Wednesday, March 30, 2016

More Griffiths

As promised, here's my report on yet another Elly Griffths novel, A Dying Fall. This is again a Dr. Ruth Galloway and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson mystery. She's the prickly, independent archaeologist who chooses to live on a desolate stretch of Norfolk's coastline, facing the barren shingle and the tumultuous sea beyond. He's the guilt-ridden, married, father of her baby Kate (they have lots of history and between her independent nature and his genuine devotion to his wife, it doesn't look like they're ever going to have a simple relationship).

The story opens thusly: "At first he isn't even scared." And you're right, whoever "he" is, he's in deep trouble. In fact, he's about to die in a raging house fire. He was an old college friend of Ruth's, and shortly after she hears of his death, like, the next day, she gets a letter from him. He's been a professor of archaeology at a regional college in Lancashire, and he wrote to tell her he's made a tremendous discovery, but it's put his life in danger. Well, of course she hies herself and Kate up there to find out what happened. Unbeknownst to her, Nelson is wending that way, too, with his wife, for their annual visit at his mother-in-law's. Naturally - since they talk occasionally on the phone about Kate, and because Ruth calls him with her suspicions about her friend's "accidental" death, they end up investigating the situation together.

Several more of Ruth's old college gang appear in the story, and none of them are exactly what they seem. Nor are any of the college academics and students. Happily, for me anyway, she's brought her Druid friend Cathbad along to take care of Kate while she sleuths. Every story's better with Cathbad. (IMO)

The setting, around  Blackpool, Preston and Fleetwood, are flavorfully rendered in shades of scuzziness, industrial bleak, and just for variety, glorious rural landscapes. The title of the book refers to the climax, when an amusement park roller-coaster provides some of the most suspenseful and dismaying moments in this series yet. I actually cried at the denouement - but won't explain, as that would be a spoiler.

Once again, Griffiths hits it out of the park and I again highly recommend this series!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

How many more before the world stops this?

Hum hain Pakistan

Grief beyond words. My heart goes out to the good people of Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nothing to add.

Je suis Belge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The subject schedule has been forgotten long ago if it wasn't obvious already.

Well, I have read three books since my last book report (I don't call them book reviews because I don't even know what a book review is supposed to do), and there has actually been a tiny bit of knitting news. I won't lay all three books on you at once.

I've been in a mood slump but I think I'm coming out of it now.

The first book report is A Room Full of Bones, another Ruth Galloway archaeological mystery by Elly Griffiths:

When Ruth shows up at a small, private museum to participate in a high-publicity opening of an ancient coffin, she finds the curator dead in the room with the coffin, a stuffed snake, and one shoe lying by an open window.  This of course brings her back into contact with DCI Harry Nelson, who is not especially happy at another murder crowding into his life right when he's having a bad time trying to solve a massive drug-smuggling case. Ruth's and Harry's personal relationship is also a source of pain and doubt to both; a single night of survivors' passion after a previous, harrowing case had produced Ruth's beloved daughter Kate, and Harry's wife had known the instant she set eyes on the baby. Harry, to save his marriage, has pledged never to see either his daughter or Ruth again, except when required by their professions. The only one who isn't in terrible pain about all of this is Kate herself.

Anyway, the blue-blooded family who owns the museum lives on a horse training estate, and it will not surprise readers that things get mighty complicated once the investigation takes our pair out there; another murder ensues and things start getting really dangerous when Nelson begins to think his two cases might just be connected.

There's a degree of suspense here and several moments when I went "Oh, no!" and kind of tried to cover my eyes when it looked like something tragic was going to happen - a sure sign of a great read. I recommend this one, just like the others. Go to your local independent bookseller, I bet they can get this series for you if they don't already have it.

And the next book report is another Ruth Galloway mystery. The one after that isn't, though. So there's that.

The knitting news is good/bad: one of the second pair of socks I ever knitted developed a rather largish hole in the ball of the foot. That's the bad news; I think it's because at that point in my sock-knitting career I didn't realize that plain merino was a possibly poor choice for socks. Nowadays when I come across one of those early skeins with no nylon in them, I incorporate nylon thread into the heels and toes as I make them (and now I think I'll extend that to the ball of the foot, too).  Anyway, the good news is that I sat down with the remainder of that skein, a Pinterest series that shows how to darn, and got started darning it - and it's surprisingly easy.

Not the greatest photo, but evidence that it's working!

Since my last post, I've also found a couple of really cool web sites that I've put in my daily rounds:

Humans of New York, which is about humans, right, but the street photographer who started this has since gone all over the world, taking pictures and gathering stories from people everywhere. It is EPIC, funny, beautiful, heart-breaking, amazing. If you find yourself losing faith in human kind, put this on your daily rounds, too.

and, a blog wherein a local woman explores all kinds of interesting mysteries in Omaha (where I live). Odd buildings, intriguing people, historic businesses, she delves deep and brings forth lots of fun and moving stories. This is a terrific addition to Omaha's online community.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


I haven't done much at all the past week because somehow, despite having rigorously disciplined myself when it comes to putting library books on Hold, suddenly found myself with NINE of them ready to pick up! How did that happen? And they're all ones I really want to read, so I've been reading.

I love being retired.

I'm also feeling virtuous, as I always do when I make soup or stew out of stock I've brewed from a chicken that I myself roasted - and even moreso, this time I remembered to give the beans a long enough soak so they actually got done - meaning you can squish them with the back of a spoon to thicken up the broth - and I remembered I have about five pounds of wild rice I need to use up. So I've got crock-pot chicken broth-based beans & rice non-Mexican soup for supper. It's actually pretty bland, but putting about 40 postage-sized-stamp-sized squares of Swiss cheese in it definitely helps, it's much tastier that way. That, and having my own home-made whole wheat bread with nice crunchy seeds and grains in it with nice healthy margarine-like substance on it.

So I'm feeling nice and healthy and thrifty and enjoying reading some books I really like a lot. My comments about them will follow in the days to come.

But jeez - NINE of them? When did I order them? I thought I'd quit doing that, instead using the library's For Later button mostly...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Two more book reviews!

I've neglected posting the past couple of weeks because there's been pretty much nothing going on. Nice and quiet and placid, yay.

But, I have been reading! Two books to report on today:

The Yarn Woman by Brooks Mencher was a title and author I found out about where else? Ravlery forums, of course. I have read my share of craft-related mysteries, and I have to say, for the most part, they haven't been all that well-written. Most have been fun and at least engaging enough for me to finish them, some are more fun than others. There have been, sad to say, a small number I couldn't finish, or even get past the first chapter. It's not the craftiness that's at fault; I suspect it's true of any mystery genre/niche-market mashup category (sailing, gardening, steeplechasing...). Even worse, I am absolutely allergic to any supernatural woo-woo in my mysteries, and the book blurb flatly states, "There are always the ghosts." So, because of this history, I approached The Yarn Woman with reservations, perhaps I should say: low expectations.

To my delight, I was completely disarmed and delighted by these three novellas!

Now, they are not without flaws. After reading it, I went back to Ravelry and found a book club there who read it several years ago. I was taken aback that most of the readers took great exception to Mencher's writing skills, particularly the "big words" he uses and especially how many adverbs he uses. (I am not blind to the two adverbs I used in that sentence.) First, my feelings about big words is that they are either used well, or poorly. If they stand out, it's poorly. But with this surprise came additional insight into my own attitude: I have a larger vocabulary than most people I know, and not one time in these stories did a "big word" stand out to me! Not one! So maybe my definition of "used well" or "used poorly" needs to change. I did mull this over. I decided that the author has no control over the working vocabularies of their readers, so there's no way, aside from deliberately dumbing down their text, they can make sure that any "big word" doesn't put readers off. I myself found Mencher's writing delightful, and I don't use that term for just any old book. I loved the characters, the settings, and the plots. I loved the descriptions. I even appreciated the handling of the supernatural elements.

Second, the adverbs. When I was writing fiction a lot (I don't any more), I did a LOT of reading and studying to improve my writing. The Adverb gets TONS of criticism. Some critics and authors go so far as to say you should never, ever use an adverb. And sure enough, when I would go through a manuscript I'd written, I'd find a lot of them I could cut and/or replace with some other way to get the same idea across that made my writing better. So if anything, I'm over-sensitive to the use of adverbs. Again, to my mind, you can use adverbs well (they don't stand up and yell at the reader) or poorly (they do exactly that, call attention to themselves and away from the story). And again, not ONCE in these novellas did I even NOTICE an adverb.

So I was charmed by the writing, and found it entirely professional and effective. What about the stories? Here's where a sensitive reader, one whom certain subjects upset, might be careful. There is child abuse here, wife abuse, and violence. None of it is on-screen nor are its effects treated gratuitously or in detail. And some of it turns out to not be what it seems. That said, I'll only give a little comment without spoilers for each. You can read fuller synopses and critiques on the usual web pages: amazon's comments, Goodreads reviews, mystery lovers' blogs.

Nat P.M. Fisher is a hard-working reporter in modern-day San Francisco, who starts out narrating the tale "Ghosts of the Albert Townsend" - I should mention the point of view does skip around some in the stories and occasionally I had to backtrack to figure out who was talking/doing, but not enough to ruin the reading for me - which involved a little girl whose nocturnal ramblings around town have brought her, wrapped in a hand-knitted shawl that's definitely the worse for wear, bloody and limp to the emergency room in her mother's arms. Fisher happens to observe their arrival, and then the very prompt arrival of quite a few policemen pique his curiosity about the case. Fortunately, an old childhood chum, Detective William Chu, is in charge of the case and he allows Fisher to tag along with the investigation. Because the shawl is unknown to the girl's mother, and it's hand-knitted, Chu calls in Ruth M, a textile forensics consultant (The Yarn Woman), to help them find out where the child had been because she's not talking. Fisher soon finds himself enthralled by the woman and her milieu: she's got a devoted - assistant? servant? chauffeur? protector? - in Mr. Kasparov, an elderly Ukranian ex-pat, and they dwell in a splendid old abandoned theatre in a tiny, hidden pocket of old San Francisco. Ruth M is indeed a yarn woman - a knitter with a stash that is no doubt the envy of half of Ravelry's members. And her knowledge of fibers and human psychology is wide and deep. Somehow connected, though how Fisher struggles to determine, the girl's story is tied in with the reappearance in the harbor of an old sailing ship that sank long ago. As I said, I am not usually at all interested in supernatural goings-on in my mysteries but this one kept me reading way past my bed-time until I could finally read the last page.

The second and third novellas, The Fisherman's Wife,  and The Boy in the Mist were just as compelling and rich-reading as the first. The characters are all colorful and interesting and the stories have heart. The Boy in the Mist has just a slight whiff of Martha Grimes's Richard Jury stories about it; that's all I'll say about that except I don't mean that in any kind of negative way at all. (I love her Jury series). This third one is also - to me - the most unsettling of the three in that it suggests goings-on that I never expected in this country, in this age, and which if true, are appalling. They remind me how very, very lucky I have been and how sheltered I still am. Unfortunately they are entirely believable. At least The Yarn Woman and Nat P.M. Fisher and Mr. Kasparov have helped a little bit, by the end.

I recommend this book to mystery lovers and yarn enthusiasts.

The other book I read last week is The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths.

My mystery book club read her The Janus Stone last year and I really liked it; I'm just now getting around to reading the rest in the Ruth Galloway series. The Crossing Places is the first in the series. Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist who becomes involved with a mystery in the wetlands she bought a small house beside. Her own personal and academic history and the history of ancient England, and the history of a disappearance the other main character, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, failed to solve ten years earlier, all entwine in a horrible and frightening situation literally in her own front yard.  I like both of these main characters and the archaeology is always fascinating. Highly recommended!