Archive for December, 2011

I thought I would be good, hold off, make this book #1 of 2012.  And then there came a point of no return, I had to finish it.  So it is book 101 of 2011, and the last book: Paullina Simon’s The Bronze Horseman.
(From now on, instead of writing my own synopsis, I’ma copy the one from Goodreads)
Leningrad 1941: the white nights of summer illuminate a city of fallen grandeur whose palaces and avenues speak of a different age, when Leningrad was known as St Petersburg. Two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, share the same bed, living in one room with their brother and parents. The routine of their hard impoverished life is shattered on 22 June 1941 when Hitler invades Russia. For the Metanov family, for Leningrad and particularly for Tatiana, life will never be the same again. On that fateful day, Tatiana meets a brash young man named Alexander. The family suffers as Hitler’s army advances on Leningrad, and the Russian winter closes in. With bombs falling and the city under siege, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn inexorably to each other, but theirs is a love that could tear Tatiana’s family apart, and at its heart lies a secret that could mean death to anyone who hears it. Confronted on the one hand by Hitler’s vast war machine, and on the other by a Soviet system determined to crush the human spirit, Tatiana and Alexander are pitted against the very tide of history, at a turning point in the century that made the modern world.
This book destroyed me, in every way.  I started it on Wednesday, and I was powerless to put it down.  As much as I wanted it to be my first book of 2012, I just couldn’t hold out, and here it is.
The love story is true, and harsh, and beautiful.  So many times I got enraged at the forces that were keeping Tatiana and Alexander apart, wondering when they would work things through.  The end of the book killed me; I cried as hard as I did when I was six years old and saw the original Little Mermaid (I didn’t realize that in the non-Disneyfied version, she kicks it).  There is hope, though — I bought the sequel, Tatiana and Alexander, today and I’m starting it tomorrow.

The only — ONLY — problem I had with this book was the 70-page break for love scene upon love scene.  It really hindered the plot.  But once you got past that, it was amazing.  Really, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Rating **** and 1/2

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2011 Wrap-Up Survey

This meme or survey cycles most of the blogosphere every year, and I’m doing it here on Read.Knit.Spin.Blog.  I’m not going to be quite so candid with my answers as I would be in private, because this is a public blog, but I’m going to be pretty honest.
1. What did you do in 2011 that you had never done before?
So many little things.  I filed my taxes jointly as a married couple.  I celebrated Easter with my in-laws for the first time (every other year, David’s been working or we’ve just been with my parents).  In May, I learned how to fire-spin.  In August, I attended my first Wildfire retreat.  In November, we celebrated our first year of marriage.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t really “do” resolutions, per se.  Most of the things I resolve to do are things I’ve already been working on.  The only resolution I’m making for this year is the following: love everyone, and be kind.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Three of David’s cousin’s wives gave birth in April, May, and June.  My friend Heather gave birth (in Germany, where her husband is stationed), and my friend Kim had her baby Lily in August.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No.  *fingers crossed for the last 24 hours*  And I’m hoping it stays that way.
5. What countries did you visit?None.  In all of 2011 I only went to Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.  But we’re going to Mexico the second week of January!
6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
Greater security.  A husband who is happy in his career.  David didn’t start working as an EMT until after Thanksgiving, so for the majority of the year he was pretty unhappy where he was working.  Hopefully we’re going to get pregnant in 2012.  We’ve talked about it but I don’t know when we’re going to start TTC.
7. What dates in 2011 will remain etched in your memory?
Happy days?  August 19 – 22 was Wildfire, and that was wonderful.  September 12 was my birthday.  September 19 David found out that he had passed his EMT exams.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Re-applying and being re-accepted into graduate school.  I start on January 18th.
9. What was your biggest failure?
There are things I wish I had said, but didn’t, and times I wish I had held my tongue, and spoke.  I wish I could take those back, but I can’t.  Any minute that I made anyone upset, or angry, or anxious, or was anything less than kind, I regret.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Besides a fall from my bicycle the first week of April (resulting in a minor concussion, some bruised ribs and some major roadburn on my legs), I was very healthy this year.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A queen-size bed.  Heaven.
12. Where did most of your money go?
13. What did you get really excited about?
Wildfire.  David’s job.  Getting back into school.  Moving from our teeny apartment into our much bigger and better one.
14. What song will always remind you of 2011?
“Choices” by the Hoosiers, and “Shattered” by Trading Yesterday
15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder?
Thinner or fatter? Thinner, but not by much
Richer or poorer? Poorer, but making more money, if that makes sense
16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Just enjoying life and my husband and what we have.
17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Emotional eating.  Worrying about the future.
18. How did you spend Christmas?
David worked, so I spent it with my parents and extended family.
19. What was your favorite TV program?
Dave and I discovered Once Upon a Time.  I still love The Tudors and Law and Order: SVU
20. What were your favorite books of the year?
The Pillars of the Earth was my favorite.  Also The Hunger Games series.
21. What was your favorite music from this year?
Trading Yesterday, The Hoosiers, Florence and the Machine
22. What were your favorite films of the year?
New films that came out this year?  Probably Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  I was pleasantly surprised by it.  Dave and I don’t go to the movies that often, so I can’t remember many others that I saw.
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?I turned 28.  I worked from 8 AM – 3 PM, then David took me apple-picking and to dinner at Thai Gardens in Middletown.  Then we went home and watched “The Young Victoria.”  It was a very nice birthday.
24. What one thing would have made your year more satisfactory?
Less worrying.  On everyone’s part.  More kindness.
25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
What fashion concept?  I can’t dress myself.  I wear jeans, shirts, and sneakers.  I’m not fashionable.
26. What kept you sane?
Reading.  Knitting.  Good friends.
27. What’s a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011?
Sometimes you can’t look to tomorrow.  Sometimes you have to live in the moment, and trust that tomorrow is going to come.

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When I first made the decision to read 100 books in 365 days, I really didn’t think it would be that difficult.  I hadn’t done the math — it meant reading an average of two books a week — and I had overestimated my reading ability.  Until 2011, I was largely a “re-reader”.  I had a bookshelf of books that I knew I liked, that I had read, some of them to tatters, hundreds of times.  I’m fairly certain I could recite To Kill a Mockingbird and most of Gone With the Wind.  Most often, if I felt like reading, I would reach out, grab a book that I was familiar with, open it up to a random passage that I liked, and start reading.  I didn’t branch out into new books, I didn’t read things from cover-to-cover most of the time.
And then I set out to read 100 books in a year, and I realized that my old methods weren’t going to cut it.  First off, I didn’t own 100 books.  Second, most of the books I did have?  Nonfiction history, and all over 300 pages long.  There was no way that I was going to read 100 of those books in a year without some serious warping of the space-time continuum.  Such a vast quantity of books meant fiction, or at least, shorter nonfiction, and I was going to have to branch out a bit.
I started dipping into genres I hadn’t read in years.  I realized that my previous prejudice for Young Adult literature was keeping me from some really enjoyable books.  I re-read some old favorites from my youth, and discovered that I didn’t like them quite so much at almost-30 as I did as a teenager.  I discovered books that absolutely made my spirit soar.  I realized how much I truly love reading.  I realized how difficult it was, reading 100 books in a year.
But how incredibly rewarding it has been.
Goal: 100 books.
Achievement: 100 books.
Pages Read: 35,573 (holy crap)
Best Book of 2011: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
I’m not going to lie and say that this decision was easy.  I read SO MANY amazing books this year.  But of all of these, Pillars stands out, head and shoulders above the rest.  This is the book to read.  It is phenomenal.
Most Disappointing Book of 2011: Abandon by Meg Cabot
I wanted to like this book.  Meg Cabot was one of my favorite authors when I was younger — I loved her “Princess Diaries” series.  But Abandon was awful from the get-go.  Trite plot, simpering Bella Swan-esque female character, brooding and unrelateable male character, zero story arch, boring cliffhanger ending.  There was nothing good about this book except the cover.  It did have a good cover.
Most Surprising (in a good way!) Book of 2011: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
I had all but given up on Philippa Gregory’s “historical fiction” after reading The Other Boleyn Girl and its abysmal “sequel”, The Boleyn Inheritance.  But The White Queen was really good!  I enjoyed it more than I ever expected, although I was once again brought back to earth with its boring sequel, The Red Queen.  Oh well.  Can’t win ’em all.
Book You Recommended Most To People in 2011: The Pillars of the Earth and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
This is a toss-up.  Depending on if the person liked long books and historical fiction, I would recommend Pillars.  I would recommend Hunger Games to anyone (my husband, a non-reader, is reading it right now!).
Best Series You Discovered in 2011: The Hunger Games 
Close second (thus far): Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I’m reading The Bronze Horseman right now though, which will probably qualify as a discovery in 2011, and it’s definitely giving Divergent a run for the money.
Favorite New Authors You Discovered in 2011: John Krakauer, Antonia Frasier, Suzanne Collins.
Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone or Genre: Divergent
After the debacle that was Twilight, I swore off YA lit.  I’m glad I re-thought that.
Most Thrilling, Can’t-Put-It-Down Book of 2011: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Such a sad book, but so amazing.  I read it in one day.
Book You Most Anticipated in 2011: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Everyone talked this book up to me.  Once I read it, I understood why.  It was awesome.
Favorite Cover of a Book: Shine by Lauren Myracle.
Most Memorable Character(s): Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Jack Jackson from The Pillars of the Earth.
I divided it into male and female.  Those were by far my two favorite.
Most Beautifully-Written Book of 2011: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
This book reads like poetry.  It is just beautiful.
Book That Had the Greatest Impact On You In 2011: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
This book haunted me long after I put it down.  It was just amazing.
Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2011 To Read: The Pillars of the Earth
My parents have had this book knocking about their house for as long as I can remember.
Favorite Passage/Quote From a Book in 2011: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
The bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing.  At the very instant the thorn enters, there is no awareness of the dying to come: it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note.  But we, when we put the thorns in our breast, we know.  We understand.  And still we do it.  Still, we do it.” 
Book Read in 2011 That You’re Likely to Read in 2012: The Hunger Games, The Pillars of the Earth, Sarah’s Key, The Help
All of the above. 
Book Scene That Left You Reeling and Wanting to Talk About It: To nobody’s surprise, The Pillars of the Earth
The end is astounding.  Especially to someone who is into English history.  I saw the ending coming as I reached the last few pages and it blew. My. Mind.  Absolutely amazing.  Can’t recommend it enough.
…So where does this leave me?
I won’t be setting a goal of 100 books in 2012.  For one thing, I’m going back to school in January, and I’m not going to have as much free time to read.  My goal for 2012 is to read 50 “new-to-me” books, and however many others I can do after that.  I have a lot of re-reading that I want to do…so we’ll see.

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Ready?  Because this is momentous.
With this book, I’ve completed 100 books in 2011.  Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra was THE final book.  I am done, and for about five minutes, I was exhausted.  And then I went to the library and picked out another book.  Review on this page, wrap-up in the next entry.

At the turn of the 20th century, Russia was one of the few remaining autocratic nations in the world.  Its vast dominions had been governed for 300 years by the Romanov family.  The current tsar, or Emperor, was Nicholas II, a young, handsome, quiet man who feared confrontation and lived to make people happy.  His bride was the German princess Alix of Hesse, who later changed her name to Alexandra Fedorovna.  Theirs was a love match, not an arranged marriage, and together they had five children — four elder daughters, and one young son and heir to the throne, Alexei.  Unbeknown to her, Alexandra carried in her the mutant gene that plagued the ruling houses of Europe — her son Alexei was born with hemophilia, at the time a dangerous blood disease that constantly threatened his life.  In time, the silence surrounding Alexei’s affliction, coupled with the unrest in their society, lead Russia full-tilt into revolution, and the Romanov family into tragedy.
Massie’s book reads more like a novel than a non-fiction history, in most parts.  His chapters about politics, war, and Lenin are rather dry; those are difficult to get through at times.  But his writing is never better than when he is describing the day-to-day life and relationships of the Romanovs.  Like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Romanovs are often lambasted in history as being antiquated, pretentious, spoiled and undisciplined, rulers who deserved the terrible ends that befell them because they did not heed the cries of their subjects, letting them starve instead.  But Massie illustrates the backgrounds that lead them to be this way, including the murder of Tsar Nicholas II’s grandfather after he freed the serfs and instituted a Duma (parliament) and Nicholas’ tutelage under Podobenostov, the student of autocracy.  You can’t help but feel for the Romanovs during their plight.

Massie’s “inspiration” (if you can call it that) for writing this book was the birth of his own son, who, like Alexei, was born with hemophilia.  His thesis in writing Nicholas and Alexandra was this: that although the country was already pre-inclined towards revolution and the death of the autocracy, the fate of the nation was sealed when Alexei was born with that small but critical gene mutation.  I won’t explain his reasons for thinking so; you’ll have to read the book yourself, I can’t recommend it enough.  Anyone who is interested in Russian history or the lives of the Romanovs should read this book.  It is amazing.

Rating: *****

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Yarn Along! (Last of 2011)

It’s Wednesday again, and I’m participating in the weekly Yarn Along over with Ginny at Small Things.  It’s getting close to the end of the year, and I’m pouring on the burn with my last book.
Nicholas and Alexandra is an amazing book; I’ve read it before but not this year.  Continuing with my “Russian winter”, I’m reading the biography of the last Tsar of Russia and his wife, who were deposed when the country moved over to communism and became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  I started reading it on Sunday and I am on page 310 right now, of 532.  Two hundred and twenty-two pages to go, and three days.  I can do it.
The socks are Jaywalkers by Grumperina, a sock that pretty much everyone in the knitting community tries.  It is a quicker work than I am giving it credit for; I knit much slower when I knit in pattern.  It’s one round of pattern, then one round of plain stockinette, and I’m sure a speedier knitter would be a lot further along than I.  I’m also really not as crazy about the yarn as I thought I was when I bought it — it’s Noro Kureyon Sock, and it’s thinner and coarser than Silk Garden Sock.  Beautiful colors though.
What are you reading or knitting?

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I’m not usually a huge fan of “haul” posts, but since this is a blog about reading and knitting, I thought I’d do a post on my Christmas book gifts, what I will be reading over the next few months.
(One of my relatives asked, “Why do you need so many books?  You have a Kindle, don’t you?”  And it’s true, but I love having hard copies, particularly of history books.  As I told my sister, as a History Master’s Degree student, I’m building a library here!)
My Christmas book haul included:
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie.
This book was one of my favorites growing up.  My father had an interest in Russian history, particularly the fall of the Romanov dynasty, and I read his copy to tatters (sorry, Dad).  I’m so excited to have my own copy.
Loving Nicholas and Alexandra as I do, I was excited to hear that Massie’s latest book on Catherine the Great was almost universally praised.  I can’t wait to read it.
Alison Weir!  My goal to amass an entire collection of her books continues.  I’ve read her Six Wives of Henry VIII, but I’ve never read a book strictly on the life and reign of Henry himself.  I’m looking forward to this one.
Thus far, my only experience with Antonia Fraser involved her biography of Marie Antoinette, but this intrigued me.  Also, David and I were married on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, so the date and events pique my interest.
World Without End by Ken Follett
The Pillars of the Earth was quite possibly my favorite book that I read in 2011.  I am so excited to read the sequel!
In addition to the histories/historical fiction, I also received two knitting books:
The Knitter’s Life List by Gwen Steege
This isn’t a book that I had heard of before; my father read a review of it in the paper and thought it would be good for me.  I’ve only leafed through it thus far, but it’s pretty amazing — sort of a knitter’s checklist of things to learn, places to go, people to meet.  
Knitting Vintage Socks: New Twists on Classic Patterns by Nancy Bush
This is one of those “inspiration” books of patterns that I’m scared to death to try.  But the pictures are so beautiful, and I’m going to force myself to knit some of these beauties!

So there are four days left until the new year.  Four days, and I have one book to read.  What did I pick?

Nicholas and Alexandra.  My mom thinks I’m crazy, but I’ve read it before, I love it, and as of this morning I am on…page 74 of 527.  No sweat.  I can do it!

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Merry Christmas :)

From the B house to you and yours…Merry Christmas.

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