Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review [2015:7] The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty

544 Pages

As you may have gathered, I'm working through the Moriarty back catalogue!
Another book looking at the complexity of relationships, but this time following a female hypnotist as she embarks on a relationship with a widower who reveals that he has a stalker - a previous girlfriend.  As in many of Moriarty's books, the story is told in first person narrative from the point of view of more than one character, and although at first your sympathies lie completely with Ellen (the hypnotist of the title) and with her new boyfriend, very soon you begin to sympathise with the stalker, and suspect that there may be more than meets the eye to the new boyfriend.
It was interesting in this book to find my sympathies directed towards someone that was not the central protagonist. For the first time in one of Moriary's tales I actually found little to like about Ellen, and really began to find her boyfriend quite sinister. I longed for the sections that were narrated by the stalker!
If I did have any complaints it was that I didn't quite buy into the progression of the central relationship. Perhaps this was why I found it hard to like these characters. It just seemed to move too fast, particularly as the boyfriend has a child, who seemed far too eager to welcome a new Mum into the family. It's the first time I've felt that I didn't believe in a character in Moriarty's books and for that reason was disappointing.
I was also disappointed by the relationships and characters of Ellen's parent's generation. As I'm entirely against spoilers I can't be more specific, but several incidents seemed quite unbelievable and the characters just not quite as well drawn as I've come to expect.
It is definitely worth a read, but I don't think it's one of Liane Moriarty's best.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Piano Stool - a New Look

Many years ago, and a long way away, we bought a piano for 50 quid. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I'd really missed having one while we lived in a shoebox in London, so I was delighted. It was a little out of tune, but we all loved tinkering with it, and I think I have a picture like this for each of my babies

Sadly the time came when the keys started to become detached from their hammers.  Day by day more and more failed to work, as the glue powered off and it became a write off. We kept it for the kids to hammer away at, and they loved to do so. It was unplayable really by this stage, but that never put off the kids

One day of course I had enough, and I started to take it apart one day while D was at work. Yes it was madness with 3 children running around. Soon it was no more than a beautiful mechanism.

I had a lot of trouble getting rid of the iron frame. It weighed an absolute ton, and no metal merchants would take it from me. In the end I let the local dodgy geezer do the job for me.

However you'll notice from the photo above that the piano stool was something special. Full length, big enough for 3 kids, huge amount of storage for music and also very useful for those times when you don't have enough chairs at a dinner party. So we kept it and it moved house with us. But it looked like this

I know my photography skills leave something to be desired, but it was actually that colour. Stained and manky, and one half lighter than the other.

As of today it looks like this

This makes me super happy. It's been on my to-do list for about a year and I finally pulled myself together and did it. The fabric is from IKEA (bought years ago from their offcuts bin) and in the end I had to make liberal use of hot glue, as the tacks I bought were too long and would have made for an uncomfortable seat.

We bought another piano, a posh digital Yamaha one. I'd love to have a 'real' one of course, but this is good and the sound and feel are brilliant. Plus you can plug headphones in and play away without annoying anyone else.

Crochet: Baby Beegu

Those of you that have known or followed me for a while will know of The Bug's obsession with Beegu by Alexis Deacon. She has loved this book since she was tiny, and I'm sure it informed her choice of yellow as her favourite colour. Well age has not wearied, nor the years condemned her love, and shortly before Christmas she informed me that she thought that her soft Beegu's tummy was getting a bit fatter, and that perhaps Beegu was going to have a baby!  There was a little discussion of the parentage, and it emerged that Boogle-Jinni was the father of this baby. I asked when the baby might be born (not being fully aware of the usual pregnancy length of yellow aliens) and it was revealed that the baby was due on Christmas day!
Thankfully this gave me a few weeks to get to work, and sure enough, on Christmas morning there was a special parcel under the Christmas tree, labeled Beegu (sorry this photo is not a good one, there was a lot of jumping around involved).

Baby Beegu has been named Beeyana. She is just about half the size of Beegu, and her pattern is below (as usual I've used American crochet nomenclature, and I use little polybeads to weight the legs, arms, bottom and ears).

Teachers! I've had a huge number of requests for knitted/crocheted Beegus over the last 18 months. If you want to make a little Beegu for your class I suggest this pattern, it's so much quicker to put together.

Head (including muzzle) -
magic circle 5
Row 1: 2 sc in each sc (10)
Row 2: *sc 1, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 5 (15)
Row 3: sc 6, *sc 2, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 3 (18)
Row 4: sc 6, *sc 3, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 3 (21)
Row 5: sc 6, *sc 4, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 3 (24)
Rows 6 and 7: sc 24
Row 8: sc 2, *3 sc in next sc* repeat 2, sc 2, *sc 5, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 3 (31)
Row 9: sc, 2 sc in next sc, sc 6, 2 sc in next sc, sc, *sc 6, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 3 (36)
Row 10 - 14 (5 rows): sc 36
Row 15: *sc 4, sc2tog* repeat 6 (30)
Row 16: sc 30
break here to attach eyes and stuff almost to the top
Row 17: *sc 3, sc2tog* repeat 6 (24)
Row 18: sc 24
Row 19: *sc 2, sc2tog* repeat 6 (18)
Row 20: *sc, sc2tog* repeat 6 (12)
finish stuffing
Row 21: sc2tog repeat 6 (6)
Fasten off and weave in end.

magic circle 6
Row 1: 2 sc in each sc (12)
Row 2: *sc 1, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 (18)
Row 3: *sc 2, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 (24)
Row 4: *sc 3, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 (30)
Row 5: *sc 4, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 (36)
Row 6 - 18 (13 rows): sc 36
Row 19: *sc 4, sc2tog* repeat 6 (30)
Rows 20 and 21: sc 30
Row 22: *sc 3, sc2tog* repeat 6 (24)
Rows 23 and 24: sc 24
Fasten off, leaving a long tail for sewing on the head.

Legs (make 2!) - this is a confusing pattern to read.  If you keep in mind that you are making a sole of a foot to start with, starting with a chain then working along one side and then back again to form an oval shape, it might make more sense!
ch 5
Row 1: sc in 2nd chain from hook. sc 2, 3 sc in last sc
then turn and the following is in the same foundation chain stitches:
sc 2, 2 sc in the first sc. slst to first sc (10 stitches in oval)
Row 2: {sc 2, *2 sc in next sc* repeat 3} repeat 2 (16)
Row 3: {sc 2, *sc 1, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 3} repeat 2 (22)
Rows 4 and 5: sc 22
Row 6: sc 2, *sc 1, sc2tog* repeat 3, sc 11 (19)
Row 7: sc 2, sc2tog repeat 3, sc 11 (17)
Row 8: sc2tog, sc 3, sc2tog. sc 11 (15)
Rows 9 - 18 (10 rows): sc 15
Fasten off, leaving a long tail for sewing on to the body.

Arms (make 2!)
Magic circle 5
Row 1: 2 sc in each sc (10)
Row 2: *sc 1, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 5 (15)
Rows 3 - 17 (15 rows): sc 15
Fasten off, leaving a long tail to sew on to body

Ears (make 2!)
magic circle 6
Row 1: 2 sc in each sc (12)
Row 2: sc 12
Row 3: *sc 1, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 (18)
Rows 4 and 5: sc 18
Row 6: *sc 1, sc2tog* repeat 6 (12)
Row 7: sc 12
Row 8: *sc 2, sc2tog* repeat 3 (9)
Row 9 - 68 (60 rows): sc 9
Fasten off, leaving a long tail to sew on to head.

Book Review [2015:6] - The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

448 pages

Liane Moriarty is fast becoming a favourite author of mine. Her work is easy to read, but that's not to say it's not intelligent or thought provoking. Her excellent portrayal of inner monologue is better than any I've read before. Or maybe her characters just think like I do. Either way, I can identify with each of her characters in what they say and think. 
I have heard several people describe this book as her best yet, but I didn't find it as compelling as What Alice Forgot, or as funny as Little Lies. The story follows a woman who discovers a letter addressed to herself in her husband's hand, to be opened in the event of his death. The question is, will she open it and thus open a whole can of worms? Or stick with the status quo and nagging doubts about what it might contain? 
It's an interesting conundrum, and reminds me of stories of 'deathbed confessions' where the confessor then survives. I'm guessing this is what Moriarty had in mind when she wrote it, and it's certainly an interesting theme.  The secret of the title is not the only secret buzzing around in this book, and the affect of keeping these secrets on the characters is really well illustrated. Underlying all of Moriarty's books is the examination of modern relationships close and distant. In this book themes of family, guilt, and forgiveness are covered, as well as the damage assumptions can cause in relationships.
As for the secret?  Well, you'll have to read it to find out.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Photo-a-Day: Week 4

365:22 Babycino joy

365:23 Big Brother and the beach

365:24 The Great Garden Bird Watch

365:25 Fungal Sector

365:26 Sunset over the marsh

365:27 Clouds and trees

365:28 Blue Sky

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Eat this: chocolate caramel pretzels

These are always a big hit wherever I take them, and they are so easy to make. The picture is of fancy Christmas pretzels which for some reason are cheaper than the ordinary ones, but any salted pretzel works well. All you need are pretzels and some chocolate caramels. I usually use Rolos or Galaxy Bites. The Galaxy Bites have the advantage of a higher caramel to chocolate ratio, and often they are cheaper by weight, but they do roll around if you aren't careful, so you need some balancing skills to get them on to the pretzels and into the oven. If you do a whole baking sheet of these (and I recommend you do) you're going to need about four rolls of Rolos.

Lay your pretzels on a lined baking sheet and put one chocolate caramel on top of each one. Put them into the oven for 3-5 mins at 180 degrees or until the caramels are soft. Press another pretzel on to the top of each caramel. You should have a sandwich of pure joy.

They can take a while to harden. As I'm usually preparing these about 15mins before I leave to go to book club, I put them into the freezer for 10 minutes. Once they are hard they slide off the baking paper no problem. 

Book Review [2015:5]: Black Roses by Jane Thynne

496 pages

If there's one thing I like in a book is it a believable,  ordinary character. On the face of it this is a spy story set in Berlin in the 1930s. So far, so standard. What's very different is that this is a book about a girl who ends up in Berlin almost on a whim, is befriended by Magda Goebbels and an English secret service officer (almost at the same time) and is forced to decide what she really believes and where her loyalties lie.

Into the complexity of 1933 Berlin steps Clara Vine, a English girl who longs to be an actor and has been offered a chance of work at the Ufa studios. She sees this as a timely get-out-clause to escape her unsatisfactory engagement to an English oaf. Her progress from young na├»ve actor to crucial intelligence-gatherer is woven neatly into the study of the world of 1930s Berlin: the rise of national socialism, and the confusing position of journalists and ambassadors in this unsettled time. Hitler's obsession with defining the role of the woman in German society, down to the clothes and jewellery she wears (or doesn't) and the ambitions she should have, is well exemplified. The juxtaposition of the 'good German hausfrau' and the fashion conscious and high-society loving female upper echelons of the Reich are excellently described. 

I really enjoy historical fiction, and I'm sure my knowledge of the Second World War is similar to most; I'm no expert in either politics or economics. Previously my knowledge of Magda Goebbels was limited to the fact that she killed all of her 6 children with cyanide before killing herself, as the Red Army took control of Berlin. Clearly every person is far more complex than the tiny nuggets that posterity afford them, but Magda Goebbels really does deserve a second look. Her life as the wife of Joseph Goebbels, and First Lady of the Third Reich seems at odds with her background of Philosemitism (is that a word?). 

Was the Magda Goebbels - Haim Arlosoroff relationship a work of fiction? I can't find any evidence online in my cursory search. It seems to be a shame to have invented something integral to the story and yet really totally unnecessary. The only down point to an excellent novel. I will certainly be reading the second two books of the trilogy.

Book Review [2015:4] - The Silent Tide by Rachel Hore

528 pages

If there's one thing that makes me put a book straight down it is turning to the back cover and seeing a synopsis along the lines of  "1984: Petra is a struggling artist finding her way in the big city.... 1944: Philomena is trapped by her class...". Honestly I hate the whole 'parallels across time' genre! However this was an emergency library selection when I had three girls mucking around and desperate to leave and probably eat or watch TV or something other than immerse themselves in the wonder of books. Choose your battles! I grabbed a couple that had nice covers. I admit it: I judged the books by their covers. There could be a whole post about book covers, as I frequently do this, especially in charity shops. This book is nothing like its cover, which to me looks like an easy read, female 1940s detective story, perhaps with a mysterious ghost backstory. It is apparently her "best novel yet" which is a dreadful thing to put on the cover. Why don't they stop the quote at "beautifully written"? Anyway, I digress, but I can tell you my heart sunk when I actually got time to read the cover and the back of the book. Whoops!

Having said all that this book is captivating. It follows the story of two women whose connection is initially unclear. Both are single women making their way in the publishing world, Isabel in the 1940s/50s and Emily in the present day. The characters are well drawn and convincingly complex, both eras are immersive and atmospheric. 
Whilst the book's subject is ostensibly the complex relationships and life of Hugh Morton, the focus is really the parallels between life as a single woman in the 1940s and present day. There's plenty of complex characters and events are rarely as simple as they seem. The 'nearness' of both eras lends another layer of complexity, as characters frequently overlap both. I loved the way the focus shifted from the life of Emily to the life of Isabel, and the difficulties faced by career women in the mid-20th century. The relationships described are so believable, and not all neat and tidy, as fiction sometimes prescribes.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this book, and it serves me right for pre-judging it on the genre. I'm glad I took the time for it, and was delightfully engrossed.