What I’ve Read This Spring

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain – Bill Bryson

I’d been reading so many dark and sad novels lately, I wanted to read something a little different. This was a sequel to Notes from a Small Island. The small island is the United Kingdom and the notes were regarding the author’s travels and observations of the country as he was preparing to move back to his native United States. That was 25 years ago. This time around he explored the UK from end to end, from the south, all the way up to the tip of Scotland around the time he became a British citizen.

For the first half of this adventure, he mostly complains about how crowded and expensive everything is which makes us kindred spirits (this is practically a hobby of mine) but doesn’t make for great reading. It did however, help me start a mental list of places to avoid if I ever make it to England again.

It gets better by the time he hits Shropshire though. His grumpy old man narrative continues but northeastern England seems to have retained some of that British charm he’d been nostalgic for. Next, he moves on to the Lakes District and Cumbria which is, incidentally, the land of my people (the Todd’s have lived in that area for as far back as I can trace – at least the late 1500s) and so I have a certain fondness for that area, despite the fact I’ve never been. Then, he seems to rush through Scotland.

Overall, it was ok. It wasn’t nearly as laugh out loud funny as his other work though.

No Safe House – Linwood Barclay

Every now and then I like to pick up a thriller. They tend to be formulaic but they’re quick and easy. Linwood Barclay is the gold standard of this genre, in my humble opinion. He also lives in my region, which is apropos of nothing.

This one followed a common theme found in many of his novels, where an average guy – in this case, a school teacher, gets unwittingly embroiled in something nefarious. It was creepy and suspenseful.

I was actually a bit annoyed with the story at first because there seemed to be a backstory that was often alluded to but never explained. Finally, I realized this was a sequel to another one of his books called No Time For Goodbye. Not having read it didn’t really prevent me from understanding this story, but if you do plan to read this one, I would suggest starting with the first book.

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad was unique because it’s not so much a novel but a collection of interwoven short stories. The book is centred around two characters, a music producer and his assistant. The chapters were different stories, taking place in various timeframes and from the perspectives of assorted characters but always tied to the lives of the core people.

It was an interesting concept and enjoyable read, although I don’t think it was Pulitzer Prize good (it won the award in 2011). Who am I to judge though?

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride – Cary Elwes

When I first picked up this book, I doubted I was going to read it all the way through. It seemed like a good idea when I downloaded it. I’ve always loved The Princess Bride but did I really care about the behind the scenes stuff? I generally have little to no interest in how movies are made. I actually did finish it though. It was a tad on the dull side, but reading about what a positive experience it had been for the people involved was so heartwarming.

My biggest takeaway from this book though was the knowledge that the movie was adapted from a novel. How on earth did I miss this? I’ve not only been a huge fan of this movie since it came out when I was a tween, but I spent nearly 8 years of my adolescence and young adulthood working in libraries and bookstores. You would think that it would have it would have passed through my hands at some point, The fact that I had absolutely no idea there was Princess Bride novel is, well – inconceivable!

Needless to say, I’ve added it to my reading list.

Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

I choose to read this one based on good reviews and recommendations and it really lived up to the hype. So far, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The story is a fictional amalgamation of a family affected by the infamous Tennessee Children’s Home Society – a child laundering scheme that managed to operate for 30 years – from around 1920 to 1950. The system was run by a monster while being protected and supported on the legal end by corrupt judges and politicians.

It was an absolutely heartbreaking story that was made even more gut wretching with the knowledge that there were thousands of real families that were torn apart and children who were robbed of their identities and sometimes even their lives at the hands of people who lined their pockets at their expense. It’s the kind of story that will linger in the back of your mind long after you’ve read it.

On that note, I’m now looking something uplifting to read. Have you read anything happy lately?

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I Made Things In March

It’s taken me a while to write this because I’d been waiting for a nice sunny day to take the accompanying pictures. For almost two months, that day didn’t come. March and most of April was so cold, dark and grey I just couldn’t finish this post. It’s finally Spring though and I feel alive again and I’m getting things done.

Moppe Ikea Hack

Apparently, Ikea discontinued these for a while but brought them back by customer demand. I actually picked up this one at a thrift store a while ago for about $5. I stained it this chestnut waterbased stain that I already had and then ordered the cardholder/pulls from Etsy.

I’m really happy with how this came out. Eventually, it’s is going to be used for storage in my craft room when I finally clear the junk off the counter. I’ve also got another on deck for refinishing, as my husband wants one now too!

This is what it looked like before (Photo source: Ikea)

Purl Soho Toddler City Gym Shorts

This is another free pattern from Purl Soho. I went with size 4/5 for our almost 3-year old just in case it was a small fit but these seem on the larger side, so they go into storage until next summer. I might try to whip up a smaller pair for this year.

Imperial Striped Afghan

I’ve always wanted a wool HBC point blanket but I’ve never had any luck finding a second-hand one that hasn’t been discoloured or moth-eaten. Obviously, I could buy new but I just can’t bring myself to drop that kind of dough on one. With having had pets (rest in peace, sweet kitties) and now a toddler, we really can’t have nice things.

I’d made a baby sized version of this for Little B, but I’ve had it in the back of my mind to make one for our guest room and since we just bought a new daybed for that space, this was the perfect time to get it done.

Painted Birdhouses

This project did not exactly align with my use what I have initiative. Little B and I were picking up some things at Dollarama when she saw a little birdhouse painting kit. I agreed to buy it for her and then had this vision of my own little village of Wes Anderson style birdhouses. So, I bought some birdhouses for myself too.

There were a few problems with this project. First, the dollar store houses are really poor quality (surprise) and I don’t think they’ll hold up outdoors. Second, I did some reading about birdhouses after the fact and it turns out these are novelty birdhouses and unsafe for birds.

So, these will have to be decorative only and will probably disintegrate during their first rainstorm, but that’s ok because I don’t feel that I really hit the mark with these aesthetically anyway.

As for April, I started several projects but just couldn’t find the motivation to complete anything. Then, spring finally came and I’ve been spending all of my free time cleaning up our patio furniture, weeding and prepping my garden boxes for planting. I am hoping to have some of my April crafts finished this month though. Stay tuned!

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What I’ve Read This Winter – Part 2

No One Is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts

This book touted as a modern version of The Great Gatsby but having read it, I think it’s a bit of a stretch. This is not to say this isn’t a good book though. I did enjoy reading it. It just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.

Set in a small economically depressed American town in the south, the story mainly focuses on busybody matriarch Sylvia, who despite having her own apartment, spends most of her time at her former house, now owned and occupied by her middle-aged married daughter, Ava. Ava’s marriage was troubled at best and then further complicated when her childhood friend JJ shows up after a long absence. Now that he’s achieved some degree of success, he’s back to win her heart.

There are a few common themes and moments that loosely connected it to The Great Gatsby but the characters are far more endearing despite their flaws. It was really more about regular people struggling to get what they want out of life. I supposed though, had it not been blurbed with the comparison, I may not have picked it up so I guess from a marketing perspective, it worked.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

This was such a random book selection for me. I needed to download something to my eReader right away and this one was the first one that was available in the “recommended” section from our local library. I didn’t even read a synopsis before I began and had no clue what it was about or what to expect.

Most of the story takes place over a few days when Lucy is laying in a hospital bed while fighting an infection after a surgery. Her mother had come from rural Illinois to visit and as they talk about some of the folks from her hometown, she reflects on her upbringing. She is very subtle in her revelations so that, as a reader, you really have to stop and consider her implications.

It reminded me a tiny bit of The Glass Castle in that the (in this case, fictional) protagonist grew up in abject poverty and has moved on to a much different life while maintaining a complicated relationship with her family.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a novel that had such palpable tension right from the start.

The story is narrated by Mary Katherine, a teenager who lives with her older sister and feeble Uncle on a large familial estate. The rest of their family had perished in a tragedy many years before and they live in isolation from the locals who seem to fear and loathe them. As the story unfolds you begin to understand the events that occurred years before.

It was fantastically bizarre, and apparently, there’s a movie version coming out sometime this year.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill

When I started reading this book I found something oddly familiar about it. The theme of being young, poor and exploited in Montreal reminded me of Lullabies for Little Criminals and then I realized they were authored by the same person. Lullabies for Little Criminals is one of those books that just haunts you years later. That gave me a bit of an idea of what to prepare for as I read on.

The novel is about Perriot and Rose who met when they were orphaned babies. Both talented and charismatic, as teenagers they fell in love as they toured the city performing on behalf of their orphanage. They were separated when they were sent out to work as servants, but spent their early adult years trying to find each other while they tried to stay afloat in the city during the depression.

Overall, it was a bit weird. The prose is unique and visceral. At times I could almost feel the grit and hunger of depression era Montreal coming off the pages. It wasn’t as upsetting as Lullabies though. It read more like an early 20th-century fairy tale, but without a conventional happily ever after.

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