Thursday, December 29, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} The heart of a small boy

"People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy ...  and I keep it in a jar on my desk." -- Stephen King

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

{read: time travel fiction} 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The 1950s and early 1960s are as much a character in 11/22/63 as Jake Epping/George Amerberson, and Stephen King brings the time period to life. Who knew that the 1950s stank of cigarette smoke and air pollution from factories? It reminded me of the way Pat Conroy evokes the sense of place in The Prince of Tides, and it's been a while since I've read anything in which the setting was such an important part of the story.

To make a long (800+ pages) story short, Jake finds a time travel hole and sets out to stop the assassination of JFK. But the hole drops him into the 1950s, so he has some time to waste before it's time for his main mission. I was impatient at first and wished that the story could have been shortened by 200 or so pages by dropping Jake closer to the 1960s, but the story soon won me over. This is compulsively readable and gets harder to put down the closer you get to the end.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, December 22, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Minds like empty rooms

"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books." -- Harper Lee

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

{read: Christmas novel} Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

I first discovered Rosamunde Pilcher with her bestselling book The Shell Seekers, which became one of my all-time favorites. Although I read her other books, none compared to that one until Winter Solstice. Re-reading this tale of loss, sorrow, and the journey to grace and hope has become one of my annual Christmas traditions.

Elfrida Phipps plans to while away her retirement years in a quiet English village after a life spent in London on the stage and the tragic death of her lover. But once there, she becomes friends with Gloria and Oscar Blundell and their little girl. When tragedy befalls the Blundells, Oscar asks her to help, and it's off to Corrydale in Scotland for a time of grieving and, they hope, healing. With no plans to celebrate Christmas, they settle in for the winter. Yet when various relatives and acquaintances end up on their doorstep, they reconsider their plans -- not just for Christmas, but for their future. This is a heartwarming story of relationships among friends and relatives, men and women, and children and adults. (I know, that's just about everyone.) It's not sappy, but it has a message of grace and hope that I always find inspiring and grounding.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher (Thomas Dunne Books, 2000)
My rating: 5 stars

Monday, December 19, 2011

{crafts} Last Minute Christmas Crafts

Need a few ideas for some last minute christmas crafts? Check out these projects posted on Random Thoughts of a Supermom:

I don't know about you, but these last few days before Christmas are just a little crazy!
*last minute shopping trips*
*wrapping presents*
*baking lots of goodies*
But if you are ahead of the game this year and are looking for a few quick crafts to tackle before Saturday, here is a list of a four SUPER fun and SUPER easy crafts to try!
If you need to add a little bit of Christmas cheer to your house, you could make a Christmas version of my Candy Bottles. Just add red and green M&M's {or maybe even peppermints} and some vinyl letters, for a quick Christmas craft that can be used throughout the year.
 I also added a little more glitter to my decor this year with some simple letters that I framed.  Cut out the letters of your choice, coat them with glue, sprinkle with glitter, and then framed them.

To keep the kiddos busy, you could let them make these SUPER cute Rudolph Candy Canes. Check out the tutorial over on my friend Liz's blog Sugarplum Creations.
Check out this really great tutorial on how to make a Tulle and Pearl necklace over at Sumo's Sweet Stuff. This would be a great last minute gift for your sister or friend. I'm thinking of making one using some red tulle I have left over from wrapping presents:)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." —Douglas Adams

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

{read: baseball and life}: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a slow starter but once it picks up momentum, it keeps rolling until the end. I put it down after about 150 pages and wasn't sure if I'd pick it back up again, but I kept wondering what would happen to the characters, so I decided to finish it and, surprisingly, it's ended up in my favorites list and with a four-star rating. At its heart, this is a story about what you do when the things you planned and hoped and worked for don't happen, told through the story of three college baseball players, a high school dropout, and a college president. How do you deal with defeat? How do you move on to the next stage, and how do you even figure out what's next? The characters of Henry, Pella, Schwartz, and Owen are all very believable and I found myself rooting for them. They showed growth throughout the book, but it was in small, lifelike spurts.

There were also several passages in this book that I made me say, "Yes! That's it!" It made me reflect again on the fact that the best fiction carries truth at its heart. Harbach and his characters gave words to the same things that I've thought or felt but not been able to express so eloquently.

I do have two criticisms to offer. The first is the use of the word "freshpersons" instead of "freshmen." This alone was almost enough to make me stop reading. Luckily, Henry moves on through college and its use becomes less frequent, but it was very jarring to me. It sounded pretentious and threw me out of the story every time I saw it on the page.

The second is the way the situation with Affenlight was resolved. Without giving it away, I'll say that I saw it coming a few pages before and think it was the easy choice. While it may have been a realistic resolution in terms of the plot, I expected better from Harbach by this point in the book. He had already surprised and delighted me a few times and I thought I could count on him not to take the easy out. That being said, this is definitely still a book worth reading with an excellent, pitch-perfect (baseball pun not intended) ending.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, December 8, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Saint or sinner?

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

{read: book recs} Top reads from 2011

In the spirit of the season, here are some of the best books I've read this year. If you're giving books as gifts, consider an independent bookstore that may have an autographed copy, like Boswell's BooksNext Chapter Bookshop, or Powell's Books. I believe all of these except the memoir were published this year. That's one that's been on my TBR for a long time that I finally got to ... and was glad that I did.

Mystery/thriller from Sweden, Norway, or Denmark
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Psychological thriller/mystery
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Best memoir
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Other great fiction not easily categorized
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano
The Call by Yannick Murphy
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Monday, December 5, 2011

{crafts} crinkle rocket ship {tutorial} from Sew.Craft.Create

This is a super cool crafted toy idea from Sew.Craft.Create!

The best part about this? you get to recycle water bottles!
{make sure you grab the kind with the ridged surface!}

{not pictured: needle, thread, liquid stitch, & batting}

and your done!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

{A thought for Thursday} A mind of her own

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." — Robert A. Heinlein