Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander

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Solo by Kwame Alexander

What Kwame Alexander did for basketball in The Crossover (read in April), he has now done for music in Solo. And as in The Crossover, he subtly layers the title with various meanings and applications.

Blade Morrison is a guitarist and songwriter, whose father is a famous rock ‘n roll guitarist and musician. Having grown up amid opulence juxtaposed with perceived neglect, Blade is on the cusp of adulthood and anxious to strike out on his own; away from the limelight of his father’s career and drama of his substance abuse. If only the parents of his girlfriend wouldn’t be so determined to keep them apart, he could confidently move forward into the future, fueled by young love.

In the mean time a heated argument with Blade’s sister and father reveal unknown family secrets, which cause a shift in Blade’s priorities and motivations. These changes result in him taking a broadening journey, allowing him to realize neither his music nor his existence are solo endeavors.

This book trailer features a brief interview with Kwame Alexander about his personal interests and inspirations in writing Solo.

Alexander is the 2015 Newbery Medal and 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award recipient, but to learn more, please visit his website kwamealexander.com

My thanks to Net Galley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

Summer Travels: Nashville 

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“Oh Tennessee River and a mountain man, we get together anytime we can.” ~ Tennessee River by Alabama

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Carter Vintage Guitars

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The Aquarium Restaurant at the Opry Mills

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The Scarritt Bennett Center, site of the Super Summer Knitogether retreat and the catalyst for our trip to Nashville. (Check out the link above for a full blog post about SSK.)

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The legendary Ryman Auditorium

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Bluegrass Nights concert series featuring Sara Watkins and The Infamous Stringdusters.

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A visit to Parnassus Books, co-owned by author Ann Patchett, who pre-signed all copies of her books for sale. I’ve previously read Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty and am excited to add State of Wonder to this list. This was a wonderful, independent bookstore, complete with a store dog, and is definitely worth a visit while in Nashville!

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The Parthenon in Centennial Park

Thus ends our summer travels and I relish the comfort of nesting at home as the beginning of the fall semester draws ever nearer.

Knit: July 2017 & SSK Recap!

Super Summer Knitogether (SSK)


Leslie and Laura of the Knit Girllls are the coordinators and hosts of the annual Super Summer Knitogether retreat in Nashville, TN.  When I submitted my name to be in the SSK lottery last fall I was a.) not really expecting for my name to be drawn and once my name was drawn, b.) not really for sure what to expect since it was my first knitting/fiber retreat. Thankfully, other participants on the Ravelry SSK discussion boards were very helpful leading up to the trip and allowed me to have a general idea about what to expect.

Fast forward from November’s announcement to over half a year later, I loaded up my knitting and The Optometrist and I hit the road, heading due east on I-40.

SSK is held on the Scarritt Bennett Center, which was an entirely inspiring place in which to walk (it felt like a real life Hogwarts!), eat delicious meals (including grits), and meet newfound knitter friends.


Since everything and everyone was new for me, my introverted self had to work extra hard to come out of my little shell, but everyone was warmly welcoming and it was an extremely well organized event. I definitely felt like I belonged with my knowledge, skills, and ability (this retreat was definitely not centered around beginner knitters and/or spinners), as well as my understanding of the lingo – awareness of popular patterns on Ravelry, other knitting channels on YouTube, and independent yarn dyers.

During the retreat I took two inspiring classes, which will continue to require further practice: “Two-Handed Two-Color Knitting” with Margaret Radcliffe (who really does have two hands – poor timing on the picture taking)


and “Steeking Your Knits” with Ann Budd.


My yarn stash also got a little boost thanks to an amazing vendor market!


A sweater’s quantity of Bare Naked Wools Better Breakfast Fingering in Mocha in which I’m going to knit the Flax Light sweater by Tin Can Knits, a bar of wool soap from Tuft Woolens in Red Currant and Mandarin, a gobstopper of self-striping Lollipop Yarn in Showers and Flowers, a skein of self-striping yarn from Gynx Yarns in the House Cup (Harry Potter) colorway, and two double skeins (each exactly matched for two-at-a-time socks) from Rock and String Yarn in Caramel Apple Cider and A Hunting We Will Go. We also were kindly given a beautiful skein of self striping yarn from Fishknits in the At Sixes and Sevens colorway in our goody bag along with lots of coupons and knitting accessories. Needless to say I’ve returned home excited to get started on some new projects and revisit others that have been a little bit neglected!

A few lessons learned at SSK (and to remember if I’m selected to attend again):

  • Dress coolly and comfortably.
  • Just pack one, easy knitting project.
  • Don’t bring as many bags – you will receive more!
  • Participate again in the stitch marker swap.
  • Bring a book to read during quiet moments.
  • Immediately look up new friends via their Ravelry IDs (this user-name identity was just as heavily used as their real name).

And as for what I actually knitted in July…

FOs (Finished Objects)

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Pattern: Striped Socks with a Fish Lips Kiss Heel
Cost: Pay for pattern by Sox Therapist
Needles: US 1, 40″ Signature Needle Arts fixed circular needles
Yarn: Patons Kroy – Blue Striped Ragg
Recipient: The Optometrist

Using the Turkish cast on method, CO 10 sts and increased to 64 sts. Knitting these two-at-a-time, toe up, using Magic Loop on my beautiful, personalized Signature Needles (a birthday gift from The Optometrist). I adjusted the two balls of yarn to have matching stripes which is visually pleasing, especially beginning and ending with the same colors!

The feet are knit plain/vanilla, then knit a 3×1 ribbing (knit 3, purl 1) around the leg of the sock to fit snugly, and finished with a 2×2 ribbing (knit 2, purl 2) for around 7 rows at the very top.

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Pattern: Basic Baby Hat
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 6, 16″ circular Knit Picks Rainbow fixed circular needles & US 6, 5″ Brittany birch DPNs
Yarn: Patons North America Beehive Shetland Light – 4739 (fuschia), Plymouth Yarn Encore DK – Cream
Pom Pom Maker: Clover
Recipient: Olivia

Last Christmas I knitted little gifts for my parent’s pastor’s three children: a pair of mittens for the two older boys and a stuffed animal for baby sister. Even though we may not be able to attend church with them near Christmas this year, I’m already thinking ahead to cooler weather, hand-knits, and this year their gifts are going to be hats!

I’ve made several hats from this simple pattern, so this time I decided to design my own color scheme using alternating colors in stripes and rows and had a great time letting the creative juices flow!

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Pattern: Mitt Envy by weezalana
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 3 DPNs
Yarn: Koigu KPPPM 703P
Recipient: TBA

Last winter I knit a pair of these for my Momma for her birthday and enjoyed the pattern so much I bought another lovely skein of Koigu, this time to make them in a grape colorway.

These accompanied me to SSK, but weren’t my primary project (keep reading…), although I did finish the first one while in Nashville and then started and finished the second after returning home.


Pattern: Granny Annie
Cost: Pay for pattern by Hanna Maciejewska
Needles: US 6, 60″ circular ChiaGoo Lace
Yarn: Madelinetosh DK – Molly Ringwald, Stovepipe, Candlewick, Great Grey Owl
Recipient: I’m keeping this one!

When I saw the version knit by the Plucky Knitter, I instantly fell in love with this color combination – pale pink, mustard, dark and light grey, so I loved recreating my own using luscious Tosh DK. This was the other project I took with me to SSK, on which I knit the most thanks to lots of garter and simple increase rows. It was the perfect travel project to knit in the car and around groups of people (read: not a lot of concentration required).

Since I adjusted the gauge, the end product was a bit smaller than I would have liked, but it’s a decent size and we’ll see how it adjusts with a vigorous blocking.

I was also very disappointed with the Leopard (charcoal grey) colorway. It routinely turned my left index finger dark, as well as my hands, as if I had been holding newsprint. Since Leopard often appears right next to Molly Ringwald, the two darkest and lightest colors, I’m not going to block it until I’ve received some Shout color catchers to help absorb any excess dye from bleeding onto the rest of the shawl.

WIP (Work in Progress)

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Pattern: Granny Stripes
Cost: Free!
Hook: Size E
Yarn: various sock/sport weight bits & pieces
Recipient: I’m keeping this one, too!

It’s been several months since I’ve picked up my crocheted blanket, but after returning from SSK, I have been inspired to get more done on this languishing WIP! I now have several sock yarn colors to add – all the Hedgehog colors from my Fade, the aforementioned finished pair of socks and mitts, and an adorable mini skein from Rock and String Yarn included in my purchase from SSK. And as fall gets closer and the blanket grows bigger, it will be the perfect project to have on my lap during cooler weather!

 

Read: July 2017

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At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This was the perfect book to read at the beginning of the month since The Optometrist and I did quite a bit of traveling throughout July. Granted, it wasn’t across continents with backpacks and children, rather, across state lines in our own vehicles with suitcases and no other dependents. Yet the perspective of an introvert with wanderlust (like me) finding beauty, rest, and a deeper sense of home among the ordinary and extraordinary during her family’s year-long journey around the world was a comforting read. The writing was beautiful, inviting, and focused on the ways she and her family interacted with places they visited and the ways they lived life as a family in huge cities and tiny villages. So rather than serving as a do-this, go-here, make-sure-you-don’t-miss “travel guide,” it was still enticingly descriptive of landmarks and locations around the world.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place:  a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. (p. 246)

This was highly recommended by two sources I’ve returned to time and time again this summer: the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide in the Thought-Provoking Stories category and the Shauna Niequist Podcast, where Tsh was her inaugural guest in Episode 1.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

Summerlost

Summerlost by Ally Condie

You might know Ally Condie from her YA novels, including the Matched trilogy (of which I still need to read the second and third installments…), but this is her newest offering, a middle-grade stand-alone story.

Cedar Lee and her family have a new summer routine after tragedy has struck and as Cedar processes this loss and her grief, her new neighbor Leo invites her to take part in the town’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, Summerlost. I immediately developed a strong sense of place as I began reading this book, which is very important for me to connect with the story, characters, and setting. This sweet tale of healing, friendship, and remembering loved ones could be easily read over the span of a day or so, especially during summer vacation.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble is the final installment of the Last Policeman trilogy, of which I read book 1 in April and book 2 in June, thus I wanted to finish book 3 before I forgot many of the details and connections among the three.

Now just days away from an apocalyptic asteroid making impact with Earth, Henry Palace is on a journey from Massachusetts to Ohio to find his rogue sister Nico and investigate her belief that there really might be a way for the asteroid to be re-routed in the sky before it makes impact. Final mysteries are solved and the series comes to a likely, if not somewhat depressing, conclusion.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 

Given to me by The Optometrist for Christmas, I felt it was finally time to read this smart, epistolary homage to the alphabet, the famous pangram (use of all 26 letters in the alphabet) phrase the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, a struggling Utopian community, and what happens when the literal letter of the law overrides common sense.

There were hints of Fahrenheit 451, which I love, and of course, Ella Minnow Pea is also known as the series of letters LMNOP. Overall a very cleverly written and thought-provoking novel!

Book read via: home library


As July gives way to August, this signifies to me the end of summer and the beginning of fall since school resumes late-month. Therefore, I’m excited to read and report on some upcoming fall books to which I’ve been given access via free, digital ARCs. Look for blog reviews over some of these titles in the months ahead!

Solo by Kwame Alexander (August 1)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (September 19)

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon (September 19)

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (September 19)

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (October 17)

 

Summer Travels: St. Louis

Over Spring Break last year The Optometrist and I journeyed to St. Louis, an area where I lived for many years, love fiercely, and a location of my continued personal identity. The opportunity to return with him for a summer conference was too good to pass up, so while he was in a series of lengthy meetings, I explored my favorite Midwestern city during some of the hottest days of the summer!

In spite of his busy schedule we were able to revisit our favorite coffee shop, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, to both enjoy an iced rooibos chai latte and also spent part of an evening window shopping at IKEA.

Since we stayed at the Parkway Hotel once again, and my husband’s conference was in the medical complex around the corner, this conveniently afforded me the opportunity to drive around the city to some favorite and newfound destinations.

Together we enjoyed meals at:

Anthonino’s Taverna on The Hill – featured on a past episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Taste of Lebanon – fresh, flavorful ingredients – hands down our favorite meal of the trip. The next time we are in St. Louis, we’re definitely eating here again!

Southwest Diner – the breakfast burrito and huevos rancheros we ate for brunch with a mutual St. Louis friend on our way out of town was the perfect finale to our trip.

Some personal favorites:

I popped by Fitz’s on The Loop to grab The Optometrist some fancy sodas one afternoon, picked up a used copy of One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson at Left Bank Books (complete with a little interaction with Spike, the store cat), enjoyed pizza and salad for lunch one day Imo’s in downtown Webster Groves, and spent a blessed few hours with one of my dearest friends, her mother, and son outside the city one afternoon. Since the Central West End is very walk-able I parked my car and got in a few steps to eat a delicious lunch at India Rasoi and a fresh fruit smoothie on a different triple digit day from Coffee Cartel.

The rest of my free time was spent enjoying the air conditioning in our room, knitting, watching shows on the Food Network and episodes of American Ninja Warrior. Since we don’t have TV, watching any sort of network and cable shows are always a special hotel treat.

New solo experiences:

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Missouri Botanical Gardens – During this trip I decided I would visit a few places I never have before and the Shaw Gardens were at the very top. It’s a shame I never experienced this lovely space when we lived in the area years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did.

Located in Tower Grove Park, this is an absolute gem of well-maintained flowers, plants, and vegetables. The paths are meandering, perfect for a quiet morning of contemplation and picture taking.

The Novel Neighbor – I heard about this independent book store in Webster Groves, MO, thanks to Anne Bogel interviewing store owner Holland Saltsman on the What Should I Read Next? podcast. Holland was in the store the day I visited and was so welcoming! I picked up the book of poetry Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver and a lovely tin of book darts.

Scott Joplin House – this is another location I’ve wanted to visit for years. Decades, really. During my junior year of high school I wrote a report on Scott Joplin for my advanced English class, so visiting in the late 90s would have been to my benefit, but my report turned out all right, if memory serves me correctly.

Located downtown St. Louis, the Scott Joplin House is the only known, still standing location where he once lived (compared to dwellings in Texarkana, Sedalia, and New York City). None of the artifacts are original, but the restoration of the period is well done, the tour guide was very knowledgeable, and I loved that you could buy copies of his music in the gift shop area.

And St. Louis wasn’t our only trip of the summer! Stay tuned for a summer update from our second road trip to Nashville, TN.

Read: June 2017

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Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

I began the The Last Policeman trilogy, reading book 1 of the same name in April. Book two continues now with only 3 months remaining until a giant asteroid is certain to collide with planet Earth. Henry Palace is faced with another investigation, tracking down the disappearance of a man who is married to the woman who was his childhood babysitter. In a world of scarcity and bizarre human behavior, his resources to find this missing person are even more limited now that his position as a city policeman/detective has been eliminated in favor of federal law enforcement to oversee and keep the (sporadic and fleeting) peace.

Book read via: public library

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Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue

Included in this year’s Summer Reading Guide from Anne Bogel/Modern Mrs. Darcy under the Beachy Reads category, I found Every Wild Heart to be a sweet story about growth of free-spirit Gail Gideon, a famous call-in radio host (think Delilah) and fiercely-protective single mom, as well as her teenage daughter Nic, who loves horses and longs to live a brave life.

After Nic takes a calculated risk riding her horse after school one day, the ramifications of her injury result in interesting consequences with her mother, those who’ve known her for years at the horse stables, with her friends and acquaintances at school, and a mysterious fan of her famous mother.

This is listed in Adult Fiction but I could see a great cross-over appeal to fans of YA, since the story has a good balance of writing from both Gail’s (first person) and Nic’s (third person) perspectives.

Book read via: public library

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This is a book I’ve seen recommended highly and repeatedly from Anne Bogel and which she also includes in her Summer Reading Guide, this time in the Thought Provoking Stories category.

The story centers around a large family with a concern about their youngest child and the resulting decisions they make to protect this child. The writing was spell-binding and the handling of a sensitive issue, superb. It definitely has been thought provoking for me, creating insight into a topic I knew relatively nothing about.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Last June I read my first Shauna Niequist book, Cold Tangerines, and since that time I have become a loyal devotee of her writing. I received Present Over Perfect for Christmas from The Optometrist, but reading it this spring/summer has been the most wonderful choice. As much as I want to read every single thing she has written, waiting until summer’s slower pace allows me unhurried time to savor each page (with copious amounts of underlining, bracketing, and margin notes), embodying the message of the book.

Book read via: home library

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The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

For my birthday last year The Optometrist bought me this small, beautiful, leather set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. A few years ago I read The Hobbit for the first time, thanks to his urging, and even though I’ve seen all the aforementioned book to movie adaptations, reading the full LOTR trilogy has been a bucket list reading goal of mine for quite some time. So one down, two to go!

I had languished in reading The Fellowship of the Ring on my own, so my husband kindly suggested this become our next shared read-aloud selection. In addition to this providing some accountability, it also helped to consult him about names, pronunciations, character clarifications, and differences between the movie and the book. This has accompanied us on smaller road trips in both May and June and I’m excited to begin The Two Towers and have it accompany us during our July travels!

Book read via: home library

Rule

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penney

After a brief hiatus from the Chief Inspector Gamache series in May, June found me continuing to read the fourth installment.

Armande and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary at a French manor (based upon the beautifully real Manoir Hovey) near Three Pines, an annual tradition. This year the Gamaches are the only guests at the small manor who aren’t in attendance for a family reunion. But the murder of one of the family members interrupts their celebratory reprieve, which is convenient for the Chief Inspector to begin an investigation.

And for those who have come to enjoy characters from the previous Three Pines books, some familiar and beloved individuals do make appearances and come alongside Gamache as he and his team solve this manor murder.

Book read via: public library

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

The last book I read in June was another that caught my eye from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, also under the Beachy Reads category.

This YA novel features two Indian teenagers, Dimple and Rishi, who meet for the first time at a summer tech/coding camp. The only problem is that their parents have already agreed to an arranged marriage for them, of which Rishi is aware, but Dimple…not so much. The camp lasts 6 weeks with Dimple and Rishi partnered together to work on the design of a new app for the duration, so it’s impossible for them to not spend time together. With Dimple’s coding skills and Rishi’s artistic talents it’s inevitable they become friends, but will they become more than friends?

This sweet and kind YA story is one of friendship, being proud of your ethnicity, abilities, and work ethic, plus being open to both the known and unknown.

Book read via: public library


What are you reading this summer? Please feel free to share suggestions of what you have enjoyed or are excited to read!

Tribes and Families

Growing up in Missouri, Oklahoma was just a neighboring state away. I had family that lived, scattered all throughout Oklahoma, whom I saw each year at our summer family reunion. Little did I envision that I would someday move to the Sooner state and join the ranks of relatives who have lived here for decades.

A defining characteristic, historical, and continued aspect of living in Oklahoma are various Native American tribes. Many of my colleagues and local friends have tribal ancestry to the Cherokee, Comanche, and Chickasaw nations, just to name a few. The Optometrist and I have distant Cherokee roots ourselves, but since our ancestors didn’t obtain a roll number, the lasting and signifying documentation for tribal proof, our connection is one of observation, education, and appreciation. And even though I’ve lived here for over seven years, I would consider myself still a newcomer and novice when it comes to tribal history.

A few years ago I attended a Native American symposium and heard some of our Native graduate students discuss their perspective of what it means to be an American Indian student in today’s culture. One student’s comments made me take pause and reflect when he identified how Native students can often be categorized in one of two ways: 1.) culturally immersed or 2.) historically connected.

For the first, some have strong and deliberate familial connections to tribal ceremonies, traditions, and ways. For others, they appreciate their cultural background, but may not choose to participate in the more traditional activities.

This started me thinking…even though I don’t have any direct connections to any Native American tribe, I do have a sense of belonging and purpose with my great-grandmother’s family. For the past 90 or so years, our family has gathered each June to celebrate and strengthen our ties as a family. Older members have gone on to Glory, new ones join the ranks, and even though some last names have matriculated away from the reunion’s namesake, we carry the same blood in our veins.

Once more, last weekend our family gathered in the Ozarks to gorgeous weather to reminisce, tell stories, love on each other, take pictures, eat, and eat some more. This annual gathering always serves as a reminder about the importance of family, family traditions, and keeping these traditions alive.

Now in my mid-30s, I know the mantle will someday fall to me to help younger generations remember who their great-great-great grandfather was and why we gather the way we do. Thus, like the traditions of my Native friends, I want to be found faithful immersing myself in not only our stories and traditions, but maintaining existing connections and making new among members of our family – our tribe.