Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Little Holiday Reading

I know I said I would do this yesterday but the jetlag got the better of me and I fell asleep.

I started my holiday reading with a proof of the new Jim Kelly - Death Wore White. It's not due for release until February 2009. It's a departure for him - a new series, not featuring Philip Dryden, instead it's about two police detectives: DI Shaw and DS Valentine. They're not a willing partnership. Valentine used to be Shaw's late father's partner and Shaw reckons he's past it, too old school to be of any use. Valentine on the other hand thinks his ex-partner's son is a college graduate who's out of his depth and has too high an opinion of himself. Anyway they're out checking on a body swept up on the shore when they get alerted to a queue of stranded cars in a snow drift near the beach where they're looking. But the driver of the first car is going nowhere - someone's put a chisel through his eye. It's a classic mystery setting - finite number of suspects, all or none of whom could have a motive, and the crime scene is rapidly metling away. It's sharply plotted and moves along well, but the best bit about this book is the relationship between the two detectives as they are forced to work together. I reckon this could turn into a great series - I can even see it on TV.

Next I moved on to something a bit different - Cypress Grove by James Sallis. I was alerted to this series by a review in the bookseller a couple of weeks before I went on holiday. The third book in the series (Salt River) is due for publication in the UK in October. The review compared Sallis to James Lee Burke, so I was a little surprised that I'd never even heard of him. Never mind I thought when I go the the US I'll pick up the first couple and see what all the fuss is about. Easier said than done. None of his books are carried by Borders or Barnes & Noble. The bloke in Borders even told me there was no such writer. As you can imagine this just spurred me on even more to find his books. Eventually in a Brant's Books in Sarasota, there it was - the first one in the series. And what a treat it turned out to be. Set in rural Tennessee, with an ex-policeman as the protagonist. Turner is an ex-cop with a history - he's been in prison, he's been a psychotherapist, and now he's retired for a little of the quiet life in the backwoods halfway between Memphis and forever. Of course, events conspire to change all that and before he knows it Turner is helping local Sheriff Lonnie Bates with a brutal murder case. The narrative voice that Sallis uses in this book is wonderful. It's a rich Southern drawl that just oozes across the page. I think I'd like to listen to an audiobook of this - it reads like syrup. Now I need to track down the second in the series. I did manage to pick up several of his other books - he's also written a series about a black part-time detective part-time writer called Lew Griffin. They're set in New Orleans. More about them later as I did manage to read one. He also wrote a biography of Chester Himes - I need to look out for that one I think.

A change of pace was called for so I picked up The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King. I think I mentioned that this is out of print in the UK, but I'd never read it so I was pleased to find a secondhand copy. I'd avoided this series, as I think I've said in the past, because how can a Californian write about Sherlock Holmes? I admit that I was wrong. It's a lovely series, and now that I've read the first one and know how it all began, I can go on and read the rest of the series guilt-free. (I hate to read things out of order!).

As I was on Laurie R King, my next read was The Art of Detection. This is a Kate Martinelli book, but it has links to Sherlock Holmes, as she's investigating the death of a renowned Sherlockian. I think I was hoping that she'd make more of the link between this and her Mary Russell books. There was the odd hint here and there but this book stuck by and large to the facts and skipped over the fictional stuff I was hoping might be there. It was enjoyable enough as it stood but I was hoping for more.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn was the next book on my pile. I really wanted to like this, after all it's by a local lass, has won a couple of awards, was highly recommended to me..etc..etc. And all I could think was - is this it? Is that what all the fuss was about? It didn't really go anywhere - it was desperately in search of a plot and the ending was very weak. It's one redeeming part was the description of the Mystery Shopper - which should be read by all retail staff.

1974 by David Peace was another book I'd been meaning to read for a while, and Karen stepped forward at the right moment with a review copy. Now this of course is part of a quartet of books and I think it would be a little unfair to judge it entirely by itself but as a beginning I liked it. It's rough and in places it's a tad cliched. It's certainly not an easy read, brutal and unflinching in parts. I'm interested enough to want to read more and that's always a good sign.

The final volume I managed to squeeze in was Moth by James Sallis. This is the second in his Lew Griffin series as mentioned above. I liked it. I liked the protagonist - he's a writer and lecturer and he does a bit of detecting (mostly finding people, on the evidence of this book), he's been an alcoholic and he's had a few ruined relationships. He's a black guy in Louisiana, a State that's still very racist and he has a wonderful turn of phrase. I've managed to pick up a couple of the others in this series and I'm looking forward to working through them. They seem to be out of print in the UK, don't seem to be easily available in the US either, but tracking down these books has always been part of the fun for me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back Home

We're back home, safe and sound, and the house is in one piece. It seems that the Evilpixie has taken her responsibilities very seriously in our absence and has taken good care of both Bubba and the house. We are relieved and very pleased.

I have a major book update to do as I've not mentioned any of the books I read while on holiday so that will follow later today hopefully.

Meantime I am suffering with jetlag which always affects me more when I come home so it will be a quiet day today, though I must get some shopping in - the cupboards look like a horde of locusts swept through while we were away. Luckily I'm not back at work until Wednesday so there is a chance that my brain will be back in service by then - currently it is a bit on the woolly side.

In politics we find ourselves plunged straight from the razzamatazz and excitement of the US Elections into the unremitting beige-ness of the Labour Party Conference. Yawn.

Back later with my book update

Friday, September 19, 2008

Last Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, we've come, sadly, to our last day here in the Sunshine State.

I'm sorry to be going home, though I've missed the Evilpixie and Bubba and shall be glad to see them.

We've had a great time exploring some parts of Florida we'd not seen before and re-visiting some old favourites.

My top bits of the holiday were (in no particular order) - the baseball (even if the Rays got trounced that night), the bookstores, catching my first fish, the yarn crawl, and all the great knitting friends I made. I've eaten a lot of great seafood too.

Our apartment has been wonderful - most of the time there's been almost no-one in the complex apart from us and apart from the last few days we've had the pool entirely to ourselves. The beach here is beautiful as always, especially early in the morning when it's practically deserted. We've watched dolphins swimming and seen rays in the shallows. Yesterday at Fort de Soto we saw huge (2 foot) fish swimming just inches from our toes!

I'm still puzzling over the reason why anyone would vote for John McCain and his running mate - a woman so far to the right she makes Margaret Thatcher look like Karl Marx. I've seen McCain reverse his position at least twice this week on two different topics. Not to mention the downright lies. If you're reading this and can shed light please let me know.

As it's our last day I have the final results in my highly-unscientific and totally random Lawn Flag Poll. Every day as we've been out and about I've counted the Obama and McCain lawn flags we've seen. I've done this honestly and fairly and have not tried to skew the result in any way, merely recorded the flags we've seen. We've been through all kinds of neighbourhoods on our travels - the affluent and the not so well off, touristy areas and those well off the beaten track.

Here are the results of my poll -

Obama - 57%

McCain - 31%

Ron Paul - 12% (bonus points if you even knew he was running!)

If the results of the election go the same way as my poll the world will be a better place.

I have to say that the lawn flag poll was harder than you'd think - it was sometimes difficult to spot the Presidential election flags among the many, many more signs advertising houses for sale (often foreclosure sales), and the absolute blizzard of signs supporting candidates for other offices from Sheriff to school board, from state legislator to property appraiser. Dudes - do you think maybe you're taking this democracy thing a bit too far?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday Update

A quieter day yesterday, starting with a stroll through Gulfport. We'd never visited Gulfport before, despite all the many times we've been to St Pete. The main reason for going was to visit Small Adventures Bookstore, which was a little delight with a very friendly, helpful owner. However, words cannot describe how much I loved Gulfport - this is where I want to live when we finally get our act together and move here. Quiet little streets, lined with quaint little houses, a great beach along the front (with a fishing pier) and a real feeling of community. I can't believe we'd never been there before. The only minus point - the little coffee shop is closed on Wednesdays - driving us to Starbucks yet again (their profits are going to plummet when we leave!)

A few diversions and wild goose chases later we found Wilson's Book World. A wonderful shop, crammed with great books on all subjects, and a whole room at the back filled with comics. We spent a considerable amount of time there, and may go back before we leave. Another place discovered that we'd not known about before.

Wednesday night is knitting night of course so I went to my final meeting with the St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics. The lovely Natalie and Cheryl had got me a present too! Some lovely fibre that they had hand-dyed. What a bunch of sweeties they are. I had a really great time meeting them all and will definitely be back sometime.

Interestingly they could not answer my burning question of the week - Why would anyone vote for John McCain? I'm still working on this one. Results of the Lawn Flag Survey on Friday when all the flags have been counted and verified.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fishing, Home Runs and Fish Fry Tuesday

We've had a busy couple of days.

Yesterday we went fishing, from the pier at Fort de Soto. I actually caught my first fish.

Yes, that's me and no, it wasn't the biggest fish in the world. Pete, who knows a whole lot more about fishing than me caught about 5 or 6. Mostly about the same size - but it wasn't about how big the fish were, it was just for fun.
Fort de Soto is one of my favourite places in the whole world. It has 2 fishing piers, a dog beach and the most beautiful, unspoilt beach with the clearest water. This is the view from the carpark towards the fishing pier where we were yesterday.

What's not to love?

Also yesterday we went to the Tropicana Stadium to see the Tampa Bay Rays play the Boston Red Sox. That's baseball, for the uninitiated. The Rays got trounced. It was 13-5. Not good.

Today we've been up north into the sticks. We ventured up to Pasco County, to Hudson and New Port Richey in search of comics and books and other stuff. It was like another world. Everywhere we've been so far in Florida the people have been lovely and helpful, delighted to meet folks from England and eager to help. Today we met another side of Florida, where the people with a few exceptions, were unhelpful, ignorant and insular. Now I know that a lot of Brits visit New Port Richey as part of a two-part villa package after staying in Kissimmee. I wonder how many Brits think all of Florida is like either Kissimmee or New Port Richey? Maybe we were just unlucky with the people we met today, or maybe the number of ignorant people correlates directly with the number of pawn shops, gun shops and McCain lawn flags we passed.

More later on my totally unscientific survey of Obama v McCain lawn flags and predicting the outcome of the US Election.

Tonight, being Tuesday was dinner at the Wharf for Fish Fry Tuesday. Awesome seafood in a great, totally unpretentious location, right on the water.

Next up the second episode of the new TV programme Fringe, not a sit-com set during the Edinburgh Festival but a kind of cross between CSI and the X-Files. Not available in the UK yet, if at all, but so far it's really cool.

And finally the view from our balcony just after sunset tonight.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yarn Crawl!!!!!!!

What a fantastic day out we had yesterday. The lovely St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics had arranged a great yarn store crawl AND a visit to an Alpaca farm.

First off we met at Needles and Knobs a fine yarn store, just up the road from our apartment. This shop is owned by Audrey who was very welcoming and didn't seem to mind us invading her shop all at once. I bought the new issue of Interweave Felts and a book I'd been looking for, The Eclectic Sole by Janel Laidman.

Then, before the day got too hot we went to the alpaca farm. Shi'loh' Alpacas, run by Jamie and Bob. It really is, as she says, "an oasis in a concrete jungle." I couldn't imagine where about in crowded Pinellas County there was room to keep alpacas. We turned off a main street, lined with car dealerships and strip malls and the usual stuff, down a twisty little road, though a lovely quiet little neighbourhood until we came to their little sign, out front of their lovely house. And I'm still thinking, but surely the alpacas don't live here. Oh yes they do. Just out the back in the yard (it's a big yard, meant for horses, with a barn at one end), were her eight alpaca males. Beautiful animals. We spent a good couple of hours with Jamie and Bob and learned all about alpacas and how they look after then, and a good deal about the economics of alpaca breeding which was fascinating.

The sweet little black guy is called Darth Vader and the grey one at the back is Lancet.

This little guy is Topher and he was a real sweetie, the baby of the group. We had a great time. Unfortunately, froma spinner's point of view they didn't have any fiber for sale, this years shearing was off being processed and not due back for a few weeks yet.

Next up was Knits and Krafts on SEminole Blvd, where I'd been earlier in the week, just a quick stop as it was on our way.

Off we went for lunch after that to the Lucky Dill Deli in Palm Harbor - a little slice of New York in the Florida sunshine. It's a real NY Deli serving the most fantastic sandwiches, lunches and desserts - the cheesecake is legendary!

Hunger sated we carried on to Uncommon Threads where they sell yarn and fibre for spinning. I was in my element here and bought some great fibres.
They are, from left to right, Hapy Hippie hand-dyed soysilk in colorway "Age of Aquarius" from Conjoined Creations, handpainted bamboo in Regal Blue from Fiberlady.com and finally some merino silk blend in lovely shades of purples and lilacs and blues.

The last place we went to was Fiber Arts (I'm sure they have a website but I can't find it right now) in Tampa. What a lovely shop! Thay have a whole room full of Noro, and another with a whole wall dedicated to sockyarn. It's one of those shops that just seems to go on for ever with little rooms stuffed full of the most delightful (and expensive) yarns. This was a shop, we decided, for "ladies who knit". Beautiful stuff, but mostly not for your everyday knitter. They did, however have the first 2 volumes of the Norah Gaughan patterns I had been searching for so I was very pleased. I didn't buy any yarn there - mostly because I thought if I started to buy things I might not be able to stop. I don't think Mr Visa would have been very pleased with me - or Pete for that matter. No, we can't pay the mortgage, but look.... I have cashmere/silk/alpaca yarn.

That concluded our tour of yarn stores of the area and I had a great time as, I think, did the others. It was a really great day out.

Today we're off (Pete and I today, no knitters) to the fleamarket in Oldsmar and then in quest of a comic shop that's over that way somewhere.

More later.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday Update

We spent Thursday rummaging around St Petersburg and Largo, visiting comic shops and the odd yarn store and a book store or two, including the wonderful Haslam's - a legend of a bookstore.

Then we went to the IMAX to see The Dark Knight which we both really enjoyed. Heath Ledger was superb as the Joker.

Today we've been down to Bradenton where we visited A Yarn Outlet and I met the lovely Jim, DH of the owner, who was very helpful and obliging, and discussed politics with me. We meandered through Bradenton and ended up on Anna Maria Island at the pier.

At the beginning of the week, when we first got here the sea off the beach here was clear and blue and sparkly but gradually through the week it changed to a dark olive green colour and the surf got higher and the waves got rougher. There's been some flooding in the streets round here as the tide has been 2-3 feet higher than normal. This is the influence of Hurricane Ike, even though he's about 300 miles away, about to make the lives of the good people of Texas very unpleasant. Meanwhile, here in St Pete the surfers are very happy and are out in their droves.

I'm thinking about the people of Galveston and Houston tonight. Let's hope they get through this OK.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Knitters Galore

Just a quick post to say thank you to the St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics for welcoming me to their meeting last night, and for being lovely people. Well, they are knitters, so you'd expect then to be nice, but they were all really friendly.

They've organised a fantastic yarn crawl for Saturday including a visit to an alpaca farm. Who even knew they farmed alpacas in Florida?

It should be a great day out.

More to follow, probably tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stormy Weather

Yesterday was a quieter day - not so much rushing around.

A walk along the beach in the first light to see all the local wildlife. The beach was almost deserted and there were rays feeding in the shallows and thousands of birds of all varieties - terns and gulls and wading birds of many different kinds.

Then back to the apartment for a leisurely morning until contractors working somewhere else in the building drove us out. One of the problems with Florida during off-season - it's when everyone renovates their condos.

Up the coast a bit to Madeira Beach for a visit to Books to the Ceiling, another of our must see used book stores. Then off to John's Pass, a bit of a tourist trap - a boardwalk along the water with restaurants and shops selling tshirts and souvenirs. Our main purpose for being there was lunch at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. When we were out on Sunday we saw a huge advert saying We Love Bubba. How could we not go and check it out. They're a chain of restaurants themed around the film Forrest Gump and it's as cheesy as anything. But the food was excellent if a tad on the pricy side - well, someone has to pay for all the memorabilia on the walls! We had a selection of different seafood and shared a Mudpie for dessert - it was the biggest mudpie you ever saw in your life - it could have fed 10 people!

Groaning from too much fried shrimp and chocolate icecream we made our way back to the apartment and lay by the pool for a bit until the wind got up and the rain started. This was the northestern edge of Hurricane Ike as he crossed far to the south of us on his was towards Texas. The storm lasted about twenty minutes before the skies cleared again.

This morning it is windy again and the sea is quite rough. The wind woke me and I could hear the waves crashing onto the beach. Once it's light I'll go out and see what's going on.

We're off to Tampa today, again trawling the book and comic stores, plus there are a couple of quilting shops and at least one yarn store. I'll report back later.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sunshine State

Well, we got here with remarkably little disturbance from storms or hurricanes and spent the first day mostly just chilling out. Got up early (it's the time difference - always gets me) and mooched around the fleamarkets for a few hours, came back and swam in the pool for a bit then went out to The Wharf and ate lots of lovely seafood.

Here is the view from our balcony

That morning there were dolphins swimming just off the beach.

Yesterday we felt all rested, so after a hearty breakfast at Beverly's we went to Sarasota on a book hunt. Unfortunately we were disappointed in our first destination. The totally wonderful Main Books is no more it seems. Apparently they had a sprinkler accident and then a fire - neither of these are things that you want in a bookshop. I was especially sad as if I was ever to own a second-hand bookshop I'd want it to be like Main Books - four floors covering every subject you could think of and a few you'd never have thought of in a million years. Polished wooden floors, friendly staff and a cat that slept on the counter. Great atmosphere - I'm sorry it's gone.

A quick trip to Helen's comics just down the road lead to a copy of Feathered Star Quilts.

We pressed on, visiting Alma Mae's Quilt Shop, which was lovely, with lovely fabrics, but I didn't buy anything, via a few paperback exchanges and a Borders, where I scored a hardback copy of Laurie R King's The Art of Detection from the bargain table (cheaper than the paperback!), to Brant's Books.

Brant's is housed in an old army barracks and is possibly the most dilapidated bookstore you ever saw in your life. The floor sags and moans when you walk on it, making browsing an interesting experience.

They were having a closing down sale though - and don't seem to have any new premises as yet. I hope they find them soon - bookstores like this are getting fewer and fewer as rent increases and redevelopments force them out.

Brant's win my store of the day award though for having the book I had been searching for it in all the bookstores and fleamarket bookstalls I've been in since I got here - trust me , there have been a few.

Cypress Grove by James Sallis. This is the first in a trilogy, the last part being published later this year in the UK I think. There was a review in the Bookseller and I thought it looked interesting. Apparently he's a bit like James Lee Burke - lyrical and clever. We shall see. I had thought he would be easy to find here but it seems not. The bloke in Borders told me there was no such writer! Anyway I was lucky enough to find a copy at Brant's and for a very reasonable price (even in the sale).

Then we hit a very good branch of Barnes and Noble where I didn't buy anything but was sorely tempted by their vast range of crafty books.

No time to waste, we sallied on to Books a Million which was great - I got a copy of The Beekeeper's Apprentice (sadly out of print in the UK and I'd never read it), the Yarn Harlot's 2009 page a day calender and Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush.

Lastly, and I was beginning to flag by this point, I visited The Spinning Wheel, good local yarn store of Sarasota. They had the Norah Gaughan Vol 3 book, but sadly not the first two volumes. I was a bit overwhelmed by the multitude of strange and new yarns and didn't buy any. Still, there are several other yarn stores on my list - still plenty of chances to buy some yarn.

A very good day indeed, rounded off with dinner at PJ's Seafood Restaurant, just around the corner from the apartment. Heaven.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Almost there...

As you can see from the countdown to the right it is almost time to leave for our well-earned holiday. This is the first holiday we've had in four years, and the first "grown-up" holiday (ie without the Evilpixie) since our honeymoon to New York sixteen years ago.

Of course this new, grown-up holiday can only by accomplished by leaving the house in the hands of the Evilpixie and a couple of her friends who will house and dog sit while we are away. Number one rule - no Facebook parties. Number two rule - no parties of any kind.

I am resolved not to worry about what might be happening while I'm not there - if anyone lives near me though - how about doing a quick drive-by every now and then, just to check!

We're flying from Manchester, straight into the path of tropical storm Hanna who will be washing up the east coast of the US as we are flying down. Must remember to take the travel sickness tablets - it might be a bumpy ride.

I'm all set, with my books chosen - Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor, set just after the American Civil War and featuring the descendents of the people who travelled on the ill-fated Star of the Sea; a proof of the new Jim Kelly - Death Wore White - a departure from his usual Philip Dryden series, this one being about two policemen; What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, winner of several awards and a local lass too; and finally the first in David Peace's Red Riding Quartet, 1974, something I'd been meaning to get to for a while. That should keep me going until I hit a branch of Barnes & Noble, or one of the several great second-hand bookstores we'll be visiting.

I've got a brand new pair of socks ready to be started with my bamboo dpn's and the first 50g of sock wool in my hand baggage. So long as I get them through security OK I shall be knitting all the way across the Atlantic. All that uninterrupted kntting time - wonderful.

I'm hoping to hook up with the St Pete Fiber Fanatics while I'm there - someone mentioned a yarn store crawl. You can imagine I am up for that.

I'm hoping to be able to blog while we're away. Wi-fi, or netcafe willing I will be reporting on all the yarn and fibre stores, the bookstore and fleamarket finds plus tell you all what we've been up to. Hopefully with photographs.

Speak to you all soon, from the other side of the pond.