Monday, September 1, 2014

What I Read: August

August was a good reading month for me. :) Here's what I read:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling. Continuing my reread of the Harry Potter series this summer! I absolutely love this book. It was my favorite of the series for a long time. You can read my thoughts on the book and the film here.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. This one was also my favorite for quite a while! I still haven't finished writing my book/film review for the blog yet, but it should be up soon.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, by Daniel Pool. I finally finished this book, which I'd been reading off and on since last year! The information was interesting (especially if you read a lot of classics), but it wasn't presented in the best way. The way it was written was a bit dull. Also, be warned that the author spoils a lot of plot points from classics...

Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt. I absolutely loved this graphic novel and gushed about it here.

The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen. I'll be the first to admit that YA contemporary is not my thing, but I'm constantly hearing good things about Sarah Dessen. And now I've finally read one of her books! In some ways it was exactly what I expected, but in other ways it was more than I expected. I did have a few qualms (I covered those in my review, which you can read by clicking on the book title), but overall I enjoyed it.

I'm going to officially call this the end of my summer reading. September is still quite warm here, but honestly I'm tired of feeling like I have to read from my summer reading list. (And I shouldn't even have to mention how ready I am for fall to be here!) Of course I didn't even come close to completing it, but I think I did fairly well. Of the 35 books on my list, I read 13. I'm still working through my Harry Potter rereads, and as soon as I finish them I intend on reading the Anne of Green Gables series. So that will knock off at least 9 more books from my list, even though it might not be summer any longer by the time I'm finished with those. :)

P.S. If you enjoy bookish posts like this one, stayed tuned...I finally filmed a little bookshelf tour of sorts that I hope to post soon!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Natural Bridge.

Last week, we spent a day at Natural Bridge. The first time that my parents took me there, I was somewhere between one and two years old. They took me and my brother back several more times while we were growing up, and I know we visited on a couple of school field trips, too, but it's probably been six or seven years since the last time we went. This time we went specifically to see the wax museum one more time, because sadly, it's closing after Labor Day.

We started off the day by seeing the bridge itself and walking the short trail to the waterfall at the end. It was a little warm and humid (this is August in Virginia, after all), but the path is shaded. It was such a nice walk, with the creek trickling along on one side and the mossy stone wall and trees on the other. And I never get tired of seeing the's so massive and beautiful! (To give you an idea, in the picture of me with the bridge, those orange things to the right of my head are large traffic cones under the bridge. And the red and white spots to the right of the cones are people standing closer to the bridge than I was, but still not directly under it.)

{Me and Dad were proud of my mom for walking the whole trail! It was at least a mile and a half, which is the furthest she's walked at one time since her accident.}

Then we went to the wax museum. It's not a fancy, big budget museum by any's small and quirky and a bit creepy at times, but that's why I love it. :) It's probably the exact same now that it was thirty years ago. There are lots of historical scenes set up with wax figures, most of them focused in Virginia (but not all). I remember being slightly intimidated by the museum as a kid...there was a fake bobcat set high on the wall around one corner, and when you walked under it lit up and hollered out. Also, there are wax tourists leaning against the barriers, looking at exhibits, and I remember always being nervous that I would mistake a real person for a wax one, or vice versa. :) The pictures above are: some guy (whose name escapes me) who killed several hundred bears during his lifetime and lived to be in his 90s (he died from stepping on a rusty nail, which is a rather anticlimactic way for a bear hunter to go, I suppose), the surrender at Appomattox, a section of the hall of presidents, Laurel and Hardy, The Last Supper (a short presentation about Jesus that serves as the finale of the museum), and a bit of the wax figure factory in the basement. All of the figures are very realistic looking, though some of them that are based on real people are more accurate than others.

Going through the museum was bittersweet knowing that this would be the last time I'd get to experience this piece of my childhood. I'm really glad we got to see it again before it closes, though. (There are also lovely caverns at Natural Bridge, but we skipped those on this visit.)

Afterwards we had lunch at the Pink Cadillac Diner, which is where we always stop when we go to Natural Bridge. It's a wonderfully tacky little place, where you can eat an Elvis burger while studying the hundreds (thousands?) of old pictures and bits of memorabilia hanging on the walls: classic movie posters, lots of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart, vinyl records, etc. On the way home, Dad had to stop at the feed mill for chicken feed, so I ran into the local yarn store there (probably the closest real yarn store to me, though it's still not exactly nearby).

Gorgeous new yarn...the perfect way to end the day! The orange is much darker and subtle in real life, and it's Madelinetosh, which is my one weakness. (Ha.) The purple and teal (it's really the most perfect dark teal, despite how bland it looks in the photo) are Cascade 220 sport and fingering weights.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jane, the Fox, & Me.

This little book really stole my heart.

I'd been eyeing it on Amazon for quite a while. I was drawn in by the fox, the Jane Eyre aspect (it is one of my favorite books, after all), and the peek at the illustrations that I'd seen online. I hadn't bought it until recently because I have a hard time spending that much money on a book I'm not sure I'll like, especially when it's basically a glorified picture book. (Don't get me wrong, I love picture books...I just wish they weren't so expensive.)

Thankfully, it was even more wonderful than I imagined. I'd hoped that I would like it, but I never expected it to impact me like it did.

The illustrations are gorgeous. This is a graphic novel, so the illustrations are as important as the story, and they are perfect. There's a certain style in artwork that I gravitate towards (particularly in children's books), and this is it. I love the way that black and white and color are used, and there's a wonderful sense of movement to many of the pictures. And it's hard to explain, but the illustrations add so much emotion and atmosphere to the story. You don't even have to read what's going on in Helene's can see it all in her slumped posture and ducked head.

Then there's the story itself. My heart broke for's been a long time since I felt so sympathetic towards a character. I could see a lot of myself in her, which is probably the reason why this book hit me so hard. Helene is bullied by her former friends for most of the story. I was never bullied, but I saw plenty of it and I still remember vividly some of the taunts that kids threw at each other. (I was taller than most of my classmates and I got good grades, a combination that, strangely enough, seemed to protect me from even the meanest kids. I have no idea why.) But other things about Helene: the awkwardness of trying on swimsuits that don't fit, feeling overweight and insecure, hiding behind a could have been written about me at that age. It could still be written about me at twenty-three. I needed to read this right now.

Anyway...I just had to gush about this lovely book. I always have a hard time recommending books, because you never really know how someone is going to connect to a story. Or even if they're going to connect to it. So I'm not telling you to go out and buy this book, because I know it won't be everyone's cup of tea. But if you ever have the opportunity to read it, give it a chance for the illustrations, if nothing else. Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised like I was. :)

{Besides a fox and Jane Eyre, the story even briefly includes sewing and vinyl records. Could anything be more perfect?}

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban {Book + Film}

I'm a little behind with this review...I finished reading the book and watched the film about two weeks ago! Actually, I've now finished Goblet of Fire and I'll be watching the movie tonight (Tuesday, not sure when this post will go up), so I wanted to get my thoughts on this one cleared up before I continue on.

{Speaking of being behind, I'm not even sure that my lofty Harry Potter knitting goal will work out. Honestly, I've got so many other knitting projects going on right now that it might not happen. At the very least I want to knit a Snitch, though!}

After reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I bumped my rating up to 5 stars, though I'd only given it 4 stars with my last reread. Honestly, this book is so awesome. For a while when I was younger, it was my favorite of the series, and now I remember why.

This is the book where things start to get serious (or Sirius, whichever you prefer :). This is when we really start learning about Harry's parents and their friends and the whole backstory to the Voldemort situation.

One huge plus in this book for me is that we get to meet Remus Lupin! He's one of my favorite characters of the series, and it was so nice to meet him again. It doesn't feel like there's enough of him, but of course he plays a bigger part later on. Sirius Black is great, too, but he's a bit more edgy and harsh, especially at this point. And even though she's ridiculous, I can't help but like Professor Trelawney. She provides a lot of humor.

Rowling's writing is so good that I even enjoy reading about the Quidditch matches! :) This is coming from a person who cares diddly-squat about sports...and cares even less for reading about sports. Even most of the Quidditch scenes in the films make me zone out, but in the books it's somehow fascinating. I almost cried when Harry won the Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor, you guys. Seriously.

The end is awesome. I appreciate that it's something besides another Voldemort encounter, while still being really suspenseful and climatic. The last few chapters are amazing and always make me tear up...I love the solution to it all (and Hermione's Time-Turner).

Okay, now on to the film. The biggest thing I have to say about this adaptation is that, compared to the first two, it's quite a bit less faithful to the book. I still enjoy it, though!

I wish they had included news of Sirius Black's escape in the Muggle world, too, as they did in the books. In the movie, Harry first hears about Sirius while he's on the Knight Bus. Also, pretty much every time Harry encounters a Dementor in the movie, they make it look like it's performing the Dementor's kiss on him, which is a little weird and overly dramatic. They're creepy enough as it is.

I have to mention some of the casting...I had completely forgotten (or never realized) that the lady who plays Aunt Marge is Pam Ferris, who was Trunchbull in the Matilda film! She's also played in quite a few BBC productions like Little Dorrit and most recently, Call the Midwife (Sister Evangelina!).

This is the first film where Michael Gambon plays Dumbledore, and he's absolutely perfect. He looks quite old but he's still energetic, just as Dumbledore should be. Then there's the always wonderful Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney, and honestly, she just doesn't get enough screen time. Also, I had never noticed this before, but the Fat Lady (portrait) is Caroline Arless from Lark Rise to Candleford! I knew it as soon as I heard her voice, though I probably wouldn't have realized it if I wasn't currently watching Lark Rise again. :)

A few more little things that bug me: Lupin lets the boggart turn into a Dementor for Harry, before quickly interfering. But then he says he stopped it because he assumed it would take the form of Voldemort, which is obviously didn't. So it makes no sense when he says that! Why did they make him wait until after he saw it before he stopped it? It's so much better in the book, when he stops it before Harry even has a chance to face it. Also, I've always kind of hated it when Hermione says, "Is that really what my hair looks like from behind?" I feel like Hermione never would have said that. Even if she thought it, she wouldn't have said it aloud, especially at a time like that.

I wish they had put more emphasis on the fact that Lupin was very close friends with Harry's dad. They just sort of briefly mention it. Also, Harry doesn't get the Firebolt until the very end, and the whole Quidditch Cup part is cut out (see above, the part of the book that almost moved me to tears :).

Some of the shots in the movie are really gorgeous. But then there are some odd ones, like close ups, that don't fit in well with the film. There are times when it almost seems like they set things up to be filmed in 3D...

One last random thought: I love that Lupin always has old-fashioned, jazzy music playing in the background, like in the boggart scene and when he's packing up. It just makes me like his character even more. :)

Of course I enjoy this film (I enjoy all of the films!), but the book is so amazing that the movie just doesn't do it justice. I think I realized that more this time than I ever have before.

How do you feel about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Who was your favorite character of the new ones that were introduced in this story?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Knitting: handspun biased cowl.

I had originally planned on using this handspun (8 ounces of Falkland wool in the Circus colorway from Spun Right Round) in a small shawl. But at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to knit the Totally Biased cowl.

I'm glad, because I think this pattern worked really well with the striped craziness of this yarn. :) It is bright, much brighter than I normally choose. But the bright sections are balanced out by the darker sections (most of which feature that dark blue/teal color, which is one of the most perfect colors ever). Somehow it all comes together nicely.

The cowl is soft and squishy and long enough to wrap double around my neck (technically long enough to wrap triple, though it's a bit too snug that way). I've always wanted to make a cowl this long, but I usually don't have enough yarn. This time I actually had 50 yards left over.

The pattern is super easy, and the only change I made was to slip the first stitch of every row to make a smoother edge.

Apparently this is the year of handspun for me...I think this is my seventh handspun project so far? It seems that I can barely get yarn finished before I'm casting on. I guess that's a good thing, though it doesn't help my yarn stash get any smaller. :)

{Project page here}