Friday, July 30, 2010

The Twin : a review

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (2009)

Twin brothers Henk and Helmer grew up on a farm in the rural Netherlands, Henk learning to work the farm while Helmer aspired towards an education in Amsterdam. Then Henk and his girlfriend Riet are in a car accident; Riet survives, but Henk is dead at the age of 19. Helmer lost a huge part of himself when Henk died, and then was forced by his father to give up his education and take Henk’s place on the farm.

The novel starts many years later, long after Helmer was forced to give up his dreams and take his brother’s place on the farm. His mother has been dead for a short time, and his father’s health is failing. Helmer treats his father horribly - he moves the old man to an upstairs bedroom away from any visitors, tells neighbors that he has lost his mind, feeds him irregularly and barely speaks to him. Now that his father lays dying, Helmer may finally be able to free himself from the responsibilities of the farm. But unexpectedly, Riet returns, bringing with her painful memories of the past and asking for Helmer’s help.

This quiet slow-paced novel is one of intense loss and suppressed rage. Helmer is complex, but unable to express himself. I had the impression that he had spent his life just getting through each day without thought of what he really wanted to do, and only when his father became ill did he began to act and make decisions and think about the future. The writing is spare, and I enjoyed the straightforward style. I wonder how much of that is due to the translation, and whether it comes across the same way in the original Dutch.

This isn’t one for the Kindle; there is too much pleasure in the physical aspects. I loved the square shape and the heft of this book, as well as the cover art. I realize it’s irrelevant, but it was such a refreshing change from most books I wanted to mention it.

It’s too bad this novel garnered so little attention here in the U.S., or maybe I just missed the reviews. Either way, it’s very good and well worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pheasant Socks

Pattern: Slipped Stitch Rib by Charlene Schurch, from Sensational Knitted Socks
Yarn: Madelinetosh Tosh Sock in Pheasant
Needles: Addi Turbos size 0

I must shamefully admit that it took me five months to knit these socks. It was an easy pattern, lovely yarn, and I consider myself a pretty savvy sock knitter, so I have no excuses for this behavior. Between my never-ending job hunt and the summer heat, I was just less inclined to pick up my projects for a while.

This is a very very simple pattern, but one that I have admired since I bought the book. I had some difficulties finding a pattern to work with the variegation in this yarn, and then I remembered that simple slip stitch pattern. It seemed like a great match for the yarn.

Speaking of yarn, I love Madelinetosh, but this skein contained a disappointing number of knots. I know that if there are more than a certain number of knots in a skein it is considered defective and you can return it, but has anyone EVER done that? Has anyone ever gotten far enough through a project to find that many knots and ripped the whole thing out just for the satisfaction of getting their money back? Because surely by that point you’ve already discovered most (or all) of the knots and there is no point in ripping out.

Anyhow, I think the project worked out quite well. I really love the colorway and Madelinetosh yarn feels so lovely on my feet. I will surely enjoy my lovely Pheasant socks this winter!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Actual Knitting Content

Try not to faint from the shock. I don't have enough smelling salts for all 6 of you.

Also, don't get too excited about the knitting - it's only a dishcloth.

It is smocked though, so that should count for something. You may be asking yourself, what is smocking? Well, it is a fiddly awkward technique I previously used on the hateful Leyburn Socks which I don't think I recognized as smocking at the time. It is a textural pattern created by slipping several stitches in a row, leaving a "float" of yarn in front of the work. On a later row, you put your needle under the float (or in this case, the multiple floats) before putting it in the next stitch, so that it pulls the center of the float upward, making a decorative pattern.

The other day I had just finished a pair of socks (stay tuned for pics!) and immediately wanted to start a project but the only yarn I had available was sock yarn and this cotton. Since I was in the midst of watching episodes of Lost and didn't want anything too complicated I opted for a simple dishcloth. At the rate that I've been knitting, it should be finished right around Halloween.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire : a review

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson (2006)

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salandar are back in the second thriller of the Millennium series. Mikael and Millennium magazine is teaming up with journalist Dag Svensson and his girlfriend Mia Johansson to expose a sex-trafficking ring in Sweden, but just weeks before the research was to be published, Dag and Mia are murdered in their apartment. When police find Lisbeth Salandar’s prints on the murder weapon she becomes the prime suspect, and immediately goes into hiding. As the police scour the country for her, Mikael races to find proof of her innocence and uncover the real killers.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is fast-paced, propelling the reader through an otherwise daunting 630 pages. We learn a lot more about Lisbeth’s background in this book, which was satisfying after her rather mysterious introduction in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I had mixed feelings about the ending – some (albeit minor) threads were left hanging and despite the long list of books I want to read (and already have out of the library) I’m dying to dive into the third and final installment of the series.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo : a review

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005)

Now and then a book is super hot, coming from out of nowhere to rise to the top of library hold lists. I try not to fall for it. In the past I have read books that didn’t appeal to me just because they were so popular and, indeed, ended up feeling duped. I was torn about the Stieg Larsson trilogy, but heard enough good reviews that I finally took the plunge. (Plus, I’m a sucker for anything Scandinavian.)

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who has just been convicted of libel after his magazine printed a story and couldn’t back it up. He is almost immediately contacted by businessman Henrik Vanger, who hires him to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet Vanger, unsolved for several decades. Lisbeth Salander, a young researcher with a troubled life but excellent hacking skills, is enlisted to help Mikael and together they uncover more than they bargained for.

In the beginning I noticed a few awkwardly worded spots, but that may just be the translation. Before long I got sucked into the story and didn’t want to put it down. The plot was complex enough to make it enthralling, but not confusing. The characters were well developed and fascinating, which added an even greater depth to the story. Even though I had been warned, I was still taken by surprise at some of the more unexpectedly graphic and disturbing scenes. So many things about this book were unexpected and new and fresh that I enjoyed it very much. I just got my copy of the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that one!

Friday, July 9, 2010

How to Say Goodbye in Robot : a review

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford (2009)

When her family moves to Baltimore, Beatrice is the new kid at a school in which everyone has known each other since kindergarten. She soon befriends the social outcast Jonas, also dubbed Ghost Boy. He introduces Bea to a late-night radio call-in show, Night Lights, and they meet a group of quirky fans of the show while their own friendship deepens. But Jonas has a dark past and troubling home life, which worsens as he uncovers secrets his father has been keeping from him about his family. Bea struggles with her own family problems and difficulty expressing her emotions – dubbing herself Robot Girl - and her friendship with Jonas becomes tumultuous.

I picked up this novel after a number of recommendations, though the cover and jacket summary made it sound like a typical girl-meets-boy teenage romance. It is nothing like that, and I’m afraid my description isn’t much better. It’s hard to explain why this novel appeals so much. Bea’s voice is genuine and likeable, and her social life is believable and realistic. There is enough intrigue in the story to keep the reader’s interest, and it’s easy to see Jonas’s appeal. I kept wondering if the two would become more than friends and the tension created in their semi-attraction kept me invested in the story. Great plot, great cast of characters, great execution!