Saturday, April 30, 2011

2011 books, #36-40

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner. London: Gallic Books, 2007.

I loved this. It has a real sense of the 19th century French novel, with people knowing other people and moving in Certain Artistic Circles, and so on. The authors (a pair of sisters who are both bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine) are obviously allied to those people of the time who were fans of Balzac; and horrified by Zola. You get the sense of the huge development in Paris at the time (people are constantly asking other people for directions) and the sense of pride and progress the Tower produces... The detective plot is almost secondary, but also very satisfying... A truly French novel, beautifully translated.

Burn baby burn by Jake Burns. London: HarperCollins, 2010. Kindle edition.

Marcus Green planned the death of his father when he was 6 years old, and was convicted of burning down a house with his teacher and her two children inside it at the age of 13. Now he's out of prison and back in society again, and young girls are disappearing. Donna O'Prey and her boss Dexter, part of a private security firm, are engaged by the latest girl's father to find her. This book started out well but is ultimately a little bit disappointing. It does have an unexpected twist in the tail though, and some engaging characters.

More twisted by Jeffery Deaver. London: Hodder, 2007.

Another volume of very, very good short stories from Deaver. His tendency to pull the rug out from under the reader works just as well, if not better, in the short form, and there are more twists than a corkscrew. There's also a longer story, almost a novella, featuring Lincoln Rhyme in this volume. This really is a masterclass in how the crime short story ought to be written.

Dying to sin by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Read by Graham Padden. Rearsby, Leics: Clipper, 2009.

Another extremely good Stephen Booth Diane Fry/Ben Cooper novel, read by a very good reader. Building work at an isolated farm unearths two bodies, seemingly buried several years apart. A combination of local superstition and the hard realities of migrant labour keep this story flying along; Cooper is almost absent from this one other than as an adjunct to his girlfriend, which is a shame, but there are some good Fry moments. The Peak District, as ever, features large in this story.

The language of bees, by Laurie R. King. London: Allison and Busby, 2010.

A Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery - although these really need to be read in chronological order starting with The beekeeper's apprentice. Set in 1924, this one takes us from a mysteriously self-destructive beehive to peril in ancient stones in Orkney, via the intriguing idea that Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler had a son who is now approaching 30. As ever, the plot rattles along; unlike the previous book, Locked Rooms, there is little psychological analysis, but some fascinating period details regarding new spiritualist religions, and some perspicacious comments on the post-War era. And as ever, I continue to be stunned that the author is from the US and still lives there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

2011 books, #31-35

Sinema: the Northumberland massacre, by Rod Glenn. [S.l.]: Wild Wolf Publishing, 2011. Kindle edition.

A man whose name we never discover decides to commit more murders than anyone in history, and methodically chooses a small Northumberland town near Rothbury. I really didn't like this book. It's gory, certainly; but that's not totally offputting in itself. I think it was the complete moral vacuum in the book. The only thing which makes a story like this at all fascinating is learning why the crime has been committed, and the character himself really doesn't seem to have a reason, so it's ultimately all very pointless. One tiny point compared to the general non-interest of the book, but an irritating one; all brand and pseudo-brand names are italicised and capitalised, so you get Parka-wearing characters carrying SPAR bags containing bottles of Coke.

Sweet little lies, by J T Ellison. Kindle edition.

This is a book of short fiction, some of it extremely short in the flash fiction mould. I'm not completely convinced that flash fiction works for crime (in the way it undoubtedly does for fanfic, sci fi and fantasy), and this hasn't convinced me. There's a really good story in there, Killing Carol Anne, but as this is the story which led me to this book in the first place, it was a bit disappointing. I'll certainly go back and read more of Ellison's full-length novels and longer short fiction, though.

The Goliath bone, by Mickey Spillane with Max Allen Collins [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

This is a Mike Hammer novel constructed from Mickey Spillane's notes and written by his literary executor. Two young archaeologists have discovered an enormous femur in the Valley of Elah, and both the Israelis and Al-Qaeda are interested in acquiring it. Hammer, although well beyond retirement age, and his trusty secretary-fiancée Velda, leap into the investigation. This is an entertaining listen, despite the unlikely premise. I'm not convinced I'd have finished this in book form, but as ever, Jeff Harding's reading is as much fun as the book itself.

Careless in red, by Elizabeth George. London: Hodder, 2009.

When Elizabeth George killed off Helen Lynley I swore off these books, but a couple of people whose opinions I respect persuaded me that this was a return to form, and indeed it is. The Cornish setting is interesting given how urban so many of the Lynley mysteries are, and the interplay between Lynley and Barbara Havers is wonderful. This makes up for the plot itself panning out in a somewhat disappointing way.

The comfort of things, by Daniel Miller. London: Polity, 2008.

This was the April Kniterati book, and a non-fiction choice. Daniel Miller and his assistant/student spent 18 months in a single London street, establishing a relationship with its residents and learning about them through their possessions (or lack of them). Some of the stories, particularly of the single men in the street, are quite heartbreaking; others are gently funny or moving. I did wonder about the conclusions Miller seemed to pick effortlessly out of thin air though - I kept wanting to demand that he show his working. A very interesting book, but it's ultimately as much about Miller as it is about the people he's studying.

2011 books, #26-30

The black ice, by Michael Connolly. London: Orion, 1993.

A Harry Bosch novel I somehow missed reading earlier. A corpse in a hotel room appears to be that of a missing LAPD narcotics officer. Rumours abound that the officer had also been drug-dealing in a drug called black ice, which had been coming over the Californian/Mexican border, and had committed suicide rather than being found out. Harry isn't so sure, and carries out a maverick investigation on both sides of the Mexican border, leading him into a web of police corruption and genuine danger. As ever, tightly plotted and well-written.

Blue heaven, by C J Box. London: Corvus, 2010. Kindle edition.

Two children, William and Annie, go on the run after witnessing a murder carried out by four men. Quickly we realise that the four men are retired police officers from Los Angeles who have retired to their relatively quiet rural backwater (the Blue Heaven of the title), and they infiltrate the search for the two children in order to kill them. As well as being a very suspenseful book set over just 48 hours, it also has time to talk about the plight of ranchers trying to continue to eke out a living in a picturesque area where everyone wants a detached house and a couple of acres of land. Excellent.

Painless, by Derek Ciccone. [S.l.]: Dog Ear Publishing, 2009. Kindle edition.

Billy Harper is trying to rebuild a life and rents a cottage from Beth and Chuck Whitcomb in a small, exclusive town in Connecticut. It soon becomes apparent that their six-year-old daughter Carolyn is very different, and when the family finds out what the problem is they barely have time to absorb the diagnosis before a covert operation called Operation Anasthesia starts hunting Carolyn to exploit her "gifts". There are some very surreal elements to this, and some of it's quite science-fiction-like; it's also genuinely scary in parts. Highly recommended.

Fifth Avenue, by Christopher Smith. Kindle-only edition, 2010.

It's rare that you get a review which compares a novel adversely with a Jeffrey Archer, but this is sort of Kane and Abel revamped for the 21st century, but without any of the whatever-it-is which makes Archer's books bestsellers. A cast of extremely unlikeable mega-rich New Yorkers seem to have nothing better to do than take out contracts on each other while swanning round beautiful settings. I did finish this book, but only because it also has the advantage of not being very long, but it was a close call.

Truth dare kill, by Gordon Ferris. London: Corvus, 2011. Kindle edition.

Danny McRae has just about survived WWII, albeit with severe facial injuries, frequent blackouts and the loss of a couple of years' worth of memories. He's scraping along as a private investigator, having been a detective in Glasgow before the war, when a client asks him to locate the very man who sent him to France as an SOE officer in the first place. Meanwhile, a serial killer is stalking and killing prostitutes in the area, and Danny can't be totally certain that the killer isn't him - only unlocking his memories is likely to solve the dual mysteries. This is a really fast-paced noir novel set in a bomb-ravaged post-war London which is almost an additional character.

2011 books, #21-25

Stone kiss, by Faye Kellerman [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2003.

Another Kellerman I'd read but forgotten most of - this time set in the Orthodox community of New York, where Decker is embroiled in his half-brother's family's troubles - a murder and a missing niece. It rattles along quite well, but ultimately, there's something unconvincing about Decker going it alone in New York rather than letting the NYPD deal with the case, given his attitude when on home turf. Another excellent Jeff Harding reading though.

Sugar and spice, by Saffina Desforges. Kindle edition.

I think this is the first book I've read which is only available in electronic editions, which is interesting; and it's a strange one. Two boys find a severed arm in a canal, which turns out to belong to missing ten-year-old Rebecca Meadows. The usual (paedophile) suspects are rounded up, and one man in particular seems to be a likely candidate. After some somewhat extreme police brutality, he confesses, but his solicitor is convinced he's innocent. Meanwhile, a father who is increasingly concerned about his own fantasies about young girls is seeking help at a specialist clinic. In parts, this reads like an undergraduate abnormal psychology course, but Desforges makes her characters strangely compelling, and it's an interesting exploration of some pretty unpleasant human behaviour which fails to dehumanise most of the characters.

Invisible, by Lorena McCourtney. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Revell, 2004.

Ivy Malone's best friend dies, and she gradually becomes aware that she's all-but-invisible, as a little old lady, to the rest of the world. Rather than giving up and fading away, she decides to use this to her advantage in solving the mysteries of a vandalised graveyard and a missing neighbour. This is a gentle book, very much a "cozy" in US crime novel terms, but it rattles along very entertainingly.

Wading home: a novel of New Orleans, by Rosalyn Story. Chicago, Ill.: Agate, [n.d.]

This was another Kindle special offer, and it's a wonderful book. A young jazz trumpeter, Julian, is playing in Japan when he hears news of Hurricane Katrina, and goes home to New Orleans to find his father who had intended to weather out the storm. Going home means Julian has to confront all the reasons he left in the first place, and also brings him into contact with family and old friends who make him reconsider his life. There's a wonderful cast of characters, and it's a genuinely moving read from start to finish.

B**locks to Alton Towers: uncommonly British days out, by Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris and Joel Morris. London: Penguin, 2006.

This is just a lovely, gently funny, knowing book about the "characteristically British mistrust of ostentation [and] love of the modest, the enthusiastic and the unusual... We also seem to have a disproportionate affection for the barely-buttoned-down insanity of the Victorians... This is the antithesis of one-size-fits-all entertainment". From the Morpeth Bagpipe Museum to the Porteath Bee Centre, the David Beckham Trail to Diggerland, these are attractions mainly staffed by enthusiasts and usually catering to some overwhelming obsession. Throughout, the locations are treated with affection and wit; and you learn a smattering of history along with each entry.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day seven (2KCBWDAY7)

I'd gone to bed nice and early for a change, and then I remembered I hadn't posted today...

Write about your typical crafting time. When it is that you are likely to craft – alone or in more social environments, when watching TV or whilst taking bus journeys.

My typical crafting time these days, because I have a nearly-2-hour-commute each way to work, happens on trains. And it's semi-obsessive. I wouldn't say my commute is ruined if I can't get an aisle seat with my left arm in the aisle, but it's... in modern jargon... compromised...

I have a travelling project, and a knitting-at-group project in my bag; sometimes those are the same thing, but mostly I can concentrate more on a train project than on a talking-to-people project. I listen to podcasts while travelling - probably a subject for another blog post. I carry a nice little SIGG water bottle filled with home-made fizzy squash, and I like this small space at the beginning and the end of the day where nobody talks to me.

About a month ago, a knitter whose train I catch a couple of times a week realised who I was and friended me on Ravelry; and although I used to see her knitting quite regularly before she friended me, somehow I've not managed to get onto the same train carriage again! So, sorry - not at all intentional - talking to another knitter would be lovely!

At home I knit wherever and whenever. It might be propped up next to the cooker waiting for food to sort itself out, it might be standing next to the radio while cricketers decide what's happening. I do have a sort-of-dedicated-chair for knitting but equally I have a chair in front of the PC where I can knit while catching up with Ravelry or Radio 4...

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day six (2KCBWDAY6)

So after yesterday's blip: today's theme:

Is there a pattern or skill that you don’t yet feel ready to tackle but which you hope to (or think you can only dream of) tackling in the future, near or distant? Is there a skill or project that makes your mind boggle at the sheer time, dedication and mastery of the craft? Maybe the skill or pattern is one that you don’t even personally want to make but can stand back and admire those that do. Maybe it is something you think you will never be bothered to actually make bu can admire the result of those that have.

I don' t really understand the idea of feeling "ready to tackle" a skill. In my experience, you see a project which demands that skill, and if you like it enough, you're going to make it. I haven't done much teaching of beginners, but I'd always say "whatever you want to" when they say "what should I make next?". I've seen people working on both-sides lace projects when they've been knitting for less than a year, and people happily cranking out garter-stitch blankets after many years' experience.

Having said that - yes, there are things which make me boggle. There were some fabulous crocheted scarves at the last two years' I Knit Weekender, made by someone with a French name (please, anyone)? in what looked like #8 perle cotton. There was an Irish crochet wedding dress, a photo of which was shown to me on a train, because the husband of the woman who'd made it in the 1970s wanted to take a phone-video of me knitting beads into a shawl using a crochet hook. (The bride had also crocheted bodices for her three bridesmaids; he didn't have pictures of those). Anything at all Debbie New does just alters my brain in strange and subtle ways.

I'm very glad I started knitting when I did, and where I did; there was no notion of what was easy, and what was complicated, because I really didn't know any other knitters, apart from girls my age and one or two of their mums. In some ways, obviously, this made the task harder; but in other ways, there were no boundaries. I've learned more in the last 10 years than I did in the previous 15 about knitting, because of the Internet, but I've also learned that some people think there's a right way, and a wrong way, to do things; and that's not always helpful.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day five (2KCBWDAY5)

Today's challenge:

This is an experimental blogging day to try and push your creativity in blogging to the same level that you perhaps push your creativity in the items you create.

I'm sure that if I'd left home later than 6:45 this morning or got home earlier than 9:35 this evening, I might have had some creativity... I couldn't even knit either way (rare) because I was stuck in a window seat next to one of those Daytripper Important Chaps (sort out the acronym yourselves) who thinks that sitting with his legs wide apart is the way to impress people on commuter trains; different chap, both journeys.

So - I'm just going to blog about the thing I don't normally blog about - work.

Tonight, I went to a leaving do for someone from my previous job. It was for someone I really, really liked while I was working with her, but I was also interested in catching up with people. It was a nice evening, after my initial entrance to complete embarrassed silence other than the few early arrivers who remembered me - it's been well over 3 years since I left ... I remembered why I loved working for the company -some seriously good sarcasm, genuine friendship and general intelligence - and why I left.

I love my current job (today's been a bit trying because it's been a lot like my last job!) but because we're all working in central London and living elsewhere, there really isn't the cameraderie. It's taken me a while to build up people I know and trust as friends; and ironically I had to pass on drinks at work to get to the leaving do in Cambridge...

Not a groundbreaking multimedia post; but at least a post!