Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 books, #76-80

Kennedy's brain, by Henning Mankell [audiobook]. Read by Anna Bentinck. Oxford: Isis, 2008.

When archaeologist Louise Cantor's son Henrik is found dead at his flat, she refuses to believe it was suicide.  While going through his papers, she is shocked to discover that Henrik was HIV positive; and that he had an obsession with the conspiracy theory that John F Kennedy's brain disappeared prior to his autopsy.  She also finds a letter and photograph from Henrik's girlfriend in Mozambique. Travelling to Australia to inform her estranged husband of the death, and then to Africa, Louise becomes embroiled in other conspiracies and mysteries.  Mankell's knowledge of, and love of, Africa come out strongly in this book and the conclusion is both shocking and makes a lot of sense.

"Knitting by the fireside and on the hillside": a history of the Shetland hand knitting industry c. 1600-1950, by Linda G. Fryer. Lerwick: Shetland Times, 1995.

This is a fascinating account of the industry of knitting in Shetland.  There's very little about the actual garments themselves, but a lot about the financial dependence of women on knitting, and about the "truck" system which kept many women trapped in a barter system rather than a cash economy. The author uses contemporary statistics and accounts-books to illustrate, and it's presented very interestingly.  One factor I really hadn't understood was the serious over-representation of women in the economy due both to wars and to losses in the fishing industry, and the number of single women of working age in the population.  My only quibble with this book is that it was originally produced as a dissertation and it would have been advisable for the author to employ a competent editor - the over-use of commas, in particular, seriously detract from the readability of the book and break up the flow of what would otherwise be an engaging read.

The coroner, by M R Hall [audiobook]. Read by Sian Thomas. Bath, BBC Audiobooks, 2010.

Jenny Cooper is appointed HM Coroner for Severn Vale, after a period away from work due to a breakdown following a messy separation from her husband and teenage son, and after the sudden death of previous coroner Harry Marshall.  She starts off on the wrong foot immediately, offending her Coroner's Officer and reopening an inquest against the wishes of the parents.  As she continues, she realises that her fragility has contributed to her getting the job, and that powerful interests are at play in thwarting her investigations.  Really enjoyed this - the next one's on order. (Recommendation from my Dad, I think, this one!)

Cocaine blues, by Kerry Greenwood. Scottsdale, Ariz: Poisoned Pen Press, 2006. [Originally written in 1989]

The first of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, and an excellent start.  Phryne is now a creature of luxury and a flapper of some reputation, but grew up poor in Australia until war and other disasters catapulted her father into the family title.  In this book, she returns to Australia at a family friend's request - he's worried about his daughter who may be being slowly poisoned by an abusive husband. Almost as soon as Phryne arrives, she encounters another crime - the carrying on of an illegal abortion trade which nearly kills a young woman and has killed several others.  This is delightfully written - Phryne is rather in the Amelia Peabody mode of female detectives (Her dangerous imports into her native land included a small lady's handgun and a box of bullets for it, plus certain devices of Dr Stopes' which were wrapped in her underwear under an open packet of Ladies' Travelling Necessities to discourage any over-zealous customs official) with a similar love of appropriate clothing. I discover to my delight that there are twenty of these so far - thankyou, Ned, for the suggestion!

Front runner, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Martin Jarvis. [S. l.]: Bolinda, 2015.

Jeff Hinckley is back. In this case, he's approached by Champion Jockey Dave Swinton, who confesses he's deliberately lost a race.  Swinton then clams up, but phones Jeff the following day to discuss further - this turns into an attempt on Jeff's life, followed by Swinton's apparent suicide in his burning car.  Hinckley is, as ever, unconvinced by the obvious explanation, and investigates further into the murky business of race-fixing.  I am so glad Felix Francis picked up the reins (sorry) on this series; they are classic Francis and each one is a joy.

2015 books, #71-75

The hour: sporting immortality the hard way, by Michael Hutchinson. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2007.

Hutchinson (@Doctor_Hutch on Twitter) started off as an academic in international law, but after realising it bored him to death he pursued his alternative career as a writer and cyclist, more specifically a time-triallist.  He has been extremely successful with a men's record of 56 national and international ITT races, in a time when cycling hadn't hit the stellar heights it has now.  This book is mainly about his preparations for the Hour Record, which ultimately he didn't manage to break.  It's told in a funny, occasionally moving style, full of the trials and tribulations of shifting requirements from the commissaires, supportive (and not) e-mails from previous record-holders, and a history of the Hour itself.  And it's being told by someone with a pretty ordinary budget; you can't necessarily imagine Bradley Wiggins trying to get two bicycle frames from Heathrow by Tube, for instance...  Lovely book, extremely well written.

Deity, by Steven Dunne [audiobook]. Read by Jonathan Keeble. Bath: Oakhill, [no date].

Four Derby College students go missing, but few worry too much about disaffected sixth-formers taking off.  Until a video is broadcast on the internet, purporting to show the sutdents committing suicide.  Is it real, or fake?  And either way, why has it been produced?  DI Damien Brook investigates.  This rattles along very nicely, with some seriously creepy bits towards the end; and there are a satisfying number of twists and turns.  Nice workmanlike reading by Jonathan Keeble, too.

Little black lies, by Sharon Bolton [audiobook]. Read by Antonia Beamish, Kenny Blyth and Antonia Price-Lewis. Oxford: Isis, 2015.

It's 12 years after the Falklands War.  Catrin Quinn is still grieving for the two boys she lost when her best friend's car rolled over a cliff, carrying them with it. Callum Murray is still suffering from the post-traumatic stress caused by the war. Rachel Grimwood is still racked by the guilt of Catrin's boys' death.  And then young boys start disappearing, three in three years...  This is a complex story, told from all three points of view; who are we meant to believe? it's never obvious.  This is another excellent book from Bolton, and a great reading from all three voices.

Close encounters of the furred kind, by Tom Cox. London: Sphere, 2015.

Another lovely book from Tom Cox.  A book about four cats and their humans should be a bit twee; but somehow isn't. Mainly because Cox is loving, but not sentimental, about all animal life, and his account of moving within Norfolk and then to Devon is appropriately enthusiastic about parts of country life, but realistic about other elements.  Sweary Shipley, self-obsessed Ralph, intrepid Roscoe and, of course, poet-philosopher The Bear, all play their parts here, along with glorious ginger George and assorted neighbouring cats including the memorable Uncle Fuckykins.  The human cast of characters include Tom's Dad, a man who speaks ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS. There are also little interludes such as the Cat Horoscope section, which includes Gemini: This week brings a significant fork in the road for you, in the form of having to decide whether to sit on two clean towels or in a plant.  If you've ever owned, or been owned by, a cat, you'll laugh and cry your way through this.

Time of death, by Mark Billingham [audiobook]. Read by the author. Oxford: Isis, 2015.

Tom Thorne and Helen Weeks manage to get a weekend away on their own; but then they turn on the TV and see the partner of one of Helen's schoolfriends being arrested for the abduction of two teenage girls.  Helen goes back to her home town to support her friend, but old secrets start coming out of the woodwork, along with old resentments.  Characteristically tightly plotted, and with elements of Billingham's sense of humour, this is also an excellent reading by the author.  The consistency of this series is amazing.

2015 books, #66-70

The citadel, by A J Cronin. London: Vista, 1996.

Originally published in 1937, this is a powerful, semi-autobiographical novel about a doctor in South Wales and in London. Andrew Manson, newly-qualified, comes to Wales to learn his trade from an experienced GP.  When he arrives in Drineffy, he finds that his mentor is paralysed by a stroke, and that the other GPs in the town are a strange ragtag bunch.  Manson learns on the job, and becomes aware of how inadequate his education has been in equipping him to help with real-life problems; and he also develops a burning rage at how inadequate health services are for the poor.  This is both a great read, despite its somewhat old-fashioned melodramtic style (I read this as a teenager and found it unputdownable on re-reading) and a very influential book; Cronin and Aneurin Bevan both worked at the Tredegar Cottage Hospital which was the model for the creation of the NHS.  One feeling I don't remember having when first reading it was the amount of sympathy I have for Manson's wife Christine; probably a function of age and experience!

Library of the dead, by Glenn Cooper [audiobook].  Read by Pete Bradbury. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2010.

A murderer is on the loose in New York; FBI agent Will Piper is assigned the case. All that connects the victims is their having received a postcard telling them they were about to die.  The story boings around between contemporary New York, medieval Isle of Wight (second audiobook running with an Isle of Wight component!) and the 1930s.  And, to be honest, is overly complicated.  I may not have been concentrating when we finally understand the why of what's happening, but I don't think so.  I didn't really enjoy this, or really work out what was going on...

The book of souls, by James Oswald.  London: Penguin, 2013.

The last victim of the Christmas Killer was DC Tony McLean's fiancĂ©e Kirsty. 12 years after McLean was instrumental in the killer's conviction, the man dies in prison.  And then the killings start again...  I really enjoyed reading this one, as the last; but while the final scenes were thrilling, it just felt a little empty.  There are supernatural elements here I don't get, and they're fundamental to the plot; and while I can deal with quite a lot of what the Americans helpfully call "woo", it does detract for me from what's otherwise a really excllent police procedural with a lot of great characterisation...  If you're not bothered by Greg Iles's leaps of faith, you won't be here either; it just feels weirder in a British context.

Damage: a Dick Francis novel, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Michael Nielson. [S. l.]: Bolinda, 2014.

Jeff Hinckley is an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority.  In the course of his investigations, he witnesses a murder of a racecourse bookie by a banned trainer. Days later, it turns out just about all the horses at a major race meeting have been doped.  There's something deeply wrong in horseracing - and Jeff has a nasty suspicion it might come back to the board.  This is another wonderful Felix Francis book which recreates the themes of vintage Dick Francis within the modern context. Doping, bribes and a leading sporting body - surely not?  And a good reading by Nielson.

Go set a watchman, by Harper Lee. London: Heinemann, 2015.

I bought this the day it came out - but it took until suggesting it for book group to make me read it. To kill a mockingbird is probably my favourite novel, and while I knew the background (and associated controversies) to this one, I was pretty nervous coming into it.  I shouldn't have been; Lee's style shines through and by about page 12 I was heaving a sigh of relief.  It's not a patch on To kill a mockingbird - if it had been, it'd have been published as is, and we might not have had the later book - but it's an interesting read, and there are some genuinely funny moments, particularly the waspish descriptions of the coffee party Jean Louise's aunt throws for her.  It degenerates rather when people start hurling bits of the constitution at each other, like a sub-standard episode of The West Wing, and the ending is probably even more ambiguous than Lee intended; but if you enjoyed Mockingbird, this is definitely worth a read.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Woolly Wormhead: the View from the Red Pen

The next stop on Woolly's 10 year anniversary blog tour after Susan Crawford's lovely post - this is editors' week!  Introducing ourselves as Heather Murray, tech editor/maths checker, and Liz Marley, test-knitter and copy-editor.  And both fans, obviously...  (And that post title: it turns out that Heather uses a purple ballpoint and Liz uses neon orange fountain-pen ink...)

We're hosting this on Liz's blog, but it's a joint effort, which seems appropriate given what we do.  Being people who like structure, we decided on a few questions and answers...

Q: When did we both meet Woolly?

Heather: If I am remembering correctly I think I met you both at Skip North, in I think 2007. I remember learning how to use Procion dyes with Liz, and teaching Woolly Crochet Provisional Cast-On on a bus trundling round the yarn shops of West Yorkshire. I first started working with Woolly in the middle of 2010 with some individual designs, and then the reprint of Going Straight.

Woolly at the I Knit Weekender in 2009

Liz: I met Woolly at Skip North in 2005, the first "real" one.  Woolly was building a freeform crochet hat, and also a Hex hat; the two impressions I came away with were that she was both extraordinarily talented, and also Not A Morning Person.  Then we kept bumping into each other at shows (I remember one just-about-silent journey from King's Cross to Ally Pally way too early in the morning, both of us clutching caffeine of choice), and I have good memories of the Going Straight launch party in 2007. Thankfully, we stayed in touch when Woolly and the family started spending much of the year in Italy, and it's been a pleasure to have her to stay over the last couple of years when she's taught at the Sheep Shop in Cambridge.

(Thanks, Sarah from the Sheep Shop, for the photo!)

Q: What do we find most interesting about the way Woolly designs?

Heather: I love that each design has its own internal logic, and I love discovering that as I work through the pattern. She is very good at making each section of the Hat flow into the others, so that while each section is interesting and beautiful in its own right, the whole still manages to be more than the sum of the individual parts. Her Hats have a wonderful sculptural quality, while still being very wearable.

Liz: I'm constantly amazed by the way Woolly thinks in 3D.  She seems to know every time exactly what she's trying to achieve, and to be able to picture the whole thing in her head.  I suppose part of it is her art and engineering background, and it's always a beautiful thing to watch!  I also love the crowns - you never get the feeling they're an afterthought.  (This is possibly why I don't actually own any Hats designed by any other designer.)

Tucked. Photo © Woolly Wormhead

Q: What do we each contribute to the editing and production process?

Heather: Mostly I am keeping an eye on the maths when I go through either a single pattern or a book. I check that the tension given combined with the stitch counts will give Hats of the stated sizes, and that each time a stitch count is given for a pattern repeat, or increases or decreases, that it all works out in all of the sizes. I make sure that all of the appropriate information is clearly given so that the knitter can successfully make their Hat in their chosen size.  I also check for consistency in use of abbreviations within the pattern and within the whole book, and within Woolly's body of work.

Liz: I'm part of Woolly's small, friendly, test-knitting pool, and we get to see the designs at the just-written-up stage.  At that point, I try and shut off my brain and knit to exactly what's written in the pattern. If I have the slightest doubt, I don't do what I'd normally do as a knitter and try and fudge things or work things out myself - I flag it up, because if I don't get it, there's the likelihood that someone else won't either.  And then, after Heather's done her tech-editing magic, I copy-edit patterns for the books (and, over the last couple of years, for the Mystery KALs too).  That involves a little bit of spelling/grammar work, but mostly consistency - making sure that the style flows between patterns and between books, and that, for example, type/font styles are consistent across the board, that the Table of Contents has the correct pagination once the final order of patterns has been determined, that nothing's been inadvertently cropped in layout, and so on.

Q: Favourite Woolly pattern from the last decade?

Heather: My favourite Hat to knit has been Quynn  . I have so far knitted 10 of these! 3 each for my nephew and nieces (luckily they are young enough that they aren't reading this so wont realise that they are each getting one for Christmas!), and one for me. Quynn was the only hat one of my nieces would voluntarily wear last winter. My favourite Hat to edit has probably been Asymloche . That was a fun brain puzzle to see how this one worked! Each segment is different and there are short rows and different stitch counts to keep track of. Good fun :-) And another good example of where Woolly has taken what is a rather difficult concept and created a beautiful Hat with a pattern that is easy to follow.

Quynn. Photo © Woolly Wormhead

Liz: Favourite I've kept for myself - last year's MKAL, Sophora; I love this one both for the lovely 7-point pattern on the crown of the beret, and for the folded brim which makes the knitter feel very clever in the completion of it (and keeps your ears really warm).  Favourite I've knitted for someone else - made a Baby I-Cord Beanie for my nephew in November 2007 which he wore from it being way too big, as in this photo, to when it was making ridges in his forehead because it was so much too small!


Q: Favourite Woolly pattern from Painted Woolly Toppers?

Heather: I think this is probably Dancette. I love the way the changes of direction work with the hand painted yarn. And I enjoyed the opportunity to use a bit of Pythagora's Theorem to check the depths of the Hat :-)

Dancette. Photo © Woolly Wormhead

Liz: Knew I shouldn't have let Heather go first! - I test-knitted Dancette and it is so very clever (and I now know what a Dancette is)!  I also love Jetty - the use of dropped-stitch waves on a Hat is really unexpected, and the decreases work so beautifully towards the crown.  Must get that one out and wear it this winter!

Jetty. Photo © Woolly Wormhead

Finally, in celebration of Woolly's 10 years of publishing and blogging, there's a prize on offer at each stage of the Tour - a project bag made by Woolly herself, and a pattern of your choice.  And as it's also my (Liz's) 10th blog anniversary, I've dyed a skein of organic merino in a heavy aran-weight which will also be making its way to the winner!

To enter, please leave a comment below, telling me which of Woolly's Hats is your favourite and why, before midnight (GMT) at the end of next Sunday, December 20.  I'll pick a winner first thing on the Monday morning.