Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Heart Goes Last, my review of the newest book by Margaret Atwood

Did you know that Margaret Atwood has a new book coming out his fall? I didn't until I saw that I could get the advance readers copy. I was able to read this book before it was published for absolutely free in the exchange for my honest opinion. I had just finished reading The Year of the Flood which I absolutely LOVED and I was super eager to get started.
This book is set in a dystopian future, possible in the same world that Year of the Flood, but many years earlier. In this book, the US is starting to crumble and is dealing with massive unemployment and urban decay. The protagonists Stan and Charmaine are living in their car with really no hope of a future when they get an offer to live in the community of their dreams. In Consiliance, everyone is employed, has a house and safety that America could no longer provide. There is only one catch, and that is every other month each citizen has to spend their life in prison.
This town is dominated by Positron prison which was what has kept this city afloat when everywhere else has been abandoned for the west coast. The city planners created the idea of Positron/Consiliance as a way to give everyone their slice of the American dream.
Only I didn't see what the justification was why the characters needed to be in prison. Sure it makes for an interesting story--you are being controlled by the government and you are helpless to buck the system especially when you are incarcerated for no crime at all (when inside Positron the prisoners have a good life, now that all the original inhabitants of the jail have mysteriously disappeared, but who will miss a bunch of felons anyway?). It was just a hard sell for me, to believe that having a population that spends 1/2 the time being prisoners and the other half being the guards was key to making an utopia. The story was great if I could just look past the credibility that people would try such a community model. I understood that the prison was the moneymaker of the town, but why not just hire people to work in the town and expand the prison? So much was being said about how poor and lawless the country had become, there should be no shortage of actual prisoners, why make innocent people stand-ins for criminals?  As the book progresses, you find out what the company has been doing with the actual criminals and that they are reaching the end of their supply. So there is the pall that the company could start doing away with innocent people as well.
Also you find out that, as a side business, they are making "pleasure robots" to sell overseas and are perfecting a technique to erase someones memory and have them desire only you. 
The story seemed a little rushed at times, just the bare bones of the plot without Atwood's usually riveting prose. I found out that this novel was originally published in serial form which could possibly explain the change in the storytelling from part to part. But the characters were really strong and interesting so in spite of how implausible the premise, I still wanted to see what happened to them. Overall, I give this 3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded to 4. Would I recommend it? Sure! Margaret Atwood is an amazing writer--only as far as her books go, I'd recommend you start with Cat's Eye or Oryx and Crake.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review for 52 Likes, a new YA book by Medeia Sharif

There seems to be a common theme in YA novels, you can always find one with disturbing content, or maybe it is just the ones I pick up! Not that I mind, most of the time if I am looking to read a teen novel it is because I'm in the mood to read some terrible stuff--not poorly written, just difficult subject matters.
This book is no exception, and therefore might not be everyone's cup of tea, it's violent with paranormal elements.
The story begins with the protagonist Valerie being raped and her attacker trying, unsuccessfully, to kill her. The scene wasn't gratuitous or graphic, yet it was just enough to make the reader uncomfortable but not have them throw the book down in disgust. I give the book 4 stars just because the writing kept me riveted and I finished the book in just a few hours. There were parts where I rolled my eyes, like where the main character is trying to identify with another victim by saying that she too was "pear-shaped". This wouldn't have been a problem but prior to that she makes such a big deal about how large her breasts are and how people think she is slutty because she is so curvy (I think "pear-shaped" as being flat chested). Also the girl is constantly called a "thot" or "thottie" almost once a page. She does say how much that slur bothers her, but do teenagers really call each other that? Maybe I'm just showing my age, but it seems like a really weak insult (it stands for "that ho' over there"), maybe if I were a teenager it wouldn't have struck me as annoying.
The story, however, was incredibly well thought out. I figured out who the bad guy was as soon as he was introduced, but that might have been just a hunch rather than it being transparent. If I hadn't had my hunch I would have been on pins and needles trying to solve the mystery because there are a couple of curve balls thrown in.
There are the ghosts of the victims that work as a "deus ex machina" that if you can hold your suspension of disbelief, doesn't seem that horrible. Only once, when the protagonist gets a sudden notice on her phone and thinks to herself, "what is this? maybe it will be a clue to whoever raped me!" was a bit lame. The ghosts guide her exactly where she needs to go and who she needs to talk to so that in the course of a few days she she solves the crime and 2 other unsolved ones to boot!
I'm trying to point out that this is not "fine literature", there are some plot holes and overly simplified explanations, but it kept me reading which not a lot of books can do.
That being said I thought that the beginning seemed rushed. Maybe this was due to ever editing because it seemed choppy like the beginning originally took more time to get into. Maybe economy of language was what was the goal? Maybe the author was just trying to hurry past the exposition to prove that the violent rape, while integral to the story, wasn't the entire story?
Do I recommend it? Yes, but with warnings: the subject matter is disturbing and the audience is very much for the YA crowd.
I did receive this book from the author so I could read and give my honest opinion. I would definitely pick up other books by this author if I were to come across more.

Spangled Stars QAL

I finished the quilt top for the Spangled Stars QAL. This was supposed to be a 4th of July quilt, but I like these colors better than red, white and blue. I don't know what I will get around to the actual quilting since it is my least favorite part of the process. Maybe I wont quilt it, just put a back on it and call it a thin blanket rather than a quilt?

Linking up with:
Sew Fresh Quilts
Fresh Poppy Design

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

52 Women You Need to Know! My review of Headstrong

What an inspiring book!
This book chronicles the lives of 52 women who through their passion for their field made some amazing breakthroughs that largely went unnoticed (or were stolen--I'm looking at YOU Watson and Crick).
At first I was a little put off because the author only devotes a few pages to each woman and I craved more information. These women were incredibly impressive and mostly unknown. To be introduced to their fascinating lives and only get a teaser was a little annoying. But the author states in the introduction that there are 52 entries for a reason: You can read one entry a week and spend a year learning about these forgotten scientific geniuses. Still, I would have liked more information on each woman, especially if I decided to only read one entry a week!
Nevertheless, I was enthralled by the stories, even though most were redundant: brilliant girl, denied education due to her sex, struggled to find education, makes miraculous discovery, a man takes all the credit. This is most obvious before WWII when universities had to accept women lecturers to replace the men who went off to the war effort. Also a large portion of the women in this book managed to escape Nazi Germany and become successes in America. With all of that brain drain you'd think the Nazis should have figured out that the top minds in the country were supposedly "inferior".
My daughter is still a little too young to read this, but I will be saving it for her. She loves science but hates math which just breaks my heart. Actually she hates arithmetic because they haven't even gotten into real math. The section of the book that was the most fascinating was the women mathematicians because it seems most were self taught.
My favorite was Sophie Kowalevski, whose family didn't order enough wallpaper to cover her nursery so her dad improvised by plastering old calculus lectures to the walls. I also fell in love with Emmy Noether who Einstein recruited to help him work out the math for his equations! Amazingly enough, it was a female chemist who invented Kevlar--Stephanie Kwolek. That's not usually the fabric I think of when I associate women and fabric.
All in all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. It was a marvelous read, but I think the "1 woman a week" idea to be too limiting and it seemed almost gimmicky. I understand the book would have been too long otherwise, so maybe a series of books would be in order? Also there is a bibliography and notes section that has all the references so you can do your own research if you'd like. Maybe this book was aimed at a more general audience and not at women already in the field of science? Maybe the author though this was all she could include and interest the largest population? I don't know, but I will definitely pick up any book I see that is devoted to these women because I need to know more!
Here is the authors bio, and here is here is the publisher's blurb.
I was sent a copy of this book for free from Blogging for Books for me to read and review. A long time ago I worked as a bookseller and I loved getting the advanced readers copies. I felt like I was getting special treatment by getting a book before it was published and in return I got to share my opinions on what I read. Sadly, I don't have the influence over which books people choose that I did when I was selling them, but I will use my little soap box to tell people what I think. I wish I could go take a math class now...

Friday, June 5, 2015

June Goals!

I didn't finish EITHER of my goals for May. Early in the month I had surgery on my right hand, and my left one was healing from surgery 2 weeks earlier. Sewing didn't pose much of a problem, but cutting was impossible. What I should have done was cut a lot of fabric before the surgery so I could just push it through the machine 1 handed.
So those goals are going to roll over to June in addition to 2 more this month.
This month I am going to finish:

1. Spangled Stars quilt

I have all the pieces cut out, I just need to sew them together for a completed top. I don't know what i will use for the backing right now though.
This is part of a QAL so if I do everything on time I will get this finished no problem. This will be my Lovely Year of Finishes entry for June My Button

2. Since fathers day is in June, that will hopefully give me the incentive to finish the USC quilt I am making for my dad.

I have all the pieces for the top, just not all sewn together. He loves the University of Southern California so this is a fitting gift. I'm calling it "Point the Way to CA" because of the blocks I used to make it.
Rocky Road to California
Road to California
and Weathervane

I'm going to not use batting and back it with fleece.

Linking up with:
Quilt Fabrication
Tweety Loves Quilting

Fort Worth Fabric Studio
My Button

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Catching Up On Some Sewin'!

Look at this little guy!
This is my #wipwednesday project, although I will most likely finish it today (it just needs binding).
This is a 9in square mini quilt that was posted by Sew Can She's Quilting Unplugged series. I love the fabric that I fussycut, I found just one FQ of it at Joann's last week or I would have totally bought more.

I have been really busy sewing for a commission that I got last week. It was to make 12 denim They are easy to make, but so boring! So as soon as I finished them I jumped in to catch up on all the fun sewing that I have been holding off.

I caught up on my Spangled Stars QAL with the first half of the stars made. As you can tell, I made the mini above with the scraps from the blocks at the right! I am just so in love with this color combo right now.
Sorry for the blurry picture!

I also caught up on my QCQAL#2 blocks. These are Broken Dishes and in case you don't remember, I'm doing a Halloween quilt. I'm worried that the gray might be too light for the colors in the rest of the blocks, but we will see!

Linking up with:
Wip Wednesday
Spangled Stars QAL

Fresh Poppy DesignIMG_6373
Sew Fresh Quilts

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

One Lovely Blog Award

I have been nominated by dear sweet, sweet Julie from Pink Doxies and I have been sitting on this nomination for about a week mulling over this post. I love this idea: as part of my nomination I need to write 7 things that people might not know about me, then nominate another bunch of people. Well I love talking about myself, so this should be a piece of cake, right? Now finding people who haven't already played to nominate? Not so easy...
It seems I'm late to the game and all the blogs I follow have already been nominated :( so like a spoil sport I'll just do the fun part and if anyone reading has not been nominated, let me know and I will edit this post. So without further ado, 7 bits of awesomeness about me

1. I spent the majority of my life in theatre and now consider myself "retired". Through acting I got to experience things I never would have before and there will always be a fondness, but I was just too burnt out. Something I had loved turned into resentment. I was never good enough to make a living solely by acting, but I did get to do some amazing things! I toured Eastern Europe with one show, toured China with another. Also with some friends we started our own theatre company and we performed at the Los Angeles Theatre Center...then 13 years ago I needed to get out. I moved to rural Virginia and have been hiding away in a forest and I couldn't be happier! Do I miss it? Not much. I do miss standing on stage commanding the attention of a crowd, but I find other ways to scratch that itch. Which leads me to my next point

2. To escape theatre, I ran as far as I could right into the arms of science. After moving east, I went back to college and got a degree in biology from Longwood University in Farmville VA. I spent 2 summers working for the state parks doing programs for the visitors. I still got to command a crowd, just in a more intimate way. I miss that job greatly, but it didn't pay the bills so I have a "grown-up job" but keep my eyes peeled for a full time parks career.

3. I met my husband in 1995 while I was attending college and we dated for a year and a half before I went back to California. We lost touch. Then 5 years later, through the magic of the internet we reconnected. He told me how he had never gotten over me and I came out to visit and rekindled an old flame.  We decided we couldn't be apart so we got quickly married and I moved with him to the middle of nowhere, Virginia. And I never looked back.

4. We have a special needs daughter who has a condition called Misophonia. It is an extreme hatred of certain sounds that trigger a "fight or flight" response. Her triggers are the sound of chewing or anything eating related. She has very robust hearing, so even if you don't think anyone can hear you, she can from across a room. It causes her to lose control and attack which makes school difficult and meals impossible. We have to eat in a separate room. She has other health issues, but the Misophonia is by far the most disruptive.

5. Where I grew up in CA is on holy land of a Buddhist temple and I am Buddhist (though not a very devout one). I did manage to find a Satsang group nearby that meets once a month, even out here in the middle of nowhere!

6. I haven't been able to work much since January. Between chronic fatigue syndrome and carpal tunnel work has been impossible. So how do I cope? I sew to keep myself sane.

7. I lost my phone yesterday somewhere during my kid's birthday party. It might be at the bottom of a lake. I'm not as panicked as I should be but we will see what the Verizon people say about a deductible.

Thank you for listening :)