read: the girls.

The Girls

“The Girls” by Lori Lansens was the latest book club book. I didn’t remember anything about it when I picked it up from the library, other than it was about conjoined twin girls. Should be interesting, right?

Should be.

I finished the book–it wasn’t terrible–pretty quickly, but I think that’s because another book came in at the library I’d been waiting a long time for. Interesting things happened to the two girls, Rose and Ruby. Their parents, Aunt Lovely and Uncle Stash, were also interesting. The story wasn’t told in an interesting way, however. Strange, right?

Rose told most of the story, her premise wanting to write her autobiography. Because, obviously, she’s never truly alone, Ruby also contributes a few chapters. The girls live outside of Toronto in a small town called Leaford, where they go to school, graduate, get a job and figure out how to live when joined at the head.

There are a few surprises and unexpected events, but early on you’re told how the story ends, and for me, already a bit bored, this made it even harder to keep reading. In addition, Rose receives something at the end of the book that is really important, and I think is supposed to be the turning point, but it isn’t something I felt like she really, really wanted. So the climax of the book fell flat for me.

I gave this one two stars on Goodreads. I wasn’t angry I took the time to finish it, so it deserved more than one star.

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read: wolf hall.

Wolf Hall

This book was the suggestion of a friend, and well, that’s why I’m friends with her. “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel is fantastic. And not just because I’m a King Henry VIII junkie.

Mantel’s story follows Thomas Cromwell, a low-born in 16th century England who managed to work his way up to one of King Henry VIII’s closest advisors. I’ve read some of Philippa Gregory’s books involving this same cast of characters, I’ve read the Alison Weir book “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and I’ve watched “The Tudors.” (Fine, the show wasn’t exactly historically accurate, but it was still good.) Anyway, none of these takes Cromwell’s viewpoint, making this the same story flipped on its head.

Also, she writes the entire thing in third-person present tense. It’s incredible. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just know it’s really hard to do well.

This is fiction, but it seems believable, and flows well. It’s a monster of a book at more than 600 pages, but never felt slow. You learn about Cromwell’s childhood, and how that influences his behavior as an adult. You watch him work, scheme and talk his way into more and more importance in English society. This wouldn’t normally be possible for a blacksmith’s son, but Cromwell has a certain mix of intelligence, daring and luck that make it possible.

The other thing I love is getting a view of the king and all the craziness around his divorce/annulment/whatever it actually was from Katherine and marriage to Anne. Plus, it offers a look into what was going on with those who believed the bible should be in English, accesible to all, and those that remained behind Rome.

Wouldn’t have wanted to live in the 16th century, but I love reading about it. This, by the way, is the first in a trilogy about Cromwell. Time to get No. 2

seattle summer.

Sunshine Panorama

A funny thing happens in this town for the first time each year around June. I’m not sure those who have never lived in the Pacific Northwest can truly understand it.

The sun returns.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t just the sun. It’s fresh air, it’s a lightness, it’s losing the dust and dirt and lint that collects in your mind during the gray, misty days of winter. I grew up in the Midwest, Minnesota, specifically. Spring and summer were wonderful. Suddenly, you didn’t need two sweaters and a winter coat just to get the mail. One day it was snow boots and a ski jacket, the next day it was flip-flops and a tank top. But even then, even when the temperature suddenly shot up 40 degrees overnight, it didn’t feel the same as the start of summer does in Seattle.

It might be cold, the world might be covered in snow, but in the Midwest, the sun doesn’t just disappear for nearly nine months. Curled up on a couch, under a blanket in a heated home, you can close your eyes and face the window where the winter sun is pouring in and almost trick yourself into thinking it’s July.

There’s no tricking yourself into sunshine in Seattle. I’ve tried. I own a sunlamp. I used it almost daily this past winter. I even left the clouds on three occasions to vacation in sunnier spots. And still, when the sun returned, it was like I’d had the best birthday party of all time. It’s an addiction. The first day the sun returns and it’s really warm (nearly 80 degrees when I took the photo above), it’s hard to stop yourself from overdoing it. (Yes, I have a sunburn.) People leave their homes and sit outside, wherever they can, to get some sun. They leave work early, skip classes or cancel indoor plans, all in favor of soaking up the sunshine. Smiles return to faces that had been somber for months. Even the dogs seem happier.

Juneuary will return, I’m sure. Summer doesn’t often stick around in Seattle until July; this is most likely just a tease. But I’ll take it. And when the rain comes back for one last hurrah, I’ll be patiently waiting inside with my bottle of sunblock.

the best.

White Flowers

I love those days where the ideas just keep coming. Today was one of those days, and possibly the best part is that I already had free time slotted tomorrow (yes, I’m not working and still have to schedule free time) so I can use it for brainstorming on today’s ideas. Except I’m not telling yet. There will be no jinxing.

I had just been thinking about the dearth of new ideas popping into my brain lately. Guess a bunch of exercise plus warm weather equals ideas. Or maybe I should run stairs more often.

In other exciting news, I’m going to Richard Hugo House’s Write-O-Rama this year, and I’m so jacked. I had something going on last year and couldn’t attend. A full day of writing workshops? DROOOOL. Let me know if you’re going!

waterfalls.

We’ve been hiking a lot this spring. It’s one of the best parts of Seattle–so many great places to get lost in the trees, all less than two hours away. The last three hikes have all been to waterfalls. Turns out there are a lot of waterfalls in this state. (These are all iPhone photos, so they aren’t the greatest.)

Wallace Falls

To Wallace Falls

Wallace Falls 1

Wallace Falls 2It was so sunny this day, just beautiful. Wallace Falls is really pretty, but it is a busy trail. Going on an overcast day would probably help with crowds. Otherwise go early. We were walking out around 11 a.m., so we missed the worst of the crush.

Twin Falls

Woods to Twin Falls

Tree

One of the fallsWe did the Twin Falls hike with my mother in law. This is a short hike (less than five miles out and back) and a good one if you’re with someone who doesn’t have hiking gear (boots, mostly). I only have a photo of one of the waterfalls. Guess the other one wasn’t very impressive. Actually, if I remember correctly, you couldn’t get a great shot of the other one. This is another really busy trail, since it’s so short and easy. The woods to get there is just beautiful, though. Look at the trees! Love it.

Cherry Creek Falls

Crossing a creek

End of the trail

Cherry Creek FallsCherry Creek Falls has been my favorite so far. Wear boots on this hike–you have to cross a stream, and the trail is muddy, so you’re going to get, well, wet and muddy. But it’s worth it. Also, write down the directions. There is no cell phone reception on the trail, and while the trail is marked with pink ribbons, it’s helpful to know when to start watching for turns. We got to the end of the trail, and someone had painted “Well done” on the log marking the lookout. Ha. You can also hike down to see the falls from the front, which I would recommend. Just look at how pretty they are! This trail wasn’t nearly as busy–it’s five miles round trip, and a bit more out of the way, which helps, and totally worth it.

Craig at Armadillo

Bathroom StrangenessOn the way home from Cherry Creek Falls we passed the Armadillo Barbecue, my husband’s favorite barbecue. They were open, so we stopped in and he ate some ribs. Above is the women’s bathroom–they have a toothbrush chained to the safety bar by the toilet. So confused.

Any favorite hikes we need to check out?

 

 

 

 

read: sheepish.

Sheepish

I don’t often read memoir, but this read for my book club was funny, quick and interesting. “Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep & Enough Wool to Save the Planet,” by Catherine Friend, is her memoir about raising a small flock of sheep with her partner on a farm in Minnesota.

It’s a very quick read, probably a good vacation book. The chapters are short, and the book is divided up into five parts, though even then it’s only 255 pages long. She covers her experience with sheep, living on a farm, hitting middle age, dealing with “fiber freaks” and learning how to knit. She’s a funny writer who draws clever similarities between events.

My favorite anecdote in the novel … well, there are two. The first is when she finally realizes Elvis is dead and never coming back (decades after his death), causing an emotional meltdown. The second is when she finally succeeds at knitting socks, using wool from her own sheep, and is so proud she hoists her socked foot onto a store counter to show off.

Friend talks a lot about lambs in this book, both bringing them into the world and caring for them. Despite how hard it sounds, the lambs sound so cute it kind of makes me want to befriend some. So of course, I ended up spending far too much time on YouTube looking up videos of lambs playing. Avoid that hole. You’ll never get out.

She also talks quite a bit about the history of sheep, the history of wool and the environmental impact of both wool and other commonly used fibers. I did learn things I didn’t know, and the book might make you want to search out more wool for your wardrobe. Were I a knitter, I’d switch to wool yarn and avoid acrylic as much as possible. But I’ve tried. I am not a knitter.

Anyone interested in farming, sheep, knitting or even the environment would probably like this book. It’s a nice, quick read if you need something during an upcoming vacation.

read: the marriage plot.

The Marriage Plot

I love Jeffrey Eugenides, but it took me a long time to get to “The Marriage Plot.” I’m not sure why. I liked it a lot, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite of his. I’ve decided this because I actually finished it weeks ago, but it didn’t stick with me the way “Middlesex” did–so I think Middlesex takes the prize for my favorite Eugenides book thus far.

Set in the 1980s, The Marriage Plot follows three people who are just finishing college–Madeleine Hanna, Leonard Bankhead and Mitchell Grammaticus. The book follows the point of view of both Madeleine and Mitchell, but I’d say Madeleine is the center of the story. She, at different points in the book, is involved with both men, eventually staying with Leonard. But they all graduate college and, when entering the real world, discover things aren’t always what they imagined them to be. Madeleine and Leonard move to Cape Cod for Leonard’s job while Mitchell backpacks around India.

I liked Mitchell a lot. He’s a mess, he has no idea who he is, but I still like him. Probably because he decides wandering the globe is a good way to try to figure things out. It’s something I wish I would’ve done more of. Madeleine I wasn’t as fond of, she just seemed to have a sense of duty so strong it was harmful. Sometimes, girl, you just have to say no. And Leonard … he’s a necessary character, and his flaws are not his fault, but he’s a tough one to read about.

The book went quickly: I finished it in a few days. That said, my one complaint is that there aren’t chapters. There are, I believe, five sections of the book, but no chapters within the sections. Personal preference, maybe, but it’s nice to have a good stopping point when reading before bed, for example. This book doesn’t provide that, and it might be one of the reasons I finished it so fast. When there’s no chapter break, I tend to just keep reading.

I also like how this novel ended. It felt real to me, and it wasn’t the ending I sometimes think books get because that’s what a movie would require. It wasn’t happy, but it wasn’t overly sad. It was just what needed to happen for these characters. I gave this book got four out of five stars on Goodreads. Looking forward to the next Eugenides book.

whoops.

Pink Bush

Haven’t disappeared. Just … life. Have visitors in town for a week and change. I’ll be back.

That bush is in our front yard. This is the only time of year I like it. Without flowers, it’s rather scraggly.

read: one thousand white women: the journals of may dodd.

One Thousand White Women

My book club, like I think every book club in the country, picked Jim Fergus’ “One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd” as our latest read. After finishing it (in just a few days, it’s a quick one), I understand why it’s popular with book clubs. This book brings up a lot of topics to discuss, and I think it’s one of those books that many people really love or really hate.

Fergus is a journalist, though this is a work of fiction. But the idea came about when he learned about a peace conference in 1854 at Fort Laramie. A prominent Cheyenne chief asked for 1,000 white women from the United States Government to be brides for his warriors. The thought was that these children, because the Cheyenne are matrilineal, would belong to their mother’s tribe and thus help assimilate the Cheyenne into the white world. In real life, this didn’t happen. Fergus’ book imagines it did.

May Dodd is one of those white women who go to live with the Cheyenne. She chooses to go because she’d been placed in an insane asylum by her family and this was her way out. She ends up marrying Chief Little Wolf, and becomes his third wife. The book follows her decision to join the program, the journey out to the prairie, and what happens after the 40 women she starts traveling with are actually given to the tribe.

I thought this book was interesting–like I mentioned about, it reads quickly–and May had a definite voice. She was a complicated character, as were those around her. There is a wonderful cast of white women and Cheyenne people that Fergus does a good job of fleshing out. For the most part, I think he did a good job of portraying what life on the prairie was like, and probably got very close to what life was like for the Cheyenne during that period.

My biggest complaint with this book: it seemed like Fergus made a list of all the stereotypes of Native Americans, and then one by one, had them happen in the book. Don’t handle alcohol well, check. Kidnap and rape women, check. I understand upping the stakes, giving your character problems to overcome … but man, if it could happen to May Dodd, it happened. I felt the same way about this book as I did after watching the movie Armageddon (Yup, I’m referencing a movie from the 90s. Guess how old I am). The only thing left to go wrong in that movie was Bruce Willis breaking his thumb, somehow, before he could push the trigger button. (Sorry if that’s lost on you because you haven’t seen that movie.) It becomes a giant eye-roll.

I would say if you enjoy reading about mid 19th century America or if you enjoy Native American stories, you’ll enjoy this book. If you want an easy beach read, you’d probably enjoy this book. Fergus is a good writer, so I wouldn’t be opposed to reading another book he’s written. He creates interesting characters and does a good job of placing you in the setting and appealing to all of your senses.

friday favorites.

FF42613Buddha and basil this week. Hope my just-planted garden grows.

Whoa.
• Again, whoa.
• Ten writing tips. Number four is my favorite, I know a lot of people who need it tattooed on their arm.
• I’m thinking roman shades?
This intro for GoT is better.
• New exercise plan.
Body language.
Heh. NSFW.