suffer. The natural next step is to track down Willy, her boyfriend/fiancee whom she dumped after going to Stanford. What she finds and how she reacts surprises her.

I wasn't sure how this was going to end, but I felt the ending was the one that the novel deserved. The writing is beautiful, as is the title, and the book is sprinkled with witty one-liners on marriage from Judith's mother. I thought this was hard to put down. It would make a great book for a vacation, whether you're heading away or staying home. Tom NcNeal creates a world with characters so real that you can't wait to return to them. This is the first book I've read by him, but I've added his first (Goodnight, Nebraska) to my to-read list.

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Monday, August 1, 2011

{crafts} Homemade House for Toddlers

Here is a fun activity to do with your little ones. All you need is a few empty boxes, an egg crate, toilet paper roll, washable paints, old magazines and glue.

First I helped my 19 month old paint the insides of the shoe boxes. He enjoyed having globs of paint to brush around on the insides of the boxes. This is all we did on our first day. We usually paint on weekend mornings, before having a bath or going to the pool since it gets pretty messy. The following weekend we painted the egg carton and toilet paper roll. Again, he enjoyed getting the paint in the crevices of the egg carton. He also enjoyed putting his paint brush through the toilet paper roll. Then we looked through some magazines and cut out a few decorations for our house. We ended up with a cow jumping over a moon, which turned out to be his favorite part of the house. We also added a car and a dog. I cut up the egg carton to use as chairs, a table, a bed and a bath tub. Finally, I brought the pieces inside and used my glue gun to put it all together. Aaron enjoyed playing with the house with his little people.