what I read in August 2022

Baking Science by Dikla Levy Frances, 2022

Even if you aren’t all that interested in the science of baking – I know my attention tends to waver – this book contains formulas for all kinds of baked goods. I look forward to trying them out.

Design Your Own Knits in 5 Easy Steps by Debbie Abrahams, 2008

Intended for knitters just beginning to draft their own designs. I’d have loved it thirty years ago.

Devotions by Mary Oliver, 2017

A nice change of pace. Contains my favourite Mary Oliver poem: ‘Don’t Hesitate’.

Edible Plants by Jimmy W Fike, 2022

This one really annoyed me for two reasons:
(1) Despite the subtitle (A Photographic Survey of the Wild Edible Botanicals of North America), every plant is described only in terms of where it can be found in the U.S. THERE IS MORE TO NORTH AMERICA THAN THE UNITED STATES. Even plants with ‘Canadian’ in the name do not mention where they might be found in Canada.
(2) The inedible portions of each plant have been coloured silver, which is both distracting and not helpful for identification.

Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1931

Probably my least favourite Lord Wimsey book so far. Way way way too much neighbourhood-specific detail and Scottish dialect. It was like Sayers wanted to prove she’d actually gone to that area of Scotland to do her research.

Gardening for Everyone by Julia Watkins, 2022

Nicely designed and photographed, but definitely meant for beginners.

How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis, 2022

Lots of really good advice – delivered in a kind, non-judgemental voice – for anyone struggling for any reason to keep up with housework and establish productive schedules. This is not an issue for me these days, but postpartum me could really have used a copy.

The Illustrated Histories of Everyday Behaviour by Laura Hetherington, 2021

Not quite what I expected. These are lightly researched blurbs about behaviours like shaking hands, driving on the right side, baby showers, etc., accompanied by jokey cartoon sketches. Took about 15 minutes to read.

The Instant Mood Fix by Dr Olivia Remes, 2021

Short, no-nonsense chapters about how to handle anxiety, stress, rejection, loneliness, and so on. I liked the format of one or two pieces of advice to use if you’re in crisis, followed by lengthier discussions of the issue, and concluding with five more helpful strategies to consider. A useful book.

Knitting Block by Block by Nicky Epstein, 2010

Like all of Epstein’s books, this contains very few patterns I would ever consider using, but it was nice to flip through.

The Low-Carbon Cookbook by Alejandra Schrader, 2021

Examines the effect our diets have on climate change and offers recipes which might be better suited to the southern U.S. because there’s no way I could find half of those ingredients here.

Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh, 2016

I can see how she’d seem fun and hip to younger readers, but I was kind of bored by all the autobiographical rambling and her recipes didn’t appeal to me.

More Plants on Your Plate by Bailey Rhatigan, 2022

Yet another white, stick-thin, long-haired, madly grinning woman on the cover and in too many of the interior photos – these plant-based authors are starting to all blend together. The recipes were fine. Nothing earth-shattering.

The One-Bowl Baker by Stephanie Simmons, 2022

Unfussy recipes are right up my alley.

The Palace Papers by Tina Brown, 2022

I was expecting some fresh stories, but this seemed to be mostly old news. Maybe it’s hard to break fresh ground in an age of social media where anyone can share any bit of gossip at any time. Anyway, I wouldn’t want any of their lives.

Plant Power by Annie Bell, 2020

I found her writing voice cranky and unpleasant. On the old belief in the necessity of combining beans and rice to create complete proteins: “It is hard to think of a less palatable combination, in fact, the two together on a plate is a personal bête noire.”

Really? Beans and rice an unpalatable combination? I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how much of the world eats.

The Regenerative Garden by Stephanie Rose, 2022

Lots of good ideas for improving the health and manageability of a garden.

Sashiko for Making and Mending by Saki Iduka,

I need to find a good source for sashiko thread so I can try this. Any suggestions?

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1907

I had to use a photo of the first edition graciously loaned by Dalhousie U. It was a pleasure to hold.

A novel about, and written during the time of, the Million Dollar Babies (aka ‘cash for class’) – rich, young American women who married titled, but poor British gentlemen. Very occasionally, the transaction worked well, but more often, it did not. This novel is an example of the union being a disaster from the beginning.

I enjoyed the book, but honestly can’t think of many people to whom I would recommend it. It’s way too long, repetitive, melodramatic and has stereotyped characters, but there are some genuinely funny and/or horrifying passages, and it was fascinating to read something written at the time this ‘money for titles’ phenomenon was actually happening.

Things to Look Forward To by Sophie Blackall

I usually hate these kinds of ‘put on a happy face’ books, but this one had more charm than usual. It’s a quick read of small pleasures the author compiled to combat feeling down and they could inspire readers to create their own lists.

what I read in July 2022

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

A very short book of Gaiman’s thoughts on ideas, the importance of reading and libraries, and making art no matter what. It’s like reading a commencement address – good advice, but nothing all that meaty or detailed.

Do I Feel Better Yet? by Madeleine Trebenski

A collection of essays around the theme of things people suggest when you’re feeling down, like ‘have you tried exercise?’ or ‘have you tried Paleo?’ It was okay. I wanted to like it more than I did.

Good Girl by Anna Fitzpatrick

A young woman does reckless things and gradually learns a few lessons about life. I liked the author’s writing style, but the story would definitely be more relatable and meaningful to someone 30 years younger.

Sexual content warning: In my library days, one incensed patron after another would have freaked out that such a “dirty book” was available for loan. If sex acts in novels bother you, choose something else.

Heal Your Living by Youheum Son

Discusses four ways to heal: mindfulness, sustainability, minimalism and wellness. I’m interested in all those things, but the author’s writing style is so dry and boring I skimmed. A lot.

Into the Light: Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald edited by Sarah Milroy

I knew nothing about FitzGerald before ordering this book and discovered his art doesn’t totally do it for me, but it’s a lovely book with several interesting essays.

The Little Book of Cottagecore by Emily Kent

Very basic information on gardening, baking, needlework and other domestic skills, which are apparently called ‘cottagecore’ now. Might be a good introduction for people with little experience, but be warned there are only a few tiny illustrations and no photographs. There are many other, better resources.

A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Spectacular. Short excerpts from a diary kept by Maine midwife Martha Ballard from the years 1785 – 1812 are followed by chapters that put Martha’s entries into context for her time and place. I loved every detail – how she spent her time, what they ate, petty town politics, the realities of childbirth before modern medicine, what she planted in her garden, grievances with her husband, how/what/if she was paid for her services, petty town politics, and so on.

Amazingly well-researched. A+ work.

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer

An unnamed narrator on her third marriage with a large but unspecified number of children struggles with her purpose in life. Her solution is always to have another baby, which infuriates everyone around her. The story is told in short, disconnected vignettes that capture the disturbance of her mind.

It was mostly depressing and unsettling, but there were some comic passages that were a delight.

Six Steps to Managing Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia by Andrew E. Budson and Maureen K. O’Connor

Good information, well-presented, but good grief, their running “stories” about fictional people with dementia and their fictional caregivers were terrible.

what I read in June 2022

Bare Minimum Dinners by Jenna Helwig

I wholeheartedly support the philosophy of just doing enough cooking to get by – god, I am so sick of preparing meals every single day for 30 years – but most of the recipes were very meaty.

The Best Cast Iron Baking Book by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore

At least one of those godforsaken meals I prepare every single godforsaken day is cooked in one of my grandmother’s cast iron pans so this was right up my street.

Body Harmony by Nicole Berrie

If you, like the author, are heavily into juicing, food combining rules, and sitting on the table with your bare feet beside the bowl of salad you’re tossing, then this book is for you.

Charles Dowding’s Skills for Growing

A really enjoyable, informative book on vegetable growing. I love his spirit of experimentation.

Cookies: The New Classics by Jesse Szewczyk

Some interesting ideas, but I think I prefer the old classics.

Down to Earth by Lauren Liess

Decorating for rich people with homes that are already extraordinary.

Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann

Young Judith Earle grows up next to a country house occupied by five cousins slightly older than her and longs to fit in with them. The complicated relationships among them all continue into their twenties, with immature, naïve Judith learning hard life lessons along the way.

I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but it grew on me. It’s surprisingly modern for a book written almost a hundred years ago.

Flea Market Garden Style by Caroline McKenzie

Books like this always confuse me. Are there really people who decorate their yards with mirrors and rugs and pillows and such? Do they carry them in and out of the house every day or they do they leave everything outside to be ruined within a week?

From Burnout to Balance by Patricia Bannan

Filled with such groundbreaking advice as: eat lots of vegetables, get enough sleep, find a kind of movement you enjoy and do it, etc.

Get Messy Art by Caylee Grey

I expected this to be about lightening up on expectations for artmaking in general, but it’s about creating art journals, which is fine, but not a particular interest of mine.

Knit Like a Latvian…Accessories by Ieva Ozoliņa

Not many patterns I’d make, but I love the colourwork charts. Really lovely work.

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

True story: In the mid-19th century, Isabella Robinson was trapped in a marriage to a philandering, money-grubbing, uncaring arsehole and made the mistake of confessing to her journal her lust for the other men in her life. Mr Robinson snooped through the journal while she was ill, became outraged, and took her to divorce court with the journal as a very public Exhibit A.

Depressing and infuriating, but it’s my pick for most fascinating of the month, for sure.

what I read in May 2022

Baking with Dorie by Dorie Greenspan

Dorie’s bakes are more complicated and less healthy than I care for, but it was nice to flip through.

Big Book of Baby Knits by Marie Claire

I prefer my knitting patterns to be for circular needles and these are not. Cute babies, though.

Earth to Table Bakes by Bettina Schormann and Erin Schiestel

Another book of fairly involved recipes geared toward people who like spending time in the kitchen, so, not me then.

Floating in the Deep End by Patti Davis

More personal and focused on the emotional side of caregiving compared to many other books about dementia. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for insight into the caregiving experience.

Knitted Gifts for All Seasons by Wendy Bernard

Ah, Wendy Bernard always produces such good work. Lots of really nice patterns here.

Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s by Joanne Koenig Coste

A few parts are a bit dated, but overall it had a lot of good, practical information and ideas.

Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L Sayers

An entertaining selection of Lord Peter Wimsey short stories. Good for reading before bed.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

My favourite read of the month, by far. Imogen Gresham is initially unconcerned about her husband Evelyn’s growing relationship with their neighbour, Blanche, since Blanche is (gasp) 50 years old and not particularly physically attractive. Imogen’s denial persists until it’s too late and while part of me kept wanting to shake her to wake up and smell the coffee, another part of me thought Evelyn a pompous ass and no great loss, frankly. Really enjoyable.

On the Proper Use of Stars by Dominique Fortier

Like a lot of people, I am fascinated by the doomed Franklin Expedition. Everything about it is horrifyingly captivating: the questionable abilities of Franklin, the dodgy food, the cryptic notes left behind, the overconfidence of the British Admiralty, the determination of Lady Franklin to find her missing husband, and, most of all, what it was like for all those men trapped by ice, knowing there was no way out.

Because of this fascination, I’ve consumed a lot of Franklin Expedition books, articles and documentaries. (I even watched a TV show called The Terror, in which the crew was menaced by a magical polar bear. The cast did their best, but…well, it wasn’t my kind of thing. Let’s leave it at that.)

But somehow I missed On the Proper Use of Stars by Dominique Fortier, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for French Fiction in 2009 (as Du bon usage des étoiles) and then shortlisted again in 2010 for the French to English Translation by Sheila Fischman. I loved it. The poetic language, the flashes of humour, the shifting perspectives, the subtly mounting feelings of dread and hopelessness and helplessness – it’s perfect. Five stars.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Boy, it’s great when a book that has been on my to-read list for a long time turns out to be even better than I’d hoped.

Like Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles (both of which I loved) A Thousand Ships is a re-telling of the Greek myths from the women’s point of view – in this case, the Trojan War. It’s both funny and heartbreaking by turns and, while it’s more modern and not as poetic as Miller’s prose, I enjoyed Haynes’ writing style.

A passage near the end of the book from Calliope, the Muse of poetry, expresses the aim of the story better than I ever could:

“…I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold. I have picked up the old stories and I have shaken them until the hidden women appear in plain sight. I have celebrated them in song because they have waited long enough…A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”

Mariana by Monica Dickens

Once again, I am so grateful to Persephone Books for introducing me to an author I’d likely never have encountered if not for their efforts to reissue neglected women authors of the early 20th century.

We’re all well aware of Monica Dickens’s famous great-grandfather, a certain Charles, but I had never read any of Monica’s work until Mariana. I’ll be seeking out more.

First published in 1940, Mariana tells the story of a young Englishwoman named Mary who is reflecting on her life during a sleepless night spent waiting for word on her husband, whose ship has been sunk in battle. It’s a bit of a sad, stressful beginning, but from there on, Mary’s recollections of her family, education and early loves are a pleasure to read, even when they make you cringe.

Funny, tart, well-observed and definitely recommended.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I first read To the Lighthouse in university and remember thinking it was okay, but not quite my cup of tea. Seeing this audio version on Overdrive recently, I wondered what I would think now, thirty years later.

Woolf’s style (heavy on stream of consciousness, light on plot) bugs some people, but I enjoyed it – far more than I did was I was young and couldn’t identify at all with Mrs Ramsay. Making it even more enjoyable was Juliet Stevenson’s excellent narration.

Recommended for anyone willing to give Virginia another chance.

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