Monday, August 30, 2010

Knit Camp 4: More Skirling in Stirling

So, I left you with the pipers rehearsing outside the Castle. The weather had cleared quite a bit since I set off, and the landscape was beautiful. The tower on the left of this picture is the Wallace Monument; I believe that means the University is just the other side of the wooded hill (but never trust me on anything geographical)...

The castle is a strange, eclectic mix of styles, and I didn't seem to take many photos. The audio guide was good, but maybe a little ponderous, in the style of Imagine this courtyard in the year 1756... followed by a lot of reproduction sounds of bulls lowing, carriages clopping, people throwing barrels from carts, etc. etc. I'm not a great fan of audio guides in general but had been round Buckingham Palace, where the guide was pretty superb, the week before so gave it a go.

Anyway; this is the Chapel Royal, built for the baptism of Prince Henry, son of James VI, in 1594. The wall paintings were restored in the 20th century after the Chapel had been used to garrison soldiers for many years.

There's also a tapestry project going on, with a fascinating studio in the castle buildings - some of the completed tapestries are shown in the next two photos.

And then once I'd been round the castle, there were those Rob Roy people again; this time in full dress with hats etc. They had a large and enthusiastic audience on the various balconies and around the walls.

And there were dancers, 13 of them in this case (note the dancer racing up the middle!)

It was all rather marvellous. And just as I thought the fun was over and they'd taken their bow, the pipes got louder again, and they marched out of the castle in formation.

Fabulous. (Preparing this post over the last couple of days reminded me to go over to their website and say thanks - got a lovely reply back, with the news they'd come 6th in the world pipe band competition on August 16th, so all that practice evidently paid off...)

And just at that point I bumped into Julia (aka Sulkycat, maker of wonderful knitting project bags, etc.); and she'd bumped into some other people, and in the end we had 7 knitters squeezed around the table at the pub at lunchtime with a very entertaining waiter. I think we were from 5 different countries and almost as many nationalities... And that was definitely one of the best things about the week - so many people from different places with different experiences.

We all scattered in different directions afterwards, and I went to look at a very interesting graveyard monument I'd noticed on the way up the hill. I've never seen one quite like this before!

Or an inscription like this:

Thankfully there was an information plaque next to it which read Statues of heroes of the Scottish Presbyterian Reformation, set up when the cemetery was opened, were part of the educational and 'improving' atmosphere of Victorian Stirling... These enclosed figures represent the traditional story of Margaret Wilson who, aged 18, was executed by drowning in the Solway Firth for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith. She had no connection with Stirling. The monument avoids the horror of her death and presents a more sentimental Victorian idealisation of women.

So now you know. Strange, the sort of things the Victorians found edifying, really.

And a quick picture from the end of the visit, from a bar which used to be the old Post Office: amazing beer-glass light fitting...

Next up: outings to New Lanark and Loch Katrine...

2010 books, #56-60

A river in the sky, by Elizabeth Peters. London: Robinson, 2010.

I've read all the books in this series, the last few shortly after they came out, and although they're always well-written and funny, the last couple have been somewhat... staid, as the characters become older and more sensible. So I was absolutely delighted to find that this new one is set in the pre-war period of irresponsibility and derring-do. I think this is the narrative of an event which is mentioned in the subsequent The falcon at the portal. Set in Palestine in 1910, this is absolutely classic Peabody, but also has a very healthy proportion of extracts from "Manuscript H", the Ramses-centric narrative. Lots of captures and rescues, disguises, mysterious strangers and German spies; both Peabody's little pistol and parasol/sword-stick come into play. A wonderful return to form.

Whistling for the elephants, by Sandi Toksvig. London: Sphere, 2002.

This was a de-acquisitioned library book I acquired last summer but hadn't got round to reading; it was my Stirling book. Eleven year old Dorothy Kane moves to upstate New York with her upper-class English parents, and moves from childhood to adolescence in the company of an extraordinary band of people and animals living in a dilapidated zoo. It's almost Swallows and Amazons as written by Isabel Allende, but with Toksvig's absurdist sense of humour thrown in. And it's wonderfully moving; I made a bit of an idiot of myself by weeping while reading the final couple of chapters over a glass of wine in St Pancras Station before the last leg of my journey home. This is one I'll remember for a long time.

Dead cert, by Dick Francis [audiobook]. Read by Tony Britton. Bath, BBC Audiobooks, 2010.

A re-release of the audiobook - I first read this one as a teenager and heard Tony Britton's wonderfully spare reading of it about 15 years ago. One of my favourite Francis books even though by now I know what's going to happen. It's weird that the racing element of it hasn't dated at all, but social attitudes in 1962, when this was written, have obviously changed a great deal. It turns out this was his first book - I now have an urge to go through and listen to the others again in order...

Trust me, I'm a (junior) doctor, by Max Pemberton. London: Hodder, 2008.

Based on the author's own experience as a brand-new doctor completing his junior year. It veers between the hilarious, the tragic, the completely absurd, the absurdly moving and conveys the sheer bone-crushing exhaustion of the hundred-hour week. Pemberton is always compassionate in his descriptions of patients, even when they're being completely unreasonable, and there are some wonderful touching moments alongside some genuinely ridiculous ones. Probably not one to read while in, or preparing to go into, hospital...

Awakening, by S. J. Bolton [audiobook]. Read by Alison Reid. Bath: Chivers/BBC Audiobooks, 2010.

Another one well up to the standard Bolton set herself in Sacrifice, this time set in Dorset and featuring a vet as the main character. Someone is terrorising the local village with venomous snakes, and the story behind them goes back into history... The main protagonist Clara Benning is a strange character; we find out towards the beginning of the book that she has a facial disfigurement which has turned her into a virtual recluse, but we don't find out the circumstances until very near the end. The title is apt; things are awakened from the past life of the village, but it's also a transformative time for Clara. Not one to read if you have an instinctive dislike or fear of snakes, though!

(And because I can't help myself, I'm going to have a quick whinge about Chivers/BBC Audiobooks and their newly non-removable inlay sheets on the covers; wherever you put the date label and barcode on a CD, it's going to obscure something or other, and being able to manoeuvre the information sheet gingerly out of the top of the box used to really help! In this case all the publishing and copyright information were obscured...)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Knit Camp 3: If it's Tuesday, this must be Stirling

Making heavy weather of this - another photo-heavy post which makes Blogger/Flickr unhappy...

So, on the Tuesday morning, after an emergency meeting of camp participants at the somewhat unearthly hour of 07:35, supposedly in the (closed) dining hall and then upstairs in the atrium, I queued to make another change to my class schedule (the seventh, I think!), grabbed some breakfast, found the office for a computer password and the computer lab to check e-mail, and decided to head out to Stirling for my day's sightseeing, as I didn't have a class because my tutor was still in California... I'd originally planned to go on Saturday, but needs must and all that! Flexibility was definitely required for the entire week.

It was absolutely horrible weather as I set off - torrential rain - but by the time I got to the city centre it was merely drizzly and overcast. It seemed that the way to the Sights was uphill, so up I went.

Don't know what this building was, (shops now, but I can't work out whether it was a civic building or a church) although it has the first of several memorials to William Wallace. (I've never seen Braveheart; my main interest in Wallace is that he's someone whose trial, and condemnation to death, in Westminster Hall is recorded by a plaque on the floor I walk past a couple of times a week!)

I was walking this way with a purpose though - two lovely local ladies who came to the first-night party and dinner had pointed me towards... yup; a yarn shop. Not just any yarn shop, either...

McAree Brothers' mail order is something I've used often, but I hadn't realised that their main shop was in Stirling. It was brilliant to go in there. The range is fabulous, and they were really looking forward to carrying Debbie Stoller's range of new yarns. One of the people working there was being really enthusiastic about Camp and was talking about it to the customers and advertising the weekend marketplace. It turns out that this was Carol Meldrum, author of the wonderful Knitted Icons book among others; but I didn't realise that at the time! Lace yarn was bought, along with some bonus acrylic for Helen for a class we'd both transferred onto at short notice...

Fittingly, just up the road is an almshouse endowed by a tailor - loved the scissors on the sign.

And this, believe it or not, just down the hill from the Castle, is Stirling Youth Hostel. (Follow the link for a nice slideshow of pictures of the area.)

And I thought the one at Haworth was fancy...

Another nice sign - joint cadets and Scout headquarters...

Next up the hill was the Church of the Holy Rude... Beautiful, rather austere church with a fabulous history. Remarkable both for the number of volunteers helping tourists, and the number of languages their information sheets were in (probably 40 or so!)

Beautiful 19th century stained glass...

And equally beautiful 20th century glass. This is the Guildry Window . The river running through the lower panels is the Forth

On up to Stirling Castle. On the lawns in front was the first sight of the Rob Roy Pipe Band and Highland Dancers from Kingston, Ontario.

I'm not normally a great fan of the Highland pipes, because I'm usually coming across a lone piper in a shopping centre or other confined space, out of context. But these guys were amazing...

Turns out they were rehearsing for a concert in the Castle Gardens a little later, after their appearance at the Bridge of Allan Highland Games.

Stirling continued in the next post - I had too many photos! As you can tell, though, the weather (and my mood) gradually improved as I headed up the hill...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Knit Camp 2: the Classes

A little bit of description of the classes I took, as I've finally got down to the bottom of my suitcase, and disentangled this mass of little samples etc. Each tutor had a slightly different approach to teaching and the available technology, and it was really interesting to observe.

(I'm trying a different way of uploading photos today as Flickr's new interface is driving me berserk! You should be able to click on the pictures and then choose a different size when you get to Flickr if you want to view more detail...)

ETA OK, it's really ugly for landscape photos. Back to the drawing board but I'm leaving this post the way it is...


Wednesday morning: Double knitting in the round with Lucy Neatby

This was one I'd swapped onto at the last minute (on Tuesday morning) because rearrangement meant I was double-booked on Thursday afternoon with both Nancy Bush and Annie Modesitt. There was an irony in this as they were the last two of my original choices, but by this point... Anyway, scanning the list, it turned out that Lucy Neatby was also teaching double knitting, this time in the round; and it was a wonderful class. (I suspect this could also have been called "double knitting, backwards in high heels")


Here are the little samples - the two-coloured one is a mixture of techniques. We covered "simple" double-knitting in the round - the sort where you have two tubes, one inside the other - and then patterned double-knitting - the sort which is a single, double-thickness fabric in different colours (so you could make lined mittens or socks). The smaller sample at the top is a marvel - a way of knitting in the round but also making a pocket as you go. I'm going to start this again in sock-weight to make an iPod sock with a full-length pocket for the headphones...

Lucy had loads of samples of her own double knitting work, including some wonderful socks with padded soles, and the Bubbles scarf. Most of her teaching was done by demonstrating in front of the class but she also used judicious clips from her DVD on the subject, with the sound turned down and her own commentary over the top, which gave a very good guide to holding the yarns in different ways. She also just flung millions of ideas of how you could use a particular bit of the technique which I was scribbling down as fast as I could - such an amazingly inventive mind.

I've been downloading and printing double knitting patterns ever since I got home; definitely something I'm going to be doing in future.

Thursday morning: Planning your Aran with Jared Flood

Unlike the previous day's class (which had a bit of homework so we'd brought our own yarn), this time the yarn was meant to be provided by the organisers; which sort-of-inevitably meant that there was uncertainty for the first 20 minutes until the "classroom assistant"(a fellow student) fetched enough for everyone. As Jared explained, the tutors were "going with the flow", presumably to save their own sanity! He was certainly very well-organised and we started as soon as we could on a simple cabled sample, with the idea of steeking and cutting it by the end of the class. We learned cabling without a cable needle (the same method I learned from Gwen last year, so that was nice confirmation that I was still doing it properly).

The second section was much more about design; lots of very helpful stuff about how cabled fabric behaves in relation to stockinette/stocking-stitch and how much more ease is required; and some good percentages in terms of yardage and no. of stitches to cast on. We had a look at allocating the different stitches and what sort of "breaks" you might put between them as design features. Jared drew lots of diagrams on the whiteboard to help illustrate the sort of calculation you might make. He also talked about swatching proportionally and showed some of his own swatches as well as a finished cardigan I remember seeing on his blog a couple of years back.

In the third bit, we looked at steeking; in this case a crocheted (double crochet (UK)/single crochet (US)) steek right up against the edge we were going to cut. My crocheting is.... well; let's say less than stellar; but I did manage it, and I was fairly chuffed with myself. And there's no sign of the steek falling apart.


I'm slightly dubious about the idea of steeking Arans - I like the fact that there's a wrong side and a right side for counting rows between cables and quite often go wrong on cabled socks, and I think you possibly need seams because of the weight of the garment. But having said that, Jared's sample garment was absolutely beautiful, and more lightweight than a lot of Arans I've made, so I might well try it. And learning this method of reinforcing steeks, as opposed to Alice Starmore's "cut now, and tidy up later" method, was really interesting. We also got some very good advice on how many stitches to pick up for button bands in rib/garter stitch etc.

Another great class, with a tutor with a lovely sense of humour - I suspect that was much required during the week...

Thursday afternoon: Nordic Color with Nancy Bush

The technique we were using is called Roositud, which is an Estonian inlay technique where you carry colours across the face of the work without having to carry them all the way round the circumference (there's a really clever trick for even rows). The yarns I'd brought were a bit eye-poppingly bright, but happily so were a couple of the samples Nancy had brought. She'd designed a little sachet pattern for us - I'm about a third of the way through it at the moment.


We started with a double-stranded long-tail cast-on. Anyone reading this who has heard me whining about this in real life knows that long-tail cast-on is about the only thing in knitting which regularly defeats me, and I was actually feeling very flustered as she demonstrated this one, which had not only the usual manoeuvre I find very difficult but also a reverse version for alternate stitches. I had genuine visions of attempting to cast on for the entire 3 hours. (It did take me 4 hours to cast on 64 stitches for a sock once).

However, something miraculous happened and it just clicked in this class; I got the 42 stitches onto my needles and I wasn't even last to finish! I'll have to try it again and see whether something in my head has now finally got it.

Once we'd got the technique (there are two or three things a couple of us couldn't work out to start with, which were blindingly obvious when explained) it was a matter of practice; so while we were knitting away Nancy told us all about knitting in Estonia, and her experiences of travelling in that country. She also talked a bit about her involvement as the editor of the English version of the Haapsalu shawl book we've been raving about at I Knit recently. Fascinating.

My sample is a bit clumsy but I will finish it (not only because I'm stubborn and tenacious, but also because I can say that I have 6 stitches in it which were knitted by Nancy Bush - she used my piece to demonstrate but had to pick most of it out so I could try it myself) - I could see this working much better on the scale the Estonians use it at, on socks and gloves. Disappointingly, as it's the first time I've worked with it, the Biggam yarn (yellow) felt more like an acrylic than the pure merino it actually is. Maybe it's just the colour association...

Friday morning: Triangular Shawl Workshop with Elizabeth Lovick

This was a changed class, originally to be with Miriam Felton who has a pretty modern take on shawls I love; but nonetheless I really enjoyed it because again, it was a real expert teaching us about traditional Shetland shawls. Liz talked us through all sorts of triangles, tesselating them and showing on a PowerPoint presentation how different knitted samples fit together, before talking us through a number of differently shaped shawls she'd designed and made, all based on triangles. In the second part of the class we could either start to design our own based on a template she handed out, or for those who were less experienced with lace, start to knit one according to a pattern. I opted for the first possibility, and now have a chart produced for a shawl.


(I think, however, I've made a mistake on the left-hand side so am about to rip back and possibly start again on slightly smaller needles).

One excellent thing I hadn't seen/heard of before was that Liz had made a CD of her presentation, the notes and templates for us to take away; I'm sure that'll see a lot of use and it was a great idea.

Saturday: Whip Your Knits into Shape with Joan McGowan Michael

This was a class I was particularly looking forward to due to my rather hard-to-fit figure; it was meant to be happening on the Tuesday but Joan very sensibly stayed in California until the whole paperwork situation was resolved, and agreed to teach it on Saturday instead. And it was excellent.

We started off by measuring each other in pairs. And I'm not talking about just doing a quick bust, waist and hip measurement here. All told, we took something like 27 measurements. The slightly hilarious thing was that to get the measurements accurately placed, we wrapped each other in masking tape at the appropriate points. (Joan had brought a full-sized polystyrene torso, pre-taped, in her suitcase. I have no idea what that looks like on an airport X-ray. Apparently she keeps her shoes in it, in transit...) There's a modicum of embarrassment in probing a relative stranger's chest to see where the top of her breasts are, but we got over that quite quickly! Joan was circulating to check that we were putting tape in the appropriate places, and then we got onto doing stuff with tape measures...

At the end of the morning and in the afternoon, we then plotted all the figures onto brown paper (which was, miraculously, provided as promised- it wasn't there at the beginning of the class but had arrived before it was needed) to make a dressmaker's type paper pattern of our measurements. This isn't a good photo but gives you an idea. The template for the back is on top, with the one for the front underneath.


Some of the results were fascinating compared to what I'd have expected - I knew my front was an awful lot bigger than my back, but hadn't really fully considered what that meant for armhole shaping, for instance; and I've now got a good idea where I'd start short-rowing to create more fulness to get the 5" extra I need so the hemline of a garment is in the same place all the way round! Really excellent class.

Aware that Marketplace was also going on on Saturday, and one or two participants hadn't had a chance to get over there yet due to rearranged classes on Friday, we sat down at the beginning and ran through the content of the class; there weren't too many of us for Joan to check measurements, and we were all happy to halve the the lunchbreak, and everyone was happy with the knitting aspects of short rowing which was meant to be the practical part, and really just wanted to do the design elements, so in the end we finished mid-afternoon and were able to do a little more light shopping too.

General impressions

Overall; I loved the degree of flexibility the tutors were able to show (and their grace under pressure); all the ones I had were supremely well-organised and extraordinarily well-versed in their subjects. And they were also happy to answer random questions at the end or in quiet moments about other topics they were knowledgeable about, aware that not everyone could take every class. (Somewhere I got the tip that you pick up as many stitches around an armhole when steeking as feels comfortable at the time, and then decrease down to the stated number in the next row; I'm not sure which tutor that came from though!)

I'm not someone who thinks of herself as a fangirl when it comes to knitting; I picked the tutors whose work I liked, and who were known for good technical or design skills. But having taken classes, yes, I am pretty fangirlish about all of them, and will be following their future work with much more interest in future.

My fellow students were also a really knowledgeable, friendly, attentive, good-natured bunch. I didn't have a single person in any of my classes who wanted to prove that they knew more than the tutor or the others in the class, or engaged in side-conversations when the tutor was doing a whole-class part of the instruction. I haven't been to many knitting classes (my formal class experience is more with experimental textiles in general), but I've usually found that I'm pretty quick and waiting for the next set of instructions (unless I'm being taught long-tail cast-on!); in Tour de France terms though, I was definitely in there with the peloton this week, which was just excellent.

Quite aside from the classes, there was also a lot of "informal learning" going on. I was making a shawlette with crochet-hook beading and showed at least a dozen people how to do this over breakfast or in the bar in the evening, and I was shown at least one new cast-off and watched lots of variants of knitting style. It seemed perfectly fine just to wander over to someone doing something you hadn't seen before and just stare at their hands for a while - well, everyone I asked if that was OK was perfectly fine with it and really friendly, anyway!

(Oh, and in general "informal learning", the Brits in the Saturday class were complimented on the effectiveness of their undergarments, and chanted "Bravissimo", more or less en masse... According to one of Joan's Ravelry posts, Shopping Was Done before she returned home...)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Knit Camp 1: the Knitters

So - after a huge hiatus with only book reviews on the blog, I'm back from Knit Camp in Stirling, with photos. Not as many photos as a really conscientious blogger would take, but actually there was sort of a convention that taking pictures in classes was probably not that sociable, so I didn't have my camera with me at all times.

Lots has been said on Ravelry about Knit Camp; and while there's been a lot of wild speculation in some corners, a lot of the tales of chaos were undoubtedly true, most obviously and spectacularly the failure to obtain work permits for the non-EU tutors before they arrived, which led to one tutor being returned unceremoniously to the States and one speaker/author spending an unscheduled few days with family in the Netherlands.

Having had many changes and cancellations before I set off, on the Monday I found myself travelling up to Stirling with no notion of whether I'd have any classes at all before Friday when I had my one UK tutor. I was not, let's say, in the best frame of mind, and my packing suffered as a result! However, when we got there we found that although the seven affected tutors wouldn't be able to teach on Tuesday, things should be straight again on Wednesday, and total disaster was averted...

There was a lot of disorganisation; things were definitely skin-of-the-teeth close in terms of yarn arriving half an hour into classes in the nick of time for being used, tutors not having enough copies of handouts because of last-minute rearrangements, some participants (including me) never getting hold of a copy of the revised running order, etc.

The tutors themselves, however, whether they'd been affected by the immigration situation or not, squared their shoulders, picked up their needles and just got on with it, despite on very many occasions not being sure how many students they should have in their class even at start time.

And really: I had a very, very good week. It wasn't at all the week I expected when I booked, but I did uniformly superb classes with some very professional tutors at the top of their game, and enjoyed the outings, trips, knitting and nattering, and the marketplace. I'll do some posts on Stirling, Loch Katrine, New Lanark and the campus later.

Here though, just some general pictures of the best thing about the event: the Knitters. Like the tutors, the Knitters just picked up their pointy sticks and got on with it. There were two alternative slogans I'd heard for this - the first was Elizabeth Zimmermann's "Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises"; the second was a Rav post just before I left on Monday morning, the more prosaic "If it all goes tits up, we'll be down the pub". Either could have made T-shirts for the week, honestly. Maybe you could have had one slogan on the front and one on the back.

So: I present to you (click to embiggen)...

There were knitters in Clapotis. Many, many knitters in Clapotis. About 150, at a rough estimate and based on the numbers for the event. Never have so many Clapotis been seen in one place... There was also a yarn swap...

There were knitters in pub quiz teams. We (the Sinisters) came second, and won a costume prize for Kath's wonderful T-shirts (we were, needless to say, the left-handers' team). Left to right (Ravelry names in brackets afterwards):

Gretchen (gretchenroth), Rosie (MrsMaddog), Lucy (cardifflucy), Jane (JaneKAL), Kath (Kathj), Ann (AnnKingstone) and me (greensideknits).

There were knitters at World Heritage Sites....

... knitters messing about on or near boats (yes, that's Norah Gaughan in the foreground)...

... knitters at breakfast...

... and more knitters at breakfast... the number of handmade garments, shawls etc. was inspiring!

There were knitters at Marketplace (this is as it was closing down on Friday night, when I could get an unencumbered shot!)...

... including new stallholders Abstract Cat Crafts (who got all that lot to Stirling from Bathgate on public transport)
and The Sulky Cat (ditto, but from Leeds). More from both when I do my stash roundup in a few days' time!

There were old friends. Ellen (Ravelry name unknown) was there - I think we last bumped into each other at an I Knit event a couple of years ago, but we know each other from SkipNorth and its predecessor event in 2004! I also sat next to the lady on the left on the way to Loch Katrine, but have completely forgotten her name. Apologies; you probably won't be reading this but hope you had a good time in Glasgow.

Also from SkipNorth, the lovely Isabella aka spinningfishwife who I see has just blogged the Marketplace - she's local and was here for the day. Sorry it's such a rotten photo - I was wandering around with my camera round my neck and had managed to knock the focus from Auto to Manual and not notice...

And for the trifecta, the inimitable Woolly Wormhead, Hat designer extraordinaire and all-round good egg. Here, she's desperately trying to scoff a salad between her morning teaching and her afternoon marketplace duty. A nice person obviously wouldn't have pointed a camera at her at that point, but I'm me, and it had to be done...
... and here she is somewhate later, trying on an amazing mediaeval hat/scarf/cowl/headwear thing belonging to the couple from The Mulberry Dyer.

There were new friends too - Kel (tootsie2121) and Nic (talesfromthe plain) attempt, and record, Portuguese knitting with a knitting brooch

Barbara (babalor) reads while waiting for her coach onward to Shetland. Barbara and I had an International Snack Exchange going which turned, as these things do, into an International Yarn Exchange as well.

Here are the snacks - I've been wondering about Triscuits since they turned up on the 5th episode of The West Wing and they are very delicious, it turns out - halfway between cream crackers and salty Shredded Wheat... Underneath my room key there are also two little boxes of chocolate sprinkles from the Netherlands...
Because of my room number and the Triscuits, I mentally named this picture Triscuitdekaphobia. (Sorry).

More Shetland knitters - on the left is Jude (meherbie) and on the right Lydia (lydiajensen), and I know the lady to the left of Lydia is her sister Trudy, but after that I get a bit lost...

Anyway, yes. Thanks to the knitters and spinners and designers and tutors and all-round good people who were there this week. It was brilliant to meet you and I'm sorry I didn't take more photos.
More posts coming soon.

Friday, August 06, 2010

2010 books, #51-55

Trouble, by Jesse Kellerman. London: Sphere, 2008.

When medical student Jonah Stem goes to the rescue of a young woman who is being stabbed and causes the death of her assailant, he thinks his worst problem is avoiding a murder charge; until the victim, Eve Gones, visits him and they begin a sexual relationship. Gradually Jonah realises that Eve is not what she seems, and the depth of the trouble he's now in. This is a genuinely terrifying read at times, tightly plotted and unputdownable; and very different from the excellent books written by both Kellerman's parents.

The girl who kicked the hornets' nest, by Stieg Larsson [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2009.

A brilliant finish to an excellent trilogy; these books really do deserve the hype they've had over the last couple of years. The characters of Salander and Blomqvist (spelling? Having listened to all of them on audio, I'm a bit shaky on how everything's spelled) continue to be absolutely consistent and it's the audio equivalent of a page-turner - the 21 cassettes only took about 5 days and I was carrying a cassette player around with me throughout!

A blow to the heart, by Marcel Theroux. London: Faber and Faber, 2006.

I found this remaindered recently, which presumably implies it didn't sell very well; which is a shame because it's a cracking book, despite having a huge amount of boxing content, which would normally put me off. 32-year old Daisy's husband is murdered by a stranger in the street and a young man convicted; three years later she meets the killer again after his release and finds herself haunted by a need for revenge. Parts of this book are quite shocking because Daisy transgresses so many of the norms of acceptable behaviour, but she never completely loses her humanity or capacity for empathy. The supporting characters are interesting (and in one case genuinely frightening) and well-written and it's a real page-turner. The other reason I picked this up was because I was an exact contemporary of Marcel's at college, and I'd read one of his other books, A stranger in the earth, a few years ago and enjoyed it.

The arms maker of Berlin, by Dan Fesperman [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

I suspect that if this hadn't been read by Jeff Harding, I mightn't have carried on with it - it's pretty slow to get going, and I'm not really that much of a fan of spy thrillers. I think I'll probably crib some of the blurb from the box...

At 1am in a deserted Pennsylvania library, Nat Turnbull's cell phone rings. His former mentor Professor Gordon Wolfe has been arrested by the FBI for stealing top secret archive documents dating back to the Second World War.
Coerced by the FBI into examining the archives for them, Nat finds intriguing references both to Wolfe's curious activities in an Allied intelligence office in Switzerland during the war and to a mysterious student resistance group in Berlin known as the White Rose.
Following Wolfe's cryptic clues to Europe, Nat uncovers a wartime story of love and betrayal which is reaching out from the past to destroy the present. Now Nat is in a desperate race to unlock the truth before those who will kill to stop the secret getting out.

Despite this exciting summary, it does lag at several points and there are a couple of apparent holes in the plot; but it was an interesting enough listen during the Tour de Fleece.

Death, destruction and a packet of peanuts: a rollicking pub crawl through four years of the English Civil War, by Chris Pascoe. London: Portico, 2009.

Another remaindered one... One man's year-long quest to visit the battlefields of the English Civil War, and also all the nearby major battlefield pubs. Accompanied by his friend-cum-worst-enemy, the perpetually inebriated or hung-over Pete, call-centre employee Chris visits the Civil War sites chronologically, frequently disappointed by the lack of signage, monuments and real ales. Half John-O'Farrell-style history, half Tony-Hawks-style insane-challenge narrative; extremely funny and I know a lot more about the Civil War having read it... Pascoe is obviously a total Civil War nerd of long-standing, but able to laugh at himself for his own obsession.