November Book Club: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Cover art for a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas.

The fastest and simpliest way to summarize A Court of Thorns and Roses to someone who has never read it before is to say that it’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. A beautiful land is under a curse that can only be broken by true love.

There is, of course, a lot more to this book than that. For starters, Feyre doesn’t stumble across a castle in the woods because she’s trying to find her father. While trying to keep a promise to her dead mother, Feyre kills a faerie in the shape of a wolf while hunting for food. Though she doesn’t know it, this one action sparks a chain of events that leads to being whisked off to a magical land and her family being elevated back to their original wealthy status.

I want to start by discussing the dedication that Feyre feels towards the promise that she’s made to her mother to look after her family. She was the youngest daughter and was less than ten years old, other than requiring this plot point to put her hunting in the woods, I didn’t really understand this decision. What a weight to put on a young child’s shoulders, in fact Feyre literally complains about how binding the promise is and how heavy keeping the promise feels sometimes. When viewed upon as a plot point, however, it’s clear that this is meant to show us that Feyre is honorable and stubborn.

Feyre’s distinction of hunting for necessity and hunting out of pleasure is another interesting point that should have done more in the realm of foreshadowing what was to come. By knowing this about her during the third trial, we can appreciate her struggle as she fights to remember the fate of many is more important than the fate of a few. Knowing that she only hunts to eat and has no interest when food is readily available, I’m left to assume that Feyre will be affected by the two deaths for the rest of her life (or at least the next book in this series).

I wanted more from the three trials to free Tamlin and the people of faerie. As scenes, they seemed rushed and anticlimactic. I also disliked the use of the fairy wine even though it was done to get her out of the dungeon for a few hours and show Tamlin that she was safe. They could have worked something out where she didn’t have to drink the wine every single night. Also, Tamlin’s indifference was agitating – even if it was to protect her. It would have been more forgiving if he was under a spell as Alice alluded that he might be.

I also found the use of magic something to be desired. True, there was a curse that limited the ability of the faeries to use magic and true, the story stayed true to most of the general rules of faerie land (minus the “if you eat the food you can’t leave”), I just felt as though there could have been more. There was nothing spectacular about Feyre’s day to day minus being pulled from her family. It wasn’t until she went under the mountain that we got to experience what the world had the potential to be.

All in all, I enjoyed this book but don’t feel the need to read the other books in the series. There’s obviously going to be a story line with Feyre trying to deal with being a faerie with a human heart and some sort of love triangle that’s probably brought on by Feyre thinking something like “how can Tamlin love me after all that I did?” and the monthly requirement to spend a week in the night court.

Next month we’ll be reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I think this book made my “to-read” list after discussing it with a co-worker on zoom last fall due to the premise of it taking place after a super flu. I’ve previewed a chapter to make sure that it doesn’t feel too much like the pandemic we’ve been living through (that wouldn’t be escapism!) and am please to report that it seems like a lot of fun.

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Euphorbia and Mince Pie Fading Lines

A young woman wearing a purple cardigan with a colorful collar. The collar transitions smoothly from the same purple as the cardigan to orange to teal.

Sometimes when you cast on a project that you’re excited about, it takes forever to come together. No matter how many rows that you knit and how much time you spend knitting them, the project never seems to progress. In fact, taking the time to measure your project seems to reinforce the fact that you are indeed in a knitting black hole until you suddenly measure and discover that you’ve managed to work past your desired amount. The Fading Lines Cardigan by Joji Locatelli was not one of these projects.

Perhaps it was the fact that I just bound off a lace shawl (more on that to come!). Perhaps it was working with Mary Ann from Wonderland Yarns, a yarn that slid over my needles like a dream, or the understanding that I had a test knit that needed to be worked up and passed along to them. Perhaps it was participating in Joji’s Fall KAL. Honestly it could have been a number of things or the combination of them all together, but in less than two weeks I was binding off the second sleeve and prepping to pick up stitches for the gradient collar. From casting on to binding off, I started and ended this project excited to wear the finished cardigan and never entered the “when will it be done” phase.

Fading Lines is worked top down with a small amount of waist shaping. Once the body is complete, the arm stitches are then removed from stitch holders and worked in the round. The final piece of the sweater, the collar, is created by picking up stitches (probably the slowest and most mundane part of the entire project — but completely worth it!) and knitting with a gradient yarn.

Skeins of Curiouser (teal), Mince Pie (purple), or Tulgey Wood (brown) in Mary Ann from Wonderland Yarns laying to the right of two skeins of Blossom in colorway Euphoria (gradient that transitions from teal to purple).

Normally, I’m not a purple person, but as I poured over the different gradients found in Wonderland Yarn’s Blossom I couldn’t help but be drawn to the colorway Euphoria. Euphoria, which fades from purple to yellow to teal (or the reverse depending on how the yarn is caked), begged to be turned into something that would bring a pop of color to my winter wardrobe. As I mentioned in my first Joji KAL 2021 post, the project was chosen after the skein of blossom was chosen, and then the color to knit the body of the sweater in was chosen. The amazing team at Wonderland Yarns paired three choices with Euphoria for me to choose from: Curiouser (teal), Mince Pie (purple), or Tulgey Wood (brown)

My go-to color should have been Curiouser, but for some reason it was the only color combination that I nixed off the bat. From there, I posted the photo to my Instagram story and asked you for help: Mince Pie or Tulgey Wood? All the while hemming and hawing over it myself, wondering if I would end up making the same decision as the winning vote. In the end, it was very close. Mince Pie won by three votes and seconds before learning the victor I had decided that I too was leaning more towards having a purple sweater over having a brown one with a pop of color.

The deciding reason is the same one that will have me reaching for this cardigan all winter: it’s so easy to wear a lot of brown and black. Sure, I can wear a black top underneath the cardigan, but this version of Fading Lines will wrap me in color in a way that the Tulgey Wood wouldn’t have been able to. So thank you to everyone who voted for Mince Pie, but even more to those who took the time to private message me the reminder that winter is already filled with beautiful neutrals.

Modifications were made to the pattern, but mostly in the form of length: I shortened the overall cardigan length by three inches and increased the sleeve garter rows to match the bottom. The other modification I made was working 17 garter rows on the collar instead of 16 before the final four rows were worked. The main motivation for this was to ensure that all of the colors appeared in my collar, but honestly I wish I had worked closer to 20 garter rows instead (I chickened out due to a fear of the collar being too large. It’s not, it could have been bigger!).

Diving into knit fabrics with the Isla Dress

Several years ago, I took a refresher class at Gather Here where I made a box bag. Although living in a studio apartment with another person and paying my way through graduate school meant that I didn’t have the funds to buy a sewing machine (or collect fabric as well as yarn and fiber) nor the place to work, the class was a fun way to work on skills that I hadn’t used since I was 14.

A few months after finishing school and leaving the city behind, I found a vintage machine for $20 and found myself dipping my toes into the water. Friends graciously accepted felt catnip toys, no one commented on my asymmetrical pleating as I wore my first handmade dress or the pointy corset of my second one and our dog enthusiastically curled up on a fleece dog bed. During the time, I took advantage of my large kitchen table and the fact that I lived alone, which is a nice way of saying that, in addition to yarn, fabric and thread were left everywhere.

I don’t blame my husband (then boyfriend) moving in for changing the pace at which my exploration into sewing occurred, I blame the pandemic and the need to suddenly work from home full time. Overnight, I went from having space to spread out (and a patient partner who doesn’t mind creative chaos) to needing a table and desk for us to work. It was more practical to take on additional knitting projects, I didn’t have to break down a work from home set ups in order to be creative.

Then we bought a fixer-upper and the focus shifted again, this time causing both of our creative minds to pivot towards turning our house into a home. Months of peeling a hundred years worth of wallpaper (literally), plastering and painting later, my husband turned to me and asked if he could build me a craft table now that the first floor was mostly complete. Two days later, he was encouraging me to do my research on a new sewing machine so that we could by a new one on black Friday.

A few more virtual classes later, via Notion Fabric and Craft and Creativebug, and I found myself taking on sewing my wedding dress and buying fabric to attempt to make a button down. My niece received a sewn dress for her birthday and I upcycled a thrifted chair. Despite all this newfound enthusiasm and confidence, I couldn’t help but continue to limit myself to woven fabrics because they were predictable (more or less) and didn’t require me to do anything special to work with them.

An impulse buy of a blue knit fabric with strawberries from Notion forced me out of my comfort zone and into the world of stretch fabrics. Armed with the Isla and Jade patterns from Made by Rae, I worked through the directions and managed to sew an Isla dress with long sleeves (the sleeves came from Jade). The neckline does not lay straight because I didn’t realize I needed to pull the neck binding while attaching it, but the sleeves turned out ok because I learned from that mistake. In the end, I created a cozy dress that fits great and, by working with a knit fabric, I forced myself to realize that my understanding of how sewing works has come a long way.

Not only will I make this dress again, I’ve already purchased fabric to do so! Assuming I find the time to iron and cut fabric, I’ll be sporting a handmade ghost Isla dress with Jade sleeves while handing out candy on Halloween this year!

A young woman taking a photo of herself in a floor length mirror wearing a blue handmade three quarter sleeve dress with a strawberry print.

Trying Something New: Making Donuts

Eight jars of blueberry jam cooling on a kitchen towl.

To set the stage, I should mention that this whole thing started because we went blueberry picking this year and walked away with 8 lbs of blueberries. Most of this went directly into jars as jam, some of it was baked into bread and some of it stared at me begging to be put to good use. That’s when it hit me, blueberry donuts.

Making donuts without a fryer isn’t too difficult, in fact you “just” need a donut pan and a good cake donut recipe. If I had focused on making the blueberry donuts that I had set out to, they would have come out delicious. Instead, I found myself taking on the monstrous task of attempting to make jelly filled donuts without a mixer (I mean, come one I had so many jars of blueberry jam!).

To the book’s credit, the recipe itself was easy to follow. If I’m being honest with myself, I know exactly where things went wrong. For starters, we don’t have a microwave. This means that microwaving ingredients for 15 seconds (or whatever it was) needs to be done on the stove, which would have been easier if a temperature had been given. Next, there’s no way that I mixed the dough enough. My hands got tired and I didn’t have someone else around to delegate the task to. On top of that, I opted to double the recipe so that there would be enough to share with the local fire station, which means that I was attempting to hand mix more dough than a standard batch. When you combine those things together, there’s no way that the first prove was successful.

Pale and flat donuts or failed jelly donuts.

And yet, I diligently completed the next steps of rolling and cutting the dough before allowing it to prove for a second time. In reality, I knew when I put them in the oven that I would not have airy donuts in the end… but I still put them in the oven.

The final product? Weird tasting biscuits scone things. Weird as in you could taste the yeast, but they were almost ok if dunked in some blueberry jam (I at least lacked the pride required to fill the failed donuts with jelly). We threw them out, unsure if even the animals in the woods behind our home would want them. These would not do well on Great British Bake Off, I’d probably get an under proved and over done comment.

Will I make jelly donuts again? Yes, but I will probably borrow someone’s mixer first!

October Book Club: The Giver of Stars

Cover art for the Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Confession time: Sometimes I avoid books because their plot revolves around my profession. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work as a librarian, it’s just that I tend to read books that allow me a certain level of escapism. When The Giver of Stars first came across my radar, I was tempted to dismiss it in favor of something that had at least a little bit more of a fantasy element. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m glad that I didn’t.

That being said, do I feel as though I’ve gotten a good picture of what it was like to participate in a packhorse library? In some ways yes, it was interesting to read about how the library built a sense of community and how long and tiring the hours where. In other ways, perhaps not. While this book is based on a true story, I was left wondering how much liberties were taken in romanticizing the packhorse librarian experience.

Regardless of this romantic perspective, Moyes gave us an interesting group of characters to watch grow throughout the story. Though the story focuses on impulsive Alice, Margery, Izzy, Sophia and Beth find themselves changed by the library as well. Though they started with nothing in common besides the library, it was easy to relate to how something so intense could bring a group together.

Though wrapped up almost too perfectly, one thing I appreciated how one wealthy man could manipulate the town’s mindset in order to best suit his needs. One woman is making sure that his town can’t expand so he’s got to take town that one woman, starting with her library. It almost worked too, showing us the dark side of what money has the power to do.

As always, I have mixed feelings about Alice finding true love and remarrying. On the one hand, she’s a character I wanted to be happy. On the other hand, she was getting ready to go back to England despite all the growth that she had gained during her time as a packhorse librarian. I couldn’t decide if those were really her only choices during that time period (I suppose they were) or if there may have been a third path (realistically there probably wasn’t). Still, one can’t help appreciating that the reason she’s able to leave her neglectful husband is because he never consummated the marriage.

Speaking of Bennet, what a strange character. It’s obvious that his father abused him, but I wonder if there’s more to the story there. Did he want to be married to a woman? If not, why go back after Peggy and fail to consummate that marriage as well? Bennet seemed like one of life’s sleepwalkers. He wasn’t really a bad guy, he just also wasn’t a very good one.

The Giver of Stars is often recommended to be read in junction with the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, so I picked it up and read a few chapters. These three chapters cued me into the idea that The Giver of Stars may be more of a romantic story (you know, besides the fact that it was a romantic story), but I ended up abandoning the book due to seemingly consistent violence. While I don’t typically abandon a book for having a rape scene in it, I also don’t want to be greeted by one in the first few chapters. There’s so much happening in the world right now, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading as Bluet faced abuse after abuse.

Cover art for A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

I’ve decided to give into social media a little bit for November’s book club and have us read a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Having read a lot of Holly Black growing up, this book looks like it uses that traditional style: fairies cannot be trusted, don’t eat the food, don’t drink the wine, don’t make any deals combined with a main character who systematically breaks each rule.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.