Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 books, #96-100

Dead cold, by Louise Penny [audiobook]. Read by Adam Sims. Oxford: Isis, 2006.

The rather dreadful CeCe, an incomer who has made no effort to make friends in Three Pines, is fatally electrocuted at the annual Boxing Day curling match.  Armand Gamache returns to the village to discover a history of secrets and enemies, and a connection in the dead woman's past to Three Pines.  This is the second of the Gamache books, and many of the same characters as before reappear; while I guessed the murderer early on, there were many twists and turns which led me to doubt my judgment.  A good one to listen to at this time of year, and an excellent reading by Adam Sims.

Fury, by G M Ford [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Chivers, 2004.

Frank Corso is a pariah—a journalist once vilified for making up "facts" on a major crime story. Yet slow, sheltered Leanne Samples trusts no one but Corso to tell the world that her courtroom testimony that put Walter Leroy "Trashman" Himes on Death Row was a lie. Convicted of the savage slaying of eight Seattle women, Himes is only six days from execution, unless Frank Corso and outcast photographer Meg Dougherty into a struggle that goes far beyond right, wrong, truth, and justice. Because the lowly and the powerful alike all want Himes dead at any cost—despite startling new evidence that threatens to devastate a city once again.

The gods of guilt, by Michael Connelly. London: Orion, 2014.

Micky Haller unexpectedly gets a call to a murder case; and then discovers he's about to defend a man accused of the murder of  Glory Days, a prostitute he'd known several years before as a client and friend. As his investigations continue, Micky realises he may have been responsible for what happened to Glory, and acts principally through a sense of guilt.  Another excellent thriller by Connelly, with a tiny cameo appearance by Harry Bosch.

The affair, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2011.

Finally, this one's the account of how Jack Reacher left the army.  A woman has had her throat cut in a bar in Carter Crossing, Mississippi.  Reacher, still an Army major, is sent undercover to investigate; and meets the local sheriff, a stunningly beautiful ex-Marine.  As the case progresses, Reacher realises that if he does what the Army wants, he may not be able to live with himself, or the Army with him.  An excellent book, and as ever with a great deal of humour mixed in...

The taxidermist's daughter, by Kate Mosse. London: Orion, 2014.

A book group book; this time sent by the publisher which was terribly nice of them!  Sussex, 1912: and in the churchyard, a group of men gather on St Mark's Eve (April 24). Sinister birds fly out of the church, but a more sinister act is taking place while the men are distracted. Constantia Gifford, the taxidermist's daughter, is about to discover a body.  This is a very sinister tale of murder, revenge and dark deeds.  There are a couple of holes in the plot you could drive a coach and horses through, but it can't be faulted for atmosphere and giving a shiver down the spine...

2014 books, #91-95

Bones never lie, by Kathy Reichs. London: Random House, 2014.

Tempe Brennan can't work out why she's being called unexpectedly down from Québec to her other job in South Carolina, only to meet a detective from Québec.  There's a link; a killer Tempe pursued in Canada has appeared in South Carolina and seems to be killing again.  While Tempe is somewhat freaked out by the idea of the killer pursuing her, all isn't the way it seems, and the story twists and turns before its final ending.  I've not been very sure about the last couple of these books, but this one is definitely better than those...

The wrath of angels, by John Connolly [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2012.

A Charlie Parker book; I can never decide how much I enjoy these, because the supernatural is mixed into the plot so thoroughly that you can never tell what's real and what's unreal.  In this one, a plane is found in the deep woods in Maine, containing a list of names.  One group wants to keep the names secret; the other wants to use them as a weapon against the sinister Collector.  Meanwhile, there's a beautiful but damaged woman accompanied by a young boy, who is someone Charlie has already killed...

Do no harm: stories of life, death and brain surgery, by Henry Marsh [audiobook]. Read by Jim Barclay. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2014.

This is fascinating; an autobiography divided into chapters according to brain disease, with reminiscences of past cases and what those have told Marsh about himself and his own character. There are a lot of fairly gory details here, but also a lot of interesting human stories about the patients and their families; and Marsh's exasperation with the bureaucracy of the NHS comes over loud and clear...

Gods behaving badly, by Marie Phillips. London: Jonathan Cape, 2007.

After Alice invites her friend Neil to the recording of a spiritualist, Apollo, at the TV studios she cleans, she's given the sack.  When she goes looking for private cleaning jobs, she runs into Apollo again; and his relatives Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares...   The ancient Greek gods are living in a filthy Victorian house in London, and at the end of their powers; even sex has lost its power to divert.  This is an extremely funny book by one of the creators of Warhorses of letters.

Death at La Fenice, by Donna Leon [audiobook]. Read by Richard Morant. [S.l.]: BBC Audiobooks, 2003.

The first of the Brunetti novels.  Maestro Helmut Wellnauer is killed by cyanide in his dressing room during the interval of the opera he is conducting. Wellnauer has an interestingly complicated private life, and also many professional rivalries, so Brunetti has a large and colourful cast of suspects to interview.  I guessed what had happened well before the end, but the setting and writing are good enough that this didn't matter.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 22: Naming of parts

The daily blogging being completely blown, at least I can show you what I've been doing with another of this month's tasks - the NaKniSweMo cardigan.

I have pieces.  All the pieces, in fact...


From top to bottom, two sleeves, two fronts and a back.  The colour's actually a pale cool grey, but this is how it looks on the chair by the PC in the lamplight...

Having these sorted by the 22nd is great; but I'd really like to get the bands picked up and finished tomorrow, because it's too big to carry to work and back...

That's 76,692 stitches, at my best calculation...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 18: In memoriam, again

It's a month of slightly grim anniversaries, it seems... Was walking past one of the memorials at King's Cross this morning, which was cordoned off, and remembered it was the anniversary of the King's Cross fire in 1987.  I was at college at the time, and friends were visiting London; thankfully, they'd left before the fire started, but we stayed up for a long time listening to the radio...

In all, 31 people lost their lives underground at King's Cross that day, passengers, LUL staff and first responders among them. 100 others were injured, many of them seriously.

In some ways it feels like another era despite only being 27 years ago.  Wooden escalators, for one thing. People smoking on the Tube for another. Smoking on the underground sections of the Tube had been banned for two years, and on the trains themselves for three; but smoking in the ticket halls immediately next to the escalators was still permitted and the escalators themselves were a bit of a grey area. The investigators concluded that the fire had been caused by a match falling through the side of the escalator and onto a build-up of litter and grease below; as well as by a completely new phenomenon in fire research, a flashover later termed the trench effect.

The King's Cross disaster helped to increase the safety of public transport; smoking was banned throughout the network three days after the fire; the escalators took just a little longer (the last wooden escalator was removed from Greenford station on 10 March 2014).

There are two memorials at King's Cross; the first went up in the 1990s.  Later, a clock appeared above it with the upper plaque which says This clock has been given in memory of those who lost their lives in the fire at King's Cross station on 18th November 1987.  From all the underground staff at sub-surface & tube stations.

The later memorial (also in the ticket hall, in the corridor which leads to St Pancras) gives the names.  All the names.  One victim stayed unidentified for 17 years after the fire and, after much searching including a forensic reconstruction and tracking down of the origin of a metal stent in his skull, identified as a 73-year-old homeless man from Falkirk; I'm always moved when I look at the plaque that time was also taken to carve his name in afterwards.

I'm often irked at King's Cross - at the moment, there's a hugely convoluted contraflow because the escalators replaced after the fire are being replaced again, and access to the central line is often controlled at peak times. Walking past both memorials every day should remind me of what happens when health and safety fails, and often it does.

I haven't given up completely on NaBloPoMo, but it does seem to have fallen somewhat by the wayside! Will post as I can...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 15: 2014 books, #86-90

Thomas Quick: the making of a serial killer, by Hannes Råstam [audiobook]. Read by Peter Noble. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes/Clipper, 2013.

In 1992, Thomas Quick confessed to the murder of a missing eleven-year-old boy, while Quick was receiving treatment in a secure mental hospital.  Over the following nine years, Quick confessed to another 30 murders.  Hannes Råstam, an investigative journalist, became fascinated with Quick's case and eventually met Quick in prison in 2008.  What came out of the interviews and Råstam's investigations was, if anything, more frightening than the murderer himself, and raised questions about the Swedish legal and psychiatric systems.  Råstam himself died the day after delivering the manuscript, but the ramifications of the case, and of this book, continue to be felt in Sweden.  This is an absolutely fascinating book.

Burial rites, by Hannah Kent. London: Picador, 2014.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to die for the murder of two men; before her beheading, she is boarded out on a district inspector's family. Margrét, the mother of the family, is terrified before Agnes arrives, but they gradually develop an understanding as Agnes works in the household.  Agnes has been able to choose a confessor, Thorvárdur Jónsson (Tóti); what eventually comes out of their conversations is unexpected.  This book gives a powerful picture of the sheer hard slog of life in Iceland in the early nineteenth century, as well as being a fascinating riff on actual events - Agnes exists in Iceland as almost a folkloric character, but very little is known of her as a women.

Who in hell is Wanda Fuca? by GM Ford [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Chivers/BBC, 2007.

The first of the Leo Waterman books. Leo is engaged by a local mobster to hunt for Caroline Nobel, an heiress with a history of extreme environmentalism.  When one of the small army of homeless men Leo has assembled to help search is found dead, there's more than one case to be solved; and staying on the lawful side of the fence isn't always possible.  Ford's tone is light, and funny; and works extremely well with Harding's reading...  Sadly, the cassettes for this were in pretty awful state, and I missed the explanation for the title and had to Google it later (it's a Mondegreen for Juan de Fuca, an area of outstanding natural beauty off the coast.)

Still life, by Louise Penny. London: Headline, 2005.

The first of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books. Shock and fear tranform the village of Three Pines, Québec, when a former school teacher is found dead in a clearing near her house, an arrow through her heart. Gamache is called in with his team, and begins to get to know the people in the village, from the dead woman's neighbours Clara and Peter, both artists, to the gay couple who run the local bistrot. As Gamache investigates more thoroughly, long-dead secrets start to emerge.  There's also a very interesting situation with an extremely unsympathetic policewoman who just doesn't seem to be able to get the hang of her job...  Am about to start reading these in order...

Next to die, by Neil White. London: Sphere, 2014.

I think this must have come from a charity shop in Seaham Harbour earlier in the summer...  Joe Parker is pleased to take a client away from his previous employer, but then finds that it's a man facing trial for the murder of his girlfriend and their baby. Meanwhile Joe's brother Sam, a detective, is investigating a related crime and the two brothers are quickly in conflict with each other.  In the background, a constant presence, is the murder of the brothers' sister Ellie fifteen years before, and increasingly, fear for the little sister they still have.  Really tightly plotted; I guessed what was happening 50 or so pages before the brothers did, but there's always an interest in being proved right!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 12: Nearly halfway. Ish.

So, other than attempting to blog every day, one of the other things I'm trying to do this month is knit a sweater.  Or in this case, a cardigan.

As of last night, I had a back, a sleeve and the ribbing for another sleeve.  In theory, that means I'm halfway. In practice, there's all the sewing up and picking up for bands to do, and that's a real pig. On the other hand, if I were knitting in one piece from the top down, it would long ago have got to the stage where I'd have to be hauling a backpack around, so the sewing up is a necessary evil.

It's not the most exciting garment in the world; but here it is so far.


The gory details of the pattern, yarn etc. are in Day 1's post so I won't repeat them here.  This represents 39,524 stitches, at nearest reckoning; onwards with the fronts now, with the second sleeve as knitting-group knitting as it needs very little concentration...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 11: Acts of remembrance


I went to the Parliamentary remembrance service today at Westminster Abbey; everyone who works on the Parliamentary Estate was invited to apply for tickets, and it felt like something I should do.  On the way, I walked through the garden of remembrance in the Abbey gardens.


So many little crosses, all with different handwriting on them.  Not all for the Great War; I spotted one from the Falklands, one from Suez.

Reminders that people from all over the Empire/Commonwealth travelled huge distances to fight and die for a country they might never have visited,


and that those who stayed at home weren't safe either.



From the first words of the service - We gather today as those to whom much has been given, and from whom much is expected - it was a commemoration of duty and service.  After the two minutes' silence (which fell exactly after the anthem; I have no idea how many times someone must have rehearsed that; it has to be the one set of pips you'd never wish to crash) there was the Last Post and Reveille, a prayer, and then a very strange and beautiful thing - the "trench" cello played by Steven Isserlis.  It was a quiet, muted sound (my seat was only about 3 metres from the little platform they'd rigged up), but gorgeous; the idea of this object from the trenches still sounding out its song (in this case the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite no. V) was astonishing.

Walking past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the way out, people were taking off their paper poppies and scattering them over the inscription, creating a carpet of flowers.  Emerging blinking into the sunlight, the first person I saw was Baroness Williams, talking animatedly; it seemed entirely right that the daughter of Vera Brittain should still be around, still intensely engaged, still making a point.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 10: Tangled web

The observant will notice that Day 9 is missing.  I have no idea how I failed on Day 9; I was at home all day, and after a small amount of emergency fact-checking in the morning, it was all quite relaxing...  And somehow, I just forgot.  So weird.

But I was never interested in the whole prize-winning thing anyway; so I'm just going to dust myself off...

Anyway; the title of this tells you it's about weaving... Here's a representative heap of this year's weaving; scarves, mainly.


When I got my loom for Christmas in 2011, I thought I'd be sick of plain weave after a few months, and heading off for more complicated stuff.  Which I now realise is the equivalent of saying "oh, that garter stitch, I'm way past that"...  In the same way as spinning ("look! I've turned this bundle of fibres into useable yarn!") and knitting ("look! I've turned this continuous thread into something I can wear!") are miraculous, weaving of any sort is too.  I love the way you can plan part of it (you can't wing a warp - it's there and it'll shape your project) but then do a bit of improvisation once you've started...

I've started corrupting others.  Here's Kat. She came over for lunch and weaving, and managed to confect about 60% of the red scarf in the pile above in the course of the day. (She's pretty much omnicompetent though - don't be scared if it takes you longer)...


And also, as it's Happy Berlin Wall Destruction Week, have a video.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 8: Tale of two books, part 2

Went to an excellent event on Thursday night at Waterstones Cambridge, having seen an ad on Twitter; Kate Mayfield, talking partly about her new book The undertaker's daughter


and partly about the Gothic tradition in Southern literature.  (And there was bourbon, and cheese biscuits made by the author from a recipe in Southern Living, and peach cobbler and pecan pie made by one of Waterstones's staff...)

The undertaker's daughter is an autobiographical memoir of childhood about growing up in a funeral home in Kentucky; Kate read a couple of extracts.  One, about a classmate who drowned in a swimming pool, had powerful resonances the characters in Wendy Cope's Tich Miller and Charles Causley's Timothy Winters; the other looked at fear, and the absence of fear, in the face of death.

Kate's talk also took in the wider aspects of Southern Gothic; the idea that there's a constant feeling of being haunted, and some of the causes: religious hysteria, family secrets, violence; the sundrenched wide skies but the feeling of confinement into small towns with small-town expectations and the further confinement into the domestic environment. She also touched on the slave past - in the small town she talks about, there was a lynching of four innocent black men in 1908 - and the weight of history.  It was a really interesting talk, and there were some good questions.  The book isn't out in the US yet and Kate has genuine worries about taking a book tour into the South because of the themes discussed and how people may react.  I haven't started the book yet but am really looking forward to reading it, as someone who can't decide whether To kill a mocking-bird or gods in Alabama is her favourite novel.

Friday, November 07, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 7: London gloaming

I was going to talk about last night's wonderful Waterstones event in the second half of the book theme, but I'll do that tomorrow.  For tonight, just a couple of London photos.

I always try to get the 11 bus from Westminster to Liverpool Street on a Friday night - the 1645 train out of King's Cross is the Train from Hell and only gets worse after Cambridge, and the 1707 from Liverpool Street is infinitely more civilised; in addition, the multiple M&S branches in Liverpool Street and the Huge Boots Branch are all very useful.

I was on one of the new Routemasters; they're... interesting. Love the return to being able to get on and off at the back; but they do look a little bit as if they've been designed by an alien Duplo-based lifeform.  Here, there's a 24 in front of us in the same design.


The bus wasn't meant to be the focus of the picture; Nelson had a particularly Turneresque sky to set him off this evening, as the sun set.

And then we headed along the Strand towards Fleet Street (the two streets are divided by a dragon in the middle of the road. As you do.)


The building on the left is the Royal Courts of Justice, another wonderfully bonkers Victorian Gothic edifice.  With the light, it all looked a little bit like fairyland.  In another couple of weeks it'll be dark while I'm doing this journey, so making the most of it while I can.

Another reason to be cheerful was having lunch with an old friend who was in the area; and is likely to be in the area a lot more from now on because of a new job.   So while I was shattered this morning, and am still behind with absolutely everything, I'm heading into the weekend in an unusually positive frame of mind. About to try and get chores done now to start the weekend well...

NaBloPoMo day 6: Tale of two books, part 1

I finished this book today, and I loved it.  So much so that I'll read it again to condense the review into the usual format.


A big chunk of this year's fun was wrapped up in the Tour de France (knitting element of this to follow), and Ned Boulting, Chris Boardman, Matt Rendell and Gary Imlach were a huge part of that. And this year the race-as-billed was just weird - Cav going out so badly at possibly the most important stage of his life, at least in his opinion; Froome pulling up at a completely undistinguished roundabout in the Nord in the pouring rain (while everyone wondered about Wiggins); then Contador; headless teams rushing around all over the place...  This book attempts to capture Ned Boulting's memory of the race, while doing an awful lot more besides.

So there's the recounting of the race, which is great; but sort of secondary as everything somewhat blurs and Nibali becomes dominant. If you want that though, you'd go to the Tour website and look at the stats...

I'm going to insert one of my photos from near the start of the Cambridge-to-London stage here, because it looks almost like a sports photographer's with the riders in focus and the crowds not. And because I turned up.


There's also the remembering of the absurdities of the race delivered in the highlights and the superb, rambling podcasts; the Cameraman's Wandering Thumb; nearly being run over by Norberts while trying to deliver a podcast; Chris Boardman's precision/grumpiness combo...

The third element is some history; both small elegies to the cyclists retiring this year (David Millar - this bit made me cry - Jens Voigt with the mystifyingly-pronounced surname...) and people much further back but within the living memory of some (Gérard Saint)... Then there are the interviews with people still intimately involved with the race, like Peta Todd, wife of Mark Cavendish, who gives a pretty frank account of the difficulties of living with a man whose joy and despair is measured in split-seconds.

The fourth is the affection and commitment to the race, and its utter absurdity, from the publicity caravan to the Italian official attempting to explain new rules using a human version of Google translate; the hysteria of being utterly knackered and completely wound up and still having to talk to people in a multitude of languages...

And the fifth is a deep, complicated, affectionate love of France, from wandering the aisles of an enormous Carrefour staring at the huge display of tinned peas and carrots and then just buying pistachios and wine to take back to the hotel, to a discussion of the construction of stools (the furniture kind) in Campanile hotels, to a history of Carcassonne and Viollet-le-Duc...

And just realised I hadn't mentioned one of the main things: it's funny; very funny.  If you're of a similar age to me, and Mr B, I defy you to read this on a train and get past the third page without attracting the attention of your fellow passengers.  If you're just a slip of a thing, there'll be something to tickle your fancy and make you embarrass yourself a page or two later.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 5: London compensations

I grumble a lot about the commute down to London.  I like to think I have justification for that - paying nearly 20% of my salary for a lousy service is less than fun.  But working in London can have its compensations.

Like the view from this meeting in April - took me so long to work out how to get the photo off my camera, which was only a week old at the time, that I never posted it.  We were in the Financial Times building next to Southwark Bridge.

View from the meeting room this morning, part 1

Here's the other half of the view, with added St Paul's and window reflection.

View from the meeting room this morning, part 1

Today I went to City University's campus near Angel for the first time; and managed to forget any means of taking photos.  Including my mobile.  Given that the meeting was called Knowledge Organisation Goes Mobile, the irony was not lost on me.  The first chance I've had for Tweeting smugly about a meeting I was in, and I blew it.  And many of the lovely apps we were shown only work for iPhone too...  But it's a lovely set of buildings, and a nice walk down from Angel.  And my (very tasty, if strangely "fusion") food took too long to arrive at lunchtime, so the pub gave me a full (completely unasked-for) refund!

On the way home, caught the end of the new monthly artisan food market at King's Cross; picked up turkey pierogi, spicy kabanos, chicken bistilla (tonight's dinner and very delicious) and a Monmouthshire veal, lemon and thyme dried sausage, and headed for the train.  Which was, just for a change, on time...  Good day.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 4: Preparing for remembrance

One of the things I'm most impressed by in the new King's Cross is the theatricality of the space in the new concourse, and the way the lighting's used.  All the way through Pride week, it was rainbows; over Christmas there's a tree but it's not horribly Chrismas-tastic; during the Olympics, the five colours of the Olympic rings were projected onto the roof.

This week, the theme's pretty obvious.  The monument to the men of the GNR and LNER (itself a sensitive reworking of the previous memorial tablets) is in the old half of the station. The new has this (the poppy theme is carried on onto the new first-floor bridge which sweeps back into the old station):


Scattered around the station, and the adjoining Tube station, are boards with short poems such as the Remembrance ode from For the fallen, Here dead we lie and In Flanders fields.

For me, they're striking the right note.

Monday, November 03, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 3: Festiwool 2

So, Festiwool was lovely.  An earlyish start, but Hitchin's only about an hour away even with a train change; friend Fran and I from the village met Rosie and Jackie, and managed to dodge the absolutely epic puddles on the short walk between the station and West Herts College.  Once we got there, it was pretty clear where to go:


And yes, those are little bits of cycle-bunting on the railings - there was quite a lot more in evidence too; but there's more about that later this month.

The event was opened by Baldock's only supermodel (I suspect) Daphne Selfe.  Ms Selfe is 85, but still impossibly elegant.  You probably don't even need me to tell you that she's the one in the pea-green dress.  I absolutely loved the nonchalance of her carrying her folding walking-stick in the pocket.  We didn't see her doing the opening bit, but this was later just after the fashion show.


And this is possibly an even worse photo, overcropped and so on; but look at those cheekbones.  Wonder if Kate Moss will still be strutting her stuff in 45 years time?


The halls filled up later - this photo was taken about 15 minutes after the doors opened - but the layout was such that you could always see things.  There was a bit of a crush around the button stall, but that's the nature of button stalls...


Heather and Michael from Sparkleduck had a little bit of a chance to catch up with a friend...


And there was a knitted village, which I'd have missed but was situated next to the main ground-floor loos... Amazing detail.


There was fun-fur thatch, which really worked; and let's have a closer look at that Methodist chapel...


And because no festival account is complete without The Haul, here are pics (minus the two or three things I bought for gifts)

Buttons from Textile Garden (TG also have excellent mail order, but nothing beats being able to weigh buttons in your hand and work out whether they're substantial enough for your project).  Metal ones for the NaKniSweMo cardi (the sleeve progress can be seen under the buttons), coconut-shell-that-look-like-leather ones for something To Be Decided.  Maybe a felted bag.


Yarrrrnnnn.  Left to right - Lang Mille Colori from Debonnaire, two skeins of Sparkleduck (grey is Pulsar in Town Mouse; sunsetty one is Galaxy in Darklands), a skein of Travelknitter high-twist merino in a colour called Dabbling Duck and a skein of DK from the bargain bin at Rosie's Moments. (And now I'm kicking myself - Travelknitter is Larissa, who I've talked to on Ravelry several times... gah.)


And my present to myself -  even prettier in real life than they were on Wendy Fowler's website, and even better matched to my house...



All told - lovely day.  The venue was brand-new, and there were stalls on two levels. There were loads of loos, and while I mistimed the food thing, there were lots of drinks and snacks available and I'd brought food having had the whole first-day-of-Yarndale experience.  I really hope it's been an equally good experience for the suppliers and organisers, and that it's run again next year, perfectly timed for Christmas-gift-knitting buying.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 2: Festiwool

For the moment, I'm just going to give you the Sparkleduck Sock Yarn Wall of Longing.
 Unfair, I know; but it was a bit of a mad day, and I hope to work it out in time for another post...


Saturday, November 01, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 1: Statement of intent

The more observant, or frankly the not-dead, may have noticed that the name of this blog is a Trades Descriptions error in 2014.  It's not been a great year; and I've been on social media a lot more than previously, possibly because being cheerful in 140 characters is easier...

But the clocks have gone back, and it's dark outside, and I need something to boot me into regular action... So I've signed up for this again

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Let's see what happens.  It won't all be knitting - I'm hoping to remember some of the good things this year, most of which have some sort of fibre content - but I'm hoping there'll be a bit more of a textile thing going than there has been...

I've signed up for a couple of other things in November, too - for the first time, I'm going for NaKniSweMo - which is the equivalent of the National Novel-Writing Month which has been going for years.  For the knitty version, I need to knit a sweater of more than 50,000 stitches in the month of November.  Unlike the writing version - strapline The world needs your novel - nobody needs this sweater, or in fact cardigan, apart from me; but I could really do with a cardi for when autumn finally sorts itself out, and express-knitting one seems like a good idea.  I already had the yarn for Burrard, bought from the lovely Aimée at Harbour Yarns when I was up there in August, so that was the one; it's neutral enough in colour that it'll wear with a lot of things.  The yarn is softish but still definitely wool, and it's amazingly sheepy smelling, for a machine-washable wool/nylon blend (Aire Valley DK from West Yorkshire Spinners).

Here's Day 1's progress; 7,600 stitches; which doesn't actually get me much more than a third of the way to the armpits, so I'm going to have no problem hitting the 50,000 but may still not finish the sweater! 


I'm envying slim and elfin people on the Ravelry group who are wondering whether to add long sleeves or collars to get the stitch count!

Tomorrow, I'm intending to get to my first Fibre Festival of 2014, Festiwool in Hitchin. I'll report back; not least on whether I see anyone knitting the way illustrated in the bottom right-hand photo in that link!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 books, #81-85

Shots fired: tales from Joe Pickett country, by CJ Box. London: Head of Zeus, 2014.

Short stories from Box, written for different publications and collected here. Some fit into the gaps between Joe Pickett stories, like One-car bridge, a reaction to a bully; others explore Box's fascination with what "normal", everyday people will do when pushed to the limit by unbearable pressure.  One I particularly liked was Pirates of Yellowstone, written for an anthology called Meeting across the river which asked for stories written around Bruce Springsteen's song of the same name; the characterisation struck me as just right for that song. I'm not the world's greatest short story fan, but if you like Box's longer-form fiction, you'll enjoy these and find something a bit different here.

A dark and twisted tide, by Sharon Bolton. London: Corgi, 2014.

A Lacey Flint novel. Lacey has left CID and become a Pc with the River Police; but trouble follows her wherever she goes. While free-swimming, dangerously, in the Thames near her houseboat in Deptford, she finds a body, shrouded and apparently recently freed from the depths of the river; and then strange things begin happening to her boat.  Meanwhile Mark Joesbury also appears to be in difficulties with his latest undercover assignment, and Dana Tulloch has started on a life-changing path.  Bolton looks at contemporary issues of immigration without judgment, while producing a tightly-written, gripping thriller. It'd be better to go back to the beginning of the Lacey series before reading this if you're averse to spoilers, but this book works very well on its own; and if you like books where London, and particularly the Thames, is a character, this is a great one.

Testament of youth: an autobiographical study of the years 1900-1925, by Vera Brittain. London: Virago, 2004. First published in 1933.

I first read this as a teenager, and was struck hard by the account of Brittain's time in the trenches and the physical horror of the injuries suffered by the troops.  Reading it again for book group, and with a lot more information about those times, what upset me most about this account was the coming to terms after the War; both the enforced inability to speak about what had happened to her during that time, in an environment where everyone wanted to forget about it, and the awareness of those studying international relations that it wasn't over, and that a second war seemed all-but-inevitable even in the early 1920s.  I don't think I'd registered the humour, either; or the distance Vera puts between her first love for Roland and having to come to terms with the rest of her life.  I'm so glad I read this again, even if I cried most of the way through it; it's an astounding book and this was the right time to re-read it.

Worth dying for, by Lee Child [audiobook].  Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2010.

After the events of 61 hours (last set of reviews) I ordered this one from the library quite quickly.  Reacher is left at a crossroads miles away from anywhere, and finds his way to an isolated motel. The very drunk doctor next to him at the bar is called out by a patient; while he's reluctant to go, Reacher reminds him of his oath, and offers to drive.  The patient turns out to be the wife of the young scion of the local ruling family, and she's obviously been beaten up... Inevitably, Reacher's walked into trouble again.  Another really excellent Lee Child book; although the violence/compassion ratio in this one is slightly difficult to take.

Through a glass, darkly, by Donna Leon. London: Heinemann, 2006.

I think this is the first of the Brunetti novels I've read - it was given to me by a friend several years ago now, but I often end up reading library books rather than ones I own...  Brunetti is called out by a colleague after the colleague's friend Marco is arrested during an environmental protest against the local large chemical plant; on the way out of the police station, Brunetti meets Marco's very angry father in law.  When the man's wife gets in touch weeks later suggesting her father is threatening to kill Marco, Brunetti feels obliged to investigate; but it's not Marco's body which is later found.  This investigation is set around the fornace (glass foundries) of Murano; it's interestingly plotted, and the Venetian setting is lovely.  I'll have to read more of these.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

2014 books, #76-80

61 hours, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2010.

Jack Reacher is involved in a bus crash in a snowstorm in South Dakota.  When the police finally arrive, Reacher's lack of luggage, and presence on a bus otherwise entirely occupied by pensioners on an out-of-season sightseeing holiday, attract their suspicion.  They have two problems - they're guarding a witness in a drugs case round-the-clock but are also committed to leaving the town entirely unstaffed if there's an emergency at the local prison complex; and they have a strange abandoned military facility on the outskirts of town occupied by the biker gang which seems to be behind the drug supply.  Once they find Reacher is ex-military, he's given the job of tracking down the original purpose of the facility.  Of course, puting Reacher behind a desk and telling him to stay there never bodes well...  Another excellent book, and the usual bang-up reading from Jeff Harding.

The table of less valued knights, by Marie Phillips. London: Jonathan Cape, 2014.

Marie Phillips is half of the writing team behind the wonderful Warhorses of letters, so this was bound to be a funny book.  The Table of Less Valued Knights is definitely below the salt in Camelot - the table itself needs a dinner napkin wedged under one leg to keep it steady - but when a damsel in distress turns up late at the Pentecost Quest Dinner, Sir Humphrey du Val springs to the rescue; as does his half-giant squire Conrad, and Conrad's elephant Jemima.  The lady Elaine turns out to be considerably less wet than "damsel in distress" would suggest; and is harbouring a secret.  Meanwhile, the "official" quest is also not what it seems - and the two quests get horribly mixed up when Martha, Queen of Puddock, the goal of the original quest, ends up with Sir Humphrey's party. Someone who enjoys Terry Pratchett would love this book, but it's harder-edged at times, and with more sexual politics... Highly recommended.

The ocean at the end of the lane, by Neil Gaiman. London; Headline, 2013.

No idea why this has taken me This has taken me a year to read because it's an Actual Hardback I Paid For Myself, and those are rare things.  I went to Mr G's wonderful reading/signing of this book at Ely Cathedral almost a year ago, and I've been saving it as a pleasure; and on the afternoon of 22 September I finally got round to reading it; in its entirety.  It is wonderful. There's a frame, which is semi-autobiographical, I think (Gaiman's father died quite unexpectedly 18 months or so before this book appeared) and then a central story about a seven year old boy who is caught up in events of extraordinary evil and beauty.  There's no point in telling you about the plot, because while that's the point, it's also not the point.  Going to Neil Gaiman for his take on it. "[A] novel of childhood and memory. It's a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside of each of us. It's about feat, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it's a novel about survival".  I'm incapable of being objective about Neil Gaiman's novels; but I suspect that's because they're just so bloody good.

Poppet, by Mo Hayder [audiobook]. Read by Jot Davies. Bath: AudioGO, 2013.

This is (thankfully) less grisly than some of Hayder's books, but no less suspenseful for that. Something, called The Maude, is causing mass terror in the Beechway Secure Unit; although psychiatric nurse AJ isn't superstitious, he still needs to know what's going on. After two unexplained deaths, he makes contact with Jack Caffery. Meanwhile Caffery is still looking for a body; and has an increasing suspicion as to where that body might be found.  I guessed the twist in the tail of this book a little bit early, but the conclusion's no less chilling for that.

The resistance man, by Peter Walker [audiobook]. Read by Peter Noble. [S.l.]: Jammer, 2012.

Bruno is dealing with a spate of burglaries from cottages owned by summer visitors, which turn out to include a recently retired head of the UK Joint Intelligence Committee; the high-profile robbery brings down the Brigadier and Bruno's old flame Isabelle. The next burglary results in murder, and brings back unpleasant memories of an unresolved gay-bashing case from Bruno's very early years in St Denis... As ever, a fabulous mix of whimsy, a real grip on the tensions in the contemporary France profonde, and some excellent cooking. Highly recommended. Peter Noble's reading is pretty workmanlike, with the very occasional wince at the French pronunciation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr S.

... and many happy returns.  65 today, and just getting better and better.

Friday, September 19, 2014

2014 books, #71-75

The secret race: inside the hidden world of the Tour de France; doping, cover-ups and winning at all costs, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. London: Corgi, 2013.

This is an engaging account from one of the insiders in the US Postal/Lance Armstrong doping affair; and an interesting counterpoint to David Millar's autobiography, in the previous set of reviews.  Hamilton is contrite and ashamed about taking EPO; but there's still an element of self-justification about it, in that as a new professional he became aware that everyone around him was doping, and that less strong riders on EPO were overtaking him rapidly.  I'm certain proximity to Lance Armstrong over many years made it much more difficult not to dope, but it gives me more of an equivocal feeling about Hamilton, despite his obvious charm and wish to contribute to a clean sport, and sympathy for the absolute hell he went through as the team scapegoat.  Daniel Coyle is silent in the main text, as a good ghostwriter should be; but is able to advance his own opinions (and occasionally, alternative accounts) in the footnotes, which adds an extra dimension.

Under the paw: confessions of a cat man, by Tom Cox [audiobook]. Read by Mark Meadows. Bath, BBC Audiobooks, 2010.

Another funny, light read from Tom Cox which has a huge number of points of instant recognition for anyone who's been owned by a cat. This is the first in the series and explains how The Bear and other cats came into Cox and his wife Dee's life, and their perambulations around various parts of rural Norfolk after leaving London.  The reading by Mark Meadows has a lovely light touch; ended up spending an entire day listening to this while doing housework and weaving.

Want you dead, by Peter James. London: Macmillan, 2014.

Red Westwood's life seems to be looking up - she's ditched the boyfriend who'd been intimidating her, and has found a new man, a new job as an estate agent and a new flat.  That is, until the new man is found burned to death, and a series of strange events lead her to the inescapable confusion that Bryce Laurent is even more dangerous than he seems.  Meanwhile, events from the past also threaten Roy Grace's wedding to Cleo.  Other than the intimate/romantic scenes, which always make me cringe in these books, this is tightly plotted and well-written, and a real page-turner.  It will take me a long time to forgive Peter James for one particular incident in this book though; any fans of the series will know which one once they've read it.

Red tide, by GM Ford [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Chivers, 2007.

This is somewhat more topical than it was when it was written. Something has killed a tunnel-full of people waiting for buses in Seattle just as experts from 50 countries are gathering for a symposium on chemical and biological weapons; and a short investigation shows that the Zaire strain of Ebola has been genetically mutated to kill instantly as an airborne virus.  Frank Corso, a true-crime author, is caught up in the aftermath after being evacuated from a party, and becomes involved in the investigation.  This is the first of Ford's books I've had on audiobook - mainly because of the reader - but will keep an eye out for these in future as it's tightly-plotted and canters along very nicely.

Blood work: a tale of medicine and murder in the scientific revolution, by Holly Tucker. New York: WW Norton, 2011.

A book about the early history of blood transfusion, set in England and France in the 1660s but spreading out to examine the wider issues of science, ethics, morality and scientific politics in general. Jean Denis, the maverick transfusionist at the heart of this story, is charged with murder having transfused calf's blood into a notorious madman who later died; and the book is based around this event. While some of the detail of the experimentation is pretty horrifying - trans-species transfusion with no understanding of blood groups, the use of unwilling prisoners for transfusion etc. - it's also fascinating seeing modern science being shaped and then being influenced by the scientific establishment in both countries.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

2014 books, #66-70

The persuader, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Dick Hill.  [S.l.]: Soundings, [n.d.]

Walking through Boston in search of a bar one night, Jack Reacher spots Francis Xavier Quinn, a man he thought he'd killed a decade before. This is an odd novel, because it's one of the rare Reacher novels narrated in the first person. Reacher becomes close to his female colleague in this case, as he had in the case ten years before, and the narrative slides between decades.  The perspective is unsettling, but definitely works in terms of amalgamating the narratives, and the final sequences wouldn't work without it... I'm not as keen on Dick Hill as a narrator as I am Jeff Harding; but I gather Mr Hill is the reader of choice for Audible, and he's not at all bad...

The silkworm, by Robert Galbraith. London: Sphere, 2014.

Cormoran Strike's detective business is doing a lot better these days, after the Lula Landry case; and he's still able to keep Robin working for him. But Robin's about to be married to a chap who hates her job, and she's still trying to get Matthew and Strike to meet (which, let's face it, goes as well as everyone was thinking it would, when it happens.)  Meanwhile, Strike's engaged by Leonora Quine, wife of novelist Owen Quine, to track him down on the grounds that Leonora's running out of money to support their daughter, who has a learning disability.  There's a hole in the plot of this you could drive a Tube train through; but to be honest I didn't care; it was fascinating, entertaining, horrifying and most of all I really cared about several of the characters, even the unlikeable ones.  I suspect if you hated Strike first time round (as most people in my book group did), you mightn't like this one either; but I think he's a fundamentally decent guy, and I hope we're in for many more of these.  Galbraith has definitely laid down a few enticing threads for both main characters which might be followable...

Talk to the tail: adventures in cat ownership and beyond, by Tom Cox. London: Simon and Schuster, 2011. [Kindle edition.]

Tom Cox is the man behind the "Why my Cat is Sad" Twitter account, and the Little Cat Diaries blog; while a book on a man and his cats should be unbearably twee, it really isn't; largely because these are real cats, and Cox is fully aware about falling into that trap.  I suspect that if you've never lived with cats, this book will have no interest whatever; but if you have experience of the wide range of cat personalities and relationships, it's both a fascinating read and extremely funny, with the odd very moving passage.

Racing through the dark: the fall and rise of David Millar, by David Millar with Jeremy Whittle. London: Orion, 2011.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this - can't remember when I last read a sports autobiography, and I've never really known whether people at the top level of their sport have anything interesting to talk about apart from the sport.  But Millar has been striking in his contrition for, and determination to eliminate, doping; and he's probably racing his last Grand Tour with the current Vuelta a España.  I read this in about a day and a half and was resentful about putting it down; it's a fascinating account of Millar's life before, during and after his EPO period in the early 2000s, with a lot of information and asides about the state of the sport at the time. It's also pretty much warts-and-all; Millar doesn't disguise the fact he knows he's been a complete idiot at times, but can also describe the total highs of winning, and there's huge praise for people like Sir Dave Brailsford who was shocked and disappointing at the news of the doping, but stood by Millar's rehabilitation as a rider.  Really enjoyable if you have any interest at all in the subject.

One of ours, by Willa Cather. Kindle edition.

An absolutely wonderful book, and I need to read more Cather. Claude Wheeler leaves university to take on management of one of the family farms in 1914, but is overcome both by the power his father has over his life and an inexplicable discomfort with just about everything in life.  When the US enters the war, Claude enlists, and travels across to France in a troop ship.  The story is based on the life of Grosvenor, Willa Cather's cousin, who was also very uncomfortable in his own skin and made a similar journey to the First World War. She didn't want to write a war story, but said that "it stood between me and anything else"; the book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.  What's striking is the compassion (the Wheelers have German neighbours and friends at home, and Claude's encounters with starving French people and orphans change him), and the descriptions of the countryside both in Nebraska and France. I don't give spoilers in these reviews so can't discuss some of the overall themes, but if you're going to read one WWI novel from the US perspective, this might as well be it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 books, #61-65

Spider light, by Sarah Rayne [audiobook]. Read by Diana Bishop. [S.l].: Oakhill, 2005.

Like the previous book by this author, there are layers to this thriller.... It starts with Antonia Weston, who has come to the quiet town of Amberwood after a very public tragedy; Antonia's interest in local history turns out to precipitate a tragedy; and the unveiling of secrets inside a place.  This is another stunning, multidimensional thriller, and is definitely worth a read.

Shut your eyes tight, by John Verdon [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: AudioGO,  [n.d.]

Dave Gurney gets a call from a former colleague; and can't ignore it. A bride's been killed in the middle of her wedding reception - the murderer's identity seems to be straightforward, but nobody can find him. The plot is fascinating. I have to admit that I find Gurney's wife entirely irritating throughout these books...

Blood games, by Faye Kellerman. London: HarperCollins, 2011.

This book was called Gun games in the US; which I found interesting. Peter and Rina Decker's foster son Gabe Whitman finds a girlfriend; sadly, the girlfriend's family would find non-Jewish, non-Persian Gabe unacceptable, so their meetings are clandestine. Meanwhile, Decker is investigating the murder of other teenagers.  Plots intertwine very well, and this is probably the best in this series for a while.

Breaking point, by CJ Box. London: Head of Zeus, 2013.

The title makes explicit the theme of so many of CJ Box's thrillers - how far can you push an ordinary person before violence ensues?  Of course, if you're in Wyoming with infinite access to weapons, it all becomes more deadly.  A couple is threatened with extraordinary sanctions by the Environmental Protection Agency, and it all goes horribly wrong.  This is, as ever, tightly plotted and character-heavy; and I was somewhat horrified to learn in the afternote that the most unbelievable elements of the plot actually happened.

Two evils, by PJ Tracy. London: Penguin, 2013.

Four Native American girls are kidnapped, and one is found in a car park with her throat cut. Two young immigrants from Sierra Leone are gunned down. Gino and Magozzi investigate, but as the victims escalate and everything becomes more incomprehensible, Monkeewrench are called in to protect their own. This is well up to the standard of the previous books; plot-wise, it runs alongside so many post-9/11 terrorist thrillers, but then we also have the characters we know... One exception though - there's a repeated reference to putting a jihad on someone; I'm pretty sure that's not correct on either side of the Atlantic and it should be a fatwa.  Irritated me, anyway, and I couldn't find any evidence of usage!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

2014 books, #56-60

Written in blood: the remarkable caseboook of one of Britain's top forensic scientists, by Mike Silverman with Tony Thompson. London: Bantam, 2014.

Mike Silverman worked for the Home Office's forensic science service from the 1970s until the late 1990s, and then in various high-level advisory posts.  This is a fascinating account both of the development of forensic science, particularly blood-pattern and DNA analysis, and of the politics surrounding government departments during the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s.  Silverman goes into individual illustrative cases, and there's a lot of gentle humour at his own expense, but also looks as the factors which led to the closing of the last government forensic laboratories in 2010. An extremely interesting and readable book.

The skin collector, by Jeffery Deaver. London: Hodder, 2014.

A young woman is killed in a New York basement by having been tattooed with an obscure poison - the tattoo "the second" only tells Lincoln Rhyme that there will be more deaths to come.  There are, as ever, a huge range of twists and turns in this story. Possibly too many; this is the first time I've ever felt that Deaver might be becoming almost a parody of himself.  It's still highly enjoyable though, with some new bits and bobs for people like me who've become very fond of these characters...

A room swept white, by Sophie Hannah [audiobook]. Read by Julia Barrie. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

Fliss Benson gets into work one morning to find her boss has resigned and bequeathed her his documentary film about women who have been exonerated of killing their babies.  It's already been a bad day because Fliss has received an anonymous card containing sixteen numbers in a grid pattern, none of which mean anything to her.  Then one of the subjects of the documentary, Helen Yardley, is found dead at her home, with a card with sixteen numbers in a grid pattern in her pocket...  Very well-plotted and with a surprising ending, at least to me; and obviously based on real events.

The devil's cave, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2012.

An Inspector Bruno novel.  A woman is found floating in a boat on the local river, surrounded by black candles and other black magic symbols; later the local cave system is found to have been vandalised in the same way. Bruno is also juggling a domestic abuse case and a local development proposal which seems just too good to be true; and has a ridiculously cute Basset hound puppy to train.  Well up to the standards of this series; Walker loves the quaintness of Périgord but is also aware of the tensions and flaws inherent in modern French life.

Gironimo! riding the very terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2014.

In French revolutions, Tim Moore covered (most of) the route of the 2000 Tour de France a few weeks ahead of the riders.  This time, and 12 years later, he decides to cover the route of the Giro d'Italia, 1914 edition, as a reaction to the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. Not content with riding the 3,200km of the route, he decides to do it on a 1914 bicycle and in the traditional merino cycling garb of the pre-WWI cyclist.  This is hilarious and moving by turns, and tells you a lot about both the world of a hundred years ago and life in Italy today. Highly recommended whether you like cycling or not.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014 books, #51-55

The death chamber, by Sarah Rayne [audiobook]. Read by Diana Bishop. Bath: Oakhill, 2008.

Georgina Grey has inherited her great-grandfather's cottage, and with it, his papers. He was the doctor to Calvary Gaol, and when Georgina bumps into a pair of documentary-makers in the local pub she is astonished to find that they are doing research into psychic phenomena in the now-abandoned prison buildings.  As it turns out, though, the threat to Georgina and researcher Jude (a former foreign correspondent blinded in a war zone) is not so much psychic as very real; someone is extremely unhappy about the past being dug up and is prepared to act on it.

Wolf, by Mo Hayder. London: Bantam, 2014.

This is a very scary book; there's real violence (and Hayder goes for gory), but there's also implied and threatened violence which is even more frightening.  Oliver, Matilda and Lucia Anchor-Ferrers arrive at their holiday cottage to find a scene which is horribly reminiscent of a crime which happened to the family a decade before. The perpetrator of that crime is still behind bars, though... isn't he?  Then the police arrive to warn the family; and it all gets worse from there...  Meanwhile, Jack Caffery is trying to find the secret of his long-lost brother's death, and the owner of a lost dog.  This twists and turns all over the place towards the end; Hayder has created a hall of distorting mirrors.  Excellent, but gruesome.

Her brilliant career: ten extraordinary women of the Fifties, by Rachel Cooke. London: Virago, 2013.

This was a book-group book, not one I'd normally have picked up, but I'm glad I did.  Some of the figures in this book are very well-known even today - Patience Gray the cook, for instance, and Rose Heilbron QC who was active well into the 90s; but some like Sheila van Damm, rally-driver and manager of the Windmill Theatre, have vanished from collective memory.  Some of the women were remarkable for their lifestyles (van Damm was in a relationship with both Nancy Spain and magazine editor Joan Werner Laurie), some for their choice of profession; all are remarkable for their unconventionality in the times.  Definitely worth a read.

Without fail, by Lee Child. London: Bantam, 2002.

A Jack Reacher novel.  Reacher is contacted by his brother Joe's former girlfriend Emily Froelich; she's now head of Vice-President-Elect Armstrong's security detail, and wants Reacher to try fnding the holes in her plan to protect Armstrong.  Reacher and former colleague Frances Neagley take the part of would-be assassins and advise Froelich; at which point it becomes clear that the threat to Armstrong is more than theoretical. Even by Lee Child's high standards, this is a good one; and after a couple of the books above (notably The death chamber) I realised again that one of the reasons I like Reacher is that he works totally straightforwardly with women as well as with men; I hadn't even realised that was what had irked me about some of the books I'd read recently!

Do not pass go: from the Old Kent Road to Mayfair, by Tim Moore. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2002.

Tim Moore has always been obsessed with Monopoly, and has always lived in London. One of the things he's always been puzzled by is the arbitrariness of the choice of stopping-points on the board - why Vine Street? Why the Angel Islington? What do the groups of places have in common?  Moore goes to investigate, in the random order of throwing dice to start, and having others throw dice when he gets to his destination.  This is a lovely, funny ramble around parts of London you wouldn't necessarily visit as a tourist, and the chapter on "the greens" (Bond, Regent and Oxford Streets) is made more hilarious by the confession that "the prospect of an extended retail quest for goods you can't plug in or uncork fills my limbs with gravel".  There are a lot of interesting, well-researched facts in here as well, which slip into your head while you're laughing....

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

2014 books, #46-50

And now the shipping forecast: a tide of history around our shores, by Peter Jefferson. Cambridge: UIT Cambridge, 2011.

This is a whimsical little book.  Occasionally a little too much so; but those moments are fewish and far between.  Peter Jefferson read the shipping forecast from 1969 until recently, and now reads the quotes on Quote, Unquote (I tried not to hold that particular thing against him when reading this book).  There's a lot of factual stuff on the construction and interpretation of the forecast, such as what the word then means with reference to types of weather, and some reminiscences of the different technologies used over four decades to get the forecast across. There's some general stuff about the BBC, and then a brisk tour around the shipping forecast areas.  If you're a Radio 4 nut, and don't mind the occasional awful pun, it's an entertaining read.

The crowded grave, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2011.

Life's pretty complicated for Bruno Courrèges at the moment. A body's been found by an archaeological dig, which would be fine if it weren't wearing a Swatch; animal rights activists are letting out ducks being raised for fois gras; a new magistrate is proving problematic; and there's a Franco-Spanish ministerial summit happening on Bruno's patch which may be threatened by Basque terrorists. On top of that, he still doesn't know where he is in his relationship with Pamela, and ex-lover Isabelle has arrived to help with the summit.  This is a wonderful series of books - Walker lives in la France profonde for six months of the year and it shows.  International and local politics are skilfully dealt with, and you could definitely cook from some of the descriptions of wonderful meals.

Farewell performance, by Tessa Barclay [audiobook]. Read by James Bryce. Whitley Bay: Isis, 2001.

The first of the Gregory Crowne books. Crowne is promoting an orchestra in the Edinburgh Festival when the instruments of several cellists, including a Stradivarius, are apparently stolen. Shortly afterwards, an outbreak of food poisoning at the hotel seems to be more than a coincidence.  Crowne ends up investigating along with the local police.  This rattles along nicely, but I find Crowne a bit irritating, particularly with regard to what might be thought of as old-fashioned gallantry or might, in my case, be thought of as patronising behaviour to women...  The reading is good enough, apart from the pronunciation of Guarnieri as Garnery - as this particular instrument-maker turns up a few dozen times in the book, it becomes a bit grating.

The funeral owl, by Jim Kelly [audiobook]. Read by Ray Sawyer. Oxford: Isis, 2014.

Philip Dryden's dilemma in this week's Crow isn't how to fill the pages of his Ely newspaper; it's what to leave out.  The body of a Chinese man is found crucified in a churchyard; a "Fen Blow" removes topsoil from a huge area; and Humph's daughter disappears (while this isn't news, it does put a crimp in Dryden's travel plans while his usual chauffeur is engaged on family business). Is a Chinese gang operating in King's Lynn? What's the significance of drowned tramps being found in a ditch? And will Dryden's little boy ever be bothered to start walking?  As ever, this is as much about the characters as it is about the plots, and shows the Fens in all their strange beauty.

Hangman, by Faye Kellerman. London: Harper, 2011.

I was delighted to find that Kellerman had produced not one but two Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus books while I wasn't watching - this is always difficult to track because she's one of those increasingly rare authors producing books with different titles on different sides of the Atlantic, so you can never really work out whether you're likely to have read the book before under another name...   This one features a couple of recurring characters, doctor Terry McLaughlin and her hit-man husband Chris Donatti; but mostly also their 14-year-old son Gabe, a messed-up musical prodigy who is foisted on the Deckers when both his parents disappear.  Gabe's an interesting character; and it's good to see the other kids, including little Hannah, in adulthood or their late teens. Decker's approaching 60 at this point, but not really slowing down on the homicide front; while looking for Terry, he's also trying to solve a series of stranglings.  I enjoyed this one a lot; but you sort of need to go back to the beginning of the series to get the most out of it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 books, #41-45

The teleportation accident, by Ned Beauman. London: Sceptre, 2012.

Egon Loeser, an experimental set designer in early 1930s Berlin, is trying to construct a replica of a 17th-century "teleportation device" when he meets Adele Hitler (no relation), falls in love and follows her first to Paris, then to Los Angeles. This is a novel which starts off (as signalled) as Literary Realism, but passes through genres including farce, hardboiled detection, time travel, playscript and science fiction before crashing to a conclusion.  It's a very enjoyable read after the first few pages; but I'm not really sure what I got out of it in the end!  While you'd think that given the time and place there'd a more political awareness, Loeser is completely politically disengaged throughout the period.  I may well go back and read Beauman's first novel, Boxer, beetle, though.

Cross and burn, by Val McDermid [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2013.

The eighth of the Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series from McDermid, and follows on almost a year after the traumatic events of The Retribution. Carol and Tony are still estranged and trying to rebuild their lives in their different, dysfunctional ways, when two women are abducted, tortured and murdered - the characteristic they have in common is that they both look like Carol Jordan. Paula McIntyre asks for advice from Tony, but then DNA evidence is found which draws McIntyre's new boss DI Fielding to an almost impossible conclusion, and leads Paula to hunt down Carol and enlist her help.  This is well up to the usual standard, and Reichlin's reading is excellent as ever.

Think of a number, by John Verdon. London: Penguin, 2010.

Dave Gurney, a retired NYPD homicide detective, is contacted by an old college acquaintance about some very odd letters in verse form he's been receiving. It's a puzzle, and Dave tries to encourage his friend to go to the police; then the friend is killed in circumstances where there's a mass of evidence, none of it pointing anywhere.  Meanwhile, Dave's wife Madeleine is more than a little annoyed at his being sucked back into homicide investigation.  This is extremely tightly plotted and a real page-turner of a first novel; the author is a retired advertising executive who lives in the Catskills near Gurney's fictional home.  If you like early P J Tracy, this is one for you.

French revolutions, by Tim Moore [audiobook]. Read by Andrew Wincott. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2009.

Tim Moore's gradually growing fascination with the Tour de France, fuelled by early daily TV coverage of the event, reached its apotheosis in 2000, when at the age of 35 he decided to cycle the entire course ahead of that year's riders. Just finding out details of the route in advance was a challenge at that stage (how things like satnav and smartphones have changed things), quite apart from the physical challenges of riding over 3,000 kilometres on roads stacked with old men on butchers' bikes and Norbert Dentressangle pantechnicons.  This is an extremely funny account, and Moore is honest about the combination of hubris, chicanery, sheer agonising slog and unpleasant physical side-effects involved in getting round an approximation of the course, while giving some snippets of the history of the Tour.  Wincott reads very well (his French pronunciation of Ventoux and Troyes, and his insistence on pronouncing "derailleur" with a French accent aside) and this is a funny, engaging read.

The autobiography of Jack the Ripper, by James Carnac [audiobook]. Read by Mark Meadows and Christian Rodska. Bath: Random House/AudioGO: 2012.

The weirdest thing about this account of Jack the Ripper's exploits is that it came from the estate of the man who invented Larry the Lamb and Toytown.  Having looked it up, this is a genuine mystery - is this a work of fiction, or could it be the truth?  The jury's still out among Ripper theorists.  Whatever it is, it's immensely interesting and entertaining, and gives all sorts of details of life in the East End as well as new ideas about motivation.  Christian Rodska is the main reader as the voice of Jack/James Carnac, with Mark Meadows as the "framing" narrator talking about the provenance of the narrative.  Rodska is, as usual, utterly compelling as a reader.  This is not one for someone who's blood-phobic; but equally, there are no gratuitous blow-by-blow accounts of the killings.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

2014 books, #36-40

Howard's End is on the landing: a year of reading from home, by Susan Hill. London: Profile, 2009.

Susan Hill went searching for a book on her shelves, and discovered a treasure trove of unread books, or books she wanted to re-read. She decided to spend a year reading only things she found on her own shelves, and this book is the result.  There are short essays on different authors, and also on themes (school stories, detective fiction etc.); all very readable and an introduction to some new-to-me authors which have now been added to my reading list. There's also a particularly moving chapter on Charles Causley.  Hill has worked in the literary world since her first novel was published at the age of 18, and so has met and liked many of these authors, so personal anecdotes also feature. There are also some surprising dislikes, including an antipathy to Jane Austen, which gives this book an extra interest.

Jar city, by Arnaldur Indridason [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Oxford: Isis, 2014. (Originally published in 2004.)

A man is found murdered in his Reykjavik flat. There are no clues apart from a cryptic note left on the body, and a photo of a young girl's grave. Erlendur discovers the man was accused of a terrible crime 40 years before, but never convicted. Meanwhile Erlendur's daughter has come home after some time away living a wild life. Parents and children feature heavily in this book, and the "jar city" of the title reflects a quite recent UK scandal.  Reichlin does his usual workmanlike job on the reading here, but somehow the story never really caught fire for me.

To die for, by Tessa Barclay [audiobook]. Read by Michael Tudor Barnes. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2007.

The unlikely team of a (deposed) Crown Prince of fictional Hirtenstein and a London fashion designer (Greg and Liz) investigates a murder in the rolling stacks of the Museum of Music Heritage; the victim is a friend of Greg's and companion to an elderly Chopin fanatic, who in turn believes she is in possession of a photocopy of an original manuscript.  The search takes Greg and Liz to Paris, Scotland and Dover in search of the murderer.  This is what you'd call a "cozy" if you were American, I think; it's quite gentle, in places over-explained (yes, we've got it, she's a fashion designer so she likes clothes) and you can see things coming a long way off, but I'll look out for other books in the series because it buzzes along nicely. And Michael Tudor Barnes is an excellent reader and does all the accents.

The outcast dead, by Elly Griffiths. London: Quercus, 2014.

Digging at the foot of Norwich Castle, Ruth Galloway unearths Victorian bones; a woman with a hook for a hand who may be the notorious murderer Jemima Green, hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children in her care. Meanwhile DI Harry Nelson is investigating the deaths of three other infants in the same family; he's convinced the mother is responsible although others on his team think otherwise. The cases intertwine - King's Lynn and its network of mothers and babysitters is only so big - and while Ruth learns about the intricacies of TV archaeology, she's also drawn in to Nelson's case.  This is well up to the usual standard of these books; I'm only sad that I read these way too fast.  And finally, the mystery of the King's Lynn Campbells factory tower is solved - I've kept thinking I've just looked out of the window at the wrong time, when it turns out the tower was demolished in 2012...

Let the devil sleep, by John Verdon [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: Chivers/AudioGO, [n.d.]

This is the third one in this series, and contains major plot spoilers for the second one; but a new-to-me author so I didn't realise this.  I'll be going back and reading the others, anyway.  This has some of the elements of the Peter Decker or Dave Robicheau books, but with an element of the supernatural more reminiscent of Greg Iles or some of Harlen Coben's standalones. An old journalist acquaintance of retired cop Dave Gurney gets in touch: her daughter is producing a documentary on a 10-year-old series of murders by the "Good Shepherd", a murderer who was never caught, and she asks Gurney to keep an eye on her daughter. Gurney becomes fascinated by the original series of murders, and as the documentary series starts appearing, on the unintended consequences it unleashes.  This is very, very well-written, and I was very happy to spot the first in the series lurking in my "unread" pile, so will be picking that up soon!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

2014 books, #31-35, plus an extra

This boy: a memoir of a childhood, by Alan Johnson. London: Bantam, 2013.

This could so very easily be a misery memoir. Alan Johnson describes growing up in a slum with his violent, feckless father, his hardworking but chronically ill mother and his quite remarkable sister, and some of the incidents seem to come from a previous century, not the era of JFK and the Beatles. Because Johnson manages to step back slightly (describing his parents by their first names and supplementing his memory with those of family and friends), he can look slightly more dispassionately at events, but every now and then emotion does break through and it's more powerful for that.  It's also a portrait of two strong, tenacious women, particularly his sister Linda who seems to have taken charge of the family from the age of 9 or 10. Compassion also comes over as a strong element in the book - Johnson is clear that he was protected from many of the worst things his family was experiencing by being the younger one, but he was obviously aware of, and outraged by, some of the racism experienced by a schoolfriend, and aware that at the time, however terrible things were at home, his friend had it worse.

This is a read-at-a-sitting sort of book; and you're left wondering how this junior postman (who at the end of the book has just married at 18 and become a father to his wife's small daughter) ended up in some of the top Cabinet posts in the 1990s and 2000s.  I went to see Johnson discussing the book (very engagingly) at the Cambridge Literary Festival this morning, and happily there's a second volume in the works covering that period (due out in September, we're told...)

The scent of death, by Andrew Taylor. London: Harper, 2013.

Set during the American War of Independence. I'm currently listening to a podcast series on this, so it was a nice coincidence.  Edward Savill, a civil servant, has been sent to New York from London to assess the claims of loyalists whose land has been seized and property destroyed during the war; he lodges with a former judge, his wife and their daughter whose husband has disappeared in the war. Taylor handles a complex plot with his usual skill, and really gives us a flavour of the period; and there are some truly terrifying moments in this.

The President's hat, by Antoine Laurain. London: Gallic Books, 2013.

This is a lovely whimsical little book. Daniel Mercier, treating himself to a meal at a posh Parisian restaurant, finds himself sitting on the next table to François Mitterand; when Mitterand leaves, Daniel finds the President's hat on the banquette next to him.  When he puts on the hat, things start to change in his life... This is set in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I knew Paris best, and some of the details of life (Minitel, Jack Lang as Culture minister, les Grands Projets) brought many others flooding back.

Echo burning, by Lee Child. London: Bantam, 2001.

Jack Reacher wakes up to discover that the guy from last night's bar fight is a police officer; escaping from town, he's picked up by a beautiful woman.  What seemed to be a lucky break turns out to be the beginning of entrapment in another dangerous web; the woman tells him her husband's in jail, and when he comes out he's going to kill her.  I usually enjoy books from this series, but this one was genuinely difficult to put down - to the extent that I missed my Tube stop twice while reading it...

Never tell, by Alafair Burke [audiobook]. Read by Jennifer Woodward. Bath: Oakhill/Harper, [n.d.].

A 17-year-old girl is found in the bathtub of her family's Upper East Side apartment, apparently having slashed her wrists; there's a note, and the police initially write it off as suicide despite the insistence of the girl's parents. Meanwhile, the mother of one of the girl's friends is being harassed about comments she has made on her well-known blog.  The plot twists and turns, but somehow never really lights up, and despite the reading being quite decent, it failed to hold my attention; I found myself skipping back a couple of tracks several times because I'd missed some detail of the plot.

And then the extra:

The October list, by Jeffrey Deaver [audiobook]. Read by Todd Boyce. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2013.

I don't normally review books/audiobooks I haven't finished; it seems unfair to the author.  In this case though, I think readers who've been with this blog for any length of time know that I bloody love Jeffrey Deaver, but I couldn't deal with this one at all and want to warn people like me not to wait for months for (or pay to download) an audiobook they might not like! The premise is that each chapter is the prequel of the one before.  I listened to one of the 6 disks and abandoned, I'm afraid; just not a way of reading I can get my head round.  I'm not one of those people who likes to turn to the last page to find out whodunnit, and I like to read series in order; it just messed with my head way too much.  I'm sure that if you do get on with that way of reading, this will be as excellent as many of Deaver's books... just warning those who read like I do.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 books, #26-30

One for the books, by Joe Queenan. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Joe Queenan is an inveterate reader, and has quite definite opinions on reading, and on the finite length of the rest of his life, and on what he's decided he no longer has time to read.  Books give his life structure, memory and colour.  This is a lovely book about the meaning of reading, particularly of reading print books (there's a refrain of You couldn't do that with a Kindle).  While I can disagree with him quite passionately on his love for Proust and his disdain for To kill a mockingbird, I love his endeavour here.  And as anyone who remembers his broadcasts on popular culture will know, the guy is seriously funny so even while you're disagreeing with him, you're smiling at his invective.

Entry Island, by Peter May. London: Quercus, 2014.

This is the best book I've read this year so far.  Sime (pronounced Sheem) is brought in as the only English-as-a-first-language detective investigating the murder of a man on a remote island in Québec province. All evidence points to the wife as the murderer, but Sime is thrown off-balance by the strong belief that he has met the woman before.  Sime's job is complicated further by his soon-to-be-ex-wife also being present on the investigating team, and by his insomnia punctuated by dreams derived from his great-great-grandfather's diary, also from a remote island but this time in the Hebrides.  The stories intertwine and disorient the reader to the extent that sometimes we, like Sime, forget which time and place we're in. May does an amazing job here and it's a spellbinding read.

Danubia, by Simon Winder. London: Picador, 2013.

I'm not sure how much more knowledge of the Habsburgs I've managed to absorb in this really engaging canter through their history, but I definitely enjoyed the ride.  Winder is an enthusiast for all things Central and Eastern European, and uses visits to present-day places to show the history, and often the multiple renamings, of towns and regions.  He also picks up on quirks - the Habsburg jaw, the presence of improbable museums and so on - as repeating motifs.  I think what I most like about this book is that he's just wandering the areas (mostly on public transport) sort of bumping into his subjects everywhere, while illustrating quite powerfully the history of conflict, nationalism, rootlessness, fecklessness, monomania and inbreeding which characteristed the dynasty.  And oh, those poor, poor women, sacrificed on the altar of male primogeniture and slaughtered like cattle through childbirth.  And despite this last sentence, this is a profoundly humorous, humane book.

The child who, by Simon Lelic. London: Picador, 2012.

Twelve-year-old Daniel Blake has killed his schoolmate Felicity Forbes in Exeter.  This is stated very near the beginning of the book, and this isn't really a detective story; it's more an exploration of the effect of a brutal crime on the families involved, including the families of the legal and law enforcement professionals brought into a case. Leo Curtice, a local solicitor, is brought in to represent Daniel, and is unprepared for the public fury the case has unleashed and its effect on his family. It's very difficult to put this book down; the sense of one crime rotting its way through families and relationships is very powerful, and the ending is definitely worth waiting for.

We are here, by Michael Marshall [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding.  Oxford: Isis, 2013.

Really not sure what to make of this. (I've had this problem with Michael Marshall's books before).  The premise is instantly grabbing and somewhat creepy - we're introduced to a number of people who are having strange and inexplicable moments in their lives; a woman whose book group companion feels as if she's being followed but can see nothing; a man who encounters strangers in Union Park in New York who seems to be fading in and out...  It's all really engaging, and you keep listening; but I don't really feel at the end as if I worked out what was going on.  This is one listened to in bits over several weeks, though, so it may be my attention span, rather than the writer's ability, which is at fault.