Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Wood for the Trees

So, I said I was going to compare these two books with similar titles and themes - In the Woods by Tana French and The Woods by Harlan Coben.

Even the covers are vaguely similar, in design if not in colour. Both feature lots of trees, which is hardly a surprise, but the French one has the more menacing looking cover - dark green with gloomy, forbidding trees. The Coben cover is pale blue with light shining through the trees, silhouetting a figure.

I'd have to say that the covers illustrate the books pretty well, with the French one being the darker of the two. The protagonist is Rob Ryan, a detective in the Dublin police, and a very troubled man. He was in the eponymous woods twenty years before when two of his friends disappeared without trace. To say it has left him scarred would be a bit of an understatement. When the body of a child is found on an archeological dig next to the woods, he is forced to look back into the past and the day his friends went missing. He apparently remembers nothing at all of that day, but as the case progresses, slowly memories start to resurface. It's a spooky and chilling book and the main characters, Ryan and his partner Cassie, are complex and interesting. This is no run of the mill thriller and it kept me guessing right to the end.

The Coben book, for all its similarities of title and subject is a very different kettle of fish. Here we are in the US, mostly New Jersey and the protagonist is a prosecutor, Paul Copeland. Cope, as he is known, is a single dad, bringing up his daughter after the death of his wife from cancer. Twenty years before, his sister disappeared from the woods surrounding a summer camp where their father was employed and where Cope worked as a camp counsellor. Two teenagers' bodies were found in the woods but Cope's sister and another boy were never found. Several years later a serial killer was convicted of similar killings and jailed, but he always denied those at the summer camp. One day, Cope gets a call from NYPD about a body they've found with clipping about him in his pockets. Cope is convinced that it's Gil Perez, the boy who disappeared with his sister all those years before. But is it really Gil, and if it is, why has he been killed now? Does this all link back to that night in the woods or is there another reason this is all being dragged up again, just as Cope is trying to prosecute the son of a local bigwig for rape. Again this is a complex and well-structured book. It's very slick and American - just what you expect from Harlan Coben - and the character of Cope is a bit too clean cut for my tastes, but it's still a good book.

And the verdict?

Well, I have to say that I preferred the Tana French book. I did like the Harlan Coben but it didn't surprise me. It did exactly what it said on the tin - and that after all is what Harlan Coben is all about. He's a good writer and his plots are plausable and suitably complex. You know what to expect with a Harlan Coben book and he invariable delivers. In the Woods however, is Tana French's first novel and it really surprised me. I was expecting a competent mystery with good characters (well, that's the very minimum I expect of any crime novel - not that I always get it!), but this one got right under the skin of Rob Ryan and it totally hooked me. I read it in a weekend and could barely put it down. Given my current state of ennui with the crime genre it was a fantastic boost to find this. I hope she's writing another one.

After all that wandering though the gloomy woods I had a bit of a break from crime and I read The Disappearing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. This was a shortish novel about a woman locked up in an institution for almost her whole life, through no fault of her own . I'd say it was a slight book - enjoyable but not memorable. It had vague feeling of Muriel Spark to it, and I couldn't help but think how much more powerful it would have been if Spark had actually written it.

Moving on I then read The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. This was a bit on the light, romantic side of historical fiction for my taste but enjoyable nonetheless - a good story helps of course and Jane Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Anne of Cleves made an interesting triumvirite of narrators. I think Gregory herself would admit to a fair degree of prosaic licence as to characterisation as it seems not a lot is known about Old Henry's 4th and 5th wives respectively, though it seems generally agreed that Ann Boleyn's sister-in-law was a real piece of work. By far the most interesting thing about the book was how it showed these women's lives and how constrained they were by familial duty and how dependant they were on a husband for status, reputation and security. It made me very glad to be a 20th century girl.

Tonight is the Sara Paretsky event at West Bromwich Town Hall, which I am looking forward to. I'll be taking my camera so hopefully there will be pics later in the week.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cracked it!

I finally (I think) have the right yarn for the Icarus Shawl. I won a couple of skeins of Fyberspates laceweight mohair on eBay last week and and have just started to knit with it.

Hopefully you can see the beautiful delicate shades of green and lilac in the skein. The green is proving a bit more dominant than I had hoped but it's still lovely. Here is my fledgling Icarus - 25 rows done - quite a lot still to go.

Look - Buttons!!!!

Yes, Williamsro is finished. I will get Pete to take a photo of me wearing it for my next post, but in the meantime here's a still life -

I love it and feel that it will get a lot of use. A highly practical garment. I knitted it pretty much as per the pattern with a few minor alterations. The sleeves would have been very wide so I narrowed them down quite a lot. I don't like flappy sleeves - too drafty! And I added two small pockets which are cunningly disguised behind the border at the bottom. Other than that I followed the pattern, though it was full of hideous errors and took a little interpretation. The main body is knitted in New Lanark Aran (colourway - denim) used double and the border is my own handspun merino chunky.

There's been a lot of work this week and not a lot of spare time so although I have finished reading the two "Woods" books I don't have my thoughts down on paper yet so that will have to wait for the next post.

What I did get down on paper though was the start of the book I have been planning for the last year or so. Yes, I finally bit the bullet and started to write. I figured that if I didn't at least make a start then I would just go on researching forever (which I could quite easily do for this project). I won't update you on how it's progressing in every post but I shall let know know periodically. In the meantime, can anyone suggest a few books that an intelligent, middle-class, young Englishwoman might have been reading around 1910-1914?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No Buttons

The buttons for Williamsro still haven't arrived so it's still not finished.

I have finally finished the stripy socks though -

I love the way they turned out - not at all how I was expecting when I bought them.

I have of course immediately cast on another pair of socks, but they are just a few inches of rib at the moment so photos later when there's actually something to show.

I've been flirting with a lacy shawl, trying various patterns and various gauges, but nothing is quite right yet. I won some lovely green and lilac laceweight mohair on eBay this weekend and I'm hoping that will work better than the shades of blue wool laceweight I was trying out.

In the meantime I have this to play with -

A lovely Dryad 4-shaft loom, just about 18" wide. It's borrowed from my spinning group and I'm about to go and try to warp it up for the first time. I'm guessing that won't be as easy as the book makes it seem.

I read In the Woods by Tana French over the weekend. When I went to the shelf to see what I wanted to read next I was torn between this one and The Woods by Harlan Coben. Apart from the obviously similar titles they are both about children who went missing many years before and both main characters are from a law enforcement background - one's a policemen and one's a prosecutor. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two, so I've read In the Woods and am now reading The Woods. I'll let you know what I think when I'm finished.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Still Not Finished!

The Williamsro cardigan languishes still unfinished on the desk in the office. I've completed the knitting but I still need to sew it together. Plus I don't have the buttons yet.

I bought these -

And while they are lovely buttons and just the sort of thing I was looking for they are slightly too small for such a chunky cardigan. So I've ordered some others which are slightly different in design and larger. Hopefully they will be here this weekend and I will have no more excuses not to finish the cardigan.

I am now dangerously between projects. I did cast on an Icarus shawl in some angora that was lurking in the stash but it just wasn't right so I'm having a rethink. I have some laceweight in varying shades of blue that might work or there's also some Rowan Kidsilk Haze in sparkly purple, though there may not be enough of that. I will be stash-diving and rummaging throigh pattern books with a vengeance later.

I have 5 days off in a row over this weekend so I'm hoping to borrow a 4 shaft sample loom from my spinning group so I can have a play with it while I'm off. They also have a wider loom I can borrow later once I've taught myself the ins and outs of it all. Some swearing may be involved in this! I promise to photograph the proceedings.

Big News - those lovely chaps over at the Big Green Bookshop will be opening their doors on Saturday. So if you're anywhere near Wood Green please drop in and buy a book in the interests of supporting a new independent bookshop, run by two blokes who just love books. I wish them the very best of success in their endeavour, and if the work they've put in to getting the shop open is anything to go by then they deserve it.

I'm still reading Blacklist by Sara Paretsky, not because it's a slow read but because I have it in hardback and it's too big to be portable. In between I have finished A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R King, which is a wonderful Holmesian romp through post WW1 London. I avoided this series for a long time because I thought that an American could not possibly do justice to the great Sherlock Holmes and I was a bit affronted that she had the nerve to try, and to saddle him with a woman sidekick too. Then I had to read Locked Rooms (the eighth book in the series) for reading group and discovered that all my misconceptions and prejudices were unfounded. I loved it and couldn't wait to read more. I should have known better of course because Laurie King is a fine writer and I have always loved her Kate Martinelli series, I should have trusted that she would do a sterling job with Mary Russell. My humble apologies to her. My only regret is that I haven't yet managed to find a copy of the Beekeeper's Apprentice ( I'm on a budget here so many of my books come second-hand, hence my sometimes rather erratic reading schedule). I'd have liked to start with the first in the series. Finally I read The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill. This is the first of her Simon Serrailler novels that I've read and I shall certainly read more. He could turn out to be a very interesting character.

Last, and by no means least, in celebration of Gundog Day at Crufts, (which I would have liked to have gone to only Pete couldn't get the day off), here is a gratuitous picture of Bubba.

He's wet, muddy and having a whale of a time in the park - the perfect antidote to all those pampered and ribboned Toy breeds on display yesterday.