vampires in the lemon grove: decorating inspiration

silk room decorating inspiration from polyvore

I haven’t yet finished Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories by Karen Russell (Kindle here), but what I’ve read so far has been imaginative and beautiful–but with underlying horror and sadness. In the story “Reeling for the Empire,” a group of girls are held captive to produce beautiful silk for their government.

In this case, “produce” is quite literal as these girls transform into human silkworms. They feel the silk form deep in their gut, like a physical embodiment of their regret and shame. They hold on to their humanity for as long as they can, but it’s only when they submit to what they have become that allows them to build a cocoon and transform from slaves into something else.

It’s not a happy story. But it is beautiful. I love the contrast of something so pretty and delicate in the setting of such a dark story. The silk these girls create is colorful, every color of the rainbow, and each girl produces a color unique to herself. So in my design inspiration I focused on bold, beautiful colors in materials like velvet, chrome, cashmere, and–of course–silk.

The bed is a canopy bed, where you can be warm and safe in a personal cocoon, and the drapes over the bed are dip-dyed, from a light, pure white to a dark, sinister blue-black. The mirrored bed frame reminds me of an industrial factory, but it also represents how these girls had no mirrors and could not see what they had morphed into. The gold table, rug, and mirror call back to a moth’s wings in this story, which are gold and ivory with an intricate design. The oval mirror is the same shape as their only window. The pillows remind me of loopy handwriting–the handwriting that signed the contracts to work in the factory.

And the tea cup, of course, is where their transformation began.

a new library card

library card

After deciding to really focus on my finances for a while I finally got a library card over last weekend. It’s long overdue, really, but better late than never, as I’m sure librarians would agree. My first book from the Chicago Public Library is In the Garden of Beasts (Kindle here) by Erik Larson.

I’ve read Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and thought it was fantastic, and this book has been on my list of to-reads for a long time. And the library is really to thank for me picking it up now.

You see, I really wanted to read The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. It’s the final book in his trilogy about young adults with magic learning about life and tragedy in school and after they graduate. But it just came out last week, and everyone else wanted to read it, too. So I’m on the wait list. I don’t think I’ll have to wait too long, but this is certainly an exercise in patience for someone who often gets books on her kindle in less than a minute after she decides to buy it.

But I’m sure it will be worth the wait, and I am very excited to read another book in the meantime. And the book I did get, I didn’t have to wait for at all. Or even go into the library! I borrowed a Kindle book from the library’s website and it’s just about the coolest things I’ve ever done. After browsing through the titles that were available, I got to pick one out and download it straight away. No big deal, just got a fantastic book to read for free in just a few seconds over the internet.

Do you guys use the library? I think my wallet is going to be in a little bit better shape if I stick to the library for a while. It may mean waiting a bit for new releases, but right now I think it’s worth it.

what to read next

It’s a little over halfway through the year, and I’ve read 15 books so far (you can see my stats on Goodreads). It’s been a good year for books. I just finished Mr. Mercedes, and this year I also finished the Sandman and read NOS4A2 and Boy, Snow, Bird–and many other wonderful reads.

And now I’m facing the inevitable question: What do I read next? the bat

The Bat by Jo Nesbo (Kindle here) is our new family book club read. It’s a crime novel I’ve heard very good things about for far too long without reading it myself. If you want to read along with us, we are having our discussion in September, so we are all trying to finish reading by the end of August.

I also have about 1,000 comics I want to catch up on. I’m still reading Saga, and the most recent issue was a game changer (but don’t they all seem that way?). I reallllllly want to read The Preacher, and the first volume has been burning a hole in my bookshelf for a while. Plus, I got the very cool complete Frank Miller’s Batman for my birthday.


*And* I want to keep reading Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist histories. The next one on my list is Without a Summer (which is actually the third in the series).

So basically I’m drowning in a sea of riches. I better choose quick.

mr. mercedes: screennames

mr. mercedes by stephen king

I was talking with Michael recently about what our screennames were, back when everyone used AOL instant messenger. Mine was raendrop316 and I thought it was really clever because my name sounds like rain AND it incorporated my first name and last initial. The numbers were just because I liked the numbers 3 and 16. Nothing clever there.

In Stephen King’s new book, Mr. Mercedes (kindle here), they don’t exactly go back to AOL, but the killer does reach out to a detective using an anonymous messenger service and usernames. And they are just as clever as my 13-year-old self.

The killer uses the merckill. You know, for the Mercedes Killer. The detective’s is kermitfrog19. You know, because his first name is Kermit.

Although the screennames might be a callback to old technology, the rest of the tech in Mr. Mercedes keeps up with the times. Many books eschew technology completely, either by setting the story in a different world or time, or just ignoring its use altogether (much like how on TV shows, everyone shows up at each other’s homes instead of giving them a call). It’s fun to see it used realistically and efficiently in Mr. Mercedes. Someone leaving their phone in their car leads to miscommunication, funeral arrangements can be made on an iPad, and a killer can IM just as easily as leaving an old-school letter for someone to find.

One of my favorite things about King is how his books echo real life. Maybe not in their plots (I hope you aren’t communicating with an anonymous killer, at any rate), but in small events that mirror the small events in your own life. Like getting mad at someone for sleeping through phone calls when you need them, or being embarrassed your hacked emails got sent to your colleagues, or making a screenname based off a nickname and some numbers you like.

I’m about halfway through Mr. Mercedes, and it has been a fantastic summer read. That is, if you like your beach reading about murder mysteries instead of a summer romance (though there’s a little bit of that, too). The boring realities of iPads and work emails don’t seem boring when King tells their story, and the characters are more relatable and realistic because of it. And if the “boring” parts of Mr. Mercedes are this fun, what does that say about the exciting parts?

to rise again at a decent hour

to rise again at a decent hour by joshua ferris

There is something wrong with Paul C. O’Rourke.

It’s not just his frenetic need to tape (on VHS) and watch (except for the sixth inning) every single Red Sox game. And it’s not just in the way he talks about his relationships–always a little too in love, a little too obsessed.

The way he set up his dental practice without a personal, private office probably doesn’t help. (Wouldn’t anyone go crazy helping patients who hate going to the dentist without a second on your own to breathe?)

He’s a total Monet. He seems ok from far away, but on getting a little closer to Paul, his splattering emotions come into view. His despair seeps out, his desire for love can’t be contained, and the messy parts of him don’t quite add up to a whole man.

Paul’s desperation for family and a sense of self leaves him vulnerable, and when an anonymous person on the internet starts to impersonate him, the decay in Paul’s life pushes through his not-so-well-crafted veneer. Paul’s internet impersonator introduces him to a new religion called the “Ulms,” and Paul can’t help but think this might be his salvation. The Ulms prey on Paul, like so many cults do, but he is in too deep and already too lost to see it.

It’s painful to watch Paul flounder as someone takes better control of his life on the internet than he ever could in real life, but it’s also darkly funny, and real, and hopeful. As terrible as Paul can be, he is the best part of Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Kindle here).

Ferris has always excelled at creating human characters. Paul is not one-note; he is a symphony of problems, desires, callousness, desperation, love, wonder, and wanderlust.

Paul is the narrator of this story, and an unreliable one at that. Ferris trusts that we’ll see when Paul is a little off, and those moments are some of the funniest. Ferris trusts the reader, too, to fill in Paul’s side of the conversation. When Ferris only showed others’ responses to Paul–a fun and interesting structure–it revealed just as much as if we had a tape recording of the conversation. It is a delight to be in Ferris’ world again and hear his sharp wit and honest storytelling.

Some of the people in Paul’s life may be worse for knowing him, but I am better for having read about him. Paul is a dentist, a boss, an ex-boyfriend, but above all he is someone searching for a truth that will fill his heart. He is human and he is lost, just like the rest of us.

Just a few of many great quotes:

  • Watching her strip was like receiving an inexpert massage from a blind lady.
  • You’re mortal, and it’s ugly.
  • Paint forgets within the hour what it learns in an instant
  • A man is full of things you simply cannot tweet.

authority (embroidery no. 22)

embroidery from jeff vandermeer's authority

Earlier this year, I read Jeff VanderMeer’s creepy and haunting Annihilation, about an expedition into a terrifying and mysterious wilderness known as Area X. Authority (kindle here) continues the story, but from the perspective of Control, a government official recently transferred to clean up the mess at the Southern Reach after the expedition in Annihilation.

Control dives in, but he is never sure of what he sees or hears at the Southern Reach. Its shifting hallways and antagonistic employees don’t provide much help or comfort. But Control latches on to one idea that could help him grasp this puzzle: Terroir.

Terroir indicates a sense of place, and how that place can influence and produce a certain product. Typically a term that refers to the climate and region of certain vintages of wine, Control uses it to analyze Area X.

Why is Area X the way that it is? What, even, is it? Who made it that way, and how?

There aren’t many answers yet, but Authority peels back a few layers of the puzzle. What’s underneath is raw and scary, and there’s no sign of what can heal it.

The next book in this trilogy, Acceptance (kindle here) comes out Sept. 2 of this year.

embroidery from jeff vandermeer's authority

I am working on a project to sew some of my favorite quotes and images. You can see the other pieces of my embroidery project here:

(I picked this book out on my own and was not being paid to write about it. But if you buy through my links, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it.)

interview with courtney hamilton, author of almost royalty

almost royalty

Almost Royalty is a really fun read about some really terrible people (and a few good ones). Courtney, the main character, is a witty narrator who prefers Velveeta to caviar and struggles with finding her place in a very complicated social landscape in L.A. Author Courtney Hamilton is so nice and funny and was able to answer some questions on where she got inspiration for these terrible dates, her favorite Velveeta recipe and more. Almost Royalty comes out May 28 and you can find it on Amazon. Thanks for talking with me, Courtney!

Before I ask you about the story: What has been your favorite part of the process of going from idea to finished book?
My favorite part of the writing process was that by creating this story, I was able to synthesize many ideas that have floated around my head and give them a cohesive framework. By writing “Almost Royalty,” I think I explained to myself what my subconscious was trying to tell me, which was: GET AWAY FROM THESE PEOPLE!!!!

What surprised you about writing the book?
I was surprised that I actually have a great time when I’m writing. I’m in the middle of writing Almost Royalty Book #2, and when I actually stop procrastinating and do it, I usually have a good time and laugh a lot.

I have to ask, what’s your favorite Velveeta recipe?
Velveeta Junior Pizza–you take a slice of bread, put some cut tomato slices on it, and put Velveeta slices over the tomatoes which you then place in a toaster oven or microwave, or whatever you use to melt cheese with. The Velveeta melts on the tomatoes–it tastes great. I also really like the Velveeta Chicken which I mention in Chapter 3. Unfortunately, we are on somewhat of a health kick in my household, so I’m not allowed to eat cheese-type foods too often, make that ever. BTW, it might interest you to know that some people have refused to read the book because Courtney eats Velveeta. I’m not kidding.

You share a name with the main character–how much of Almost Royalty, if any, was autobiographical?
I seem to be a magnet for insane people and outrageously bad behavior so a good portion of “Almost Royalty” was drawn from my real life.

Courtney went out with a lot of … interesting men. Were any of the terrible dates from real life inspiration–and can you tell us which ones?
L.A. is a very tough town for dating, so–as bad as many of the dates I describe are–they’re a fairly typical blend of what people experience when they date in L.A. Parts of almost every date I describe have happened to me. But honestly, the interesting thing about writing the book is the amount of people who have told me their bad date experiences. Some of them are so awful that the make mine look like a lovely picnic (with Velveeta) in an Alpine Meadow filled with wild flowers–they’re enough to make you decide that you will never, ever, attempt to meet another person. Which reminds me: In honor of the Official Publication Date of “Almost Royalty,” we are going to hold a “Describe Your Worst Date Ever” Contest starting on June 1, 2014. The top 3 winners will receive a signed, publication copy of “Almost Royalty”, a $10 Amazon Gift Card, and have their description of their “Worst Date Ever” featured on my blog, FB page, and post.

Courtney’s home is styled a lot differently than the homes of the Ivy Elite. I especially liked the bright orange bean bag chairs at an Ivy Elite book club and the bathtub in the back yard garden, none of which you’d find in Courtney’s home. How do you think the decor added to the idea of being part of the elite?
The “Elite” home described in the Prologue was the home of a true B-Level, sort of the aspiring or true “almost royalty”– so they’ve pretty much overbought on their home and are in a cash-poor position. Courtney doesn’t really care about those things, so–when she visits their home, it’s as if she’s an anthropologist, trying to understand how this strange tribe lives. She’s not at all impressed with them and stunned that her friends are.

A big theme in the book is wanting to keep up appearances, often leading the characters to spend money they don’t have. Do you think “keeping up appearances” has been influenced by the recession, do people act the same way today?
I think that there will always be people who care about “keeping up appearances,” even if we are in the middle of a dystopic melt-down, and by that I mean something straight out of a zombie-filled future like “The Walking Dead.” Someone will always be creating some ridiculous hierarchy by which to compare themselves favorably to others, even if it’s “See, only the really good-looking Zombies try to eat me, but you get all of the scruffy ones” or “They gave me the large bomb shelter to live in, but you only got a medium.”

How has working in Hollywood influenced your story and characters?
I think that my stories have been influenced by working in Hollywood only to the extent that I’m not impressed with it and see Hollywood as just another industry. Truly, if I were living in Palo Alto, I would be writing about the “Almost Royalty” of that town–like that new Mike Judge show “Silicon Valley”, and if I were living in London, I’d probably be writing about their main industry, the Royal Family (specifically Duchess Kate, Princess William and baby George) and what it’s like to live among them, especially the disgruntled Almost Royalty–now that would be interesting, especially because we never get a contemporary show that portrays their lives, we only get something that happened almost 100 years ago, so no one gets upset. . .or sued.

And lastly, how will people be able to read Almost Royalty–where will it be available?
“Almost Royalty” will be available on May 28, 2014, on Amazon.

Thanks again, Courtney!

decorating inspiration: valour and vanity

Last week I finished Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal. I completely enjoyed it, and you all should, too. In the book, Jane and Vincent face all kinds of trials after they lose all of their money and are stranded in Murano. After staying in a downright dreary small room for their apartment, they use glamour (super cool illusion-making magic) to make their hopefully temporary home look better than it seems.

You know I’m a big believer in decorating your home to lift your spirits.

Vincent turns their small, low-ceilinged room into a beautiful orangery with views of the countryside.

drawing from valour and vanity

Their bed stayed its same old wooden self, but they made the floor appear as if it were a gray stone. A fire warms the place up and allows them to cook dinner. Outside the glass walls, the landscape appears perhaps a bit more vivid than it would in real life–a relief from their claustrophobic dreariness. Ornate archways reach up to their vaulted ceiling.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind coming home to that one bit. If you wanted to use this style in your home, you could do something like this.

jane and vincent's room
Plenty of mirrors keep things airy and bright. Rustic wooden furniture would be charming, and architectural lamps would add beautiful lines reminiscent of archways. Don’t forget to add some fruit–Jane and Vincent had orange trees, after all.
Valour and Vanity (Kindle here) is the fourth of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency England histories that follow the couple Vincent and Jane, and their families.

valour and vanity by mary robinette kowal

valour and vanity by mary robinette kowal

Valour and Vanity (Kindle here) is the fourth of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency England histories that follow the couple Vincent and Jane, and their families. I have not yet read the three books before this, but that did not keep me from enjoying Valour and Vanity tremendously, and it should not stop you from picking up any book from this series either.

The Regency era is Jane Austen’s England. The Prince Regent, who is the son of Mad King George (remember him from learning about the revolution, my American friends?), is a big proponent of excess and art, and Jane and Vincent work as his glamourists. Glamour is basically magic that creates illusions by manipulating light and sound.

And that becomes Vincent and Jane’s trade in this novel: not glamour, but illusion.

When the couple heads to Murano to find a glassmaker, they are waylaid by pirates. And that is the least alarming thing that happens to them on this trip. They end up swindled by those they thought were friends and can’t leave Murano until they pay back what they owe.

It seems so simple right? If you lose your money on vacation, you go back to your hotel and call the bank, or your mom, or the American Embassy, if things really go wrong. But Jane and Vincent don’t have telephones or airplanes or online banking. Penniless, and with no practical skills save for glamour, they are left with nothing but each other. Well, that and Jane’s wedding ring, which they pawn for cash.

We never have quests any more. When is the last time you had to go somewhere to find something or bring it back or travel to create something you need or fulfil your destiny? We don’t even have to go to the mall at Christmas time, you can just order everything online. Our problem solving these days is very different from what Jane and Vincent face.

But what they go through is familiar. I’ve been poor and struggling to pay the rent. I’ve bought something fancy and small as a treat just to beat myself up about the extra $5 it cost. I haven’t been able to find a job and have lied about how great I’m doing in the meantime. And I’ve fought with loved ones and tried to hide the painful truth. And I’ve turned to something drastic to get back on my feet again.

When Vincent gets to the edge of what he can take, the couple gets a lucky break. (As so often happens in life, as well.) Their lucky break allows them to make a plan to take back what was stolen from them. Using every glamourist trick they know, plus new tricks in the physical realm, they embark on their dangerous plan–with the help of some new friends.

This heist is more fun than any I’ve ever been a part of (which, ok, is actually none in real life), and it includes feisty nuns. So while Jane and Vincent’s plan may go wrong, those reading about it can’t lose.

I loved this story and I love Jane and Vincent. I’ve been known to roll my eyes at romance every now and again, but I could read about this couple forever. Neither of them is perfect, and they fight and struggle like everyone else. Romance isn’t nonstop perfection or the absence of conflict. That is exhausting and impossible. But their love seems true–true to life and true to each other.

Hopefully next week I’ll have some sketches inspired by the book. There were some lovely images, and I can’t really pass up the idea of decorating an apartment with magic.

I choose this book on my own and was not paid to write about it, but the links are affiliate.

titiana’s outfit from the haunted bookshop

titiana outfit from the haunted bookshop

Like everyone else who shopped at the haunted bookshop, Titiana charmed me. I wasn’t sure about her in the beginning. The 18-year-old arrives to her bookshop apprenticeship in a fur stole, after all, so can you really blame me–or her father–for making the mistake of thinking her frivolous?

But you learn in The Haunted Bookshop (by Christopher Morley) (Kindle here) not to judge a book by its cover. Things are not as they seem and the bookshop may be haunted by more than the spirits of great literature.

Mr. and Mrs. Mifflin run the store, called Parnassus at Home, and live above the second-hand shop. Roger Mifflin is as passionate about books as Titiana is beautiful, and he is delighted to take her on as an apprentice at the behest of Titiana’s father. Her father wants to get some of the finishing school nonsense out of Titiana’s head and fill it with books and hard work instead. An admirable goal, and Roger and Titiana are both excited to teach and be taught.

But even before Titiana arrives, things are strange in the little, crowded shop. An advertising man, Aubrey, stops in to meet Roger and ask for a chance at his business, and the two quickly become friendly. But after a particular book disappears and reappears from Roger’s shelves, Aubrey begins to suspect foul play in this queer place.

Although most of Brooklyn is basking in the peace after World War I ends, Aubrey, Titiana, and the Mifflins become caught up in mystery after mystery. Every character is delightful to spend time with, even Bock, the Mifflins’ terrier. Roger’s passion for books is contagious, and at less than 200 pages it was the perfect easy read as things settle down for me in Chicago.

I drew Titiana as she arrives for the first time to meet the Mifflins. She is much wealthier than her bookstore benefactors, and her expertly tailored clothes show off her figure and complement her coloring. She is wearing brown tweed, a fur stole, and tan spats–like a boss.

titiana from the haunted bookshop outfit painting

(I picked out this book on my own and wasn’t paid to write about it. The links are affiliate, though, so if you buy through my links I’ll receive a little bit of money.)