Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Bee-Friendly Garden

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I have far too many hobbies. Along with reading and reviewing books, I also crochet, draw, write, and sometimes I try to garden. Unfortunately, I suck at it. If you don't think that keeping a plant alive is particularly difficult, just hand it to me and I'll happily demonstrate. 

Maybe it's something about your karma?
Let's not get personal. Maybe I know nothing about the proper conditions to keep a thing alive in a pot. However, I do know how to read, and I'm not so terrible at research. One of my motto's is "When in doubt: READ A BOOK!"

You don't just watch a youtube video?
I do that too, but it doesn't fit the theme today, and for this particular hobby I would literally be watching grass grow. I picked up The bee-friendly Garden from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review. As someone who loves honey and is concerned about the decline in bee populations, I thought this book could help me choose appropriate, hardy, plants that would survive my black thumb while also providing nutrients for our friends the bees.

Speaking of our friends the bees—I had no idea there were so many different kinds! Typically, when I think of bees, I picture bumblebees and think they're also honeybees, but those are actually distinct species. You know where I learned that? From this book!


Hey, I was expecting a lot of information about plants that attract bees and maybe how to design your garden. That is included in here, but there's so much more to it! The first chapter is dedicated to various bee profiles: their genus and species, common names, habitats, and their preferred types of flowers (because bees have favorite foods too). Chapters two and three talk about the different plants you can include in your bee-friendly garden. We're not just talking flowers, either. The main point I pulled from this book is that in order to have a healthy garden for healthy bees, variety is key. Variety of plants—annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees—will extend the length of time your garden blooms, thus providing nourishment for your friendly neighborhood bees for longer. Authors Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn also stress the importance of including native plants in your garden. These make it likelier that local bees will visit (and pollinate) your plants, but also increases the health of your garden. Local plants, if you think about it, are hardy weeds we like. They'll make it less likely for weeds we don't like to take over our garden areas.

Did you start your bee-friendly garden yet?
As previously mentioned, I have something of a black thumb. You have to look really close, because generally my thumb looks peach, but the point is that it isn't green. So, I have yet to start my garden. However, I intend to plan it using the the regional lists of plants and the section for "designing your garden." So that's in the works. I'd love to show you all pictures of my beautiful, living garden when I make it happen, but that'll be a while.

Obviously you really like this book. Will I?
Quite possibly. You may want to buy a copy of this book if:
  1. You enjoy gardening and want to help improve bee populations
  2. You like flowers or food
  3. Beautiful pictures of outdoor landscapes make you happy
  4. Or maybe you just want to learn more about bees, their habitats, and what sorts of plants will draw them in.
There you have it! The bee-friendly Garden: I'm happy to have it and I think you would be too!

Friday, February 19, 2016

My Crochet Doll: A picture book with patterns

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Once upon a time, in a strange, faraway land known as "JoAnns Fabric Store," I came across a charming crochet book featuring a simple doll with practically no nose, no mouth, and a delightfully detailed outfit. Intrigued, I snatched the book off the shelf and flipped through its contents.
"Hello, Kitty," I purred at the pages, for clearly our no-nose heroine's name is Katherine, "Why don't you tell me about yourself?"
Having thus acquired several weird looks for the day and no verbal response from the book, I continued my monologue at home after purchasing My Crochet Doll. Sixty pages worth of photos later, I finally found the patterns Isabelle Kessedjian promised. Despite my potentially misleading title (in which you might think that a picture book with patterns is a bad thing), I am quite in love with this book! Sixty pages of pictures goes a long way in showing you what is possible before actually teaching you how to do anything.

But it does show you how to make things, doesn't it?
YES! Okay, this would normally be the point where I start showing off some of the stuff that I've made while using the patterns in the book.
... I have a small confession to make.
       I have owned this book for over a year, and have yet to make anything from it.

Don't judge me too harshly, I beg you! Thing is that, for as beautiful as the illustrations are, and convinced as I am that the patterns are sound, there has been something deterring me from just jumping in and making a beautiful crochet doll of my own. The patterns use the European abbreviations for crochet. European abbreviations are a bit odd to my American eyes. How can you call a single crochet a double, and then expect a half double to mean-- Okay, maybe you're not as interested in my tech-gibberish at the moment. That's fine. Moving on! The second deterrent is that the yarn the author uses is a lighter weight than what I normally work with. I believe she uses a weight 3 (or sport weight), while I use weight 4 (medium worsted a.k.a The Yarn EVERYONE Uses). Ultimately, that's going to make the patterns come out a little different. I like making one just how the pattern says for my first try, to figure out any quirks beforehand. Then I go crazy with it, adding or subtracting details as I see fit. But no matter what I do, my end product is going to end up different or a bit off because I'm not about to go out and buy more yarn until I've finished with what I've got. And if you saw the size of my stash, you'd see that's going to be quite a long time.

Enough excuses! What can you tell us about the patterns?!
Well, do you like weird? If you're still reading this, I'm going to go with "Duh, I like weird."
Okay, so you like weird.
This book... has a pattern... to make underwear for your doll. Not even joking. Honest to goodness, you can make cute little undies for your amigurumi. You can also make: shoes, pajamas, overalls, a superhero outfit (which is ultimately why I bought the book), a fancy dress, tiny cakes, and many other things! It's freaking adorable! And that's not even mentioning all the different little accessories that you can add to your new playmate. Ms. Kessedjian also mentions how to make a variety of hairstyles using different types of yarn, from regular 4-ply to wool. She talks about giving your doll additional personality with bits of wire (perhaps adding glasses to the doll) and other scrap materials. The funny thing is that, despite my insistence on making the first doll be "just like the author's" to get a feel for things, the author actually points out that the doll in this book is hers and she highly encourages the reader to make their own. Change the color! Give her different hair, or some glasses, or a different outfit, or mix-and-match with what's available in the book and beyond! Go crazy with it from the beginning! The important thing is to have fun. At the end, what you've made will be your crochet doll.

So that's pretty much all I've got to say about that. I highly recommend this book. At least check it out. Just remember, the abbreviations are different in this than in a book from a U.S. author. That being said, there is a little section (as in most of these books) that goes over the technical aspects of crochet: what the abbreviations are, what they mean, how to make the stitches, and the difference between U.S. and U.K. terminology and what the heck they mean by each.

I enjoyed the format of the book. The illustrations were gorgeous, and it was pleasant to simply flip through the pictures first and then have the patterns at the end. This may not be the best book for the absolute beginner. I recommend already knowing your basic stitches (chain, single stitch, slip stitch, etc) prior to picking this one up because there are no illustrations demonstrating how to get that started or hold the yarn. You're going to be awfully frustrated if you don't know how to hold your yarn and you try just going at this. Well, who knows... You might actually be a prodigy. But for those of us who aren't prodigies, it can get frustrating if you don't already have an idea of what you're doing.

Some day, I may share with you pictures of My Crochet Doll... but in the meantime, I hope you have fun with your own!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What is this shit? Sentence of Marriage

Sentence of Marriage (Promises to Keep, #1)
The story of how rape and
abuse is all the victim's fault.

Why don't you tell us how you really feel?

I'm getting to it. GoodReads has this great feature where you can make multiple “shelves” for your books and name them as you please. Sentence of Marriage deserves its very own shelf. I named it “Fucked Up.”

I downloaded this book because it was free, it had a rating of at least three stars, and it was recommended to me as a “historical romance.” That was a goddamn lie. There is nothing romantic about this story. Historical? Maybe. Romantic? Nope. I call bullshit on that claim.

Wow, it appears you feel rather strongly about this.

You're goddamn right I do. It isn't often that I am sorry to have read something, but maybe I wouldn't be so angry with it if the synopses had painted a more realistic picture of what the story was going to be like. I mean, just look at it!
“In nineteenth century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice.”

A more appropriate synopses would have read:
“When her father unexpectedly marries a twit, 12-year-old Amy tries to make the best of a poor situation by showing kindness to her new stepmother. In return, her new mother showers Amy with contempt and emotional abuse. At the tender age of 15, Amy's new uncle (her stepmother's brother) sexually assaults her while visiting the family. After repeated promises of matrimony intended to coerce her into gratifying him, he runs away to Australia when he discovers she is pregnant. Can Amy surpass these hardships and lead a life she can still be proud of?”

Spoilers: The answer is “No.” Maybe you can start to see why I'm upset with this book. The actual synopses implies that someone with the ability to make a choice makes an unwise decision and must then face the consequences. In actuality, a teenage girl has no choice in what happens to her, is brainwashed into believing that she consented to having sex (She didn't. She very clearly said “no”), and then must suffer the consequences of her new status as a “sullied woman,” a broken object now devoid of worth. At one point in the story, her rapist (a twenty-something-year-old good-for-nothing posing as a gentleman), mentions that perhaps Amy should allow him to speak to her father before she goes mentioning anything about what “they” did (like she had any choice). Because, of course, he'll ask her father for her hand in marriage and they'll live happily ever after, and Amy wouldn't want her dad to break his arms, would she? Well, she didn't. But I did. So I continued reading, hoping.

She didn't want her father to break his arms? Why not?!
Sometimes authors do horrible things to their characters, then try to make up for it later in the story. One of the many horrible things Shayne Parkinson subjected our naive teenager to was having her fall in love with the man who would rape her. So after the rape occurred, the rapist convinced Amy that he had merely gotten carried away and it was all moot point because he intended to marry her. They only got a little ahead of themselves! And so, convinced that this was merely a lapse in judgment on his part and that he fully intended to marry her (and soon), Amy told no one what happened.

Wow... That's a terrible story!
It is. But it keeps going, and it gets worse

You're fucking kidding me...
I wish I were. You see, it's bad now, right? But then Ms. Parkinson refuses to satisfy our ensuing bloodlust, and instead proceeds to continue with the deliberate torture of a minor. Amy has her baby. Amy's baby is taken away. Amy gets married off to a much older man she has been terrified of her entire life in an attempt to salvage her and her family's name (despite the fact that her older brothers and her cousin beg her not to go through with it). This is bad, yes? The rest of the book, Amy is beaten and raped by her new husband. This was worse. At the end of the first book, she is pregnant by the monster she married.
Not a single good thing happened in this book. This was not a romance novel. It's the story of how a minor is put through hell and it doesn't matter that she's a good person. Her life is misery, and her abusers can carry on as they please. If I had wanted to read that story, I would've flipped through the news. If there was a poor choice on Amy's part, it was not committing suicide and ending her torture. (Actually, it was probably her decision to delay telling her father that she was pregnant, but that one is understandable.)

Apparently, there are people out there who think this is a good book. I even read a few reviews where people stated that this was a good book and that they enjoyed it. To those people I say, “I beg your fucking pardon?” What is enjoyable about a little girl getting raped and beaten? I am gobsmacked at the number of good reviews this atrocity received. As historical fiction, it might work. As drama, it might work. As a romance novel? No. Technically, the book is legible. Parkinson's writing works, the descriptions paint their pictures of horror terrifyingly well. It's just too bad the subject matter was so awful.

This is the first book in a series, and I downloaded it for free. I have never been so sorry to have read a story. I would actively discourage anyone from reading this.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Scattered like litter on the floor: Cats in Paris

Cats in Paris: A Coloring Book of the Felines of ParisCats in Paris: A Coloring Book of the Felines of Paris by Won-Sun Jang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"I have a great concept for a coloring book!" said the artist.
"Oh? And what is that?" queried the publisher.
"That's nice, but cats have been done. Can you throw anything else in there?"
"That sounds great!"
"But, I don't have a lot of drawings of Paris, so how about we just do whatever with cats and say it's in Paris?"
"Sure, that'll work too."
And that, I think, sums up what went into this book. There are cats all over it, so that wasn't a lie. But there's very little of Paris in it. The art style also changes wildly throughout the book. There were actually three distinct art-styles throughout. The first portion of it we'll call "sketch jazz ugly."

During the sketch jazz ugly portion, the illustrations are sketchy with some bits of dialogue included where a supposedly Parisian cat shows you his favorite sketched-out Paris haunts. It's as weird as I just described it. This portion of the book lasts for about the first 16 pages before it moves on to the next style, "Sketch jazz real." The illustrations from here forward are much nicer than the initial ugly jazz stage, but continue to be "sketchy." I think there may be two clean lines in this entire book. In any case, during the middle portion there are more varied cats, and it looks as though the illustrations are speed drawn from live cats. To be fair, if you like cats, this part might make you happy. It certainly made me laugh, because there's an illustration of a cat lying on its back, presenting its butt-hole to the viewer. No, I'm not kidding. It made me laugh because that's true to cats, but now you've been warned that there is illustrated cat a-hole in this book.

Shortly after the cat a-hole image, the artist's caffeine-and-sugar-fueled high subsides long enough to provide us with some nice, albeit boring compared to cat-butt, images of cat stamps. Yes, stamps. Like the kind you put on your mail. Totally useless to actually send mail, but nice. However, the trip into staid sanity is short-lived, and we return to madness (of the “what the hell is that cat doing?” variety) for a few more pages before the book simply ends.

This book is scattered. The cats in Paris portion is awfully short to have the whole book named after it, and the art style isn't consistently good. It isn't the worst coloring book in the world, but I know I'll enjoy my other coloring books far more. You might like this book if:
1. You like cats
2. You like weird stuff
3. You would like to color cat-related sketches.
If you're looking for Paris, look elsewhere. There isn't enough of it here to qualify.

This review is based on a copy provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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