These are more of my dichroic beetles, which I also fused before I realized that they would have blisters of trapped air in them. Some of them have iridescent glass as a background, which does weird things to the glass on top of it. I’ll explain more in the next post.
I’ve had this on my shelf forever and just picked it up by chance looking for books to cull. Randomly flipping open the page I hit upon a dark and twisted scene and decided that I was in the mood for an evil story about evil people.
It starts out as a typical YA book. New girl moves to new town and is trying to decide which girls to make friends with. Does she make friends with Riley the queen bee or Brooklyn the lone wolf? Riley is popular and powerful, but Brooklyn is nice too. And then there’s the cute boy … There’s a hint of something darker when Sofia encounters a mutilated cat in a pentagram behind the bleachers. Riley says that Brooklyn did it, that Brooklyn is troubled and needs help. But Sofia isn’t sure she believes that.
The best thing about this book is just how twisted it is. These girls literally get away with murder. it’s like Lord of the Flies with nail polish and Vogue magazines. They’re all in high school, so they’re at that age where they become increasingly willing and able to distance themselves from parental control by any means necessary. This is how it comes to happen that some girls bind and torture another in an unfinished house, all in the name of exorcising the poor girl’s demon. Sofia, as an outsider, flip flops back and forth between who she allies with. She just wants the madness to stop.
The point of the book is that none of these girls are really “good.” Riley, the angelic queen bee, feels it’s okay to torture people in the name of God. Brooklyn may actually have done some of the things that Riley accused her of. Even Sofia has a dark past. And Grace? Okay, the author lost me here. Becoming addicted to drugs is not even close to on par with cutting up cats to appease your dark master. Nor is “being a slut,” as someone accuses Riley of. Mixing up bible-belt morality with actual morality muddied the waters for me. Fucking boys is not evil. Taking Ambien is not evil. Even being a Satanist doesn’t make you evil, it just means you have an alternative religion. Evil only happens when you start hurting people.
But boy, do they hurt people. I don’t know if it’s even possible to do such things with a nail gun, but I am sure not going to go to YouTube to find out. They’re so nasty to each other that the brutal retaliation feels, if not justified, then at least understandable. I loved the twist ending, though now that I’m thinking about it, it feels a bit out of character for how they set her up.
So if you know someone who likes their YA on the dark and twisted side, and doesn’t mind graphic descriptions of brutal violence, pick this up.
I’d never read anything or heard anything about this author, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t always like to read stories about female protagonists set in historical periods, because it often fills me with feminist rage, but Mrs. Hawkins manages to live in the world without being too terribly oppressed by it. For one thing, she’s a widow who has her own profession as literary editor.
Back in the 1950s, as now, people who want to get in the publishing industry will often give up quite a bit of pride and salary to do so. And this was back before publishing businesses were run like corporations, where they still had a whiff of establishment and propriety to them, a genteel sort of art. So the story deals quite a bit with the amusing inner world of the publishing business in post-war London.
It also deals with the interpersonal dramas of those living within the rooming house in Kensington. There’s Isobel, not many years younger than Mrs. Hawkins but still a spoiled child who only wants to have fun and go see shows. There’s William, the medical student, the Carlins who have spectacular fights, and Wanda, the Polish dressmaker who is equally attached to her Catholicism and her suffering. Wanda receives an ominous note, and then an ominous phone call from a mysterious malefactor, and the drama sets the whole house aflutter.
Mrs. Hawkins’ own personal albatross is Hector, a “pisseur du copie” or literary hack who happens to have a famous author for a girlfriend. His famous author girlfriend is constantly trying to use her influence to get Hector published. Only Hector writes terribly, and Mrs. Hawkins is impolitic enough to tell him it to his face several times, a fact which gets her fired more than once.
The novel kind of meanders at a steady pace. I liked the characters, especially Mrs. Hawkins’ wry observational asides, such as “if you have trouble concentrating, you need to get a cat, as a cat will settle you down.” I liked her interactions with her coworkers, and the sedate pace of life even in the big city.
Later she has a romance, which seemed to come completely out of nowhere. It wasn’t a whirlwind romance, handled in the context of the story the way a romance would have been handled in a man’s memoir, as a secondary aside to a larger story, such as: “After the war I got married, and some years later we had a child and then another. it was about this time that Mr. Dubbins brought up the Gibaltrar affair again.” It was strange to see the romance just kind of shoehorned in, like “it was time to find another husband and this guy would do.”
Despite a couple of dark turns, I found the novel mostly cheerful and fun, a nice little romp through a time and place I don’t know much about. Take her diet advice with a grain of salt though.
I usually love books like this, and I usually don’t review books that I haven’t finished, but I don’t know if I want to waste any more time on this one. I’m 93 hard-won pages into this and I think I’m going to quit. So far I’ve been told that William Smith is an amazing man. There are strata when you dig down in a mine that seem to be the same everywhere. William Smith is an amazing guy, because he was the first to notice this (except he wasn’t, but still, what a cool dude.) The strata slope sometimes. William noticed that the local stones were fossils, and wasn’t he smart for having been the first to figure that out? Not the first, but still, what a hero. William got a job surveying for a canal. Canals were big back then. William probably talked about rocks a lot, but people didn’t understand him, because they didn’t know he was a genius. He’d have some bad luck, but eventually triumph, but I’ll get to that later. William looked at rocks. He was smarter than other people. Wasn’t he great? Yeah, I get it. I’ve been told he’s important. I get that.
Here’s what I didn’t get: a compelling character, a compelling story, or information about geology. I love books about science. I love books about history. Books about the history of science? Should be a page turner. But the author is like a pre-teen telling his first shaggy dog story, only the story meanders and he interrupts himself every few minutes to go “but this is really good, I promise, just wait for it. I’m getting to the good part.”
And if there were ever a book that needed more pictures, this is is. I got tired of reading and rereading paragraphs to try to figure out what he was talking about. Either illustrations of how the canal cut through the hills revealing the strata, or just a better description would have really helped. And how about a better idea of what a surveyor actually did in the 18th century? When the author does talk about the countryside, it helps to put me in the story, but I just didn’t get a sense of the man’s life. It’s like the author assumes that everyone knows the geology of Southern England really well and the daily tasks of an 18th century surveyor so he doesn’t have to describe it.
I love the idea of this book, and I love the author’s description of the train that was featured in that 1950’s movie. The set-up is promising. The rest of the book just failed. Despite Winchester’s obvious admiration for William Smith, Winchester was unable to sell me on how and why William Smith mattered or why he was important, or even to get me fired up about geology.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
Through this book I learned that the answer to just about every question you might have about microbes and how they interact with the world is “it’s complicated.” Yong talks about many ways in which bacteria and other microbes help, hinder or destroy organisms. A microbe can be essential to a creature’s existence, and the same microbe can also destroy it.
The best thing about this book is that the author has an infectious passion for microbiology. Stories about something that may save frogs and why coral reefs live or die and about our own ancient history with bacteria gave me that lovely sense of wonder at the complexity of the natural world. I liked that it ended on a positive story about people using bacteria to try to prevent dengue fever.
The worst thing about this book is that it wasn’t organized in such away that there was a solid takeaway. If there were any themes or points to make in the different chapters, I didn’t pick up on it. The stories were all over the place and microbiology wasn’t my major so I had a hard time following along. By the last two hours (I had this as an audiobook) I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore and just wanted to be done with it.
I recommend this book as a gift for that annoying person you know who talks about how eating kombucha and yogurt are why they are healthier than you and that’s why it’s your own fault you got a cold. It might take your annoying know-it-all acquaintance down a peg or two. Even people who study this for a living don’t know everything, and the answer to any question you might have about microbiology and the relation to macro organisms is, “It’s complicated.”
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The book’s cover advertised that it was great for fans of Twilight, and it looks like the kind of cover done after they make a movie based on the book. Despite these two blemishes, I decided to give it a read, since I like YA.
Anyone who picks this book pretty much knows it’s going to be a crying book. I mean, the main character is in a coma after a car wreck by chapter two, and the title refers to her deciding if she is going to live or if she is going to die. I went through about eight tissues just in the last third of the book. It’s a tragic story. Talented young woman gets injured in a car accident in which her parents die. She’s in spirit form, walking around near her body, hearing conversations people have around her and about her.
Because of her love of music, and her relationship with her parents and little brother, grandparents, and boyfriend, all of whom are fairly well fleshed out by the end of the book, Mia is relatable. I think that the people around her are a little more developed than she is. She likes classical music, and she loves the cello. That’s most of who she is. That makes her more developed than many teenager protagonists (and a few living teenagers, to be honest, it’s a formative time.) Her relationship with her boyfriend Adam seems quite realistic. I think her parents were more interesting characters than she was, but maybe it’s because I’m closer in age to them.
I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with the premise of the novel, that people stay or go on choice. I think there’s a lot of people who want to die but don’t, even when their bodies are failing, and many more people who want to live but can’t. I think they kind of glossed over that if/when Mia lives, she will have a huge road of recovery and may never be the same person. The book as written doesn’t give her many reasons to die (except grief), so I never once thought she would opt for that route. If she knew that the concussion and the damage might mean she’d never play cello again, she might be mentally retarded or lose other brain functioning, might be in chronic pain, might not walk or have full muscle control or any of the other things that can happen after such a traumatic injury, it would have been a different book. It would have been more about mortality and accepting the limitations of a mortal human body and less a tragic love story between two musical prodigies. She could have made a real choice. As it’s written, her choice seems inevitable from page one.
As a heartwrenching YA novel which will make you cry, it’s right up there. It had the chance to do much more than that, to have Mia really understand the true costs of choosing to stay so that it was really a choice instead of just the obvious outcome once the plot and character was done. If Forman had acknowledged what Mia was risking, that she might not still be a bright and talented able-bodied musician afterwards, it could have been a spectacular book. As it is, it settles in at “pretty good.”
I liked my other beetles, but they really needed dichroic class. Dichroic glass looks like beetle’s wings, one of the most beautiful things in nature, and I had to combine them. First, I made the legs by cutting masking tape, lifting the positive, spraying with hairspray, and dusting it with mica pigments. When I lifted …
Now that I’d done a few beetles, I decided to see if I could make a butterfly that looked okay. Butterflies are easy to do poorly, and hard to do well. I find that if I stray too far from a photograph or good drawing of a butterfly, it doesn’t look as real as I’d …
At this point in the class, I decided to just go and buy some more clear glass. If you ever take a glass fusing class, be aware that you will likely use more clear glass than any other color, for capping dichro if nothing else. I hadn’t yet tested the mica pigments yet, so the …
For this dragonfly, I used a clear sheet over amber. The instructor suggested it for greater visibility. She didn’t quite understand that I was a skinflint who didn’t want to buy more clear glass, I guess. This was before I had tested the mica pigments to see which ones worked (bright gold) and which …