What I’ve Read This Summer

This was a great season for getting caught up on some reading. We had a busy, but more leisurely summer than usual, which allowed me a bit more time and focus to get back into books. I also really made an effort to carve out some time to read, even just an hour every day.

Here’s what I read this summer:

The Life We Bury, Allen Eskens

First of all, I should point out, apropos of nothing, that I didn’t so much read this book, as I listened to the audio version. I love audio books for working outside in the summer. The drudgery of mowing the lawn or weeding is minimized when I have something to keep my brain engaged.

The story follows Joe Talbot, a college student who needs a subject for an English assignment that involves writing someone’s biography. By chance, he finds himself paired with Carl, a dying man who is both a decorated Vietnam veteran and a felon convicted of committing a heinous crime. As Joe looks further into Carl’s past, he discovers things are not as they seem. Along with his neighbor and brother, he digs into Carl’s past to find out what kind of man he truly was.

The Life We Bury wasn’t quite what I was expecting. From the synopsis, I’d anticipated more of an intense psychological thriller, but instead was much more of a Hardy Boys mystery.

Ok. That’s a slight exaggeration, but it certainly a typical paperback mystery. You know the type where by the last chapter the protagonist confronts the killer and manages to extract a full confession while narrowly escaping becoming the next victim but then authorities arrive in the nick of time. Of course, the antagonist would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that pesky detective, or whoever. This isn’t necessarily criticism though. This genre has always been my guilty pleasure and really enjoyed this one. This wasn’t an epic, life-changing novel, but it was satisfying.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

This is defiantly the best book I’ve read so far this year.

The novel opens with the death of a teenage girl – the favoured daughter of a Chinese American family in the 1970s. The details surrounding her death unravel as the narrative looks back on her short life, her parent’s backgrounds and their family dynamic.

The writing is beautiful, and although the plot is a slow burn, the tension and nuance make up for the lack of action. There are also so many subtle layers to the story including racism, gender roles, and how our best intentions can sometimes fail the people we care about the most.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

This one had been on my Kindle for years. My book club had read it and raved about it but I didn’t have time to read it back then. I always intended to get back to it but it got back-burnered behind books about breastfeeding, sleep training and introducing solids to infants.

It was a fun story about a man on the spectrum trying to find a wife. If you’ve ever watched The Big Bang Theory, you would no doubt think of Sheldon while reading it. I’m sure it oversimplifies the struggle of someone living with Aspersers Syndrome but for those of us that don’t know any better, it was highly entertaining.

Crimes Against a Book Club, Kathy Cooperman

I don’t think I need to explain that this is chick-lit. The title says it all. It’s a quick beach read about two women who commit a few felonies to solve their privileged, first world problems. One of my book club friends alerted me to the fact that the E-book was 2 bucks on Amazon the same week I was camping up north with my family. The price and timing worked for me.

Radio Girls, Sarah-Jane Stratford

I found this title on a list of book suggestions for people missing Downton Abbey.

The story was told from the perspective of a fictional character named Maisie, but many of the supporting characters and events were real – specifically the fascinating Hilda Matheson and the early years of the BBC. I’d never heard of her until I’d read this and it seems she was a pretty big deal during that era. She hung out with a progressive intellectual crowd and was an outspoken liberal and supporter of woman’s rights.

It was a fun, light read but still gave me an informative but subtle history lesson about 1920’s London, the BBC, and women’s suffrage. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Radio Girls turned up in the future as a television series like Call the Midwife. Speaking of television though, I’m still missing Downton Abbey. Have they started filming that movie yet?

Y is for Yesterday, Sue Grafton

I’ve been reading this alphabet mystery series since I was a teenager. The first book in the series was released in 1982 but I didn’t catch up with A though G until the summer of 1990 during my lunch breaks from my part time job at the Brantford Public Library and then in my spare time while laying on a blanket in the sun slathered in Hawaiian tropic tanning oil. Private investigator, Kinsey Millhone filled the hole in my literary heart that had been left empty when I grew out of Nancy Drew.

I’ve been a hardcore fangirl since that summer and there are some titles that I’ve loved more than others, but the series has been consistently good. While Y is for Yesterday probably won’t make my list of most memorable, it was certainly enjoyable. I’m relieved that after three decades these books have never suffered the literary equivalent of jumping the shark. The characters have remained complex and have evolved over time without being turned into caricatures, which often seems to happen in a long-running series (I’m looking at you Stephanie Plum). The plots have also continued to be interesting over the years.

Now with only one more book left to go, I am saddened that there are only 26 letters in the alphabet. At the risk of being melodramatic, the end of this series is going to be like saying goodbye to an old friend.

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Dryer Balls

Back in May, we took a vacation. Or more accurately, enjoyed a temporary change of scenery. The term vacation would imply we were relaxing while sipping cocktails somewhere. We were travelling with a two-year-old, so we were really just going to unfamiliar places, trying to prevent her from harming herself others, while attempting to deflect public tantrums.

One of the many stops on our itinerary was Kings Canyon National Park. We’ve been going to Califonia annually for over a decade and we still hadn’t seen a giant Sequoia. In retrospect, this wasn’t the best adventure with a toddler in tow. I really need to remember that when I start planning our next holiday.

Anyway, we saw some big ass trees. Then, we decided to take the scenic route back to our hotel in Bakersfield, where we were stopping for the night before heading to Palm Springs the following day. It was scenic indeed as we wound our way down from the High Sierras, going back and forth, making sharp turns every mile or so.

Suddenly, we heard some strange noises from the backseat. Little B still sat rear facing then, so we couldn’t immediately see what was up- literally. Until the smell hit us. Trying not to panic (or dry heave), we kept driving until we found a turnout where we found our poor baby absolutely covered in regurgitated milk and crackers – her snack of choice earlier that day. Of course, we felt like the shittiest parents in the world because it never occurred to us that a drive like this might cause her motion sickness. Not only that, but there really wasn’t much we could do up there. We were on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with limited cleaning resources in our rental car. We stripped her down, wiped her up the best we could with some take-out napkins and put her back in the seat with one of Jeremy’s t-shirts between her and the mess. Next, we gave her some fresh water and continued on the two-hour drive to our destination.

Later at the hotel, we cleaned the seat and aired it out of the balcony overnight. Thankfully, we were headed to our friend’s house where we could properly machine wash our soiled clothes.

Two things of note about my friend’s laundry situation.

First, she had the most fabulous homemade laundry detergent. You can find the recipe here.

Seriously – it was AMAZING. It only took one cycle to get the barf smells and stains out of our stuff and in my (thankfully) limited experience with baby puke, it usually takes at least two washes to completely get that odour. PLUS, these clothes had been marinating for nearly 24 hours in a plastic bag in the trunk of a hot car!

Second, she had wool dryer balls.

For the uninitiated, dryer balls are a greener alternative to dryer sheets for adding scents to your clothes and reducing static cling. They also help cut down on dryer time absorbing some of the dampness and by creating more space between your clothes.

They’re not expensive, so this is one of those crafts that if you had to go out and buy supplies you would likely spend way more than it would cost to just go out and purchase them already made. However, if you’re like me and have a bunch old wool sweaters tucked away for felting projects you’ll probably never get around to, then this is a great project to use up that stash.

I started by cutting my sweaters into long continuous strips and rolled them into balls in the same way you would wind yarn into a ball, tucking in the loose ends as I went along. Your balls should be about a bit larger than a softball or and they will shrink to about a baseball. I used four small women’s sweaters to get this size.

These look pretty messy, but that’s ok because they’ll be covered with a layer of worsted to tidy them up.

I bought two of these from a clearance rack at Micheals, keeping this project at about $6.50 – still well below the cost of buying them.

There. Much better.

If you were born after the baby boom, you might not have any pantyhose around, but this is what you need for the next step. I had some because despite being born in the mid-70s, I’m a bit old-school when it comes to foundation garments. Sure, I’ll do bare legs in a dress the hot summer, but for the rest of the year if I’m getting really dressed up I believe a slip and a pair of very good quality sheer nude nylon hose makes one look polished. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just ask Kate Middleton.

So, I shoved the balls into the leg of my old stocking tying each one in tightly. (I suppose tights would probably work too). This is going to help with the felting process.

Next, I soaked the balls in a bucket of very, very, hot water. A few tutorials I’ve seen recommend just throwing the balls in the washing machine on a hot cycle, but our high-efficiency front loader doesn’t use enough water to effectively bind the fibers. After wringing them out the best I could, I dried them (with a load of bed sheets) on the highest heat setting. Then, for good measure, I repeated the process.

All finished!

As you can see, some red from one of the old sweaters bled through one of the balls. I won’t use that one with my whites, obviously.

There is a downside to dryer balls. They’re noisy as heck. It sounds a bit like a herd of bison are charging through the laundry room when they’re in motion, but since they cut down on drying time at you don’t have to listen to it for very long.

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What I Read – Brooklyn

I’d never heard of this book and likely would have never even considered it, had I not stumbled upon the movie adaptation one night when I was desperate for something pleasant to watch. Apparently, the movie premiered in 2015 and was nominated for some awards. Looking back, it seems I’d spent that year in a pregnant, then postpartum haze and now I’m wondering what else I might have missed.

So, it was a Saturday night and Little B was fast asleep. I made myself a cup of tea and curled up in bed to start binging on the new season of Orange is the New Black. A few episodes in though, I realized I just…couldn’t. It was grating on my soul and while I rarely turn to drama/romance to cleanse my emotional palette, there was just something about the trailer for Brooklyn that pulled me in. I should point out here, I was also extremely hormonal that night and that probably played a pivitol role in this choice.

Brooklyn (the novel) was set in 1950s Ireland where a young woman named Eilish found herself without any prospects, financially or romantically. She lived with her widowed mother and older sister, while her three brothers had all moved to England to find work. Her sister, sharp and self-possessed, was always looking out for her and with the help of an Irish-American priest, she orchestrated Eilish’s move overseas to ensure a better future for her. Eilish was apprehensive but didn’t protest. She did what was expected of her, as she always did.

After a rough start in Brooklyn, she overcame her homesickness, made friends and found a boyfriend. Then suddenly, her family suffered an unexpected tragedy and she had to return to Ireland where her hometown friends and family expected her to remain. This left her torn between her new life in the United States and the familiarity and new possibilities of her old one so she had to make a decision. It’s a simple story with some subtle complexity. There wasn’t a perfect choice. She had two almost equally appealing options, but with some minor consequences on either side. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and all that. As a reader, it was hard to decide which future to root for.

I picked up the book right after watching the movie because my weepy, pre-menstrual heart needed to confirm that she’d made her decision based purely on love. I have to tell you, after reading the book, I’m really not sure. The novel is actually less definitive than the movie in that regard. Otherwise, with only a few minor exceptions, the screen adaptation stayed true to the book, so there wasn’t much additional insight to be had by reading it.

It was a beautifully written book though. It reminded me a bit of Maeve Binchy. It had a real Irish chick-lit vibe that reminded me of the late 1990s when I used to plow through books of this genre on a weekly basis. That wasn’t really the best time in my life, but thinking about it makes me nostalgic for all the time and brain space I once had for leisure reading. However, I have to admit, if I had to choose, I think in this case I would pick the movie over the novel. The costumes and cinematography were stunning.

As for Orange is the New Black, I think I’m over it. I was finding last season was getting too outrageous and weird. This season, I just didn’t understand what I was watching. Perhaps I’ll just stick with pleasant movies like this for a while.

Any suggestions?

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