Saturday, March 28, 2009

Booky Update

I've been doing a lot of reading this week - I've been back at work for a few days now - and I've finally finished The Given Day by Dennis Lehane which fulfilled all it's early promise and was a really good book with a fascinating storyline and interesting characters, plus as you would expect from Lehane it was very well written. I took my time reading it as I wanted it to last. It's the story of a young policeman, from a family of policemen, in Boston just after the First World War. It's a time of strife in Boston with riots and strikes and much poverty and Lehane weaves a lot of historical detail into the plot. It's just wonderful.

Meantime I've fitted in A Thousand Bones by P J Parrish - a serial killer crime novel in the Northern US - Illinois or Michigan I think it was - almost Canada but not quite. It was one of those books that I picked up on a whim, not expecting anything great. I'd actually picked it up because I thought it was set in Florida, but it turned out that, though it had book-end chapters set in the Sunshine State, all the main action took place Up North. The main protagonist was a rookie female cop, desperate for a chance to do something other than make tea and hold hands. The plot revolved around some bones found by a dog in the woods - did they belong to a particular missing girl or did they come from multiple skeletons? Was there a murderer in that small Northern town or had a hiker got lost and died? I liked it. In addition to being well-plotted and carefully written it posed some interesting ethical questions along the way and didn't solve everything in a trite or obvious way. I'd certainly read another of these.

I moved on to The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett. He'd been on my mental must-read list for a while. Customers in the shop kept raving about him and he's now on his fourth (or fifth?) novel so I thought I'd better try one. The Chemistry of Death is the first one and I have to say that I found it a bit clunky in places. There was a little too much emphasis on the back story of Dr David Hunter - former forensic anthropologist, now humble GP in a little village in Norfolk. There was also a tendency to try and educate the reader just a little too much about all the "Chemistry". It just felt a little heavy-handed in places. Still, it was his first novel and he very nearly had me fooled about the identity of the murderer, I only just cottoned on right at the end, so I'd certainly try another one and see if he managed a slightly lighter touch as he gains in experience.

I've been dipping in and out of Sherlock Holmes in America - an anthology of short stories by leading American writers. As with all of these things there are some that work better than others, but mostly these are pretty good so far. More on this as I get more read.

Just as I finished The Chemistry of Death, what should flop onto my doormat but a review copy of The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin. You may recall that I raved about it's predecessor Mistress of the Art of Death and I've been looking forward to reading this one which is out in paperback next week. Looking around the blogosphere opinion appears to be divided about whether or not it's better than the last one, but all I can say is that I think it's great so far and I've only got a hundred or so pages to go so it's keeping me pretty hooked.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Astrid and other shawls

I promised you all a photo of Astrid, now that she is finished, so here she is in all her glory -

And in greater detail -

The techie bit - this is Astrid from Norah Gaughan Book One, knit in Jaeger Alpaca, unknown shade (from the stash). I love this shawl, which is just the right size to sit around the shoulders and fasten with a pin on one side. I might knit another in a different colour / texture.

Before I do that though, I accidentally cast on and knitted a Simple Yet Effective Shawl - I couldn't help it - they were all over the web tempting me. Here's mine. I don't know what the colourway is but it's in Noro Kureyon Sock Yarn, bought in Florida last year.

And because this turned out to be just the perfect no-brain knitting project, suitable for knitting while watching TV, talking, drinking wine etc, I finished it and went straight out and bought some more Noro to knit another one.

That was on my day out to North Staffordshire yesterday when I visited P2Tog, fine knitting shop near Newcastle-under-Lyme; passed briefly through Newcastle and on to Stoke on Trent where they have a fantastic independent book shop - Webberleys, and a great fabric shop - Abakhan Fabrics and a number of charity shops (which were sadly disappointing in their wares) and a new Starbucks which wasn't there last time I was in Stoke. I came back via Stone for more charity shops but the charity gods were not shining upon me and the pickings were slim.

Today I have a cold and am feeling very rough - hence there has been very little gardening done, which was today's allotted task, and just a little bit of knitting because my head aches and my fingers are stiff. Hopefully I will be feeling better tomorrow. The spare parts for my spinning wheel have finally turned up so I shall try and get it back up and running tomorrow, so I can get a bit of spinning done before the end of the week.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunny Sunday

Don't you just love a spring Sunday when the sun's shining?

For us it meant a trip to a car boot sale, on the way to visit the MIL. Sunny mornings are just made for excellent booty and the good people of Oxford were very obliging with their loot.

Today's little haul is pictured above and comprises a cone of wool/alpaca blend 3ply yarn in a pleasing heathery beige, 25 vintage silvery buttons and a necklace of unidentified black stones strung on black cord.

The books are Practical Knitting Illustrated (undated but published by Odhams in the 1940s) - full of wonderful patterns for everything you could think of and then some more; Pulp Frictions - a collection of hard-boiled detective stories from the likes of Chandler, Hammett and MacDonald, edited by the sadly late Peter Haining; Good Housekeeping Knitting - a pocket guide to over 90 beautiful patterns - and just the right size to slip in a knitting bag for when you're out and about; Depths by Henning Mankell - not a Wallander but a thriller set in 1914; and finally there is Alice Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting Handbook. When you take into account the three pots of herbs and the pile of bamboo stakes for the garden it all adds up to a very successful morning's bargain hunting.

I've finished reading The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, proof kindly supplied by Karen at Eurocrime. I shall be sending her a full review this week but in the meantime let me just tell you that I thought it was great. Fantastic characters, good plot, wonderfully atmospheric setting. It was a great example of just what I was saying in my last post about how I don't mind not being fooled by the plot if the other stuff is good. I had seen the ending coming but I was enjoying the book and the company of the characters so much that I didn't care. Highly recommended.

Astrid is finished. Photos tomorrow (probably) but she's lovely and met with much approval when I wore her to spinning group on Friday.

I'm off work for a few days now so there will be much gardening, housework (yuck!) and probably a trip or two to report.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Canadian Literature and the Miners' Strike

My reading this week has been mainly based in Canada for some reason.

I started off the week with a crime novel - The Calling by Inger Ashe Wolf. A serial killer is crossing Canada preying on the elderly, "helping" those who are already dying. No-one even realises he's doing this until he makes a mistake in the small town where Hazel Micaleff is in charge of the police. I liked the main character in this - she's in her sixties, divorced and living with her elderly mother. This is not a profile that would fit most fictitious detectives. The book was only okay however - the plot was a trifle on the weak side. It seemed obvious to me where the story was heading but I thought that it must be a bluff and there would be a twist at the end. I was disappointed however - the expected twist never came, leaving me with a feeling that I'd been cheated. I know that it's difficult to fool me in a crime novel - I've read so much crime fiction that I can spot a misdirection or a red herring at twenty paces, so I can forgive an author who doesn't quite manage to blindside me provided the plot or the character or the setting is original enough. This, for all it's promising start, original serial killer slant and just-the-other-side-of-middle-aged detective, failed to impress me in the end.

I stuck with Canada however for my next read as I'd got hold of a proof of the first novel by a Canadian writer called Shandie Mitchell. Under This Unbroken Sky is about a family homesteading on the prairies in the 1930s, about children learning how tough life is, about how some people can take the strain of that kind of life and some can't. It's a wonderful novel. It's not due for publication here until August but I can heartily recommend it.

For a bit of a change, because I had been meaning to read it for quite a while, and because this week was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the miners' strike, I started GB84 by David Peace. It's typical Peace style - much jumping around between characters, different fonts, etc etc. It's harsh on the police, on the NCB, the government, Special Branch and the unions. I'm not finished it yet, I'm just about to hit the Battle of Orgreave, so there's a long way to go and Peace is just getting warmed up. I wonder if he ever gets the urge to write something fluffy.

Back to Canada then in the meantime for a bit of respite from at that eighties angst and violence. Three Day Road is set just after the end of the First World War. Niska, the last Canadian Medicine woman to live off the land, collects her badly injured and morphine-addicted nephew from the train which has brought him back from the Great War. It's a three day journey by kayak to get him home. I'm thinking I'm going to like this one just as much as I liked Through Black Spruce.

I've finally finished knitting all those circles for Astrid. Here are the final ones blocking, flanked by the pile of ready-blocked circles.

Now I just have to lay them out in the right order and stitch them together - all 52 of them!

I was slightly distracted mid-week by the sudden urge to knit a Simple Yet Effective shawl (Ravelry link). I blame my fellow bloggers for my failing - you know who you are.

The shawl requires a ball of Noro Kureyon Sock Yarn - well, there just happened to be one in my possession, though I had started to knit those Hypnosis socks with it. Gribbit. They were soon frogged and the shawl started. It's perfect TV knitting so this week it has been the accompaniment to Red Riding on CH4, to almost a whole series of the Sopranos on DVD and this morning to the final part of Being Human. So much great TV drama, so little time. Better get some more Noro sock yarn!