July 30, 2007

SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS

My order from Simply Shetland arrived on Friday -- I can honestly say once again that I carry all colors of Spindrift, all the time!

Also in that order was this new yarn:

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Simply Shetland's new Silk & Shetland Lambswool. This is a 65% silk - 35% lambswool blend that knits to the same gauge as Spindrift. It comes in 16 colors; the red color, pictured above, is Venlaw.

So I busied myself all weekend with updating the Two Swans site to include these Silk & Lambswool shades. I think Culzean is my favorite:

Culzean.jpg

I received new yarns from Crystal Palace, too. Four new shades of Taos: Sea of Cortez, Mineral (despite its name, Mineral is purple and green!), Mossy Pinks, and the plum-gorgeous Cochineal.

Also from Crystal Palace, new sock yarns that I'm still in the process of listing on the website:

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Left to right, these are: Panda Wool, which is 46% bamboo, 43% wool, and 11% nylon; Panda Cotton, weighing in at 59% bamboo, 25% cotton, and 16% elastic nylon; and Maizy which is a remarkable 82% corn fiber and 18% elastic nylon.

Yes, you read that right -- Maizy is made from corn! it does not smell like corn at all, but just has a sort of cottony, new clothing smell. (The Silk & Lambswool from Simply Shetland, on the other hand, has a distinct little lamby smell. Oh dear, does this mean I need to put one of those "I Sniff Yarn" buttons on my blog???)

* * *

Whenever I've said, "I'm off to crochet class," Scott has said, "Oh, you don't need to drive to Seattle for that. I'll just set up the wickets out in the lawn and give you a lesson...." So now he's got me calling it croquet class, too.

For our final week of croquet class our topic was edgings and embellishments:

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And because I'd like to apply these concepts that I've re-learned, and right away before I forget them, I made up a gauge swatch for a crocheted sweater so that I could have a discussion about figuring out crochet gauge with the instructor.

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The sweater is Julianna from Melissa Leapman's book Cool Crochet. What's amusing to me, thinking about making this sweater, is that when I took a class from Melissa Leapman back in 2005, she had brought in the galleys from this book -- it wasn't even published yet. So in that class we got a sneak preview of it. I politely looked at the galleys, but I remember thinking at the time that I would never crochet a sweater, since crochet does not have the give that a knitted fabric does. I did think Melissa Leapman's designs were pretty, though. And here, two years later, I'm swatching for one.

I made the lavender swatch on Thursday before croquet class. Although the yarn was the right weight and the hook was the right size, the swatch came out an inch wider than what the pattern's gauge called for. When I showed it to BeverLee, the crochet instructor, I explained, "I know this sweater is rated for an experienced crocheter--" and before I could finish, she said:

"If you aren't swimming with the sharks, what's the sense of being in the water?!"

Yeah.

So after our discussion of gauge, during which BeverLee said, also surprising me, that I should not expect the crocheted fabric to relax when washed the way I have learned to expect a knitted fabric to do, I made the second swatch in class. The blue yarn is a size thinner and I used a hook one size smaller, and the gauge turned out spot on.

Also over the weekend, taking a little break from listing products on the website, I spent some time at Naomi's on Saturday afternoon. Melinda, Naomi and I are all in the Nihon Vogue class together, and at one point in the afternoon all three of us were knitting on our top-down raglan sweater homework at the same time. Here's Melinda, looking so relaxed about hers:

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My eyes popped out when I saw her working on this. She's working on the waistband ribbing, already?!

Mind you, this is only seven days after our last Nihon Vogue class, when Melinda's raglan looked like this:

MelindasRaglan2.jpg

Peer pressure! One of our homework assignments is to knit the body of the sweater down through the waistband ribbing (without binding off, which we'll do in class after more instruction). My own raglan is only, like, 4 rounds longer than it was last time you saw it here on the blog.

Posted by Karen at 09:03 AM | Comments (3)

July 26, 2007

IT'S HERE!

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A case of Simply Shetland Book 4 arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon, just when I was wondering what I was going to knit next. ;-)

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A note about the Autumn Rose pullover -- Yes, I swatched for this tour-de-force design by Eunny Jang back in June. No, I did not start the sweater, for lack of the color Yellow Ochre.

I like to say that Two Swans stocks all colors of Spindrift, all the time. And 99-percent of the time, this is true. I buy good quantities of Spindrift to keep in inventory; I don't stint on any of the colors. But Yellow Ochre was a color Eunny Jang also used in her tremendously popular Venezia pullover, and it was a color that I -- and the distributor -- ran out of. At the time that I made my swatch, I had enough Yellow Ochre left over from another project to create the swatch.

In fact, as the "yarn year" has ran down (by which I mean the year has reached the peak of the summer months), I -- and the distributor -- have been completely wiped out of half a dozen colors of Spindrift. Simply Shetland had been waiting for their fall shipment of yarns to arrive from Shetland. So I've been in the rare position of having customers waiting for backordered colors of Spindrift.

The good news is that these yarns are now in this country -- and my fall order was shipped to me two days ago, so should be arriving very, very soon.

Simply Shetland Book 4 also uses two new yarns: a Shetland lambswool/cashmere blend that knits at a sport or DK weight, and a Shetland lambswool/silk blend that knits at a fingering weight. Each of these new yarns comes in 16 colors -- vivid reds and purples, a great range of blues and greens, and some nice neutral gray shades. Look for them at Two Swans soon!

Posted by Karen at 09:56 AM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2007

JULY 25, 2007

When I was a little girl, it was our family's custom to visit my grandparents every Sunday afternoon. (My parents were high school sweethearts, and so my grandparents on both my mother's and my father's sides lived not too far away from each other -- close enough that both my parents went to the same high school.)

My paternal grandmother was a bossy, God-fearing woman who believed that children should not speak unless spoken to. When I was about seven, she sat me down on one of those Sunday visits and showed me how to crochet. From then on, on every Sunday visit, she would keep me busy by having me work on whatever afghan was her crochet work-in-progress at the time. The first stitch she taught me was afghan stitch; eventually she taught me single and double crochet and how to make granny squares.

Other than my contributions towards my grandmother's many, many afghans, my history of crochet projects is limited to:

(1) When I was in the seventh grade, a drawstring bag I made for myself out of three shades of blue Red Heart yarn. I figured out how to make it, all on my own -- as I recall, it was double crochets with some shell stitches as decoration at the top. I thought it quite an accomplishment. When I carried it into my first period class at my junior high school, some of my classmates started cutting their eyes at me. The teacher, Mr. Husker, noticed, and simperingly asked, "Oh, did you bring your pursy-wursy?" His comment stung, and I never took that bag to school again. (Years later, my daughter Jennie was doing some research for her English class, and discovered that the word ridiculous comes from the French word reticule -- a reticule is a drawstring bag that French ladies used to carry and that French men made fun of. To carry a little drawstring bag is to look ridiculous . . . which was the lesson I learned that memorable day in the 7th grade.)

(2) Later, in high school, I crocheted for myself a close-fitting hat with a floppy brim. (If I recall correctly, it was all single crochet stitch -- although the "ribbon" across the brow might have been double crocheted.) It was the 70s, these kinds of hats were the style at the time. Miraculously, since I knew nothing about issues of gauge, the hat fit me perfectly; I wore it many times. It was a successful project.

(3) When I was 19, I saw a pattern that I liked for a crocheted sweater in a McCall's magazine. Again, I knew nothing about gauge or yarn weights -- information like that wasn't included in the lessons my grandmother gave me for working on her one-size-fits-all afghans. I slaved away on this sweater, using a worsted weight yarn (Red Heart, again, because it was all I could afford on what I earned as a secretary). The sweater came out huge, and stiff. The pattern must have called for a DK or thinner weight yarn. I never wore the sweater, but it took me years before I could part with it and give it to the Goodwill.

And I haven't crocheted since, other than the occasional provisional cast-on, or the wee bit of finishing on a knitted item like this poncho.

However, there is going to be a crocheted garment in my future, as one of the items we will be making for the Nihon Vogue course will be a crocheted vest. I thought I could benefit from a refresher course in crochet, so I signed up for the beginner's class at Weaving Works.

The crochet class is three weeks long; this week is the third and final week. For week one, we learned basic crochet stitches, such as single and double crochet. These seemed familliar to me; I remembered my grandmother trying to teach me to run the yarn through my fingers to tension it, and then finally giving up on my seven-year-old hands and just letting me let the yarn hang loose. In class, we did not learn afghan stitch, but the instructor did mention that afghan stitch is now called Tunisian crochet.

Last week's topic was:

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the Granny Square. I made the one above, in class last week, and memories of my grandmother came back very strongly -- although I know that I have never made anything from granny squares. But here's something I could make:

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It's a vest! And the whole front and the whole back are granny squares! I got this vintage pattern from a pattern round-robin I participated in, on the big KnitList, some years ago. The pattern amused me, so I chose to keep it. It is the same vintage as the years I was in junior high. The vest is orange, blue, and white -- and those were my junior high school's colors! I could have made a vest just like this, and worn it to school, instead of the pursy-wursy!

Perhaps that would have changed my whole history with regard to crochet.

Now, to turn our attention back to the Nihon Vogue course, and to resolve the cliffhanger: Did she get her homework finished, or not?

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Yes! The larger, gray pieces are the front and back of my vest; the pink swatch is the gauge swatch for Allegra's sweater; the gray swatch with a bit of Fair Isle work on it is my gauge swatch for my vest.

As is so typical for me, I had a couple of false starts on the vest. Exactly one week before the class was to meet, I had knitted most of what I thought would be the back piece. I kept working away on it, and holding it up to myself and thinking it wouldn't fit. I kept re-checking my math, but it all seemed to indicate that the vest should fit. So then I would think that I wasn't understanding the pattern drafting. Finally, I just had to listen to my instincts -- that permutation of the vest was not going to fit. My math wasn't the problem, nor was my understanding of the pattern draft. Somehow, I had mis-measured my bustline, at 5 cm smaller than what it should have been. 5 cm! That's almost two inches.

I started the vest over again with six days to go before the class was to meet. After knitting almost the entire back piece again, I realized I had made an error in my stitch count, way back at the cast on. I probably could have lived with this error; I probably could have fudged by saying I wanted less ease.

Instead, I chose to start all over. I knitted the back piece, the front piece, and the pink swatch, over Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of last week -- with a dozen rows of vest to finish up early on Saturday morning. (The class met last Saturday.)

My secret? Caffeine, and lots of it. And getting up early, to squeeze in as many hours of knitting as possible, each day. It was only the second day (Thurday) that I experienced any discomfort -- a tiny bit of carpal tunnel, a tiny bit of knitter's elbow -- but I took Advil and pressed on. I didn't go to yoga class, I didn't walk on the treadmill; I stayed focused on the homework knitting.

At the Nihon Vogue class, Andrea, Naomi, and Melinda modelled their raglans in progress:

ThreeRaglans.jpg

Aren't they cute?

For our top-down raglans, in class we calculated ease at the underarm, and our next homework assignment is to knit the body and complete the waistband ribbing. (We'll do sleeves later.) I had figured out my ease at the underarm, and crocheted my provisional cast-ons. After I knitted the first round, though, I had, like, an inch of working yarn on either side of each provisional cast-on. (This was instead of the typical amount of yarn you'd have between one knitted stitch and the next, say, a sixteenth of an inch or something like that.) Since we were given time in class to do this knitting, I took the opportunity to ask Jean about it. Long story short, when I followed her advice to crochet extra chains in the provisional cast-on (in excess of the number of knitted stitches needed), and when I knitted across the provisional cast-on from its slipknot beginning to the crocheted end (rather than the other way 'round), the problem went away. Who would have thought such minor adjustments could make much difference? The devil is truly in the details.

I was determined to show up at Jean's class with all homework done, and I accomplished that. Given a little more time, though, I would have completed a second swatch for the pink sweater. After looking at many, many pink yarns, Allegra chose Jaeger Roma in the color Hollyhock.

I am re-swatching for the pink sweater because my gauge swatch came out very dense. I got 34 rows per 10 cm, and I would like to have fewer rows. I normally knit Continental; I am experimenting to see whether my stitches will be taller if I knit using the throwing method. (I'm going up a needle size, too.) If anyone has an opinion about whether picking or throwing makes a stitch taller or not -- or if anyone knows how to make stitches taller, please leave a comment.

After being a good girl and focussing on my homework, I'm suffering a grand case of startitis as an after-effect. I spent hours Monday drooling over the pages of Victorian Lace Today. I've been studying and studying crochet patterns, just in case I decide to start something. And I did start some felted slippers from Felt Frenzy:

FeltedSlipperToe.jpg

The Lakeview (the multicolored yarn) is color pooling -- purple on the sides of the foot, and blue on the top and bottom of the foot. This is so different than the photo in the book, which shows such beautiful, even striping. I am thinking the authors of Felt Frenzy either got a dye batch of Lakeview with a much longer color run, or else they strategically manipulated their yarn to prevent the color pooling. In the fullness of time, I think I'll try working this slipper using two different balls of Lakeview, and see if the colors distribute more evenly.

Posted by Karen at 08:50 AM | Comments (3)

July 12, 2007

YARN & YURTS

I have three things to accomplish for homework before the Nihon Vogue class convenes again on July 21 --

(1) Knit Project #1, a pullover vest, from a provisional cast-on above the waistband ribbing, up to the point where I'd begin decreasing under the armholes,

(2) Knit Project #2, a top-down raglan sweater, from the provisional cast-on at the neck edge, down to the point where I'd need to add ease under the armhole,

(3) Knit a 6" x 6" gauge swatch for Project #3.

What I can cross off as completed, to date:

TopDownRaglan1.jpg

This is my top-down raglan. (The yellow cord in the center is the provisional cast-on for the neck.) We have our choice of knitting this in plain stockinette, or incorporating some kind of a stitch pattern. I chose to put a cable down the center of each sleeve, as well as the center front. When our class met last month and Jean was showing us some of her sweaters she'd brought as examples, we noticed that the cabled ones had a large cable on the center front only -- the center back had some other stitch pattern, but not a cable. One of my classmates asked why that was. Jean said it is the custom in China to not have a cable in the center back, because it might visually look like the person wearing the sweater had a queue. (I didn't completely understand the explanation, but discussing this later with someone else, I came to understand that wearing a queue was something that the British imposed on the Chinese, as a humiliation. If anyone cares to add further insight to this topic, please leave a comment.) I decided to leave the back of my top-down raglan sweater cable-less, figuring I can follow my teacher's lead on this.

This top-down raglan is the most fun I've had knitting in a long time. I just knit around and around, increasing at first every other row, than later on, every third row (we calculated all of the increases ahead of time). It was completely fun, just enjoying my stitch patterns and especially the color and feel of my yarn. I knit this on a size 6 needle, and my yarn was Me, the cushy-soft cashmere and merino blend from Naturally Yarns. These yarns came identified by color number only, but I gave them names for my website. I call the color Blueberry because it reminds me of those dusky blueberries you see in the summer.

Project #1, the vest, is a different story. We are knitting the front and back in pieces, and will seam it later. I have started one piece. Let's call it the back. Now that I've learned to think in centimeters, I can tell you that I have 20 cm to knit, from the top of the waistband ribbing to the underarm. I've knitted a little more than 8 cm. And then I'll have to knit the other piece. Let's call that one the front. I'm using Rowan 4ply Soft in the color Rain Cloud, on a size 3 needle. So it's a fairly fine gauge and I have quite a bit of knitting ahead of me between now and July 21. But I'm not hyperventilating. Yet.

I think I'll make Project #3, a set-in sleeve pullover, for my daughter Allegra. She is more petite than I, so this project might be a little less knitting than if I made something for myself -- and, let's face it, I want to compensate for the fine-gauge, in over-my-head projects (like Project #1) with some easier, larger gauge and smaller overall garments whenever I can. Allegra and I are discussing various shades of pink. Once we settle on a color and a yarn, I'll get going on that homework swatch.... Stay tuned.

I finished the homework of the top-down raglan on Sunday. Also on Sunday, I went to the wedding reception for my niece, who'd been married for exactly one month.

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My niece and her new husband. He looked incredibly happy, and she looked pretty darned happy, too.

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Mother and father of the bride -- otherwise known as my big brother and his wife. Bro said, "Where's Scott?" When I explained that Allegra and I had to be the family representatives because Scott was in Chicago on business and Jennie begged off on account of homework, Bro said, "Tell Scott I wore a tie just for him!" So I took a photo to document this. See, Scott? He does too own a tie.

Backpedaling in time -- over the week of the Fourth of July we were on vacation in the San Juans. Among other activities, "we" put up a small yurt on some friend's property --

SparrowYurt.jpg
This little cutie is the model of yurt that they call a Sparrow. You can click here to find out more info. I say that "we" installed it, but of course I had no more part of it than to take the photo. Notice the great view over the water? Really an idyllic spot.

"We" also installed a hexagonal tent -- similar idea to a yurt, but with a metal frame and zippered, tent-like door:

HexTent.jpg

Now, back home from vacation, it's business as usual. I got the Two Swans's Specials page uploaded -- red, white, and blue yarns on sale this month!

I'm receiving a bunch of new products, right now, and adding them to the site as quickly as I can. So far --

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New patterns from Fiber Trends -- another great shawl from Evelyn Clark called the Gypsy. A baby blanket that's one of those knitting patterns inspired by traditional quilts, by Joy Geib Doss. Special issues of magazines from Interweave -- Interweave Felt devoted entirely to felting projects, with a how-to article by Washington's own felting expert Bev Galeskas and a baby booties project by her, among many other projects! And a new version of Knitscene for Fall 2007. (Is fall here already?!) And, new colors in Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock -- new for 2007, Tickled Pink, Devon, and Envy, and, just for fun because I love purple and green together, Jungle Stripe ( a color new to Two Swans, but not new this year).

Last, not least, I got in some Bullfrogs & Butterflies, a lightly-plied, easily felted yarn from Lorna's Laces, with this cheery slipper project in mind:

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A happy pair of slippers like these will turn around even those gloomy mornings when you got up on the wrong side of bed.


Posted by Karen at 03:42 PM | Comments (3)

July 08, 2007

JUNE RETROSPECTIVE

You know how you go along in your daily routine, with one day seeming pretty much like the next, and nothing much changes? Well, June was an unusual month. Here's a recap:

On the 1st, as I've written previously, the mail clerk, Brandy Lambertson, was murdered in her store. Surprisingly, Mail & More has re-opened for business, and they are trying hard to be business-as-usual. I very much appreciate their efforts. I've expressed my condolences to the family, donated to the memorial trust fund for her children. Of course, I wish things would not have turned out this way.

In the following week, my mother had her 84th birthday. This is remarkable in that my parents still live independently, in the same house where I grew up. But they are showing their age, especially my mother. My siblings and I have started to have conversations about how to transition them into some kind of nursing home or assisted living facility. Even though we are making no real headway on this, it is taking a lot of time and emotional energy.

On the heels of Mom's birthday, my niece turned 26 and ran off to Las Vegas to marry her boyfriend. (Talk about somebody going through a life-changing event, while you are continuing in your same-old routine!)

At Guild, I took a mini-class from Janine on short-row shoulder shaping in the round:

JanineatGuild.jpg
Clever woman, that Janine -- not just for engineering the short-row shoulder shaping in the round, but for turning lemons into lemonade. She took the top part of the Acorn sweater -- the part that she'd cut off, when making the sweater longer -- and finished it off as a demo piece for teaching. This probabaly doesn't show well in the photo, but the demo piece allows you to see very clearly the little floats that are created by the short-rowing.

Sandy came by for lunch and to pay a sales call:

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Sandy was my knitting teacher, ages ago when she worked at a Seattle yarn store. She was a very gentle teacher. If I was doing something wrong, there was nobody I'd rather get the bad news from than Sandy. Now, she is a sales rep for several yarn companies; I've ordered a ton of stuff for fall. (Kaffe Fassett sock yarns coming soon! Also, a few new shades of Kidsilk Haze! And much more!) In the photo above, Sandy is wearing the Asymmetric Jacket, which she's knitted in Taos (colorway Bayeta). Taos is a self-striping yarn that's marled, so you get the effect of the main color and the marled color both striping -- very cool. The Asymmetrical Jacket is a pattern you can download for free from the Crystal Palace website, here.


ProblemChild.jpgJune 21 was the first day of summer and, I am sad to report, the last day of our cat Nippy's life. I had made numerous trips to the vet with him through April and May, for problems with his teeth and mouth. He had surgery; medicines were prescribed that Jennie and I had to dose him with. He would rally, but then he would worsen. Finally, he was diagnosed with cancer. I wished the vet would have come to this diagnosis a little sooner, as he had been suffering for a while, and in retrospect, all of those medications and etcetera seem pointless.

Nippy was 15. We had adopted him from the PAWS shelter when he was a kitten; I think he had a happy life with us. He certainly was the alpha cat around here -- and a mighty hunter. There was one summer where he caught and brought into the house a garter snake every day -- oh, did that give me nightmares. Now he is in that happy hunting grounds in the sky.


I also managed to finish a couple of things, during the month of June. First, the Shedir chemo cap for my friend, who had her first chemo treatment in late June. My friend was absolutely speechless when I gave the cap to her. I couldln't tell if that meant that she liked it, or if she was politely refraining from remarking on the fact that it came out a little small.

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And, in non-knitting news, but relevant to the subject of Finishing Things: On June 26, I finished reading Paint if Black by Janet Fitch. I was very disappointed in this book. Janet Fitch had said at her reading that she didn't want to romanticize the character who committed suicide in this novel. Well, that may have been her intention, but I think she did end up romanticizing him -- at any rate, he was much more likeable than the 20-year-old girlfriend he leaves behind, who spends almost the entire novel drunk, or stoned, or both. (I realize that the 20-year-old doesn't know how to handle her emotions, doesn't know how to grieve, so she's turning to her "voddy," but really, do I need to spend 387 pages with a character like this?) There are half-a-dozen references and allusions to the play Hamlet, in this novel. These references seem like a desperate attempt to make the plot work and to elevate this piece of fiction to the realm of literature. Hamlet is one of my all-time favorite plays, so perhaps I am more difficult to satisfy on this point than other readers would be. (Just one example, the first reference: The main character (the 20-year-old girlfriend) breaks into the home of the deceased boyfriend's mother, and prowls around the mother's bedroom while the woman is sleeping. The girlfriend thinks: I could kill her in her sleep by putting poison in her ear. For me as a reader, this completely stopped me in my tracks. It's a blatant reference to Hamlet, because it is how Claudius kills Hamlet's father -- and it works in Hamlet as part of the leitmotif of deafness / hearing throughout that play. But in Paint It Black, there's absolutely nothing to set this up -- and this left me thinking, How would Josie, who's a tough, 1980's girl, a drugger and a high school dropout and runaway, how would she possibly think of murdering someone by pouring poison in that person's ear? Maybe she'd think of shooting, maybe she'd think of stabbing, but poison? In the ear? Doesn't make sense. A hundred pages later, there's a reference to Josie's having seen the film version of Hamlet where Marianne Faithfull played Ophelia. We don't know when or where Josie saw this -- maybe she stayed in high school long enough to have seen this movie and read the play before she dropped out, or maybe she and her boyfriend had seen it together. But better to have this knowlege in front of the reader before the reference to poison in the ear, rather than later.) Anyway, I could go on and on with my criticisms of the novel, but let's just say, White Oleander was a better-written book, and I'm sure the success of that book made the writing of Paint It Black that much more difficult.

I'm doing the A to Z Author Challenge, and my E book was Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which had a great premise but was not at all a compelling read. If I had not been doing the Challenge, I would not have read this book to the end. With my E and F books both being duds, I was thinking it might be all downhill through the rest of the alphabet.

Fortunately, my G author has restored my faith in contemporary literature. Three Junes is exceedingly well-written and I am enjoying it immensely.

Posted by Karen at 11:18 AM | Comments (7)