The Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix AZ

I’m going to try something a little different for this trip’s photos, as posting them to Blogger in any amount of bulk of somewhat of a pain. So I’ve done albums instead.

Album #1 is from April 22, my birthday, which we spent on what turned out to be a bit of driving odyssey, but that’s another post.

In the morning, we headed over to the Desert Botanical Garden, which we’re able to access for free, because we’re members of our local botanical garden. (Definite perk of that membership.)

It’s the late part of their wildflower season in April, though it apparently wasn’t a great wildflower year, because they didn’t get a ton of rain over the winter. However, the cactus were blooming, which was fascinating to see. Most of their flowers are pretty waxy, so they look almost fake. I did even manage to see some blooming saguaro cactus, though they were far enough off the trail, and up enough in height, that I don’t have great pictures. The pictures in the album are the more ground level cactus.


Moonlight & Vines – Charles de Lint

Read for the 2011 TBR Lite and Once Upon a Time V Reading Challenges.

I’ve read a fair amount of Charles de Lint’s work, and I think at this point, I can safely say that my favorite books of his are his short stories collections of Newford tales. The beauty of the world he’s created for the fictional city of Newford is that while there are some consistent characters, it’s also a place where he feels comfortable exploring one off characters, and how they fit into Newford’s familiar, yet fantasy landscape.

A couple highlights for me:

“The Big Sky” – de Lint’s version of the Grim Reaper. John comes home from a day at work to find a strange girl sitting on his couch. She’s surprised he can see her. He’s surprised when she tells him he’s dead. His journey to the other side is a lovely tale.

“Shining Nowhere but in the Dark” – another tale of death (interesting theme I seem to be developing here), but this time of the people left behind, and what the death of loved ones will do to them. This story brings in the Wyrd sisters in a interesting way.

“Wild Horses” – a tale of those touched by Faerie, and how they can chose to use that gift.

“In the Land of the Unforgiven” – An interesting take on how morality and the law do not always coexist.

Orphans of Chaos – John C. Wright

Read for the Once Upon a Time V Reading Challenge.

Somewhere in England is a boarding school that is far more than it appears. The staff is large, but there are only five students, and life at this boarding school is all that they’ve known. Now teenagers, they’ve begun to see the school for what it is – a prison.

The five have incredible gifts – Victor can rearrange matter, Amelia sees in four dimensions, Vanity can find secret passageways where there were none before, Colin is psychic, and Quentin is a warlock. After piecing together the many clues they’re able to gather separately, they begin to realize that they’re probably not human.

I really loved this book. It’s straight out of a particular mythology, done in a great, modern way. The cliff hanger at the end is beautifully done, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Third Magic – Molly Cochran

Read for the Once Upon a Time V Reading Challenge.

Arthur Blessing was a normal 20th century boy until he found a dirty old cup in the gutter. That cup was the Holy Grail, and finding it was the first step for Arthur to find his destiny, for he is King Arthur, reborn into our time.

This is the third book of a trilogy, and Arthur is eighteen, finally a man. For the past several years, he’s been hiding out in North Dakota under the care of the Knights of the Round Table, brought forth from the past to protect Arthur, and now morphed into a motorcycle gang of sorts. Only Hal (Galahad), who has lived a normal life, and Merlin, fully recognize the danger that will confront Arthur if he seizes his destiny.

There’s also the small matter of a girl named Gwen who has dreamed of Arthur all her life, though she doesn’t initially know who he is. There are darker dreams as well, where she is a medieval queen who has lost something she can never regain.

Though the third book, this actually functions fairly well as a standalone. I read the other two books long enough ago that the details are a bit fuzzy, but all the pertinent bits are covered by well placed exposition. I do remember enough to know there’s a lot more back story in this book – plenty of interesting and different takes on the motivations of people that have been written about many times before. I actually really liked Guenevere’s remembrance of why she betrayed Arthur. She’s still not totally a sympathetic character, but this is the most sympathetic treatment of her I can remember.

All and all, this is a good modern day retelling of the Arthur legends – well worth the time to seek out and read.

Carrots ‘n’ Cupcakes – Tina Haupert

Carrots ‘n’ Cupcakes is the book based on Tina Haupert’s blog of the same name. I don’t follow her blog – I picked this out of the Librarything Early Readers March selections because the brief description of her philosophy of eating sounded interesting.

The book is the story of Haupert’s evolution of her thoughts concerning diet and exercise, to her current practice of not really restricting what you eat, but instead being aware of what you’re eating. This means you can have your cake, as long as you account for the treat with what else you choose to eat that day. This is the philosophy I try to follow myself – it’s easier to eat what you like and just pay attention to how much you’re eating, rather than avoid whole classes of foods that aren’t good for you (according to the latest fad diet).

I found myself dog-earring quite a few recipes (one of the definite advantages of an ARC copy – I don’t feel as guilty dog-earring a black and white not quite ready for publication edition). I can’t get behind everything Haupert advocates (our lifestyles aren’t quite the same enough for me to manage that), but there are lots of interesting things in here, and some good food for thought.

As I said, I don’t follow her blog, so I don’t know how much of a rehash this might be of material she’s already covered there, but I can say it’s definitely an interesting read for someone coming to the author with no prior experience.


Self Portrait in the Canyons

I’ve back from a lovely week in sunny Arizona. We rented a car this time, and did some fun day trips from Phoenix. I’ve got a ton of pictures to format, and four books to review. It’s been a good week, and while I miss the sun, I’m glad to be back in the land of relative humidity.

Firebird – Mercedes Lackey

Read for the Once Upon a Time V Reading Challenge.

In this retelling of the Russian fairy tale, Ilya is the middle son of tsar Ivan, a rather brutish man who has raised his sons to distrust and prey upon each other. Ilya is the smartest of the sons, and therefore most prone to be picked on, because his brothers believe him to be a sorcerer. Fortunately, Ilya is friends with the priest, the shaman and the head of the kitchen, who are there to nurse him back to health every time his brothers decide to give him a particularly bad beating.

Ivan has a cherry orchard, and the cherries are for his consumption alone, but someone has been stealing the cherries. So Ivan orders each of his sons in turn to find out who the thief is. Ilya, fourth in line, decides early on to get the lay of the land, and so sneaks into the orchard to watch each of his older brothers. He is the only one that discovers that the thief is the Firebird – a magical bird with feathers of flame that transforms into a beautiful maiden. Because he has seen her, he is cursed with bad luck, and that next day, his suspicious brothers give him the worst beating yet. With the support of his few friends, and to protect himself from the next beating, which will likely kill him, Ilya decides to pretend that the beating has left him simple minded. As the Fool, he is largely ignored, even by his brothers, how no longer perceive him to be a threat.

However, as a prank, they drag him along on a hunt, and Ilya gets lost. Fortunately, though she has cursed him with bad luck, the Firebird has given him the gift of hearing the speech of animals, and Ilya travels through the forest, until he reaches the castle of the Katchsei. There, he finds the Firebird again, this time trapped the Katchsei’s orchard. Because he helps her escape, she helps him find his way into the Katchsei’s castle, where the twelve most beautiful maidens in the world are imprisoned, and Ilya decides to free them, with the Firebird’s help.

This is a fun retelling of this tale. Ilya’s home and family are brutal, but the few friends he has there show how he can still retain a shred of humanity, despite being part of such a family.

The action really picks up when Ilya is lost on the hunt, and the journey to the Katchsei’s castle, as well as the action there, are just good fun. Mercedes Lackey spins a good fairy tale, and this one does not disappoint.

Knitting Notes

I’ve finished with the yolk of the Ruched Yolk Tee, which seems to be going well so far. I’m already developing a list of notes to self from it:

1. Ruching is ridiculously easy and oddly fun. I should do it more often.

2. Since this is top down construction, I figured I’d be an idiot not to try it on as I went along, to make sure the shaping lines up with where I want it to be. So, I used my interchangeable needles, with the thought that I would be able to cap the ends and easily try it on.

3. So my interchangeable needles come with a key you thread into the tips when attaching them to the cables to hold them steady, and supposedly help you get the needles tips threaded on tighter. I’ve never used it because I figured I was perfectly capable of screwing something together without help. On a whim, after my disastrous attempt to cap the ends and try the top on, I used the key to screw the tips back on. Dang thing actually seems to work. Yeah, I’m an idiot for not trying it sooner.

My largest cables are 40 inches. I have a 42-inch bust. Needless to say, I have a note to self to get longer cables the next time I have a project I want to try as I go. I’m still trying it on, but the waste yarn method definitely isn’t as convenient as longer cables would have been.

For my second project du jour, I’ve finally started the niece/nephew to be project, which is Curly Purly Soakers in the full range of sizes. The above is the newborn size, which is so tiny that if this kid follows family tradition (granted, it’s really more my mother’s family, and my half-brother and I share a father, not a mother, so they may be safe), they’ll never use this one, but it is really cute.

I’m using Cascade 220, mostly in solids, but with one handpaint, because it was fun. So far, seems to be a nice, easy process, so these will hopefully fly off the needles, and I’ll have time to do something else before sending these off in time for a late August birth.

Tempest Rising – Nicole Peeler

Read for the Once Upon a Time V Reading Challenge.

Jane True lives in the tiny Maine village of Rockabill, and she’s always known she was different. You see, she swims. In the ocean. In all seasons. In Maine. If you’ve ever been in the ocean here, you know that’s just not normal. It’s always been Jane’s guilty secret, and when the discovery of a body in the water during one of those swims leads to the revelation that Jane is only half human, she finds out exactly how different she really is.

The back of this book has an If you like Sookie Stackhouse… recommendation on it, and the comparison is apt. Rockabill is the quirky Maine counterpart to Bon Temps, LA, with an intriguing cast of characters, and a surprising number of supernatural residents. In this world, the supernatural people are include gnomes and selkies, the Irish equivalent of vampires, many others you may never have heard of, and ruling them all, the ancient Alvar, who you could call Elves, but never to their faces.

Jane, as only half supernatural, is in a precarious situation in this supernatural world, and her introduction is interesting, to say the least. This is a good set up to a series, and I’m interested to see where the author goes with the next books.

On a side note, I’m always a little leery reading books set in fictional Maine cities or villages. Non-natives either get things completely right, or hideously, horribly wrong. Fortunately, Rockabill has a good flavor of coastal Maine, and I was able to read the scenes set in town without cringing at the example of “local color”.