Shadows – Robin McKinley

6ed3e293e998008597154446767434f414f4141The backdrop of this book is an alternate world where magic is real, but the government of North America figured out where the magic genes are and chopped them out of everyone a couple of generations ago. But there is still magic in the rest of the world.

Maggie’s a senior in high school, and her mother has remarried. Val is from the old world (Europe), which still has magic, but they would have never let him into the new world if he had any magic. Except that Maggie always sees shadows around him – shadows that seem to be alive. Needless to say, she’s having trouble warming to her new stepfather.

When things finally come to a head, Maggie finds out that Val thought his magic had been taken away from him, which is the only reason that he agreed to move to the new world. But it may well be a very good thing that his magic is still there, and that Maggie clearly has magic of her own, because while the government thought they’d gotten rid of magic, magic clearly has other ideas, and things are coming to a head.

This is solid McKinley – back on form (I was rather disappointed in the last book she set in a more modern milieu) . It definitely tends more YA in substance (much less adult themes than Sunshine). I had held off on buying this one because Dragon Haven had made me wary, but I think she’s back on my buy immediately list after this book.


Knitting Notes


The Vivid blanket progresses.

I’d gotten to my original goal – four squares for each of the six colors – on Friday night. In laying them out today, I’m going to try and go for one more square in each color (which I’m fairly sure I have enough for, but I’ll know as soon as I try the first one).

I’ve still got plenty of time – the kidlet isn’t due until Thanksgiving.

Musings on Books

I was reading an article about e-books recently, and it got me thinking about how e-books were impacting my own reading/book collecting tendencies. And I do think they are, but probably not in the way a lot of people would think about it.

Travel: I am a firm believer that it’s not a vacation if I haven’t read several books during it. Heck, if it involves airline travel with a layover both ways, I can often manage a book on the flight out and one on the way back, just for starters. So I have always included luggage space for books in my travel plans. That’s where my biggest change due to e-readers as happened.

I broke down and got the Kindle app on my iPad before my 2013 trip to England and France. I was going to be gone for slightly more than two weeks, and I just couldn’t face the luggage space that was going to necessitate. Interestingly, that was the time I bought the most Kindle books at full price, when I initially loaded up my Ipad. (Which I under-estimated my needs, and had to reload using free wifi at a pub in Cornwall because our cottage didn’t have any sort of internet connect. But I digress.)

At that time, I signed up for the Kindle deals email, so I’ve mostly populated my collection with $1.99 to $2.99 books. I maintain a fairly steady back log, so I always have something to read when I’m on a trip. And I am pretty faithful to trip reading for the majority of my e-book reading. I do not usually read fiction books in my house. (Unless I’m finishing off something I couldn’t quite finish at the end of a trip.)

The major exception: craft, cooking and garden books. When I’ve gotten those, I usually flip through them in the evenings at home. I do really like the bookmark functionality – it’s nice to be able to go back and get a concise listing of the bookmarks, instead of having to flip through a whole lot of bookmarked pages. That said, I do still prefer hard copy books for those categories. There’s something about flipping back and forth between different pages of a gardening book to compare pictures that you can’t quite replicate in an e-book experience.

And that brings me to the other big change in my habits, which isn’t so much about e-books as about the internet. I’ve been doing a cull of my non-fiction books over the past year or so, and it’s following a definite pattern. The books I’m keeping are the ones that inspire me. So for gardening books, the how to books are gone. The books about particular styles, with lots of pictures, have stayed. That’s true across most subjects – the encyclopedias, how tos and overviews are going away – it’s just easier for me to look those things up in the internet, when I need that information.

But I do still like the inspiration – I’ve kept my sewing and knitting books, by and large (having largely culled out the things I knew I’d never use a couple years ago). The cookbook collection is also fairly intact, as I enjoy flipping through the ones I like. (That said, the BF and I are planning an exercise soon to clear those out, because we probably don’t even touch about half of what we have for cookbooks, ever.) So the ease of looking up things on the internet is impacting my buying habits. What I’m keeping is fiction (because I still prefer reading those in physical form), and inspirational books, which just work better for me in a flippable format.

I can’t see this changing very much long term, unless the industry decides to make a very conscious effort to produce less physical books. I still like those fundamentally better, though I am warming to certain applications for electronic formats.

Tender – Nigel Slater

1607740370-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_After plowing through Slater’s Ripe, I had to go back and get the book he wrote before that, which dealt with vegetables, instead of fruit. And I again found this to be one of the rare cookbooks I can read from cover to cover. However, it’s a little less useful to me than Ripe was, because the way that vegetables behave through a British winter is very different than how they behave in a Maine winter. In other words, short of buying a heated greenhouse, I will never have a winter crop of anything. So my seasonality is not the seasonality of this book – therefore, the gardening tips are not so useful to me. (Fruit seasons are more similar, so Ripe was still seasonally familiar to me.)

Still, the gardening was evocative and inspirational on some levels, and I still enjoyed the recipes. So it’s still a worthwhile book for my collection, even if Ripe is a better fit.

Gifts – Ursula K. LeGuin

16611117d2c0bb7592b786a5667434f414f4141Orrec lives in the Uplands, a poor region of farms that hides a people with extraordinary gifts. Each family’s gift is different. Orrec’s family’s gift if Unmaking, and his gift is untamed. He is forced to blindfold his eyes so he doesn’t destroy the people he loves.

That’s really an aside to this book. The Gifts create perceptions and define alliances. Orrec’s mother is a lowlander, and that quirk of his birth means that he needs to question everything about the life that he lives, and how his Gift plays into that. This is really a coming of age story, and a good one, if a little short. This is part of a larger series, and I would like to read the rest of the books, because I do find myself wanting more.

A Distant Mirror – Barbara W. Tuchman

7617437604fec0959354c325667434f414f4141This is a serious, scholarly book about the 14th century, but written in such an approachable manner that anyone interested in this time period should be able to read it.

To illustrate the time period, the author settles on one man to trace how his life was impacted by all the changes of this century. That man is Enguerrand de Coucy VII – the last of a dynasty of grand seigneurs of France in the Picardy region. Enguerrand’s first wife was Isabella of England, daughter of King Edward III. As a peer of France, this put him in an extremely interesting position through the Hundred Year’s War.

But really, this story is about the Black Death, and how that influenced (or killed, take your pick) chivalry, and how that created the conditions that made the Hundred Year’s war. It’s really a fascinating story. This is the end of the Middle Ages, and having everything that unfolds channeled through the lens of this single life is such a perfect way to understand everything that was happening in that time.

Coucy is such a fascinating man. He did so much, and had connections all over Europe, to the Holy Land. I had a much narrower vision of the breadth of the Medieval world – I guess I didn’t think that they could possibility be so cosmopolitan. This book was an eye opener for me there.

The funny thing too is that this was first published in 1978, but it is such a brilliant work, it still holds up. Kudos to the author for thinking of this brilliant way to present this work, and the careful research she put into it.