Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time Out

I hope you all had a great Christmas and are looking forward to the new year as much as I am.

I'm at the beginning of a lovely long period of time off work - almost two and a half weeks. This is as a result of working almost every day over Christmas (apart from the day itself) and some sick days because I'm having a minor operation at the start of next week and will need a little recuperation time - that's time on the sofa with some knitting and a couple of books - tough!

So it's time to catch up on the blog and get back to regular posting and I thought I'd kick off with my Favourite Books of the Year.

I had a look back at last year's post of this time and I said I wanted to find a new author to savour this year and I managed that with the discovery of the wonderful James Sallis. So top of my favourite reads of the year has to be Cypress Grove, the first of his Turner series. Don't you just love when you find an author you hadn't known about previously and can delve back into his body of work and see him develop as a writer. I have his latest book Salt River on the Next to be Read shelf ready to be the first book of the new year. And I've also looking forward to his biography of Chester Himes.

I also enjoyed the second and third books in C J Sansom's Shardlake series. Dark Fire was excellent but I think Sovereign just pipped it. I'm looking forward to reading the latest book, Revelation, this year. I'm saving it till later in the year so I have something to look forward to (probably when the standard paperback comes out) and giving him the chance to get going on another.

Next up is a little gem I stumbled across by accident. I'm not normally a fan of anthropomorphism and I hate those mysteries where the cat solves the crime but this one - where a flock of sheep try to solve the mysterious death of their shepherd was just wonderful. It's Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. It's not cute and it's not fluffy and it deals with many different topics relevant to sheep including animal rights. Unfortunately the paperback seems to be out of print in the UK.

The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin is my next choice. A Moor, a Jew and a woman doctor who specialises in examining the dead. It's an unlikely combination in 12th Century Cambridge but that's where they are sent to solve a series of hideous child murders. I really liked this, thought the characters were intriguing and it was just that bit different from the usual run-of-the-mill historical mystery.

Finally, bringing up the rear is Flesh House by Stuart MacBride - just out in standard paperback format by the way if you haven't read it yet. It's got all the usual MacBride trademarks - it's funny and it's dark and it's gruesome. I had felt a little disappointed in the previous one in the series but this one is an absolute cracker. And it has the distinct advantage of being set in the glorious city of Aberdeen.

I've not read as many books that I would jump up and down and shout about this year as I would like. There's been some real mediocrity out there. However there have been a few others that merit a mention. Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi is a thriller with an unusual main character. He's not a man with many scruples and it's rare that you meet that in a crime novel these days where things tend to be more black and white. Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden was recommended by dovegreyreader and proved every bit as good as she said. One of several she's alerted me to that I probably wouldn't have picked up on otherwise. That's one of the reasons I love the blogosphere so much. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona McLean was a slow starter - it took me two attempts and a bit of prompting before I got going with it but once I got started I couldn't put it down - intrigue, espionage and witchcraft - who knew all this went on in Banff in the 17th Century.

Tomorrow we set off down the blood-stained track towards my least-favourite books of the year. Anyone who wrote a book set in Edinburgh had better beware.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to Everyone

Well, it's here. The last celebrity biography has been bagstuffed, the sale restickering is done and booksellers everywhere can heave a giant sigh of relief and have a well-deserved glass of wine.

We're off to Oxford tomorrow for lunch with the family.

Best wishes to everyone - I hope you have a great Christmas and I'll be back shortly with my picks of the year and the traditional Mysterious Yarns Awards.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Of Colds and Aran Waistcoats and Eggs

I've been ill with a cold for the last few days. I managed to get through the week at work and finally succumbed to the cold on Saturday, the first of my last days off before Christmas.

Consequently I am glad that I had decided the Aran Waistcoat of my earlier post would be better made for my Mother-in-Law as a birthday present. I felt no desire to knit at all on Friday (by the time I got home from work my voice was almost gone), or on Saturday, most of which was spent curled up on the sofa with a book. Luckily I'd felt this coming on and so had laid in a copy of The Last Breath by Denise Mina. More about that another time.

Anyway, I'm feeling rather better now, have recovered my knitting abilities (such as they are) and have started the Aran Hat for my MIL. Hopefully, time permitting there will be Aran Mittens to accompany it. I've nearly finished Mobius too. It took a bit longer than I'd expected - vast amounts of long and dull stocking stitch on the back, coupled with a slowness of knitting, due to my mounting cold. But the major parts are all completed now, just need blocking and then I can knit the collar to the right length and stitch it all together.

Big news though - we have our first egg!

It appeared on Saturday, and we weren't sure which hen was the proud producer. It was sitting in the nestbox when Pete went to clean them out. It's only small, but it's the first one.

On Sunday we were standing on the patio discussing which chicken was the most likely layer when Betty (she's the biggest of our girls, but a bit nervous) squatted down by the herb trough and laid another one with a resounding crack onto the paving slab. Miraculously it didn't break and she scuttled off looking a bit embarassed.

We had them fried on muffins this morning and they were lovely. Probably the most expensive two eggs in history, given the cost of setting this all up, but well worth it! Here's to many more.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crafty Update

As promised here's what I've been up to apart from reading and selling the odd book or two.

I finally finished spinning the purple fibre that was a gift from my lovely friends in Florida -

Aren't the colours wonderful? I was planning to knit some lacy fingerless gloves with this but now that it's all spun I find I have more than 500 yards of it - way too much to be just gloves so it may be a shawl. Here's a close-up.

Hopefully you can see all the variations in shade from the kettle-dyeing.

I've been carrying on with the Christmas knitting but I had a little setback and accidentally cast on Mobius from Norah Gaughan Book 2.

It is knitting very quickly though, and I'm using some yarn from the stash, so it's not like that counts, is it? I'm hoping to be finished by the weekend.

On the subject of Christmas knitting, Pete asked if I could knit something for his Mum, like a pair of aran mittens and while looking for a mitten pattern I found this -

I know she'd love it but I'm not sure if I could knit it in time. What do you think? It's patterned on the back as well as the front, but it is double knitting weight so it should knit up quite quickly. Can I do that in time for Christmas?

Finally, just to say that I watched Wallander which was on BBC1 on Sunday night and really enjoyed it. The Swedish tourist board must be chuffed to bits - all those lovely scenic shots. I haven't read any Henning Mankell in a while, but I rather recalled a grim, grey urban setting for the books I'd read. I liked Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander - a tortured man finding it difficult to cope with the kind of things his job brings him into proximity with. Well worth a look at the second in the series.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday Book Update

Well, bless me, December already, as if the additional mayhem in the shop hadn't already alerted me that Christmas was fast approaching.

So let's just start with the apology that would normally be coming your way later. Blogging may be somewhat sporadic this month as work becomes more hectic and I lose the ability to think by the time I get home. I will try and update you as often as I can but am making no promises.

So, lets get on with the business at hand. I've been a busy girl this week and have squeezed in quite a few titles. Last time I blogged I was in a quandry about what to read next. Never fear, the fates stepped in with a timely proof of Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, just when that most useful of bloggers, dovegreyreader, had been enthusing about it. A most enjoyable and enthralling read it was too. A fascinating account of the lives of the Cree in modern Canada and how their lives have changed with technology. This is due to be published in the UK in March and I can highly recommend it. I shall now have to seek out his previous book, which is about Cree soldiers fighting in the First World War.

Next up, at the end of a tiring week, some action and adventure with a strong plot was needed. Who else would fit the bill but Bernard Cornwell. Sword Song is the fourth in the Alfred the Great series, which follows the life of Uhtred, born Saxon, raised by Danes, sworn to Alfred but eager to escape his oath and fight for his own destiny in the North. Now, while I enjoyed this book for the storytelling, which is always one of Cornwell's strong points, I did feel that it didn't move the story arc of the series along very much. It seemed a bit of an interlude to the main body of the plot, so while enjoyable in itself, was a bit lacking in substance. Of course, this could be the masterful Mr Cornwell toying with me, and it's possible that with hindsight, this book could be the hinge that the whole series hangs from. There were one or two hints at things to come that may prove very interesting. Guess I'll just have to wait for the next book.

Finally I came back to The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean. I started this ages ago, before I went on holiday, but I misplaced it and only found it again last week during the big book sort. This time I managed to get a bit further and have now got well into the action (it did take a little while to get going). Set in Banff in the 17th century, this is about the murder of a young man. The tale is told through the eyes of the Alexander Seaton of the title and it's beautifully written with a fantastic sense of time and place. The language really makes you feel you're in the town. It's very atmospheric. But, and I think the publishers have missed a trick here, I wanted maps. The plot concerns some maps, and I really wanted there to be a map of Banff at that time to help me navigate myself around. Maybe that's just me (I love maps). I don't know much about cartography but apparently it was a fairly new science in the 17th century and much suspicion and ignorance seemed to surround it. Anyway the book is proving to be one of those that you can't put down once you've got into the meat of the plot.

Crafting update tomorrow - hey, two days off in a row. Can't be bad.