sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

April 18, 2019

mid-april unraveling
posted by soe 12:11 am

Mid-April Unraveling

I’m up in Connecticut for a week and amongst the other things I have to work on, I brought some reading material and some WIPs. First up, finish my stripey socks, the second of which is nearly to the heel turn, and A Covert Affair by Susan Mann, the second novel in the Librarian and the Spy series, which I’d like to be able to leave behind for my mom to read.

Want to see what others are reading or knitting? Check out As Kat Knits.

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April 15, 2019

into the stacks 2019: february, part 2
posted by soe 1:54 am

As usual, I fell off my review plan, which was to give updates twice a month. However, there’s no time like the present to start getting back on track. Therefore, here are the remaining books I read in February (see the book I read in the first half of the month here):

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Twelve-year-old Sunny is American by birth, but Nigerian by residence and ancestry. She also is albino by birth and, it turns out, magic, one of the Leopard Society, a trait she learns she has inherited from her grandmother.

When we first meet Sunny, she is lonely, shunned by classmates who don’t understand her biological disorder or her foreignness or who want to spend time outside, where Sunny cannot follow. One boy, Orlu, however, reaches out to her and befriends her, and then subsequently introduces her to Chichi, a homeschooled girl who lives near them. The pair of them awaken the magic within her, which leads to her being inducted into the Leopard Society, the West African magical world, where she also meets Sasha, an American boy who has been sent to Nigeria by his parents who worry his magical abilities and his anger over racial injustices in the U.S. will get him into serious trouble.

The four of them form an alliance that will help them toward self-betterment, improved magical abilities (everyone has their particular strengths), and true friendship. And while they’re working on that, in the real world of Aba, there’s a serial child murderer about, which makes Sunny’s sneaking out at night that much more challenging. Plus, Sunny has to contend with her family — two brothers who have gotten used to overlooking their “disabled” sister, a mother who doesn’t want to talk about Sunny’s grandmother, and a father who has never gotten over the fact that Sunny was neither a boy nor a pretty girl.

If you like middle-grade fantasy or if you’re interested in West African folklore, I think you’ll like this series, the first in a trilogy.

Pages: 349. Library copy on paper.

Advanced Love, by Ari Seth Cohen

This coffee table book tells, through forty profiles and 200 photos, the story of senior citizens in love — and their sartorial sense. This is not a book of my parents (sorry, Mum and Dad), nor probably of yours, but is full of quirky characters sporting bow ties and crinolines and matching outfits. There are how-we-met stories (of both old and recent vintage) and things-we’ve-learned-over-the-years stories and what-is-love stories. The couples are all older, but otherwise vary in gender (and gender identity), marital status, and race. There’s a love story for everyone to identify with.

This was a bit of a departure for me, but I visited the library one sunny buy chilly day and this was sitting on top of the new book shelf and a sunbeam was dancing through the windows, inviting me to sit and read for a bit. It was a quick read — just over an hour, if I recall, but it was sweet to read all the interviews and see everyone’s dapper styles.

This book would probably be enjoyed by those who like fashion columns, those who want proof love endures, and anyone who wants to finish a book in a short period of time while flipping through short blurbs and pretty pictures.

Pages: 240. Library copy on paper.

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel, by Mariah Marsden, Brenna Thummler (illustrator), and L.M. Montgomery

I picked this up because I read a positive review of it somewhere. I don’t remember where and that’s probably just as well.

I have not read an adapted classic graphic novel before, although I’ve been open to doing so. And I sort of understood that this meant that scenes were going to be translated to picture and I was okay with that idea. What I maybe didn’t get was that it was going to chop out whole sequences with Paul Bunyan’s axe, rather than a surgeon’s scalpel.

So, I guess what I’ll say here is that this is not for someone who already knows and loves Anne and the Avonlea world. It would probably be a good introduction for a kid who has to be convinced that they want to read a whole book about a girl from another century. It includes all the major scenes — the ones you’d mention if someone asked you what the book was about — and some of Anne’s flowery language — but I’m not sure that it conveys the book’s — or characters’ — soul. However, I will add that the expressions on the illustrated characters are excellent — Thummler really captures Marilla’s exasperation and Matthew’s adoration and Anne’s … Anne-ness — but I’m not sure that it’s worth more of an Anne-lover’s time than a quick flip-through at your library.

Pages: 232. Library copy on paper.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies, by Jason Fagone

In this historical account, Jason Fagone resurrects a forgotten American hero: Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a codebreaker who helped bring down the Nazis in the Western hemisphere during World War II and who is one of the foremothers of modern cryptology.

The book is divided into three sections — Elizebeth’s early adult years, which she spent at Riverbank, a commune of sorts, part of a midwestern industry of scholars brought together by an eccentric textile tycoon who was one part P.T. Barnum and one part Thomas Edison. It was there that this Shakespearean scholar met a geneticist and fell in love with both him and codes, not necessarily in that order. The two of them began developing codes and figuring out how to solve others’ codes and soon became two of the foremost experts in the nascent field.

The second section deals with the Friedmans’ lives after World War I, when they were finally able to free themselves from the long and sticky grasp of their early benefactor and move themselves to Washington, D.C. William ended up working with the army on cryptanalysis and Elizebeth, after a period of domesticity, was brought out of retirement by the Coast Guard, who sought her help in combatting rumrunners and other criminals.

The final section deals with World War II, in which Elizebeth was crucial in deciphering Nazi radio communication in Mexico and South America, and the years afterwards, when huge swaths of both Friedmans’ work was deemed classified and their work swept under the rug by both J. Edgar Hoover and the NSA. William’s work remained in people’s memory and he was honored during his lifetime, but Elizebeth was lost to history for many years. In fact, the Senate has only just this month voted to honor her accomplishments and contributions.

If you’re at all interested in women’s history, World War II, spies, or cryptology, you should read this book. I assume the print version would speed along a little faster, but Cassandra Campbell, who reads the audio version, does an excellent job, and I really recommend the listen if you’re so inclined. Either way, read it now, because the producers behind The Good Wife and The Good Fight have optioned it for tv adaptation.

Pages: 444. Library copy on audio.

February stats:

Total number of books read: 5.
Total pages read: 1,403
Intended audience: 3 adults; 2 middle-grade.
Source: all from the library.
Format: 4 in paper, 1 in audiobook.
Classification: 3 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
Diversity of authors: 4 Americans, 1 Japanese. 2 authors of color (Asian and African American)

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April 11, 2019

pre-tax day unraveling
posted by soe 1:29 am

Pre-Tax Day Untaveling

Wednesday afternoons have mostly been pleasant recently, so I’ve been spending the time between my midday book group and my evening volleyball game at a pleasant cafe that’s along my bike ride between the library and home and close to a bike dock. They have a southern-facing patio that offers lots of sun and serve pots of tea and just enough tables to accommodate those of us who want to sit outside in the spring. Today, I opted for a bowl of yogurt and granola to accompany my tea.

This shot was taken early in my visit today, because I had not yet begun the heel flap, which I’m now past the halfway point on. It seems possible that I’ll be done with the pair sometime next week, depending on how much time I have to knit.

The novel is Maia Chance’s Gin and Panic, the third volume in her Discreet Retrieval Agency mystery novel. Set in Prohibition Era New York and featuring a young, down-on-her luck society widow and her Swedish former cook, the pair have founded a service, using detecting techniques gleaned from some of their favorite pulp magazine stories, in which they intend to retrieve items for people, often those belonging to Lola’s former social strata, and instead get themselves involved in (and often suspected of) associated murders. There’s a handsome gumshoe beau and an unhandsome gangster beau and lots of drinking and baked goods and costumes you can imagine straight out of Miss Fisher (except placed on a figure where the girdles are straining a bit more because of said baked goods). It’s light, fun fare and in this one the estate where the murder occurs is located in a fictional town not far from where I went to college, so I’m enjoying it. The fourth novel is already out and I think D.C.’s library system has a copy (or maybe has one ordered), so I don’t even wait for the next installment to be written!

If you’d like to see more of what folks are reading and crafting, head over to As Kat Knits.

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April 8, 2019

library book sale haul
posted by soe 1:19 am

FoAL Haul

I stopped by the tail end of the Friends of the Arlington Library book sale today and came away with six things: three Christmas items (two detective stories, including one whose author was, until recently, a mystery of its own, and a dvd of Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas), a favorite childhood title, The Saturdays; a book by a favorite author (Fannie Flagg) that I hadn’t yet read; and a children’s book called A Book Dragon, which I bought solely for the title.

The total bill for the bunch came to $2.25. Not a bad haul, eh?

Do you like to partake of library book sales, and, if so, do you have any favorite finds?

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April 4, 2019

first april unraveling
posted by soe 1:38 am

First April Unraveling

I picked up a new book at the library earlier this week — Deanna Raybourn’s A Dangerous Collaboration, the latest in the Veronica Speedwell mystery series. Set in Victorian England, the series is a gender bending homage to Sherlock Holmes, although Speedwell’s Holmes is far more equaled by Stoker’s Watson than is usually the case. This addition to the series is set on an island off the Cornish coast and features a castle with a poison garden. I’m sure we can all see where this is going to go. And I’m excited for it to do so.

I’ve been in a reading slump recently, so the area around our couch is currently littered with books that I’ve dipped into, expressed interest in continuing, and then put aside for something new, which also fails to snare my attention fully. Less than 24 hours after starting this book, though, and I’m past the treacherous waters of the 50-page mark, so I’m hopeful.

I have also been carrying on with Ladee Hubbard’s The Talented Ribkins and Questlove’s Creative Quest on audio. I’m narrowing in on the halfway mark for the former, which remains both interesting and vague, as our septuagenarian narrator is slow to reveal important details from the past to his niece and his readers. The latter audiobook is fine, and Questlove just revealed the importance of the Stevie Wonder episode of The Cosby Show to many of our now middle-aged hip hop pioneers.

I did not get caught between sock #1 and sock #2 for my stripey stockinette pair. This is the first second sock of 2019, so it’s a pretty momentous knitting occasion for me. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to carry on quickly through. And I just have the toe of the first of my Smock Madness sock to finish before moving on to the second one of that pair, as well. Progress on my shawl has stalled, but it has been suggested to me that if I complete some major item on my to-do list that that feeling of accomplishment might carry me through some of the other tasks, so I may put some energy into wrapping it up. Plus, we’re getting into the weather where I can start going out with just a tshirt and shawl into the evening, so this would be a perfect time to get it off the needles and onto my shoulders.

Want to see what other people are reading and crafting? Head over to As Kat Knits.

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April 2, 2019

top ten tuesday: must-read traits
posted by soe 1:08 am

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic from That Artsy Reader Girl asks us about the things that automatically make us want to read a book. I rarely will buy a book based just on these things (with a couple exceptions), but mostly these are things that will get them added to my TBR list or maybe my library request queue:

  1. Written by favorite authors: Pretty much if J.K. Rowling, Barbara Kingsolver, Jasper Fforde, or Rainbow Rowell write a book, I will buy it with no further recommendation needed.
  2. Heists. I love heists on the screen and on the page.
  3. Set in places I’ve lived or places I’ve visited. With the latter, it’s because being able to picture a place intimately is a huge plus. With the former, it’s both because I love to see these couple places represented well and also a little bit because I want to catch an author out in what they’ve gotten wrong. I’ve put down books set in my D.C. neighborhood because they described the Dupont Circle fountain incorrectly or because they referred to M Street in Georgetown as being townhouses. (Rudi and I have mulled whether I could generously give this one to the author, and I have not given up the idea of returning to it, particularly as I bought my copy of the book and had it inscribed by the author.)
  4. Epistolary novels. I love me some letter writers.
  5. Found families. I love it when a disparate group of individuals comes together to take care of each other.
  6. A personal recommendation from someone whose book opinions I tend to agree with: My folks are usually pretty good with what they recommend to me. My best friend, Karen, although we’ve both had some notable misses. My friend Amani, who early in our friendship let me tag along with her to a bookstore only to remark later that I was the first person who didn’t make her feel rushed in her favorite sections. Raidergirl3, because I think we value a lot of the same things in the books we like.
  7. Feminism. I like strong women, or women who become strong through the course of the story.
  8. Retellings — of fairy tales or classic stories. Updated takes. A change in point of view. Sherlock Holmes stories tend to particularly suck me in. And Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series falls a bit into this through the Bookworld bits.
  9. Children’s stories in translation. They sometimes take me a while and oh my god I hated Bronze and Sunflower, but I always like to give them a shot.
  10. Authors as main characters. Either featuring fictional authors, or fictionalizing real authors (such as Stephanie Barron’s series of mysteries with Jane Austen as the protagonist).

How about you? What automatically makes you want to read a book?

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