Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 books, #91-95

The vows of silence, by Susan Hill [audiobook]. Read by Steven Pacey. [S.l.]: Chivers, 2009.

This was a hard book to read originally, and a harder one to listen to on audiobook; I got it out of the library thinking this was the next in the series and it turned out to be the last one I'd read. Very good reading, though.

Dead I may well be, by Adrian McKinty. Kindle edition.

This was one I nearly gave up on several times. A 19-year-old from Belfast leaves the city and travels to New York to work for gangster relatives. It's quite shockingly violent at times; the only thing which keeps you reading is the central character who is quite compelling. There's a mesmerising section in the middle about captivity in a Mexican prison; but I won't be reading the other two books in the series.

The interrogative mood, by Padgett Powell. Kindle edition.

Another book group book, and not one I particularly enjoyed although reading it was interesting. This is a book written entirely in questions, and while it starts off as an intellectual exercise, as the questions continue they circle around some quite dark obsessions and the book becomes darker and darker. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments and a few questions which make you put down the book and think. Mainly though, the only way I can describe it is as rather like the video for Bruce Springsteen's Brilliant disguise, where the whole thing is taken in a single shot which narrows very, very slowly down from a kitchen scene to Bruce's face, in a slightly menacing way.

Banish clutter forever, by Sheila Chandra. Kindle edition.

Really enjoyable and useful book on de-cluttering, on the "toothbrush principle" that all of us have some daily systems which sort of work for us. And contains the radical idea that if you're going to clear things off surfaces, possibly clearing the cupboards for those things to go into first is a good idea. Wibbo recommended this one and she was absolutely right. If Sheila Chandra's name sounds familiar, she's also a singer, musician and teacher who's brought out many solo albums and also performed with the Imagined Village project. I've started on the house using these principles and am happy with the small amount of progress made so far!

Fear not, by Anne Holt. Kindle edition.

A child escapes from a wedding reception in one of Oslo's top hotels and is almost run over by a tram; an immigrant worker is discovered drowned; a woman bishop is murdered; a rich businessman contemplates his annual charitable donations, and it's the week before Christmas. Anne Holt delivers another wonderful, complicated thriller here, with a cast of characters we've sort of met before but haven't been the focal point of her books so far. There's a small cameo appearance by the wonderful Hanne Wilhemsen; and a continuation of Anne Holt's campaigning liberalism.

2011 books, #86-90

Shadow, by Karin Alvtegen. Kindle edition.

I'm going to use the author's website blurb for this book because I can't do much better:
How much is glory and fame really worth, when counted in the suffering of the people closest to you? The death of the housekeeper of the fictive world-famous Nobel Prize laureate Axel Ragnerfeldt becomes the starting point of an investigation into the claustrophobic family ties, mysterious disappearances and dark secrets surrounding a man shrouded in myth. With her fifth novel Shadow, Karin Alvtegen has achieved her darkest and most complex thriller to date, in which the disturbing truth of a sick family is gradually and mercilessly laid bare.
The atmosphere of this book is what I remember best - everything is somehow in sepia, with an aura of menace. There's a sort of impending dread here, which also reminded me of Accolade, the play with Graham Seed (formerly Nigel in The Archers) which a group of us Archers fans went to in February. Very striking.

Unlikely killer, by Ricki Thomas. Kindle edition.

I enjoyed this although it had some quite serious proofreading (or maybe Kindle-conversion) issues! A serial killer is re-creating historical murders, and we see the book via both the killer and the journalist tracking the killer down. I did, however, find the final twist one jump of credibility to far... I'm not sure even Jeffery Deaver could have pulled off a switch like that though!

The unquiet heart, by Gordon Ferris. Kindle edition.

The second Danny McRae novel, after Truth dare kill, again set in immediately-post-war London and Berlin. It's not the most sparkling of plots, but the settings are excellent, and it canters along very nicely. I'm very encouraged to see that Truth dare kill has now appeared in paperback after being a best-selling e-book - it's good when the different publishing formats can feed off each other in this way.

Playing the game, by Simon Gould. Kindle edition.

Detective Michael Patton of the LAPD has been targeted by a serial killer who has already killed two girls; he has 24 hours to save a third. The plot rackets along quite nicely, but the ending is disappointing, and there are just too many typographical and grammatical errors for a stickler like me to enjoy!

The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. Kindle edition.

Well, this one has just about everything - a love story, some swashbuckling, lots of information about the various trading companies with Japan in the 18th century... This was a book group book, not one I'd ever have picked up otherwise, and I enjoyed it immensely.

2011 books, #81-85

Is it cowardly to pray for rain? the online Ashes chronicle of a nation's office-bound nervousness, by Mike Adamson, James Dart, Sean Ingle and Rob Smyth. London: Abacus; Guardian Books, 2005.

Reading the Guardian's over-by-over chronicle of a 6-year-old Test series really shouldn't be huge fun, but actually it was. Partly it's the Ashes, but mainly it's the comments coming in from people who are quietly hitting Refresh on their browsers every couple of seconds to get the score and ball-by-ball commentary, because of course that wasn't at all how several of us in our office spend at a few days of our summers (and in fact part of the winter too, while the World Cup was on...) A couple of people I know are in the comments; one of them even has her name spelled correctly - good old Grauniad. The fun is enhanced by knowing that the commentator isn't even at the game, but relying on the TV commentary which will sometimes, quite literally, go off to the races. A little bit akin to listening on Long Wave and going off to the shipping forecast at the wrong moment.

Savage run; Trophy hunt; Out of range; Three weeks to say goodbye, by C J Box. Kindle editions.

I don't normally review four books under one heading, but I'm catching up on the books read on the Kindle over the last few months (it's a lot easier to keep track of print books!); and the main thing about C J Box's writing is that he puts basically good, family men into extraordinary circumstances, and shows that the veneer of civilisation is sometimes just that. The first three of these are Joe Pickett novels, and the fourth a standalone, but the analysis of character and this basic theme is the same in all of the books. That's not to say they're interchangeable, and they're all very enjoyable.

2011 books, #76-80

WG Grace ate my pedalo: a curious cricket compendium, by Tyers and Beach. London: Wisden, 2010.

Wisden describes this as "a spoof 1896 periodical from The Wisden Cricketer archives that looks at cricketing events of 2010 through a Victorian lens" which is just about right. Some of it is outright hilarious, some just make you smile. There are regular features such as the etiquette column by Miss Cecily Beasting, and small ads such as "WANTED for import to England: South Africans who can and will play cricket. Apply at Lord's." The writers have a somewhat interesting relationship with KP Pietersen, too... If you've been following international cricket over the last few years, there are definitely enough in-jokes to keep you going. Not to mention an ongoing (non-sparkly) vampires-at-Lord's serial thrown into the mix.

Consent to kill, by Vince Flynn [audiobook]. Read by George Guidall. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2006.

Well, without trying to spoiler anyone else who might be working their way through this series of books, this one contains the only thing the author could actually do to make further books in the series at all credible. Mitch Rapp continues his rampage through the ranks of both Al-Qaeda and the senior staff of other government agencies.

The business of dying, by Simon Kernick. London: Bantam, 2002.

According to the blurb on the back, this is Kernick's debut novel - another one from the second-hand book sale at work. Dennis Milne is a deeply corrupt DS who also hires himself out as a contract killer; this time, though, instead of three drug-dealers he finds he's murdered two customs agents and an accountant outside a pub. In the day job, an eighteen-year-old prostitute is murdered by Regent's Canal and leads Milne into the teenage vice trade in London and its relations with the social care system. The plot is very tightly written, and Milne is a character you like, hate and are repulsed by at different points of the novel.

Game over, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2008.

A Bill Slider novel, and one I'd somehow missed until picking up the following one in the series and realising the characters' lives had moved on substantially while I hadn't been paying attention! This has all the humour and wit of the other Slider novels, but with more of an edge of danger; an old enemy of Slider is on the loose and is trying to kill him. Meanwhile he's trying to solve the murder of a BBC correspondent, Ed Stonax, and Atherton is drawn into a relationship with Stonax's daughter Emily. On top of that, Slider needs to find a moment to marry Joanna before their baby is born. It's vintage Slider and it doesn't get much better than that. Since reading this I've found I actually missed two Slider books. Harrod-Eagles is so amazingly prolific...

Now you see me, by S J Bolton [audiobook]. Read by Lisa Coleman. Bath: AudioGO, 2011.

Another excellent book by S J Bolton, with many twists and turns. DC Lacey Flint returns to her car one evening to find a woman dying - she has been stabbed and horrifically mutilated. Lacey begins to realise that her own lifelong fixation with the Jack the Ripper murders has been replicated, and that she is the person the new Ripper has decided to taunt. Bolton is a master of suspense, and there are some genuinely creepy moments. Nice reading, too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

J is for... Janome

I don't think I've talked a lot about sewing and embroidery here, mainly because I was coming out of my embroidery phase somewhat when I started this blog. But embroidery used to be a huge part of my life, in particular while I was doing my City and Guilds certificate and diploma, and also from around 2003-2005 while I was teaching embroidery classes for the county adult education service.

I was reminded of this while on holiday this week, because I remembered how much I love my sewing machine. Here it is.

While I have the compulsion to name things with wheels (Tallulah the trolley, for instance, and Louis the Louët spinning wheel; my bike's called Helga), for some reason my Janome XC 33 has neither a name nor a gender. I went into the shop with a couple of requirements - not too much complication in the computerised line (I didn't need one which scanned in pictures, but I did want one with 30 or 40 stitch patterns to play with), and a strong and sturdy motor. A friend had this one and really loved it, having had a hate-hate relationship with her previous machine, so I was already somewhat biased in its favour. When I found out that it was a model sold to schools because of its relative indestructibility, I was even more sold.

Here's the usual view from the sewing machine - the hanging in the background to the right was also largely embroidered with this machine.

I think I've had this machine for 9 or so years; it took me through Part II of the City and Guilds, and through three years of membership of the Fibrefusion experimental textiles group (and I'm glad I found that link - they have a new book out!), and then beyond. It's not elegant, and it doesn't have the beautiful lines of an old-fashioned machine; it just does everything well and without complaining about it, and that includes up to 6 hours of free machine embroidery in the course of a session, where the motor is being absolutely hammered. (Maybe this is the reason I've never had occasion to name it; it has absolutely no quirks, unlike anything I've owned with wheels.)

One of the things I love about all needlecrafts is the prettiness of the stash - this is part of one side of my double-sided thread box shown in the top picture. I think this box now has all my threads in it - at one stage I had an overflow box but free machining takes up quite an astonishing amount of thread!

This little device for holding bobbins is wonderful - it's rubberised so the bobbins hold in there, but you can remove them easily with one hand, and they don't unwind, and if you drop it, they all just stay there. I chuck it in the same drawer in the chest as my ball-winder.

So anyway; what massively exciting thing was I embroidering?

Nothing at all so far (that comes later in the week/month) - I cut out and made 4 pairs of trousers this week because the machine also works really well for dressmaking. The top one is for daytime-type casual trousers, the bottom three pyjama trousers...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I is for... IKEA

I realise going to IKEA is many people's idea of hell. It's never been mine. Partly because it really hasn't happened that often, and also partly because my idea of heaven is looking at some furniture and imagining assembling the flat-packs... (I'm on holiday this week, and with any luck there'll be some more flat-pack heaven later in the week. Stay tuned.) Mostly though, I just really like enough of IKEA's stuff to walk around there and have an excellent time and get some ideas, but not so much of it that it confuses me; and if you pick up an impulse buy it really doesn't break the bank.

However, as a non-driver, I don't have many opportunities to get to IKEA, and although I've explored the public transport options before, I've never really taken them. Until today, when a need for clothes-storage boxes (possibly temporary and therefore foldable) and glass tumblers (cheap) tipped me over the edge.

I did take a companion of sorts. This is Tallulah.

Tallulah was acquired on the principle that if you're going to have an old-lady shopping trolley, it may as well be as garish as possible. And she's done me well. She hauls bags of logs over the Green from the shop, she and I go around Tesco and try not to run anyone over (she hooks to the front of the trolley...) and today we were having a Big Day Out.

Has to be said, it started off rather foggy, which boded well for fine weather later. The 8:11 out of the village...

The glories of Tottenham Hale Tube, rail and bus interchange, waiting for the 192 to Enfield.

And the Arrival, well into "browsing time" but just before official opening time of 10am.

So, wandering and roaming... While I wasn't intending to buy anything other than storage and tumblers, some things (like a lint roller and some cupcake cases) may have fallen into my big yellow bag, as well as a couple of Christmas presents; and a couple of lightbulbs for the lamp in the dining room which might actually light the room. When I realised the tumblers I liked best were going to cost me less than £1 (this is for a box of six, you understand), I was glad I'd picked up the other things as I went round.

I really liked this ensemble (particularly the baskets with the holes in the centre, and the "knitted" one third drawer down on the left)

This is the sort of thing I'd like in my living room, but with some of the spaces filled with stereo/speakers/photo albums etc. And the sort of thing you need to go there for, and look at, rather than choose out of the catalogue. (I may actually need to get something like this built, or build it myself, because the bit of the living room it needs to go in also contains quite a lot of pipes, the consumer unit, etc., but it's always good to get ideas.)

Late breakfast was had halfway round, and by 11:30 Tallulah and I were all packed up and ready to go. The main point of the exercise, some folding (purple!) clothes storage boxes (called, with classic Ikea naming-flair, Skubb) is well in evidence here... She's a bit overloaded, but she only complained once, when the driver belatedly let down the floor of the bus for her to get in, and jammed the foam bit of her wheels under the vehicle...

The journey back was made under considerably better weather conditions, and much knitting was done (for Christmas, unfortunately, or I'd show you...)

It was positively summer-like by the time we were back at the station - this is T saying goodbye to the train. (We were meant to be going to King's Lynn yesterday but this happened. Maybe tomorrow.)
Arriving home just before 2pm, there was a surprise - one of the (many) nice things about living in a village is that this time of year, people have surplus produce and bring it to you... Sometimes in co-ordinating bags!

Wet walnuts.

And of course I bought tea-lights. Isn't it compulsory?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 books, #71-75

Snow blind, by P J Tracy. London: Penguin, 2008.

The bodies of two off-duty police are found inside snowmen at a children's competition, and then another snow-covered corpse is found by a country lake by rookie elected sheriff Iris Rikker, a former English teacher. Soon Detectives Gino and Magozzi are heading north in the midst of the worst blizzard seen in Minneapolis for years to join the two investigations. But some things should remain buried. And as the cases unravel, it seems the snowmen weren't alone in hiding dark secrets. The old barn next to Sheriff Rikker's isolated farmhouse also appears to have some strange connection to the killings... Extremely well-constructed thriller with some interesting characters, not least Rikker.

Faithful Place, by Tana French [audiobook]. Read by Gerry O'Brien. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

The course of Frank Mackey's life is set by one defining moment when he was 19. The moment his girlfriend, Rosie Daly, failed to turn up for their rendezvous in Faithful Place, failed to run away with him to London as they had planned. Frank never heard from, or of, her again. Twenty years on, Frank is still in Dublin, working as an undercover cop. He's cut all ties with his dysfunctional family. Until his sister calls to say that Rosie's suitcase has been found...

Lovely reading.

Innocent, by Scott Turow [audiobook]. Read by Edward Herrmann (and ??). Oxford: Isis, 2011.

A return to a cast of characters last seen in Turow's Presumed innocent in 1987. Once again, Rusty Sabich is prosecuted by Tommy Molto for murder, this time of his wife; and this time Sabich has even more to lose having been elected to the state Supreme Court, and with the desire to cover up an affair with a former colleague. His son Nat, a child at the time of the previous novel, is now a junior lawyer and also keen to investigate the case. Another extremely good tense courtroom drama by a master of the art. The reading is very good - Herrmann sounds just enough like Harrison Ford for the image of Sabich in the film version to stand, and the (completely uncredited) female reader is also extremely competent.

Last rituals, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2008.

This was one I picked up at a book sale at work, with a slightly back-handed recommendation from one of the library directors who had donated it. It's certainly atmospheric - Icelandic landscapes and a plot involving both folklore and witchcraft - and occasionally unpleasant. Definitely worth reading although the final dénouement isn't as surprising as you might wish.

The rapture, by Liz Jensen. London: Bloomsbury, 2009

This is a very strange, and extremely good, apocalyptic near-future story which combines detective, speculative and science fiction. A very disturbed and violent teenager in a mental health facility tells her art therapist about visions she has about an environmental catastrophe. As the art therapist investigates whether any of the facts Bethany gives are scientifically possible, she draws a physicist friend into the intrigue, and puts her career and his in danger. If John Wyndham were writing now, he might aspire to this.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

H is for... Hove; and Human kindness

I still need to tell you about the other bits of Knit Nation and Fibre-East, and the Knitted Maze at Saffron Walden; but while this is still fresh in my mind and I'm making the pics available for Hove Daily Photo; What I Did on My Holidays.

Wibbo and I had an absolutely lovely day at the cricket at the Sussex County Cricket Ground at Hove on September 1 - watching Durham bowl out the home team and then have a bit of a bat themselves. We were at the second day of a 4-day match (which Durham won. Yay. Yes, I'm partisan; Durham's Riverside/Emirates ground is about 5 minutes' walk from my old primary school and less than 15 mins from my parents' house... But ahem. Hove.)

Not knowing what we were doing, we walked right round the ground (the entrance is near the block of flats to the left) and sat ourselves at ground level. (Sadly, there isn't a corresponding JETS stand at the other side of the stadium but that's because the local T20 team is the Sharks.) This was actually lovely - very peaceful, and a couple of sections' seating was in blue-and-white deckchairs - and we absorbed much additional cricket knowledge via the chaps (and they were mostly chaps) in front and behind us.

At lunchtime, the spectators occupied the outfield, and whacked tennis-balls about. Hugely encouraging number of boys and girls, mums and dads with bats and balls. I understand this is pretty standard practice, and it must be a huge encouragement to want to play on the ground...

And proof it's never too soon to start.

In the afternoon, we moved to the SHARKS stand; which turned out to be only marginally less atmospheric but a much, much better way to watch play. And to observe favourites as they fielded on the boundary.

Paul Collingwood!

Monty Panesar!

Callum Thorp signing autographs! This was a feature of all the boundary fielders - the Durham ones were slightly mobbed but then of course they would be; presumably the keen kids have all the Sussex ones already...

There were seagulls...

There was knitting...
And there was a somewhat inevitable seagull-on-knitting incident. Suffice to say this project is registered on Ravelry as the Seagull Poo Socks.

It was a lovely day and I hope we'll do it again.

In fact, it's only posting this which reminds me it took five hours to get home afterwards due to some mindless wazzock wandering about on the lines at Thornton Heath. Scenes at Victoria, after I staggered off the train nearly 2 hours late, were insane; one woman screaming "this is just unacceptable!" in a cut-glass accent, over and over and over again, as I tried to get through the throngs of people hurling themselves against the barriers... OK, she was obviously a bit of a Special Snowflake; but I hope Mr Anonymous Trespasser was happy with his evening's work.

Otherwise, though, my faith in human nature is currently at a bit of a high. I managed to lose a very lovely knitting bag on a train the Friday I started my week's holiday, complete with Jan's half-finished birthday present (I should say this was a second attempt, the first having come out too small despite blocking), several Addi needles and my little toolkit box; and reclaimed it the following Friday after understated heroics from the lost property chap at Cambridge station.

And then on the train between Brighton and Hove on the intervening Wednesday, I texted Jan and then promptly left my phone on the seat - it was retrieved by the conductor and we collected it at Brighton station that evening before knitting due to Brighton station being really sensible and texting Jan with the information on where it could be collected... Finally (I thought), I bought a fantastic bargain pair of purple suede Hotter boots while in Norwich with Rosie and due to a moment of extreme excitement in a second-hand bookshop, left them there. An hour later, I got those back, too.

I thought that was the end of it. However, sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the Bug went missing, and turned up finally lateish on Friday night just before I started printing flyers; and on Thursday afternoon I had a meeting with a colleague, after which she left her knitting bag in a public area, and retrieved it on her way home...

I know there's some horrible stuff out there. I've travelled through areas hit by the riots and there are some mindless thugs around; I listen to the news. But sometimes you just need a reminder that most people are honest and kind, and I've had that over the last couple of weeks.