Monday, August 29, 2011

G is for... Gothenburg; or Knit Nation Part the First

So... it's been a while since I posted anything but book reviews. Which is not to say knitting, travelling, spinning, working, etc. etc. hasn't happened; but somehow there just hasn't been time to note anything down.

However; after the recent trouble and violence in London, I thought I'd bring you some of the wonderful London weekend which was Knit Nation 2011. For me, the weekend started on the Thursday evening, with a trip to the National Portrait Gallery, a meal at Rossopomodoro and most importantly a chance to introduce two friends, who previously knew each other online but hadn't met. Franklin and Gavin are both knitters and leading lights of the Archers group on Ravelry. (That's a packet of Duchy Originals shortbread with them; you had to be listening to the Archers in January or February, otherwise it's a long and pointless story)...

After an even earlier start than usual on the Friday morning, I got to the reception desk with SarahAbroad and signed up for all my classes. All very smooth and efficient - thanks, Jaq!

The first full-day class was the Gothenburg connection - Bohus Stickning, with Susanna Hansson who was a superb teacher. Bohuslan, the area where the knitting was done, is north of Gothenburg. What I liked was that the focus was very much on the social justice element of the Bohus project, and also the emphasis that this is not folk knitting, but a completely new style of couture knitting which was intended to compete with the likes of Ralph Lauren and Nina Ricci in the post-war period. Garments commanded very high prices, and knitters were paid enough that in some families, the balance of financial power was shifted from the man to the woman of the household which caused some contention.

Meanwhile, while listening and looking at slides, we started knitting wristlets in the Blue Shimmer pattern. The yarn is lovely to work with - you could really feel the angora content and it was incredibly warm.

In the second half of the day, Susannah spread out the wonderful collection of Bohus garments she'd brought with her, and we all looked, touched (with gloves, of course!) and photographed. What I love is both the colour combinations, and the way these interact with the texture in Bohus (which includes purl stitches on the front of the work, unusual for colourwork), and the gently felting angora content, to produce a wonderful blur of colour...

Susannah explained the construction (no steeks, seamed, cardigans worked back and forth in 20th century style, not the traditional cut-and-edge style in Fair Isle knitting, small couture-type buttons).

We had a show and tell at the end - lots of wristlets. Mine are destined to become the cuffs for a pair of gloves, probably fingerless. One was completed later that day, the other is underway again after a bit of a break for other projects!

One of the best things about the charity Bingo night on the Saturday is that one of my classmates won a fabulous Bohus kit, which was a fabulous coincidence given the numbers of people playing on the evening - congratulations, Elaine!!

More from Knit Nation, Fibre-East and another event soon - I'm on holiday this week so may have more time to sort out photos...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 books, #66-70

The Blackstone key, by Rose Melikan [audiobook]. Read by Jane Collinwood. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2008.

In 1795, Mary Finch sets off from Cambridge to the Suffolk coast to visit her wealthy uncle and end a family estrangement. However on the way she encounters a man dying after a coach accident who is carrying a watch very similar to one she inherited from her father, and with her uncle's initials. On arriving at White Ladies, the uncle's estate, she finds her uncle has died. The plot turns to intrigue, the Napoleonic wars, contraband and espionage, and rattles along very nicely. I'm not a great fan of historical novels, but this one doesn't overdo the period details while making it clear that this is a very different world.

Body work, by Sara Paretsky. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2010.

Another extremely good VI Warshawski novel. I like the way Paretsky is allowing VI to age naturally - although her instincts are still to go and tackle the bad guys, she's also extremely aware she's not in her thirties any more! This time she also has a grown-up niece to contend with, and a client accused of murdering a young woman outside a nightclub. There's also a strange elusive character called the Body Artist who performs naked onstage and allows people to paint her (possibly the least convincing part of the setup, but vital for the dénouement). Despite the unlikeliness of one or two elements of the plot, Paretsky's writing makes this very difficult to put down.

The Oxford murders, by Guillermo Martínez. New York: Penguin, 2006.

This was a present from a friend in Toronto; a quick, fascinating read. A visiting Argentine postgraduate mathematician finds his landlady murdered in her Oxford living room - the landlady is a former Bletchley Park employee, and a note sent to one of her friends, also a mathematician, indicates that this is the first death in a series. There are some good twists and turns along the way, and some very surprising reversals towards the end, which make this a little gem of a novel.

Bones of betrayal, by Jefferson Bass. London: Quercus, 2009.

A new-to-me author although I've seen these on the shelves in libraries a few times, and will have to see what we have in the village library. In fact, not a single author - it seems that the books are largely written by Jon Jefferson but from information provided by Dr Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist who runs a facility called the Body Farm depicted in the novels, where studies in decomposition are carried out. In this book, the body of an elderly nuclear scientist is found in a frozen pond; the cause of death, a pellet of iridium-192 found in his gut, puts everyone in the autopsy room in danger of death and makes the pathologist carrying out the autopsy critically ill. Trying to discover how and why the scientist was murdered leads to another body, and into the history of the Manhattan Project and the Oak Ridge Nuclear Laboratory, along with discussion of the ethics of nuclear bomb research. Very well written, and the subject matter is fascinating; you do care very much about the characters by the end, too.

The bone thief, by Jefferson Bass. London: Quercus, 2010.

The previous book was one with the first chapter or two of the next book at the back, so as this was a two-pack of books (thanks, Wibbo! I'll bring them down when I next see you!) I went straight on with it; particularly as one of the more important human-interest elements of the previous book was left in limbo! This one takes up six weeks later when the characters are still dealing with the damage caused by the radiation leak. However, a routine job - the exhumation of a body to obtain a DNA sample for a paternity suit - turns into a mystery when it appears that the body's limbs have all been removed prior to death. Later, a woman dies of a virulent infection when she is given a piece of contaminated bone in a spinal fusion operation. Brockton is recruited by the FBI to investigate the world of black market body parts, and put in touch with sleazy Ray Sinclair. Meanwhile Glen Faust, R&D director of a medical technology company, is also interested in the Body Farm's work, donating a CT scanner and research funding. Because of the secrecy involved, Brockton can tell nobody, and realises he is risking his professional career, the respect of his colleagues, and perhaps his life. Again, very tautly-plotted, and written with a great deal of humour.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

2011 books, #61-65

This body of death, by Elizabeth George. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2010.

In contrast with the Kate Atkinson, this intertwining of improbably coincidental stories is, in the end, just annoying. I keep reading because I like Barbara Havers; there's just enough Havers in this one to keep me going, but I can understand why this one has provoked exasperation in Elizabeth George's fans. There's a parallel narrative which is allowed massively too much space and detail for the eventual connection, and a very unsympathetic senior female police officer as a major character. I ploughed through this one but never warmed to it.

Harry Potter and the deathly hallows, by J. K. Rowling [audiobook]. Read by Stephen Fry. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.

A re-read (or first listen) in preparation for seeing the film, as I'd largely forgotten what had happened in the first half of the book/seventh film! Fry's reading is, as ever, masterful, and the book definitely bears re-reading.

Mortal remains, by Kathy Reichs. London: Heinemann, 2010.

Tempe Brennan is called to the scene of a death which looks like autoerotic asphyxiation; the problem? the victim supposedly died in Vietnam in the late 1960s. The father of the Vietnam war soldier refuses to accept the DNA results, and the story is complicated further when other unidentified bodies turn up, some unclaimed Vietnam casualties and some in the present day, mauled by sharks off Hawaii. While I enjoyed this one - Reichs has wry moments which keep you reading - I had two problems with it. The first is (the Ellery Queen Problem) that at least part of the eventual dénouement does depend on medical knowledge which hasn't been exposed to the reader before this, so there's a slightly "not fair" element. The second is that there seems to be a rule that Forensic Examiners Have At Least One Irritating Female Relative or Nearly-Relative, and this one is played out to an annoying extent here.

Angel with two faces, by Nicola Upson [audiobook]. Read by Sandra Duncan. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, [n.d.]

The second of Upson's Josephine Tey novels; this one set in Cornwall at the family home of Tey's friend Archie Penrose. Penrose is also an inspector at Scotland Yard, which comes in handy when he returns home for the funeral of a friend, only to find that there are suspicious elements to the death. Somehow this one doesn't work quite as well as the previous novel, partly perhaps because both Tey and Penrose are outsiders in a tight-knit community so some of the opportunities for extracting information are somewhat forced. However, the style is still very much Golden Age writing, and the reading here is extremely good.

Body line, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. London: Severn House, 2010.

It's a Bill Slider; really, no extra comment needed. Puns, Porson's malapropisms and general bad jokes and wordplay abound, alongside a tightly-written, compelling plot. A supposedly very successful, wealthy, womanising doctor is murdered in his flat, but as Slider, Atherton and the wonderful DC Connolly investigate, the facts seem to slip increasingly through their fingers. One of the things I love about these books is that Slider now has a happy, successful home life, friends, and family. My only peeve is that there must have been something in the water a couple of years ago - the business behind the crime being committed seems to have been used by several crime writers published in 2009/2010 (I wonder if there was a pub session at the Harrogate Crime Writers' festival!) - I'm sure "oh, no, not again" wasn't the reaction Harrod-Eagles was going for. Still totally worth reading, though.

2011 books, #56-60

The God of the hive, by Laurie R. King. London: Allison and Busby, 2010.

This follows on immediately from The language of bees - it's almost like one novel chopped in two. Another tremendous thriller, with a wonderful character in Robert Goodman.

One of our Thursdays is missing, by Jasper Fforde. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2011.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as I was expecting - somehow, it's got even more meta-meta-textual and has sort of disappeared in a puff of its own cleverness. I haven't been in the "all these novels are the same" camp, so Fforde trying something different with the Thursday series wasn't entirely welcome... There are a couple of very good one-liners though - the idea of giving advice on how to deal with "Robert Pestons in the wainscotting" was funny.

Shark music, by Carol O'Connell [audiobook]. Read by Regina Reagan. Oxford: Isis, 2007.

This was a good sound thriller which plodded along quite nicely - but to be honest, if it hadn't been a reasonably decent reader, I wouldn't have carried on with it. I don't find Kathy Mallory particularly appealing or convincing as a main character, and it should have been more tightly edited to shorten it considerably. I'd try another of this authors on audiobook with another good reader before I give up on the series though.

Memorial day, by Vince Flynn. London: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Another in the Mitch Rapp series; this one takes a sharp and somewhat unpleasant turn into the post-USA PATRIOT Act world. Previously we've seen Rapp as an assassin but a man with a strict code of honour - here, working for the CIA, he's both involved in, and keen to justify, torture as a means to an end.

Started early, took my dog, by Kate Atkinson [audiobook]. Read by Nicholas Bell. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2010.

A Jackson Brodie book, set in Yorkshire where Brodie is investigating the background of Hope McMaster, a New Zealander trying to trace her birth-parents. At the same time, a middle-aged security guard and ex-policewoman buys a child from its uncaring mother in the street. Stories become intertwined, sometimes slightly implausibly so, but as with Atkinson's earlier books, a series of disparate characters whose lives should be entirely separate are brought together by fate. I found the very ending slightly disappointing, but definitely worth going along for the ride.

(Just an aside here, caught up with the television version of earlier books in the series on iPlayer, and although Jason Isaacs wouldn't have been in the frame for Brodie in my imagination, I thought he did an extremely good job; I have to admit to being a longstanding Isaacs fan. I was disappointed with the Edinburgh setting for the first one, as Atkinson did such a brilliant job with Cambridge geography in Case histories.)