Friday, December 21, 2012

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

In The Cutting Season, Caren Gray is the manager of Belle Vie, a pre-war plantation turned tourist attraction. Like all of the land around it, the plantation is in danger of being bought out and dismantled by the neighbouring farm/conglomerate. When the body of a female migrant worker is found in buried on the property and the police turn their attention to a young man on staff, Caren suspects that they are heading in the wrong direction. She decides to do some investigating herself and discovers that this present day murder is somehow connected to the long ago murder of her great-great-great-grandfather, a slave who worked on the plantation.

I loved this book. It contains an incredible story of one woman's mission to get to the truth, while reconciling the past, finding her way in the present and setting her path for the future. The mystery was so interesting, gripping, and suspenseful that I didn't want to put the book down.

The story takes place mostly in the present, but it does have little forays into the near past and distant past. I just love the way Locke expertly combines the present with the past events. The transitions between the two flawless. I also loved how she brought in the background information on the present day characters.

I found the whole story fascinating, especially the parts about the working plantation and the lives of the slaves who worked on it. I've read a few fictional books about slaves and their struggles, but that period in history still isn't that familiar to me. I'm going to have to make a point of reading more books set before the American civil war.

I really enjoyed reading about all of the characters, especially Caren. I really liked and admired her for raising her daughter, Morgan, on her own and for being a strong woman. I didn't quite understand her ex, Eric, though. The same goes for their relationship. That part of the story didn't draw me in as much as the mystery did.

New words:
apologist (page 12): defender
antebellum (page 20): before the Civil War
haints (page 333): ghost (Southern US)
magniloquent (page 341): using important-sounding words
obsequiousness (used with previous word on page 341): sweet talk

I loved the endpapers that feature a map of the Belle Vie grounds. There's an antique feel to it that was just perfect for this story. Besides being beautiful to look at (I love maps!), they helped me see where everything on the plantation was situated. I was able to follow and understand the story better.

I've also read Locke's other book, Blackwater Rising (my review). While I enjoyed it, I liked this one a lot more. That's probably because I found this story more interesting and accessible. I could see myself visiting Belle Vie, enjoying the grounds and learning more about the history of the place.

Highly recommended. I hope to read many more books by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins website.

For more information about the author and her other book, please visit Attica Locke's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke, HarperCollins ©2012. ISBN 9780061802058(Hardcover), 372p.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Christmas Decorations - 2012

Tami over at Just One More Thing... posted some photos of her lovely Christmas decorations.  She asked if others could post photos of their decorations.  

I don't usually decorate a whole lot for Christmas. I almost envy those who do, until I remember that they have to put all of that stuff away and store it for 11 months of the year.  Last year was an exception: we had 5 Christmas trees (the one pictured below, one made out of books and three tiny ones). 

My photos are fairly close up so you can't really see the much of the house at all. I didn't really do that on purpose.  However, I didn't finish putting back all of the boxes yet, so maybe I did it subconsciously so I wouldn't have to clean up.  ;)  

The Tree

This year we only put about 1/5 of the decorations on the tree.  We usually fill it so full you can barely see the tree.  However,  I didn't feel like doing more. It sits in the dining room.

The Nutcracker collection

My husband got one for Christmas a few years back. It then just took off from there. Generally, we find one or two on sale after Christmas to add to the collection. This year, we found some nice ones for a decent price before Christmas, so we bought 4 or 5.  That'll probably be it for awhile.  They sit at the bottom of the stairs.   You'll notice that there's 13...eek.  We can't have that, so there's a nutcracker candle in cellophane on the window ledge. 

The Mantle

...on the fake fireplace.  Yes, those candles are also still in cellophane. They are too pretty to burn. Maybe one day...  I usually put the nativity set on the mantle, but this year I wanted to do something different.   It needs a picture hanging behind the Santas or something else to fill up that blank wall.  I'll have to think about it.    

In addition to these, we have blue outdoor lights on the front part of the main floor of the house and two sides of the garage.  Those are the parts that face the road.  We also have some "tomato cage" trees in the windows of the third floor. This last addition is thanks to Tami who posted some on her blog. Mine didn't turn out nearly as nice as hers did. I'll have to use her picture for reference next year. Sorry, there are no pictures of these decorations. 

Well, that's it.
Merry Christmas!  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Tree Skirt

Heather over at Books and Quilts posted a photo of her tree skirt and asked others do the same. She suggested that we share our story about the tree skirt.

So here goes... I've never had a nice tree skirt.   For years, I used an old bedsheet. Then when my husband's mother moved into a nursing home and we were cleaning out her house, I came across a Christmas-themed round tablecloth. No one else wanted it since no one (including me) had a round table. I knew immediately I was going to use it as a tree skirt.

To make it work, I cut a long slit from edge to the middle, then cut out a small circle in the middle. Just enough to fit around the "trunk" of our artifical tree.

It's not beautiful, but it hides the tree stand and lighting cords.   Maybe one day, I'll have one as nice as Heather's.    

Here's it is:

I guess I could have straightened it out a little before taking the shot.  Oh, well....

If you post a photo of your tree skirt on your blog, be sure to visit Heather's post and add your link to Mr. Linky.

Tomorrow I'll be posting pictures of the tree and a few other Christmas decorations we've put up.

Needlework Tuesday - Afghan

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo of my leftover-yarn afghan. Well, here's the current photo:

It's really growing on me, especially since I can really see the stripes now.   I finished tying all of the bits and pieces of yarn together, so from here on in it's just knitting.  I only have a bit more yarn, so it's going to be rather small, but that's ok.  I might start calling it my afghan-ette.

This is the first time I've used a circular needle. It's ok, but I'm not crazy about it.   I like that I don't have to stitch any panels together, but the needle seems to get twisted and I end up fighting against it. Every few rows or so, I try to twist it back into a good position, but it's still not perfect.

My other knitting project, the sky scarf, is also coming along, but since I started this project, it's sort of on the back burner.  I'm behind on the knitting, but I'm still writing down the sky colours each day, which isn't too hard because we've had so many grey and/or snowy days.   I hope to post a photo of it in two weeks. 

Happy Needleworking!

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Optical Illusions by DK Publishers

Optical Illusions contains 50 optical illusions to enjoy while learning about how the eyes and brain work.

This is such an awesome book. It's written for pre-teens (7-12 year olds), but can be enjoyed by the whole family. Not only do you get to see some terrific illusions, you also get to learn about how they work and how your eyes and brain see them.

The book contains a few classic illusions that I've seen before, but it also has a number of new-to-me ones. I haven't seen some of the classic ones for awhile and it was nice to revisit them and learn more about them. The new-to-me ones were amazing and fun to try out and read about.

I'm a huge fan of books that come with moveable and removable pieces. I know that the removable ones can become lost or damaged, but I still like them. This book has only two pieces that can be completely removed from the book, so it should be fairly easy to keep track of them. The moveable pieces include: pop-ups, pullout tabs, and other moveable parts to help the reader enjoy the illusions. These are all pretty cool!

There's even a section at the back to build your own illusion. The instructions are pretty straightforward (if you read them correctly, which apparently I can't do) and there are no extra tools required. It really well constructed and should last a long time if it's put together (and put away) carefully. It looked pretty cool, but I couldn't get it to work, like the instructions said it would. My only guess is that I constructed it incorrectly or I'm a dunce. ;)

The cover of the book is one of my favourite parts. It's been sitting on my desk and I've been playing with it for days (ever since it arrived). It's sort of hard to explain. Even though the cover is flat, it appears to have dimension. Both the title and circles seem to pop out at the reader. I guess it's 3D, but there are no special glasses required. It's so awesome.

The whole book is well constructed with thick reinforced pages. This is especially important because of the moveable and removable parts. It should last a long time even if it's repeatedly played with. It might even last long enough to hand down to another child.

Highly recommended. This book would make a great Christmas present for a pre-teen, who can then share it with the rest of the family.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit DK's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

Optical Illusions by DK Publishers, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756691891(Hardcover), 31p.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Needlework Tuesday - Knotty Afghan

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was making an afghan with some leftover yarn which I cut into short lengths and tied back together. Trying the strands is so tedious and is taking forever. However, I had enough to at least start. Why oh why did I start with a big project???

I went with stocking stitch for the knotty variegated yarn and made sure all of the knots ended up on the right side. If I'm going to have them, I might as well make them visible. I also figured that they might catch on something on the wrong side when I used the finished afghan. I figured the yarn would be most visible with this stitch.

Because I didn't have enough of the knotty variegated stuff to make a whole afghan, I had to use some full skeins of yarn, which were also laying around without a purpose. I used seed stitch on those rows because I figured some texture and variety might be nice. Those are the grey and burgundy rows. I'm mixing bands of plain yarn with bands of varigated yarn.

I'm not entirely happy with the results so far. I didn't envision is looking like this...rather chaotic and unsightly. I really like order and pattern, so I tied the strands back together in a pattern (colour 1, colour 2, colour 3, colour 4, colour 1, colour 2, etc.) hoping that it would show up in the finished work. No luck. Also, since I cut each of the strands roughly the same length I was hoping that the knots would also form some kind of pattern. No luck there either. *huge sigh* It's all kind of random and has me feeling anxious.

The only thing I'm happy with is that some of the cut up yarn matches the plain bands, although you can't see that in the photo below.  

Anyway, here's the first photo of the thing:

It's not laying flat because I'm using a circular needle to knit the whole thing in one shot. At least, I hope that's why it's not laying flat. Hopefully, when I have more done I'll be able to get a better shot.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

In The Casual Vacancy, councillor, Barry Fairbrother dies leaving a seat on the parish council empty. As his friends, family and foes come to terms with Barry's death, they must decide who's going to take his place. Like other small towns, it seems that everyone knows and is somehow connected to one another. That doesn't mean they agree, though. They definitely hold differing opinions on what to do with The Fields, a rundown development plagued with problems, and an addiction treatment facility, which happens to be located in The Fields. As people choose sides and the discussions heat up, many secrets are unearthed as the battles between husbands and wives, parents and children/teenagers, rich and poor, and teachers and students, reach a boiling point.

I loved this book!!! It's definitely one of the best I've read this year. There was something about the characters and the story that drew me in from the very first page. It definitely wasn't a happy book, but I found it strangely compelling. It's definitely not short on devious paybacks, dirty deals, and snarky comments. Scattered throughout the book are little bits and pieces of Rowling's cheeky, wry humour. I thought those were brilliant! It was one of those books that I didn't want to put down and looked forward to picking up again when I got a few minutes to read.

I had heard that there are lots of characters in this book, so even before I began, I armed myself with pen and paper to keep track of them. I counted 31 characters in the first 40 pages! Sure, not all of them turned out to be major characters (some of them were only mentioned that one time), but still you don't know that when you are reading. That's a lot of people to keep track of. As if that wasn't bad enough, even more characters were mentioned later on. At first, I had to refer to my list all the time. After awhile, though, I really got to know the characters and didn't really need it.

Speaking of the characters, I loved them all! With over 30 characters, you'd think there would be some that I didn't care for or didn't want to read about. However, that's not the case. They were all terribly flawed, but each one was believable and had interesting characteristics. There were several that stood out, but one of my favourite was Kay, although, I'm not entirely sure why. I do know that I loved reading about her dealings with Krystal, Terri and Robbie. It was incredibly sad situation, but in some ways interesting, too.

I loved the way Rowling tied events together, even those that were seemingly many times removed from each other. I really, really want to list my favourite here, but I'm afraid it's a bit of a spoiler. I'll just say it has to do with the Prices' computer. It's also another example (I think) of Rowling's sense of humour.

At 501 pages, it's quite a long book, but didn't feel like that. I'm a slow reader and keeping track of everything slowed me down even more. I didn't mind, though. I loved every word.

New words:
friable (page 39): crumbly
hessian (page 41): canvas
truculent (page 44): hostile
quixotic (page 49): idealistic, unrealistic
obstreperous (page 53): disruptive
coprolites (page 54): petrified dung
hirsutism (page 120): atypical growth of hair
vertiginously (page 164): dizzying
pusillanimous (page 190): timid
bolshy (page 225): uncooperative
inchoate (page 295): unclear
gurdwara (page 301): Sikh place of worship
gormless (page 347): stupid
bowdlerized (page 389): censor
chimeric (page 423): in this instance, probably chimera-like, figment of your imagination or daydream.

Just a small word of warning: Even though Rowling has written books in the past for young people, this one is definitely for adults, or at least older teens. There's lots of swearing and illicit behaviour, so it's probably best to keep the little ones away.

Highly recommended. I hope she writes many more books for adults.

For more information about this book, please visit Hachette's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group Canada for this review copy.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling, Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ©2012. ISBN 9780316228534(Hardcover), 501p.

P.S. I purposely stayed away from mentioning her wildly popular...ahem...Harry Potter...ahem...children's books.

Max Your Memory by Dr. Pascale Michelon

Max Your Memory contains exercises, tools and tips on how to improve your ability to remember things. It's a visual guide that's filled with simple exercises designed to be fun, while increasing your memory.

This is a fantastic book! It's packed with interesting, informative and easy-to-understand explanations about all aspects of memory. The pages are nicely laid out with colourful, appealing and plentiful illustrations. The exercises are simple, yet effective, and feature easy to understand instructions. Many of the exercises require you to write things down and there's not always room in the book to do so. I'd suggest keeping a pencil and paper nearby. This is also important if you don't want to write in the book or if you'd like to do the exercises more than once.

Each of the chapters (or sections) focus on a different aspect of memory: short-term, long-term, imagination, organization, remembering names, and remembering numbers. Each one has check-in exercises, which measure your current abilities and check-out exercises, which measure your (hopefully-improved) aptitude. I love that the exercises relate to everyday situations and not to some abstract idea. While not every example pertained to me, I could imagine how it could in the right or different circumstances.

The super techniques are designed to improve the different aspects of memory. There's at least one of these in each chapter. First, it explains the technique, then it offers instructions and exercises on how to practice that technique. One technique called "The Linking System" connects new facts to remember to old ones by creating associations (real or artificial) between them for storage and retrieval. I won't go into any more specifics. You'll have to get the book for that.

The last chapter connects health and memory by focusing on how to optimize your body and mind by reducing or managing stress, getting proper sleep and eating foods good for you. It explains how each of these affects your memory and gives lots of tips on how to keep yourself functioning at your peak.

I love that the book is designed so that the reader can focus on one aspect of memory by working on one chapter or work on all aspects by going through the whole book. If you're having trouble in one particular area, you can start with that chapter after reading the introductory chapter. If you just want to improve your memory generally, you can work through the whole book. It's going to take some time, though. I want to improve my overall memory, so I started at the beginning. After just a few simple exercises, I was exhausted. Almost more tired than if I had worked out (physically) for an hour. My brain definitely needed some down time. Thinking is hard work. ;)

I thought my memory was pretty good (in some areas), but this book proved me wrong. While some stuff was easier than others, I had lots of trouble with some of the exercises. It was still fun, though, and I saw improvements in many areas. I also learned that I need to practice more and keep working at it.

The table of contents is terrific. It not only lists the major sections, but it also lists all of the exercises and topics with page numbers. At the back of the book, there's a list of useful websites as well as a list of books for further reading. The index is extensive and should help the reader find what they are looking for.

Highly recommended for those wanting to improve their memories and learn more about how it works.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit DK's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

Max Your Memory by Dr. Pascale Michelon, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756689650(Soft cover), 192p.