Book Review: Knots And Crosses

I first read most of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series when I was a teenager, mainly because Black And Blue is (was?  This was nearly twenty years ago) a central text for Higher English, and so every high school kid in Scotland had to read it.  I kept up with the books for a while, but never got round to reading the later ones, so I decided recently to re-read the lot from the start, aided by my Kindle.

Knots And Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots And Crosses is interesting if you’re familiar with the series, because it’s still kind of finding its feet.  It was written (and hence set) in 1985, quite a bit earlier than the bulk of the books, and so the main character, John Rebus, is not quite yet the grizzled, cynical maverick that he will later become.  There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff going on with his relationships with his brother and daughter at this point, and a few characters are introduced who will become very important later in the series, but by and large it can feel like a bit of a strange prequel with hindsight.

The plot zips along nicely, though, and the fact that it’s a bit more straightforward than later stories will be is actually quite a refreshing way to start reading the series again.

Of course, as an Edinburgh native, the setting is my favourite thing about the books, and here as ever the city is depicted beautifully.  Something that’s always frustrated me since I started university in my hometown is the way that some people can live in Edinburgh for years and still never see beyond the picturesque, touristy, student-friendly surface.  Ian Rankin’s writing, by virtue of its subject matter, evokes every aspect of the city, from its architectural beauty to its dark underbelly, from Morningside to Pilton.  I know every street Rebus walks down, if not quite every pub in which he drinks (some of them have not survived the intervening thirty-three years!), and for me that really gives the stories life.

I have the next few entries on my reading list, so I’m sure I’ll get round to them soon!

Book Review: Rod: The Autobiography

As I’ve mentioned before, It’s only really been the last few weeks – mainly due to my holiday in Canada – that I’ve finally picked up the Kindle I was given for Christmas and loaded it up with ebooks.  Last autumn, I decided I needed to read a few rock star autobiographies, largely because one of the novel series I’m writing – the first of which I did for last year’s NaNoWriMo – involves the world of 20th century rock stars, and I needed to do some research into it.  Also, I thought they’d be pretty fun to read.

The first one I read, while on holiday in Canada, was Rod Stewart’s autobiography from 2012, and on the latter point it did not disappoint.

Rod: The Autobiography on Kindle
Modelled by my Kindle.

Stewart tells his story very engagingly and comes across as very likeable, even at the points when you want to shake him and scream ‘you’re married to yet another beautiful woman – WHY CAN’T YOU STOP WOMANISING, YOU MUPPET???’  I found his justification for why he has always felt Scottish from a football fan perspective really interesting, even if I still don’t really understand it.  The book also provided a really interesting look into all my favourite eras of British pop and rock music, as he’s been involved in the industry for a long time now.

Also, Mum’s read this one as well, because of course she has – she’s read everyone’s autobiography.  As such, we were able to have a good discussion of it while we were in Canada.  We’re distantly related to one of Stewart’s ex-wives, model Rachel Hunter, through the Shetland connection (she’s my fourth cousin!  See the Wikipedia entry if you’re not sure how cousins work.  Suffice to say it’s pretty distant).  Because of this, Mum was pretty pleased that she was the only ex-wife he never cheated on.  You gotta take those victories somewhere!

Overall, it’s a nice optimistic, fun read and I really enjoyed it.

Top fact that I gleaned from this non-fiction work: while everyone knows that it was John Peel who mimed the mandolin playing during the Top of the Pops performance of Maggie May in 1971, it was Ray Jackson from Lindisfarne who played the part on the actual recording!

Book Review: Password To Larkspur Lane

Something that has really surprised me in recent years is that when I pull a book out of my childhood collection for a quick read, there is a 90% chance – even if it’s a story I revered and loved as a child – that the book will be utterly, unbearably terrible.

Password To Larkspur Lane, the tenth entry in the series of Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene, is no exception.

Password To Larkspur Lane
I know this cover says it’s actually the twelfth entry, but I’m going by the Goodreads profile for the book.

I grabbed it off the bookshelf for a quick bedtime read a few weeks ago, after I’d put up the bookshelves in the bedroom.  I thought it might be quite fun to read through my Nancy Drew collection again, as I’ve not done so for over twenty years.  After reading Password To Larkspur Lane, however, I’m not sure I can stand to read any more.

First of all, the main character is ridiculous.  Nancy is absolutely, unrealistically perfect.  In the course of the story, she wins a flower-arranging competition, saves a child from drowning, knows the details of the American homing pigeon association off by heart when one happens to land in her garden, manages to escape from a completely dark and sealed cellar by climbing the wall with her bare hands and a scrap of broken wood, knows how to drain a plane’s fuel tank, and in the end solves two cases that – of course – turn out to be related.  She hardly ever involves the police in what she’s doing, because she doesn’t want to worry them.  When she does, they are – of course – laughably inept.  Despite the fact that she is a teenage girl meddling with the plans of dangerous criminals, her lawyer father just lets her do what she likes, bows to her wisdom regarding the police, and seems to spend his time supporting Nancy’s efforts and buying her new cars rather than actually being a lawyer.  I don’t like the term ‘Mary Sue’ because people in online fandom throw it around to mean ‘character I don’t like’, but Nancy is a Mary Sue if ever there was one.

Pretty much every other female character is utterly useless and petrified of everything, except for Nancy’s friend George, and that’s only because the latter is an extremely two-dimensional tomboy character.

The story is insanely unrealistic too – clues just fall into Nancy’s lap out of nowhere, and she always just happens to know someone who is an expert in whatever she needs to know about next.  Usually, however, this isn’t necessary, as she’s an expert in most things herself.  At one point, a character is declared by a doctor to have suffered a ‘slight heart attack’ (he’s perfectly fine and up and about the next day), which is the moment I nearly threw the book at the wall.

At the end, when the criminal gang is rounded up, they just explain their whole plan in front of the police, in true inept villain fashion!

Terrible as this book is, I will definitely read at least one more of these when I feel up to it, because I have to know if the others in the series are all just as bad.

My new(ish) toy

I spent most of today buried in my Kindle.  I got it from Mum and Dad for Christmas but it’s only this last week that I’ve actually loaded it up with ebooks and started using it.  There are a few odd things that it keeps doing without asking, and it’s not got a very good system for turning itself on and off, but it makes reading so easy that I’m a total convert after one day of use.

This is very good news for my poor, groaning bookshelves, as well as for the limited amount of space in the house.

Getting back to old habits

By the post title, I mean deliberately getting back into one, and trying not to get back into another!

The good one is reading.  As a child I was a voracious reader and the only time I didn’t have my nose in a book was when I was writing my own stories.  Then I grew up and the internet happened, and I went to university where I had to read nonfiction books for research all day long, and so my reading habits shifted from novels to blogs and forums, and my fiction-consuming habits shifted almost solely to TV shows and videogames.  I’ve never really fully got back into the habit of reading books, although I do make a concerted effort every few months – I’m fully aware that my own writing improves when I read actual published works rather than stuff on the internet, interesting as a lot of stuff on the internet is.  As such, for the last couple of weeks – ever since we got access to our books – I’ve been reading for an hour before bed.  Also, I got a Kindle for Christmas, and in the last week or so I’ve been filling it up with ebooks to read while I’m on holiday.  I’m looking forward to having some time for that again.

The bad habit – which I indulged in today but am not intending to repeat – is buying mounds of cheap clothing in Primark.  Since my wardrobe cull, it’s been very important to me that I don’t end up replacing the mounds of cheap and unwearable clothes with more mounds of cheap and unwearable clothes, and so the clothes I’ve been buying so far this year have been better quality investment pieces that I know will get lots of wear.  I realised that I don’t have enough lightweight summer clothes for my upcoming holiday though – in the UK climate you don’t usually need a lot of summer clothes, although the ones I do own have been seeing a lot of use during the heatwave we’ve been having for the last few weeks – and so I did break my Primark ban this morning.  I don’t expect the clothes will last long, but I know I’ll get a lot of use out of them this summer – and that I now have the de-hoarding mental strength to get rid of them when they do wear out, which is the important thing.

I’m nearly getting to the point where I have enough clothes again.  Not quite, but nearly!

(Books, on the other hand, I have far too many of – hence the Kindle, to make sure I don’t buy any more physical ones.)

Stuff I like about my parents’ house #4: bookshelf full of classics

As I’ve been in a bookshelf place this week, what with getting my own ones back up and running, I thought I’d share my favourite of Mum and Dad’s many bookshelves: the one in the dining room that used to be an escape of mine when I was a kid.

Bookshelf
I feel cosy just looking at it!

This is where Mum keeps all her old childhood books from the ’50s.  I was a voracious reader when I was little, and I would scour the whole house for new books to read (there are a lot), but this was one of my favourite spots to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’d pick out something that sounded interesting, and nine times out of ten it would be a jolly-hockey-sticks romp about maverick English boarding school girls in the ’50s.  It was a world that was completely far removed from my own, but I found it fascinating, and those books later inspired one of my own characters in one of my ongoing novel series.  I would settle down in the chair next to the bookshelf, so that once I was done with one book, I could immediately grab another.

Other books on the shelf included the entire Little Women series (published as four books in the UK – Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys – I must have read them twenty or thirty times), Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass, and the entire What Katy Did series.  Some real classics there, and I still borrow them from time to time.

Tetris and other block puzzles

You know those games (physical or digital) where you have to get a ball from one end of the board/screen to the other by moving blocks around so you can slowly work the ball through the path?  I’m terrible at them.  It always takes me ages.

That’s how I’ve felt about working on the new house for most of the last week.

The current project is to get everything into its correct room, if not its correct place.  What this means is I’m just constantly moving boxes around, trying to clear paths for other things to be moved through, filling one room and then another in an attempt just to have some tiny space to manoeuvre stuff.  It’s really tiring, and I feel like I’m going round in circles.

A big part of the problem is that there’s so much stuff that doesn’t have a place yet.  We’re going to be building new wall shelves out of our old Ikea Billy bookshelves to house the DVDs, videogames and some of the books, and I’ve designed a wall of Ikea Kallax units for the boardgame collection.  As such, until these units are in place, our books, DVDs, videogames and boardgames have to stay in boxes, and there’s a lot of them.

I know, logically, I am making headway.  I’ve spent today making rows of all the boxes that go in different areas, so once Geth gets home tonight and helps me with a couple of heavy lifting jobs, I’ll be able to fill the study with all the Stuff That Goes In The Study (as opposed to the all-kinds-of-everything totally random stuff that was in there before) and use that as a dumping ground to help me sort out other rooms.  After that, over the next couple of days, I can move my magazine Kallax upstairs, then move all the boardgame boxes to the space where their Kallax storage is going to live, and that will mean there’s a bit more breathing room around the piles of boxes of books and DVDs that are currently having to stay in the living room.

The whole thing really is doing wonders for my hoarding habit though.  I can’t wait to start sorting through things properly and getting rid of stuff.

One step at a time.  It’s just frustrating when there are so many steps.

Packing…and shoes

This weekend, I finally got round to starting packing all our stuff up for the move, and immediately remembered that it’s a far bigger job than it seems.  Guess I’m going to be spending tomorrow afternoon drawing up a minute-by-minute immovable schedule for the next few weeks, seeing as we’re on a strict timetable in terms of moving out.  Geth has suggested getting it done bit by bit in the evenings (and is far more excited about it than I am), so it will get done – it just seems like an impossible mountain at the moment.

So far, I’ve packed about 80% of our books (which has reminded me exactly why I asked for a Kindle for Christmas – ideally I’d never buy another physical book again, but not everything is available in ebook format yet, and sometimes for a vintage/retro lover like me it’s nice to have the original physical versions of old books; still, for reasons of space I would need to have a serious book cull before I bought any more physical ones) and about 60% of my shoes.  The shoes take up three holdalls so far and I’m not done yet:

Holdalls full of shoes
Some of my shoes. In the holdalls, the amount looks a lot smaller than when they’re on the shelves, which is quite calming.

I currently have 87 pairs.  I’d have a lot more if I hadn’t forced myself in recent years to be better about chucking them in the bin when they wear out.  I’d also have a lot more if I hadn’t been so broke during my most shoe-obsessive years – much as I’m still magnetically drawn to The Shiny, with age has come (a small amount of) wisdom and nowadays I’m a lot stricter with myself about only buying stuff that I know I’ll definitely wear.

Hopefully, this time next week we’ll have got a lot more of the packing done and I won’t feel quite so stressed about it.