Tag Archives: 2010s

Reading Iceland

Reading Iceland

House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Inglfósson
An Icelandic crime drama translated into English, I picked up House of Evidence because it was free, but really enjoyed it. Published in 1998 but set in 1973, the novel centres on the murder of a father and son. The murders are almost identical – but 30 years apart. As the book dives backwards into the father’s life, it covers the growth of Reykjavik from about 1900 to 1973. The history is pertinent, not intrusive. For a foreigner it’s ideal. The story moves along at a good clip. It’s a police procedural and not too gory. Being set in the ’70s, it talks about the early days of forensics and the limits the police are facing in their work, which is also interesting.

Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss
A lecturer in 19th century English literature, Sarah Moss moved to Iceland to take a post at Haskoli Islands, the main university in Iceland. In Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland she combines the story of her year, the troubles and joys she, her husband and two young sons faces, with the deeper things she learned about Iceland. I found it fascinating. As a foreigner, Moss struggles with and is interested in the things that baffle and interest other visitors. The book gave me lots of insights, and K has probably ‘read’ most of it now, either through looking over my shoulder at key points or from me quoting it en route. ‘The book says…’ is probably my most repeated phrase from Iceland. Moss accepted her job as the 2008 financial collapse unfurled. Towards the end of the book, it becomes clear that her year there was a particularly strange one for Iceland, so if you read the book before you go, ignore her bleak descriptions of the supermarkets – we found everything we wanted, from avocados to chocolate cereal.

Cold Earth by Sarah Moss
I thought Cold Earth was set in Iceland when I started it, but it’s not: it’s set in Greenland. However, the landscape and chill of summer really rang true with what I saw in Iceland, and it was well worth a read, so I’m including it anyway. A group of young archaeologists head off to spend the summer digging at a remote settlement in Iceland. Their sporadic contact with home indicates that a pandemic is developing. Has the world ended while they’ve been away? And if so, will they ever get home?

Demons, babies and magic, oh my!

Demons, babies and magic, oh my!

This is the space where a Big Read update should go, but there isn’t one. I haven’t picked up a Big Read book at all this week, despite putting ‘finish Sons and Lovers‘ on my to-do list at least twice. I’ve got to that point where I’ve by-passed all the books I have available so often that even the ones I know will be good seem dull. Have you noticed this effect? The more often I look at a book and then read something else, the less likely I am to ever read it, even if I love it or its a book I’ve been waiting to come out.

I’m back in the UK now, which has switched up my TBR pile, but I’m not making any promises. Instead, here are three books I’ve read this week:

The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones (1998)
I totally love Diana Wynne Jones, so I was thrilled when the price on The Dark Lord of Derkholm dropped to £1.99. It’s well worth two quid. It’s a really fun read on several levels. It’s a fantasy novel for children, with magic and fun. It’s set in a world which is being destroyed by a rapacious tourist industry, so the wizards of the realm decide to take action. Gamers (RPG or computer) will appreciate the world, as the tourists are on trips which look rather like a gaming quest. It’s as if the NPCs finally got a chance to talk… Having been recently reading Tolkien, I particularly appreciate the fact that the novel has, oh, female wizards, and women at all. People of different races act like people, not like walking stereotypes, talking animals are people, and you can have different kinds of people in one family. It’s not that it’s an ‘issues’ book, it’s just good world building.

The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes 
by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (2014)
The Yarn Harlot‘s newest book, The Amazing Thing has surprisingly little knitting in it. Really, there’s not much yarn at all, so don’t buy it for that. It’s got the same mix of uncommon common sense, humour and minor disasters as the previous books, but without the yarn. There’s parenting advice, but no advice on what not to knit for your kids. As a result, it’s still a good book, but disappointing. I really like reading about knitting, and I don’t have any teenagers that need wrangling. On the plus side, the book should appeal to a much wider audience, and I’m all in favour of knitters who make me laugh having a bigger yarn budget.

Demon Hunter and Baby by Anna Elliott (2012)
I have to say that I got Demon Hunter and Baby when it was free, and I don’t think it’s well edited enough to be worth the £3+ that it’s currently selling for. However, I really like the concept. I enjoy urban fantasy, and part of the reason I like it is that there are lots of physically, mentally and magically strong female characters in the genre. Unfortunately, few of them ever get to settle down, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one have a baby. Demon Hunter and Baby is a good example of the genre, with a neat twist (the baby, I mean. The plot is a bit more predictable). The mythology feels a bit disjointed at times, and at times I felt like there was too much going on. It reads a bit like book 2 in a trilogy, but it’s a stand alone novel, and I feel like a good editor would have made the book rather better.

Knit Your Socks on Straight by Alice Curtis

Knit Your Socks on Straight by Alice Curtis

One of the things I keep learning about knitting is that there’s always more to learn about knitting. Knitting socks on straight needles seems like an enormous faff to me – and yet someone wrote a whole book about it! Why? I needed to know, so immediately requested a review copy.

Luckily, Alice Curtis opens her book, Knit Your Socks on Straight with an explanation of where she’s coming from and what the book is about. As a yarn store owner, she encountered a fear of knitting in the round, and developed sock patterns to help her clients / students knit around that fear.

Knitting your first socks
I don’t imagine that beginner sock knitters are the only people who will buy this book, but a book like Knit Your Socks on Straight does need to cater to beginners. Curtis opens the book with several pages of chat which evolves into a technique section. The section is illustrated, but I would say not thoroughly enough – I couldn’t follow her cast on description, and I know how to do it.

However, I do like the way she talks you through the different options she’ll use (cast on, heel and toe, for example) and explains why you might choose each one. A lot of beginner sock patterns simply instruct, which means that the knitter has to take everything on trust – I know I wasn’t that trusting, and got in an awful pickle with my first sock as a result of thinking that can’t possibly be right. The patterns in this book also start with simple designs and move to more complex ones, which some beginners may find useful.

What about the seams?
Socks with seams sounds like a bad idea, but Curtis tackles it head on. She’s developed – or reinvented, or adapted – a method of seaming which seems to be both simple to do and comfortable to wear. (It’s a crochet seam, for the curious.) However, her smartest move is to make the seam a design feature. Socks are seamed up on the outside, where the seam won’t rub, and the seam is part of the design. It’s a cat-flap moment, and makes the book much more interesting.

Sadly, this is a book that might have been better as a blog post. The patterns are good, but not as exciting as that single page explaining the secret to socks on straight. There are 20 patterns in the book, by my count, and 4 of them seem to be variations on stocking stitch socks with side seams. Earlier, Curtis did a great job of explaining each choice and why it was made, here she’s presenting 4 versions of the same sock, just in different sizes and yarn weights.

The rest of the patterns are pretty good. They’re clearly explained, well-illustrated (although it’s not always clear where the seams are). A new sock knitter will probably find plenty to enjoy. I didn’t find anything I wanted to knit but this may be because I am jaded. The patterns are a mix of quirky novelty sock designs and more discreet textured patterns – there’s probably something here for everyone, and there are certainly a couple of patterns I would happily wear.

I do find it odd that Curtis chose to knit all the patterns from the cuff down. It seems like an odd limitation – sideways socks are exciting, new, and open up a whole different set of options. I expected at least one sideways sock or something with an interesting construction but this is purely a technique shift. On that basis, I feel that it would have been a kindness for Curtis to cover translating patterns from in the round to on straights, but I didn’t find anything on that topic.

Overall, the book is a good, if limited, and I think it fills a gap in the market. While I think that almost any knitter can learn to use DPNs, I don’t for a minute imagine they would all like it – and knitting, above all, should be enjoyable. Curtis’s book is a good choice for any knitter who wants to make socks without knitting in the round.

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Storey. You can see their page about Knit Your Socks on Straight here.

Farmyard Knits by Fiona Goble

Farmyard Knits by Fiona Goble

Knit a whole farmyard in 15 simple patterns, from fields to farmers, chickens to cows. Farmyard Knits has clear instructions to make a complete farmyard set with animals, people and even a tractor.

I requested a review copy of this through NetGalley, and the publishers, Andrew McMeel, kindly sent it to me. I haven’t knit any of the patterns, and honestly I don’t think I will.

There are lots of things I like about this book, but sadly the designs aren’t one of them. I think the creatures and people look rather creepy, with their wide, white eyes (on a horse, isn’t that sign they’re about to bolt?) and I’m not that keen on the way some of the animals are jointed – the joints don’t move, it’s just that they look a bit odd in the way they’re attached.

I realise, however, that’ this is entirely subjective so I strongly recommend you go take a look at the cover. Do you like what you see? Then you’ll probably enjoy the book.

Clear, precise instructions
While I don’t like the designs, I am impressed with how the book is laid out. Goble seems to be writing with beginners in mind, which means she includes useful information at every step. The book opens with a list of tools and techniques – and tells you which ones the less common ones will be required for, so if you don’t want to knit the cat you don’t need to worry about satin stitch.

The patterns themselves are clearly laid out. The toys are knitted in sections which will need to be sewn up at the finish, and as usual there aren’t many pictures of the back of the animals to guide you. However, Goble does indicate where you’re starting (e.g. body is knit from neck to tail) so you know what you’re making as you knit it, and can easily match head to neck to feet when making up. I haven’t seen this before, and it strikes me as incredibly useful.

Beautifully illustrated
Farmyard Knits is part pattern book, part story book. Over the course of a day, farmers Anna and Frank, tend each of their animals and work on the farm. Each time of day introduces different creatures and the patterns to make them, and opens with a story page explaining what’s going on.

The story pages are a nice touch, and the whole book is beautifully illustrated. The knitted characters are set into drawings showing their activities – the knitted hen and her knitted eggs are sat on a drawing of a nest, the knitted pigs eat at a drawn trough which Anna fills with a drawn bucket. It’s very effective and a combination of ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ which children will understand from their own imaginary play. And hopefully they’ll recognize the distinction, and not demand a knitted trough…

All in all, if you like the designs then I can see this being a good choice for a farmyard collection. I really like the fact that there’s a tractor and a playmat of fields to go with the animals, and that it’s designed to be a playset rather than ornamentation.

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Andrews McMeel Publishing. You can see their page about Farmyard Knits here.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

I’m late reading Dodger – it came out last September, and typically I finish a new Pratchett book within a couple days of getting my hands on a copy. Dodger has been sitting on my shelf for months, for two reasons:

  1. There was a lot going on
  2. I started it, and didn’t immediately love it

It’s easy to explain why I turned away from Dodger, despite being rather enamoured of Terry Pratchett’s novels – it’s that Charles Dickens again.

Dodger, for those who haven’t spent as much time with Dickens as I have recently, is named for the boy thief with the laughing face and the quick fingers in Oliver Twist. It’s a speculative rewriting of history, mixing actual historical figures with a completely fictional story, deliberately changing actual events to get a better plot.

Pratchett’s Dodger is a quick, canny young reprobate, who saves a girl from a beating an in doing so gets drawn into a world of wider intrigue where he needs to use every trick and twist he’s learned in the poor parts of London to stay alive and out of the reach of those who would snuff him out like a candle.

Too much Dickens, not enough Pratchett
Dodger isn’t like Pratchett’s other books. It’s not set on the Discworld, but it a somewhat alternate-universe version of the 19th century, perhaps the same universe as Nation (which I very much enjoyed, incidentally). It’s being marketed at children, judging by the suggested reading at the end, and certainly looks like it’s going to be a Pratchett retelling of parts of Oliver Twist. It isn’t. Dodger is an entirely separate and unique story, which has more to do with Dickens’ actual life than the contents of Oliver Twist.

Dodger is something of an odd mix, I found – I think it’s like a mash up of Pratchett and Dickens, like a writing excercise taken full length. Pratchett has an extra 170 years of writing conventions and tropes to deal with, so in writing a historical novel he’s had to abandon many of his enjoyable fantastic elements but can’t really replace them with Dickens’ tricks as they’ve become cliched in the interim – particularly what I think of as ‘is it really you?’ where a chance encounter or a detail mentioned in passing causes someone to start up and cry ‘is it really you?’ as they discover that the book only has 6 characters, and therefore their missing brother, aunt, benefactor, mother and pet dog are all in the room with them already.

I’m very fond of Pratchett’s Discworld novels and not very fond of Dickens, so it’s not surprising that I was disappointed at first reading. Beyond my personal taste though, I felt that there was something a bit off about this one – a lot of the characters sounded the same to me when they spoke. I think – although I can’t tell for sure – that it’s the Vimes Does A Speech voice, which crops up in the Vimes books when he starts to lecture. Perhaps everyone was lecturing Dodger, but it did seem odd to me that so many of the secondary charcters had this same tone when Pratchett’s minor characters are usually so memorable.

The plot didn’t immediately grab me either, although I did get into it towards the middle, and finished the book in a couple of days this time round.

Too much Pratchett, not enough Dickens
Pratchett is not – to state the obvious – an on-the-spot period writer like Dickens was, and he’s had to bend history quite a bit to get his story to fit in. I’m not fond of historical changes unless they’re either clearly marked (I’d like footnotes, please, with references and suggestions for further reading) or so big that and obvious that you can’t possibly take them as fact (like dragons fighting Napoleon, for example). Pratchett’s book drags so many well-known names (like that Dickens) into the story that you hope no one would take it for direct reporting, but it’s still not always clear. I don’t quite know whether to call the changes inaccuracies, as the end notes make clear that at least some of them are deliberate, but there are quite a few things which don’t ring true, even to my untrained eye.

One thing which bothered me – and this is possibly only because I’ve just finished Oliver Twist – is that Pratchett throws Dickens into the story, but as a solidly Victorian character. And he seems like he should be, being heavily associated with the reign of that Queen, which, in fairness went on an awful long time. In Dodger, Dickens reads like a young, hungry journalist of about 20. Even allowing for the fact that gents at this period seemed to carry that phase on into their 30s and possibly longer (see Dickens’ own Pickwick Papers for an example), by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, Dickens was 25 and married, a character formed in the pre-Victorian era.

There’s no mention of a wife in Dodger, and it’s written as though Pratchett’s Dodger is the inspiration for the character in Oliver Twist but it seems like Dickens in this story encounters the Dodger some time after he would have written the fictional Dodger. The Dodger first appears in Chapter 8 of Oliver Twist, a chapter first published in May 1837, according to Wikipedia. In Dodger, Queen Victoria is mentioned as not only being securely on the the throne (accession June 1837, coronation 1838) but married to Albert (1840).

All in all, I think this was probably a good book (if you like Dickens, which I don’t) but it wasn’t a book you’d recommend to someone because they told you they loved Colour of Magic or my own favourite, Small Gods. It’s very different from Pratchett’s Discworld books. I imagine Pratchett enjoyed writing it, and did it for the love of the thing, and that’s a good enough reason to do it.

He has written so many books I’ve loved to bits that I can hardly complain that I haven’t had enough – although I do always want more. It’s like someone inviting you round for dinner regularly and putting your favourite foods on the table every week – it might take months before you realise they were serving their favourite foods and it’s all been a happy coincidence. For me, the discovery that Pratchett wasn’t writing to my exact tastes has been so long in coming that I really can’t do more than grouse, looking back at all the wonderful books I’ve had, that this one was merely acceptable.

Topsy-Turvy Inside-Out Knit Toys by Susan B Anderson

Topsy-Turvy Inside-Out Knit Toys by Susan B Anderson

Susan B Anderson’s latest knitting pattern book is a collection of 15 transforming toys, with detailed instructions and illustrations, including step-by-step photos of the transformation.

If you haven’t met me in real life, you might not realise that I knit a lot. And I’m kind of into knitting in a big way – I run a twitter feed @YarnNewsUK which is about, well, YARN. Lots of it. And I used to work for Simply Knitting magazine which is still awesome, even though I’m not there any more. And, of course, there’s The Stash.

So, what I’m saying is: when I saw this book on NetGalley, I had to ask for a review copy. And I was thrilled to bits when the publishers, Artisan, sent it to me. (You can see what Artisan have to say about Topsy-Turvy here and what the author had to say here.)

The book is adorable. Absolutely charming. I will say that not all of the patterns grab me, but then I don’t expect them to. (And I would be in a serious pickle if I wanted to cast on the whole book at once.) I really like the things which turn into things they would be inside toys, like a dog which turns into a kennel and a penguin which turns into an egg.

Hard to picture? Yeah, a little. Check out this video which shows each of the toys transforming (and also gives you a good idea of scale).

Direct link to watch the video on YouTube

Although I haven’t knitted any of the patterns (yet!) I’m confident that the patterns are easy to follow and clear – I’ve been bitten one too many times by adorable-but-impossible, so I really do read all the way to the end of the pattern now. At least half the time. Or maybe a little less. Anyway, Anderson’s patterns are fairly simple – if you don’t mind a bit of sewing up – and are clearly written and well illustrated, so I think these projects would be suitable for a patient beginner, maybe an older child even.

A few more positives:

  • Patterns are arranged from easier to harder
  • Step-by-step tutorials, some basic, some more advanced
  • With photographs
  • Which are referred to by page number in other patterns
  • Clear illustrations of the toys – very helpful for making up, particularly faces
  • Explains how to sew faces – with photos and stitch techniques (this is rare)
  • Gives size of finished item
  • Clear section headings

I’ve only a couple of things to say as words of caution:

  • Smallest unit of yarn is ‘one hank’ where ‘a short length’ may be more accurate – my tip for tiny amounts is to buy tapestry wool, which is usually about DK or sportweight and comes in 10m lengths
  • There are a lot of small pieces, and a lot of sewing up – this is typical for toy making, but it’s still worth saying
  • It could have done with more shots of the back of the toy. I realise the front is the best bit, but when you’re making it up, you want to get it all right

Overall, I was really pleased with the book, and would definitely like to knit something from it. It’s a hit with the rest of the house, too, as the patterns really are quite clever, so I imagine that the toys would make good gifts.

Pound Foolish by Helaine Olen

Pound Foolish by Helaine Olen

Want to get rich quickly? Willing to pay someone to tell you how? Well, you’re taking a big risk – and probably they’ll get rich while you won’t.

Helaine Olen’s book takes a long, hard look at personal finance and investment advice offered by both individuals and financial institutions to assess whether any of it does what it says on the tin.

Having been a little broke on a lot of occasions, I’m always interested in personal finance advice, whether it’s how to save money on the weekly shop or how to have an enviable retirement. Pound Foolish sounded intriguing, so I requested a review copy and the publishers, Penguin Group USA, kindly sent me one.

Show me the money!
I found Pound Foolish absolutely fascinating – and rather terrifying. I was actually slightly disappointed when a friend turned up early for coffee – I’d counted on another 15 minutes to finish my chapter.

In Pound Foolish, Olen covers the most prevalent financial advice offered in America over the last 50 years and examines its effectiveness. The results may surprise you – very little of it works.

K tells me I’m a pessimist – I like to think I’m a rational skeptic – so I wasn’t surprised that get-rich-quick schemes only enriched the founder (the house always wins, right?) but I was surprised at how many large, respectable financial institutions were systematically creating confusing products and situations to ensure that more of their clients’ money was spent on fees and charges.

Show me the science!
Olen deals in facts and figures, but the book is very readable. It’s illustrated throughout with anecdotes and conversations with people attempting the schemes or using the financial services she describes. Combined with the deliberately eye-catching stories and tactics used by the advisers she features, it makes the book very readable.

Naturally, I haven’t checked out all the facts and figures, but the book comes with a slew of end notes and references, which means that if you want to question any detail, you can do the research.

My personal belief is that the point of living in a society rather than struggling individually is that as a group we can afford to help and support those who are slipping. That on this march into the future we can carry those who can’t walk, get wheels for those who can’t keep up, and generally do it together. If for no other reason than we were all immobile infants at one point, and however fast we run in the middle years we’ll probably all end up dependent once again in the end. So why make people gamble with their care when, as a group, we can provide that?

Olen’s book takes a long, hard look at the creed of independence which is growing in America, sweeping away social services and support just as the Baby Boomers start to reach out for them. It’s a terrifying prospect, and I sincerely hope – although equally sincerely doubt – that she’s wrong about some of the things. As a bit of a hippie who has lived in the UK for much of my adult life facts like:

in 2007, doctor bills factored in 62 percent of all bankruptcy filings

just make my heart ache. Bankruptcy means losing everything, almost down to the clothes on your back. Having to go through that because of an illness, or the loss of someone you loved is a sign, in my mind, that something has gone badly wrong in the ‘Greatest Nation on Earth’.

Pound Foolish is a book to read with highlighter in hand, as Olen drops in many ideas you might want to consider later. A couple which grabbed me were:

Under the suitability standard, there is no legal requirement for a broker to tell you how much you are paying for the service, or if there is a better product available at a lower charge.


Brokerage and industry lobbying groups […] have more or less threatened to cease offering advice to those with small IRA accounts if forced to adhere to the higher fiduciary standard. According to their rationale, the proposed rule is unworkable because agents will have to spend so much time with each individual, they will lose money. Think about this for a moment. If the financial services industry is forced to take the time to find out what their customers best interests are and then act on them, the industry doesn’t have a viable business model. [emphasis mine]

Olen’s tour through financial advice is well worth reading, although she doesn’t, at any point, offer to make you rich. Her clear, precise writing unwraps many complex financial concepts and products, showing you what’s behind the glitter. Reading this book is a good introduction to personal finance – and should, hopefully, give you a touch of skepticism, encouraging you to look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, you have to pay to feed the thing, right?

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Penguin Group USA. You can see their page about Pound Foolish here.

The Holders by Julianna Scott

The Holders by Julianna Scott

Becca has always protected her little brother, Ryland. When she comes home from work to find him hiding in the garden, she starts getting angry – another group of strangers have come to their home to take Ry away ‘for his own good’.  Because Ry is different – Ry hears voices.

Except this time, the strangers really do know what’s wrong with Ry: he’s growing into his magic, and has no one to teach him how to control it. Becca accompanies Ry to his new school, to help him get settled in – and finds out more about the world of magic and her own family than she ever bargained for.

The Holders is published by Angry Robot Books under their YA imprint, Strange Chemistry – here’s their page about Julianna Scott’s book. They very kindly send me a review copy, because I asked. I asked because I’ve ready a number of AR books and definitely recommend them (they include: Moxyland, Zoo City and Walking the Tree). I also really like magic, and school stories and magical school stories are definitely right up my street.

I’m telling you this, so you understand why I read – and am now reviewing – The Holders. Because although I really, really wanted to like it, and loved the opening pages, I didn’t. After the first chapter, the book heaped disappointment on disappointment, to the point where I stopped reading a couple times to complain to K about it.

It’s a real shame, because it’s not badly written – it’s over-troped. The Holders reads like a bingo-card example – which may mean that people who haven’t read as much fantasy as I have can still enjoy it, but when I compare it to the books I was reading and loving as a young adult, like Witch Week, Matilda, Wizard’s Hall and, of course, Harry Potter and All Those Sequels, The Holders just doesn’t make the grade.

I try not to put spoilers in a review, but I realise that what annoyed me may actually appeal to you, so here’s a list of the major things which bugged me, in no particular order:

  1. Women can’t have magical superpowers because WHO KNOWS
  2. Except, some do. And they are RARE and SPECIAL and BELOVED
  3. But their powers are never as good as the men’s
  4. An evil, evil supervillain
  5. Good guys are just good
  6. A prophesy…
  7. About a chosen one
  8. Soul mates – because an instant and unbreakable connection with someone you’ve just met is the surefire way to guarantee a happy and healthy relationship
  9. Magic is something you’re either born with or can NEVER learn
  10. Magic is something you’re just good at, and then have to learn to control – unlike, say, playing the piano, tennis or ANY OTHER HUMAN SKILL EVER
  11. Characters who are hundreds of years old but who talk and act like they’re their apparent age
  12. Magic is dying out because WHO KNOWS but probably genetics, because when a person with a rare skill or attribute (like ginger hair or brain surgery) has children with someone without that skill or attribute (like all women ever) then the children born with that skill or attribute have it in a weaker form. It’s like the power law of magic or something.
  13. No real ending because SEQUELS

If you’ve been reading my reviews on G+ and here for a while, you’ll know I can forgive a lot of these things – the Harry Potter books are all about #4, 6 & 7 with helpings of #9, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a severe case of #11 and even my beloved Diana Wynne Jones did ‘men’s magic is different from women’s magic’ and other things which make me want growl from time to time.

I think where The Holders really fell down is: the magic isn’t fun enough and it isn’t serious enough. In the Harry Potter world, the magic is bonkers and brilliant – it’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for fabulous, pleasing, silly, wonderful excess. The books are literally stuffed with amazing sweets, never mind the rest of it. On the flip side, The Magicians by Lev Grossman takes magic seriously, and asks what effect magical powers would have on the world and the people who use it. And both are good and interesting.

The Holders falls in the gap between the two – it’s neither pleasingly silly nor exploring a complex what-if in a new way, or from a new perspective. It’s not terrible, it’s just not that interesting – if it were an episode of Buffy, I’d happily watch the characters I already knew work through the problem, but as it is, despite liking Becca and Ry from page one, by chapter four I just didn’t care.

Crochet One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman

Crochet One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman

There’s something for every crocheter in this collection of 101 crochet projects, each taking just one skein of yarn. Crochet One-Skein Wonders includes a wide range of projects, from baby bootees to sofa cushions, toys to jewellery.

I’m a sucker for anything yarn-related and I’ve been wanting to get back into crochet, so when I spotted Crochet One-Skein Wonders on NetGalley, I immediately requested a review copy. The book is out today, so I can tell you: it’s good.

Views of a lapsed crocheter
For some reason, crochet doesn’t seem to be quite as popular as knitting. In my case, it’s because I have to look at my hands while I crochet, which means I can’t watch TV – listen to the TV, sure – or make eye contact while I’m doing it. I also find it harder to get started and to follow patterns.

That said, crochet can go incredibly quickly and turn out some amazing sculptural pieces – without much effort. It’s particularly good for no-sewing toys and lace patterns which will make a knitter’s mind boggle. So I think it’s a skill well worth having – and if you’re a beginner or a lapsed crocheter like me, this is a great book to start a crochet pattern library with.

Why do I recommend it? Well, it does what it says on the tin – the projects are each for one skein (or a partial skein) of yarn, which means they’re quick to make and require little investment. The designs are a mix of old favourites (like a simple beanie hat) and quirky new ideas (like that clever cushion on the cover). They range from super-simple to intriguingly complex and the patterns are arranged by yarn weight, making it easy to find a project to match a skein in your stash.

However, if you’re a crochet-expert, you may find this book a little simple – it might be good for quick gifts, but I feel like the individual patterns might not be wildly exciting if you’ve already crocheted hats, scarves, toys, socks and so on.

Focus on the patterns
Clever design is one thing, but how the pattern is presented can make the difference between a frustrating UFO and a delightful finished project.

Each pattern is clearly presented, and includes finished sizes as well as standard information such as yarn and hook details.

One clever touch is that the designers or editors seem to recognize that starting the project is how many people work a tension square, so some of their tension information is in terms of the first few rows or rounds – genius idea, if you ask me, and should be standard for small projects.

Many of the patterns have both written instructions and charts, which is ideal if you’re learning to read one or the other, or are beginning crochet. As crochet is often worked in the round, and rarely works every stitch on every row, I find charts incredibly helpful to get the overall picture, but sometimes confusing to work from without a bit of help. Having both makes my life easier.

The book uses a number of different techniques – including Tunisian crochet and felting – which it doesn’t explain in great detail. I don’t think this is failing – there’s a lot packed in there already – but it’s worth knowing that this is a pattern book, not a how-to book.

I don’t buy pattern books unless there are several projects I want to knit – with this one, there are at least a dozen I’m interested in, either because the technique looks interesting or I want the finished project. I like that the book uses a mix of solid yarns and variegated, hand-dyed and and commercial. I feel like I could dive into my stash, pull out any ball and find a pattern to make – which is what I want from this type of book, really.

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Storey Publishing. This review is a book-only review: I have not crocheted any of the projects – yet!

Beneath Outback Skies by Alissa Callen

Beneath Outback Skies by Alissa Callen

Deep into a drought, Paige Quinn is battling to keep the farm she loves from going under. With her father, a wheelchair user, unable to do heavy farm work, the last thing Paige needs is a city boy taking up her time and using their precious water.

But Tait Cavanaugh is surprisingly at home on the land, and unexpectedly easy on the eye, leaving Paige wondering: does she need him around after all? And if she does, will he stay?

I hadn’t encountered the Random Romance imprint, never mind the author, before I saw Beneath Outback Skieson Net Galley, but that didn’t stop me judging it by the cover, deciding yes please, and requesting a review copy. I’m glad I did, as I enjoyed it a lot.

Beneath Outback Skies didn’t disappoint, and I gobbled it up happily. I’d love to visit Australia one day, and until I can get hold of a plane ticket, books like this are a great way to travel.

Callen delivers a charming love story between two very likeable characters, deeply rooted in a way of life which few people will be familiar with. The drought Paige is battling has lasted five years, and the love story takes place against a backdrop of a community suffering deeply but mostly working together to pull through.

Living next to one of Europe’s largest lakes, water conservation around the home is a hobby, not a life preserver, so diving head-first into Paige’s dry, dusty world was a bit of a shock. Obviously, I don’t know if Callen got it right, but the story is full of small details which make it ring true for me.

As this is a romance, the pleasure is in the journey, the destination preordained. The journey is delectable – I really liked Paige and Tait came across as a really good guy, avoiding the opportunities offered to be an overbearing, entitled nuisance, and despite her troubled past and present, and his keeping certain secrets close to his chest, their blossoming romance felt natural. With two characters I could respect, and would be happy to have round to dinner, an upbeat ending was sweet. The area around the farm and the local town, shops, livestock, people and all, also came alive, which given I’ve got snow out the windows, I thought was a feat worth applauding.

All in all, I enjoyed Beneath Outback Skies, and will be looking out for other books from this author – I’ve already downloaded the sample for What Love Sounds Like, although the cover isn’t nearly as appealing!

I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley free from the publishers, Random House Books Australia. You can see their page about Beneath Outback Skies here.