Let me make one thing clear: without actually making the blinking LED and the transistor amplifier and the diode steering circuit and the bistable miltivibrator you WILL NOT understand. You can't book learn this stuff, you need to get hands-on. You need to get a visceral understanding of what's going on; you need to identify when something's going wrong by touch and by smell.
Grab practically everything from Forrest M. Mims III; "Getting Started in Electronics" was my bible when I was learning this stuff. His Engineer's Mini-Notebooks were also gold. Robert Grossblatt was another author I frequently checked out from the local library.
Get a little breadboard, a resistor kit, a small capacitor kit and some diodes and transistors and start playing. It's the only way to learn. Spice is nice, but I have only found it useful once you have a half an idea of what's going on. Spice has a nasty nasty habit of lying to you and unless you have a decently-tuned bs detector when it comes to electronics, spice can really throw you for a loop. You mention a lack of space, but really this won't take up anything more than a small kitchen table when it's all out, and it'll pack away into a small box or briefcase when it's put away.
After that I'd start looking at an Arduino or Propeller chip to start your journey into microcontrollers. I've never used either but they're pretty much the de-facto standard when it comes to beginner microcontrollers. After that, jump right in to small ARM processors. Skip the PICs and AVRs; nothing beats using REAL gcc and REAL debuggers. If you really find yourself needing a small microcontroller for space or power reasons, THEN look to the PIC/AVR stuff, but not before looking at low power beauties like the MSP430.
I've developed industrial control equipment using the PICs and I've done my share of time on 68xx/z80/80186/80196 microcontrollers and even more with various DSPs and microprocessors. For a hobbyiest or someone trying to learn there really isn't any need to stray from what I'd mentioned above. Not unless you either want to learn a particular processor or need the specific features of one of them.
Above all, enjoy learning. Electronics is a lot of fun.