Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 books, #116-120

A full dark house, by Christopher Fowler [audiobook]. Read by Tim Goodman. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2003.

I enjoyed this immensely while it was happening, but found the plot pretty confusing and the motive unclear.  This may well have been due to no fault of the author though - three of the CDs, including the last one, were really badly damaged.  The final disc looked as if it had been deliberately scratched...  This has a dual setting in the early 2000s and in 1940, when Arthur Bryant and his partner in detection John May first meet at the fledgeling Peculiar Crimes Unit.  It has a great deal of humour and period detail; I'll definitely read another, preferring to believe that it's the jumps in the recording rather than the author's skill which was at fault with this one!

The best American mystery stories 2010, edited by Lee Child. Kindle edition.

Well; if these were the best American mystery stories of last year, it wasn't a great year.  There are a couple of gems - Doug Allyn's An early Christmas, Kurt Vonnegut's Ed Luby's key club and Philip Margolin's The house on Pine Terrace are excellent, but the rest were a combination of the confusing, the somewhat unpleasant, the overly gory and the just plain badly written.  

Fell purpose, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles [audiobook]. Read by Terry Wale. Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear: Soundings, 2009.

A young girl's body is found on parkland near Wormwood Scrubs prison.  Fleetingly, Slider's team believe she may have been a prostitute, but it soon turns out that Zellah Wilding was a nice girl from a strict Christian family.  Trying to discover what was happening is steadily more confusing for Slider, as the more he finds out about Zellah, the less he knows.  Excellent vintage Bill Slider, with all the humour and humanity you'd expect.

Open season, by C J Box. Kindle edition.

The first of the Joe Pickett novels - not available on Kindle when I started reading the series.  Joe's daughter tells a tale about a monster who came into their garden the night before - when Joe goes out to reassure her, he finds the bloody body of an outfitter (professional hunter who acts as a guide to amateurs), clutching the handle of an empty cool-box with animal scratch-marks on the inside.  As Joe tries to investigate the murder, all the authorities seem to be against him; he is suspended from his job, and his life and that of his family is threatened.  Box always takes the theme of a good man pushed one step too far; but it's always far more interesting than that.

Betrayal, by Karin Alvtegen [audiobook]. Read by Sophie Ward.  [S.l.]: BBC Audio, 2008.

When Eva discovers her husband is having an affair, she plans her revenge. Before she's able to put her plans into action, she has a one-night stand with a young man who has been keeping vigil beside his much older girlfriend, who has been in a coma for two years.  There's the betrayal of the title in the story, but there's also desperation, and a growing sense of impending disaster.  It's very much in the tradition of the Barbara Vine stories - damaged people coming to a seemingly inevitable collision in the dark.  Not the most cheerful of reading...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

N is for... New ventures

Not mine; but I'm enjoying the reality, and the prospect, of other people's!

Made my first visit to The Sheep Shop this morning - it opened on Wednesday.  And, as ever, I have what a-blogger-whose-name-I-can't-remember dubbed "camnesia" - so no photos.  Picture a traditional Victorian corner shop, with windows on both sides of the corner - but painted white and full of yarn and notions, and  fleece and pattern books.  Lovely choice of yarns, nicely labelled; and masses of natural light to examine it in.  While the shop is still a WIP (I have a lovely handwritten receipt because the till, although present, still needs programming), it has some excellent yarns, a sofa, a table, a coffee machine and a friendly proprietor (thanks for welcoming me, Sarah!).  There was the soft hum of a KnitPicks podcast in the background which was just perfect - not silence, not music, knitting-relevant.

For the public transport user, the location does mean it's a little bit of a trip from the city centre (although it's only 10 minutes on a 10-minutely bus route followed by a short walk) - but if you're in a car and planning to go to the big DIY/business park just opposite, or the Tesco just down the road, it's extremely convenient.  And worth the trip as a completely different alternative to anything else available in Cambridge - this is a true, modern, LYS run by someone who's net-savvy, and we really haven't had that here until now.

I'd love to reveal what I bought - but it's all destined for gift yarn for people who read this, or gifts for people who might read this!  I also got some wooden 4mm KnitPro tips and some small locking stitch-markers for myself.

When I left, clutching my nice paper carrier bag, my stomach reminded me that I was 5 minutes up the road from The Wrestlers - it's been best part of a decade (and possibly more) since a red chicken curry and a pint was part of the routine on a cold Saturday lunchtime. When my ex and I were doing lots of DIY, it was part of the outing; and in fact I've been going there for more than 20 years.  I love the food there; and for the amount of time I'd been away, the prices hadn't gone up as much as I'd have expected.  It was lovely sitting there - with the Kindle rather than the Saturday paper;  time moves on - and noting that the clientele is still half-Thai, half-geek.  (I imagine there's an overlap, but it's not very obvious...)  Anyone visiting the Sheep Shop, take note...

The second new venture is CJ's, a café opening on the Green , next to the SPAR which is opposite my house.  It's the first caff to open in the village as far as I know (well, certainly in the 18 years I've been living here!), and they're doing breakfast and sandwiches and toasties and so on.  I hope it does really well, although its opening hours mean it doesn't coincide well with when I'm around.  The prospect of wandering over the road for a toastie on a lazy Saturday morning is very enticing, though...  And I'm tickled pink by the idea of a local caff being named after a West Wing character.  All power to Cheryl and Elaine who are distributing flyers and cards all over the village.  They're offering Free Stuff on Saturday 10th December, prior to their opening on Monday 12th.

I'm slightly in awe of people trying to start up small businesses in the current climate.  If you're in the general area of either of these and have the slightest interest in their stock, please pop in and spend money.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 books, #111-115

Carved in bone, by Jefferson Bass. London: Quercus, 2008.

The first of the Body Farm novels; I was a bit worried that I'd spoiled myself by reading later books first, but there's much more to this than a case which comes up later. A corpse is found in a cave in a backwoods county of Tennessee, preserved in adipose state, and with a dog-tag around her neck. Bill Brockton is brought in to find out how she died and when, but after threats are made he becomes intrigued as to who the woman is and what her story might be. This does absolutely nothing to challenge some of the 'southern redneck' stereotypes, but many of Bass's characters tend not to lend themselves to typecasting.

No second chance, by Harlen Coben [audiobook]. Read by George Wilson. [S. l.]: Recorded Books, 2004.

This reminded me (in a good way) of Coben's other book Tell No-One. Marc Seidman wakes up in hospital to be told his wife is dead and his 6-month-old daughter Tara has been kidnapped. A ransom drop for the child fails after her grandfather involves the police, and it seems that Marc's sister Stacey was also involved. 18 months later, another ransom note is sent, and Marc and former girlfriend and FBI agent Rachel set out to try to find Tara. There are so many twists and turns in this book, particularly towards the end, that it's slightly dizzying; and I'm not completely sure how convinced I am of the eventual outcome, but it's definitely worth hopping on for the ride.

Dead man's grip, by Peter James. London: Macmillan, 2011.

The latest Roy Grace novel, and a good one. A student is hit by a white van while riding down the wrong side of the road to university, and falls under the wheels of an articulated lorry. Meanwhile, a solicitor on her way to work takes evasive action, ends up hitting a café wall and subsequently tests positive on a morning-after breathalyser. So far, so tragic - but the student is from a New York mafia family, and their rules are somewhat different. Meanwhile Grace is dealing both with Cleo having problems in pregnancy, and trying to have his long-lost wife Sandy declared dead. This all wraps up pretty satisfactorily in terms of the plots for this book, but the characters' ongoing personal circumstances are going to continue to make for good reading in future books.

Free-range knitter, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Kansas City, Miss.: Andrews McMeel, 2008.

Christmas and birthday books always seem not to be read straight away - I think it's the 'having a new hardback and keeping it for best' syndrome... I started this book and for some reason put it back down in the pile, which is a shame, because it's vintage Yarn Harlot - witty, insightful and occasionally very moving. It's a bunch of short essays which talk about knitting's place in a knitter's life, bite-size pieces but there's always something which makes you want to stop and think.

Dead run, by P J Tracy. London: Penguin, 2005.

Four Corners is a pretty dead town in northern Wisconsin even before it is literally a dead town when a milk tanker full of poison gas overturns, killing all life; and Grace MacBride, Annie Belinski and Sharon Muller are heading straight into the area, on their way to help the Green Bay police. Another cracking plot, and the development of the relationships between the characters is part buddy-movie, part Stephanie Plum, and extremely touching and funny.

Friday, November 18, 2011

M is for... Merci

Thanks to everyone who sent commiserations and best wishes after my last post - and to those who e-mailed, texted and remembered the Bug at knitting night. Much appreciated.

I think it'll be a while before I have another cat (and sorry, yes, dog people, it will be a cat - I know some lovely dogs now, but I've just never even imagined myself owning a dog...). The Bug and I had got used to each other for 6 years before I started the new job with the insane hours, which mean feeding happens at Unacceptable Times; introducing a new cat to an owner who's out of the house for 12-15 hours a day during the week would just be unfair (to both of us if the cat resorts to the usual retaliation of shredding-stuff or peeing-on-stuff...). If someone were moving continent and needing to rehome a cat, that might work, but it'd have to come with the equivalent of a current MOT and a full service history, after the insurance travails this year and the realisation of what even a basic set of tests costs... Dealing with vets is a salutary introduction into the world of private medicine. I will comment no further.

Meanwhile; I've discovered my nephew is keen on monkeys these days (up to now his favourite animal has been "spiders" which is somewhat difficult in toy-shops... yes, I have a pattern...). He has the very nice chimp and gorilla I had as a child. My mam was after* a toy orang-utan and I found just the thing on Thursday. Having checked cuteness and price-points are correct, I need to go back and pick him up tomorrow and post him North.

I won't tell you where he is. I need him still to be there tomorrow morning!

*I used this construction, then changed it, then reinstated it. To be "after" something in the North East of England means you're looking fairly seriously for something.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bye bye, Bug

Amelia (Jarrahkatt Aimee)

Sadly, after a long hard year of vet's visits and a major operation in the spring, the vet's opinion last night was that it would be kindest to let the Bug go - her kidneys had nearly stopped functioning, she was anaemic and she'd lost yet more weight. It was a horrible decision to have to make but they were brilliant at the surgery. So there's another patch of turned earth in the garden, this time in the border she slept in for most of this summer, and a big empty space around the house.

It's going to be very strange living in a house without cats.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaBloPoMo - oops...

Well, that didn't work, did it. Last year I didn't post until the 4th - this year I posted until the 4th and then Massive Fail intervened... Oh well.

I'd say it was a long week at work, but I only did 4 days of it; today has been spent taking the Bug to the vet's and waiting for test results. I'm still waiting for a pancreatitis test, and to find out whether they're going to do an ultrasound... sounds likely that they'll keep her in at least overnight, though.

Think I'll go and do some knitting now...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Knitty Saturday

Good day today - got up late, and meandered into town, snagging the odd Christmas present, disposing of an old camera by giving it to someone who might make use of it, returning a couple of books to the library, picking up materials to make things, and odd bits and bobs from my shopping list. Had lunch, and went knitting.

We were slightly less comfortable than usual - there was a meeting of Serious Gaming Geeks (old-style - cards and dice) somewhat hogging the same space. But there were only a few of us, and it was nice.

I finished up on a test-knit with Katie [Ravelry link], and collected some yarn from Sparkleduck to make a sample of one of Woolly's hats; she'd also brought some yarns she'd dyed in response to my request for a particular colour for a swap.

Really wanted to take a picture to adorn this post, but although the yarn is the purplest purple ever, it's come out as royal blue in all the photos I've been able to take! Trust me, Sparkleduck knows how to enlist my co-operation...

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday feeling...

... of complete and utter exhaustion. It was a long week at work, and an irritating one, saved by two wonderful guys and their competence with SQL - next week will be better!

It was one of those weeks with a task which was both boring and complex, leading to some interesting dreams when my imagination was set free at night - the dream where Neil Gaiman was driving a bus and then borrowed one of my parents' radiators before he went to a cat shelter was possibly the strangest.

Anyway, a video; read about this in the Standard this evening and it was quite heartwarming.

Apparently after this was all set up, the girlfriend decided she was going to drive in after all that day; at which point the boyfriend went out while she was in the shower, and disconnected the battery on the car...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

2011 books, #106-110

A very private murder, by Stuart Pawson. London: Allison and Busby, 2011.

A Charlie Priest novel; and another excellent one. The girlfriend of a royal prince and the local mayor open a shopping precinct and business park, only to open the curtains on a carefully-crafted swear-word in foot-high lettering. When said mayor is then found dead, the hunt really is on. There are some lovely characters in here, alongside some good detective stuff; and the sort of graveyard humour one hopes for in a Pawson novel.

Silence of the grave, by Arnaldur Idridason [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics. : Clipper/WF Howes, 2006.

A new author to me - picked it up because of Saul Reichlin's reading, and the recent tales from Iceland told by Franklin. Pretty dark, this one - Detective Erlendur investigates a dysfunctional family from the 1940s after bones turn up during excavations for a new development, while waiting to hear whether his own estranged, junkie daughter will emerge from a coma having lost her baby. There's also domestic violence galore; I think Reichlin's reading of this is the only thing which kept me going with it. I'll try another because Erlendur is an engaging character...

Act of treason, by Vince Flynn. London: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

Another Mitch Rapp thriller, this time dealing with corruption at the highest level of government. When the Republican presidential candidate's wife is killed in an attack on the campaign motorcade, Rapp is called in to track the assassin, but this only really starts a deeper level of intrigue. These books are a somewhat guilty pleasure, given that they can sometimes provide a justification for such modern US "security" measures such as rendition and what constitutes torture. It's a very different mindset.

Hope and glory: the days that made Britain, by Stewart Maconie [audiobook]. Read by the author. Bath: AudioGO, 2011.

Maconie is a bit of a genius - here, he takes ten days, one from each decade of the twentieth century, and uses the themes raised to explore what it is to be British through them. Whether it's the death of Queen Victoria or the Live Aid concert, the Somme or the arrival of the Empire Windrush, he takes the wider ideas of empire and celebrity, war and multiculturalism, and riffs on them as only a former music journalist can. If you've ever heard Maconie on the radio (currently 6 music from 1-4pm, irritatingly), it's impossible to read his books without hearing him reading them, so this audiobook is a special treat.

Solar, by Ian McEwan. Kindle edition.

This was a book club choice (mine) and one that none of us liked very much. Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist; he's also now fat, balding, middle-aged and his fifth wife is shagging his builder. Beard is a very unattractive man in all senses, and his constant womanising, and constant eating of rather disgustingly described food of all sorts, don't help us like him. Sections of the book are curiously old-fashioned, reminding me of Malcolm Bradbury's Eating people is wrong, a Kingsley Amis or an early David Lodge, with its implication that the academic conference circuit is rife with sex and drugs. There are a few funny moments, mainly to do with Beard's chronic lack of self-awareness, but there's a lot of eating without pleasure, having sex through a sense of obligation, earnest banging on about climate change.... As one of my fellow book club participants said, it was difficult to tell what sort of novel this wanted to be, and I'm not sure McEwan ever decides.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

L is for... Lovely socks

Yes, I know, cop-out on the alphabetical front. Hope you agree with me on the socks, though...

So at the beginning of the year, I signed up for another KAL - this time for Cookie A.'s - so popular it's sold out and is being reprinted at the moment... There are 19 pairs of these socks, and we're knitting them over 20 months. The Ravelry group attached to this KALis an extremely nice place to be - it's a group of generally pretty knowledgeable and skilled knitters sharing information, techniques, and bits and bobs about their lives; it's friendly, it doesn't seem to go round in the endless circles a lot of groups do when people don't read the rest of the thread; and the moderators are excellent. And I now have nine-going-on-10 pairs of extremely nice socks. I'll share the first 5 here, and the second 5 this time next week - I have a reason for this!

All these are knitted top down, and the book is divided into Columns, Tesselations andDiagonals, which express pretty accurately what each category of pattern is doing.

First up, Hedera. This is one I'd sort of been avoiding because a friend had submitted a pattern for the very issue of Knitty this first appeared in, using one repeat of the pattern up the back, and a very interesting construction; it didn't appear in Knitty, but did achieve paid publication in a calendar; but I'd never had the heart to knit these. When I did, though, they're lovely - very stretchy and comfortable, in yarn in a colour called Legolas which Jan had dyed me for Christmas.

The second pair, somewhat more variegated. Again, a pattern republished from a Knitty issue, but this time resized for several widths of foot. What made these fun to knit (as I'd already made one pair when the pattern came out) was the yarn; Lorna's Laces Shepherd's Sock in Franklin's Panopticon colourway, and a gift from the man himself a couple of years ago.

I loved the way these striped so much that I really didn't want to go for the flap-and-gusset heel - so this was my first attempt at an afterthought heel. I'd certainly do that again if I had such very nicely striping yarn - it doesn't break up the colour the way a gusset would, because you don't change the number of stitches on the basic sock.

March/April's pair - wow. While this wasn't a complicated knit in the end, it was a complicated start, with 10 markers on each sock and lots of travelling stitches. This was the first of the Diagonals section, and you can tell... These were a birthday present for my friend Sue. The yarn was some from the Socktopus sock club - Enchanted Knoll Farm in Emerald Lake.

Next up - beautiful colourway, autumnal colours in Cairn from The Yarn Yard. These were a once-only colour so it was difficult to give them away, but they went to Jackie for her birthday. The pattern is Mona, and it was really delightful to knit...

And then finally for this post, May/June's pair, Rhombus. This is definitely the most difficult pair of socks I have ever knitted. And they look so innocuous! I don't know whether it was the two types of make-one-stitch involved, or the fact I never quite managed to memorise the pattern repeat, but I've never been so stymied by a pair of conventionally-constructed socks.

However, eventually they were done, and went to my mam for her birthday in August. She likes purple...

I'm enjoying the KAL immensely but I hadn't realised quite how much of a month is taken up by knitting a complicated pair of socks each month! I've taken nearly a month off this time, because we're slackening up slightly for Christmas, and have got lots of Christmas and test-knitting done in the time I'd normally be making fancy socks...

Speaking of which, there's a hat calling me. Talk to you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

K is for... KAL (which is for KnitALong )

I always say I'm not a joiner. I never was. I don't do competitive sports (although I love to watch cricket and, these days, cycling.) Somehow, though, if I do something as rash as going to a church or joining a knitting group I always end up on the committee, or as one of the people who you ask about stuff... And every now and then I rebel and wriggle out of my commitments for a while, only to create ties again. I'm one of those people who puts her hand up even at the moment of thinking "oh, no, here we go again"...

And I can't resist a good KAL. Which is why I'm in 3 at the moment, as of this morning. One is very long-term, and I'll talk about that tomorrow. These are the two one-project KALs.

The newest, first instalment November 1, is WoollyWormhead's annual Mystery Hat [Ravelry link]. Or indeed, hats. I'm going to be doing Hat A this year, in some lovely russet possum yarn. But it's not cast on yet as the first bit of the pattern just came out this morning, and I bought my needles for it at book group this evening. Nothing to see here. This might be for my cousin's partner or it might be for me... It's an alternate cable cast-on which I absolutely love as a method (and stop sniggering, Wibbo, that was a variation 2x2rib alternate cast on [with a double dismount], worked while in company). Tomorrow I will stick my earphones in and listen to Calming Music for 10 mins or so while casting on.

The one which is sort-of-in-progress-but-a-bit-late is Ann Kingstone's Tess slippers. Not tardy from Ann's point of view - she's posting the instalments just fine...; it took me a while to get going. Toe-up is not my favourite way to go with socks, and I was doing a couple of test-knits at the time (and I have no idea how many times I needed to watch the YouTube video to make it make sense...) But I have a toe of one, and a cast-on on the other, and while I'm not convinced my colour choice is doing the best justice to the pattern, it looks rather fabulous to me...