Review: Knitlandia – A Knitter Sees the World

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Full disclosure: I’m a crocheter not a knitter, and not as ‘into’ it as much as a lot of people, for example the people who will apparently queue for hours in hot sun to buy yarn at a fibre festival. However, I chose to read it during my knitting & crochet group’s summer retreat which is a very different to the retreats mentioned in the book, in that there are no professional demonstrations or lessons or meditation, just lots and lots of booze (we’re not called the Oxford Drunken Knitwits for nowt!), some occasional yarn craft and a hot tub with friends.

Summer Retreat, ODK style


So not being a knitting nerd, I still enjoyed this immensely, I think the travel aspect was well written and that’s what drew me in. I didn’t notice the ‘name dropping’ that this book has been criticised with having, because I don’t know the names? (I’d not even heard of Parkes before being recommended this book). In fact I only recognised one person because I’ve seen her patterns on Ravely, however I enjoyed learning more about that person and how they got to where they were in the ‘Knitting World’. The stories involving people I didn’t know, I still enjoyed – the fact that these stories are mini essays mean you can choose to just skip to the next one should you choose.

I felt that Parkes’ previous experience as a travel writer shines through in her lifelike descriptions of the places she visits and the people she meets. I can almost smell the barns of the festivals or feel the heat of the conference centres and hotels of various events – she really brings the places to life, which to appeal to a wider audience is no mean feat.





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Review: Blue Eyed Pop by Dr Gunni

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland by Dr. Gunni

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Named after the Sugarcubes song of the same name, Blue Eyed Pop covers the start of ‘popular’ music in Iceland which evolved early 20th century, through to the books publishing year of 2013, it covers everything from how various instruments were introduced to the country, to the influence of the American airbase at Keflavik and the inimitable country balls that so many artists have cut their teeth over the years.
For me the pace really picked up covering the period of the late 70’s as this is when recognisable names start to come to the fore (artists that are still playing live, releasing records such as Bubbi Morthens).
Obviously there’s a lot about Björk in the book, given that she released her first album at the age of 11, and being arguably Iceland’s most successful artist, but it also gives plenty of weight to newer bands such as Sigur Rós and múm etc..
The book has a lot in the way of facts: how many records each artist/album sold, venue history, who was in what band when and some amazing photos to go with them! It really shows what I think is the uniqueness of Iceland’s music scene, that an artist can be involved in multiple bands/projects at a time which can appear strange in a world of Western pop music where there is usually some acrimonious split in a band caused by creative differences. I’ve witnessed this phenomena myself at Iceland Airwaves, seeing a performer 5+ times across the festival, in 3 or 4 different bands/line ups. Airwaves of course gets a fair mention, being the Glastonbury of Iceland, sans mud of course.
The only thing missing from this book is a 2018 update, the music scene and artists of Iceland finally getting the attention and success they deserve abroad.
My only niggle with the book is that particularly in the last 4-5 chapters there are several mistakes missed by the publisher/proof reader, but I think they could be overlooked for the sheer joy the book brings. In the back there is a list of useful websites for experiencing some of the artists mentioned, and it was good to see that Dr Gunni’s website is still holding the fort with these




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Holiday reads roundup

It feels like only a couple weeks ago rather than 2 months that I was in Gran Canaria where my only goal was to read as much as possible, whilst outside enjoying the warmth.
I managed to short list down to 7 books for a 7 day holiday not including my kindle which I didn’t touch. I also went with books I didn’t mind leaving behind so apart from the one I was still reading on the flight home, all were donated to the book exchange in our apartment complex. Warning the following may contain spoilers!

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

A truly heart warming story about a seemingly grumpy or straight laced guy, who appears to accept all the bad luck in his life, however he seems to selflessly help people throughout his life.
The book starts just after Ove’s wife has died, and he is trying to kill himself so he can join her, as he can’t see the point in life without the one person who made him happy. The story fills in the details of events throughout his life where he has been lucky or seemingly unlucky and his stoicism in what will be will be, his striving for the right way for things to be, his friendships and in the end. Seemingly grumpy, for Ove its just that there are right and wrong ways to do things. But his frank nature pulls together his neighbourhood and a new group of friends.

Paper Towns – John Green

I had high hopes for this, as usually John Green novels pull all the heartstrings in a myriad of directions leaving me emotionally exhausted in a good way. For this book I just could not like Margo Roth Spiegelman she just felt two dimensional and selfish. If that’s what Green was going for then well done, but I found the whole tortured artist thing stretching it way too far. However the titbit of history about Paper Towns was maybe one of a few redeeming features of the book.

Champion (Legend book 3) – Marie Lu

The final in a 3 part series, a young adult fantasy novel – set in a dystopian future America. Without wanting to give too much away if you’re not familiar with the series, the former USA is split into the Republic and the Colonies who are at war, Antartica is the new power/leader and way more technologically advanced country, and there is a complicated relationship between the two protagonists from opposite sides of the tracks. Lu culminates the series in a very satisfying ending, leaving the reader to decide what happens next.

The Washington Strategem – Adam LeBor
Another one of a series, taking a departure from my usual reference for slow moving, realistic scandi noir crime novels. The Yael Azoulay series is high octane American espionage set in the United Nations in New York. Yael Azoulay is being set up whilst trying to prevent an(other) atrocity. Plenty of secrets, murders and a fast paced agenda set against the history of the Balkan wars with the added complication of the press and Azoulay’s background.

Slapstick or Lonesome No More – Kurt Vonnegut

I actually rated this a bit lower than I should have done, but maybe I need to set out a clear rating system for myself, it’s that I seem to give everything I enjoy a 4/5 and whilst this was a good book, I wouldn’t bother reading again. It’s a very interesting in style short novel (I read it in a few hours), with an introduction from the author about how the idea for the novel came about. It’s a science fiction story about humanity in the future, and is one of the weirdest books I’ve read. Interesting for a once over.

The Craftsman – Sharon Bolton

This was a Goodreads giveaway book, and rest assured this is an impartial review (I’m also very sad that they’ve stopped doing Giveaways for UK people). After the book arrived it actually sat on my shelves unread for several months, it’s quite a weighty tome but aside from the physical energy expended from reading this lying down on a sunbed and having to swap reading arms frequently it was a fast and easy read. Very enthralling from the get go, the book starts with the funeral of a criminal and the protagonist revisits the scene of some murders. The book plays with the history of the Pendleton witches and the legends that surround Pendle Hill. I think this is what drew me in originally, as I used to live not too far from there. The storyline itself without giving too much away goes over the old investigation at the start of her career and how that story carries on today and plays out – very well written and kept me on edge until the end.

The Boleyn Inheritance – Philippa Gregory

I really didn’t think I was going to like this. Over a year ago, maybe two, me and a friend read about this idea online of giving someone a copy of your favourite book for their birthday rather than buying something new – so we did this and I received the Boleyn Inheritance for my birthday in 2017. Well really I can’t believe how much it drew me in, how much I didn’t know about British history of the royal family etc.. the story is written in the period after Henry VIII has had Anne Boylen beheaded, and continues with the next two wives – Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard. Gregory has this knack of creating believable plots, as we will never know all the details of what happened back then, but of course keeps a lot true to the history we do know. It was so good I got my mum the audible version.

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Blackwell’s Blogger Event

Day 5/100.

I usually shelve posts like this as too long after the fact, but really – is it ever too late to learn about good books to buy? No, never, exactly! So on with the post…

A few weeks ago an invite landed in my inbox and I was very excited because I am not the sort of person who gets invited to things very often. This was an event for ‘bloggers, influencers and affiliates’ of Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford. Although Blackwell’s is a large well known brand across the UK, it’s still an independent bookshop and the flagship Oxford store is my local and I love it in there. Sooooo many books, the Norrington room is amazing.

Anyway, back to event – set in the afore mentioned Norrington room, plied with wine and snacks, we took a seat. The event was intended as a precursor to ‘Super Thursday‘ a popular event in bookland where over 500 books are released on one day, although this is the first I’ve heard of it. We (me and the actual, real book bloggers and people who get to write about this sort of thing for the local press) were treated to Blackwell’s staff telling us about the books they were excited about – some had been released recently, some were being released on Super Thursday but they also included some way older books.

9781472260086

The passion of the various staff members was infectios, I cam away wishing I had hoards of child relatives to buy ALL the books for. However the ones that stood out for me included Art Matters by Neil Gaiman that was so cute I bought it there and then.

Bibliophile An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount- described as a love letter to all things bookish, is the latest project from Mount who has spent several years painting people’s bookshelves very beautifully. In this latest book she paints the world’s favourite bookshops, author workspaces to name a few. This one has gone on my wishlist already.

The Writer’s Map An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones is probably the one I’m most excited about, being a bit of a map geek as well. This is a book that contains not only the maps you find drawn inside the pages of some of the most loved books, but also the maps that inspired them, sketches that authors have used whilst writing the stories. It’s a large format, hardback, book full of colour plates – I’m really wishing for this one in my Christmas stocking this year.

Brit(ish) On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch is another book that stood out, albeit more serious than the ones mentioned so far, particularly in the current UK climate. This book discusses British identity coupled with racism and history.

And the final book that grabbed my attention was Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill, this book is about “The fantastic lives of sixteen extraordinary Australian writers” the catch being, that they’re all made up, and we’ve been assured it’s very funny!

After the presentation of books that left most of us drooling, there was plenty of time to chat, buy books, look at books and we got a goodybag to go home with! Not that I need more books, I’m not complaining – several books, a lovely limited edition print (which I’m currently trying to find space to hang), a great pen (you know sometimes you get a pen that just writes SO NICE it makes you write with your best handwriting?, it was one of those), and all packaged in a very sturdy high quality tote! It was a fantastic event, to meet people who also get super excited by books and I was honored to be invited.

www.blackwells.co.uk

Review: Living Inside the Meltdown

Living Inside the MeltdownLiving Inside the Meltdown by Alda Sigmundsdóttir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely enthralling insight into how the economic breakdown of Iceland’s banks (that preceded the UK recession) affected normal people in Iceland. Told in a compelling first person narrative, by way of interviews between the author and the few people willing to walk about what happened. The shock felt by the Icelandic people is apparent, yet the stories are told in a very matter of fact way. A fairly quick read (I managed it in a couple of hours on the train), it would be nice to find out what has happened to the people in the book 10 years on and how they feel after the initial reactions.

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Reviews: 2 books of weather based journeys

Two books of a similar style or theme, where the authors travel around the world in hunt of certain styles of weather: Snow and Wind.

The Snow TouristThe Snow Tourist by Charlie English

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, a travel book with a theme of snow! I love snow! I don’t ski/snowboard but love walking in snow and how the world looks covered in snow. This book will however lead you through one man’s obsession to find and experience different types of snow and snow experiences. As well as descriptions of the beautiful and solitude that you can almost visualise, he also covers the dangers of things such as avalanches and not-so-solid snow-ground. It’s a beautifully written journey with interesting characters and facts.

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe's Winds from the Pennines to ProvenceWhere the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program. As an overview the book is split into 4 (IIRC) winds, that the author follows or tries to find, with mixed success. It reminded me very much of a book I read last year – The Snow Tourist by Charlie English. Although it took me slightly longer to get into reading that the Snow Tourist, I’m not sure if its because the wind stories weren’t as initially exiting or whether I just find snow more exciting? I think the fact that this was a hardback as well meant I found it phsycially less easy to read given that I generally read in the bath/bed lying down and thats just not comfy with a hardback.
But before I digress too much. the story starts on Cross Fell in the North West of England and eventually travels across Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, as well as Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
For me, the story much like the winds start to pick up once the author leaves the UK in search of the Bora and the stories of his encounters with various locals on his travels. I think this is definitely more of wind book with a theme of travel, than a travel book with the theme of wind if that makes sense. I enjoyed it once it got past the slow start.

 

Review: Norse and Nordic Oxford

Norse and Nordic OxfordNorse and Nordic Oxford by Ann-Turi Ford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a mixed bag of a review, in part because I think the book itself is a mixed bag. I bought this book last year at a signing/launch event at Blackwell’s bookshop here in Oxford – being a huge Nordophile this was right up my street. My memories of the event are now a little hazy, but overall it was funny (one of the authors – Richard, is British with that ever depreciating sense of humour), if a little awkward. On reading the book, I realised that the jokes scattered within had been relayed at the author event – so double edged sword of having heard them before, but being able to read the book in Richard’s jovial manner – I don’t think I would’ve gotten all the jokey/ironic/amusing bits had I not been aware of his manner – which segues into the book. The book itself was really interesting full of historical and more modern day facts about any Nordic/Scandinavian links with Oxford whatsoever (and yes, some are tedious links), the delivery could’ve been slicker – I think I stopped counting after 10 grammar/spelling/wrongly labelled photo errors – but this is down to the publishers/editors – something I might expect from a self published ebook but not something purchased in hard copy from Blackwell’s if I’m honest. There was also a couple of historically incorrect pieces such as the statement that there are 3 days of the week in English that are named after Norse gods – with Tuesday being named after Thor (as we geeks know: Tyr – Tuesday, Thor – Thursday), but again, with a proper publisher, wouldn’t this have been fact checked? 10 seconds on wikipedia will find the answer.
The longer into the book I read I found it becoming more travel guide than Guide to Norse and Nordic Oxford, eg you should visit places X,y,z in Oxford that have no known links to Norse/Nordic culture but are must sees for any travellers to Oxford – I guess I found these snippets unnecessary and some recommendations were repeated several times over the course of the book – but again, I felt that these were things that an editor would eliminate along with incorrectly labelled photos and the photos in the book that were lovely but had no context.
So overall a really interesting book, but due to poor editing gets 3/5

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Review: The Little Book of the Icelanders

The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old DaysThe Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days by Alda Sigmundsdóttir

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In her signature, incredibly easy to read style, Alda gives you a lesson in the history of olden days of Iceland with facts and fun in equal measures over the course of 50 mini essays. Covering everything from the quirks and superstitions of what happens when someone visits a croft (when to knock on the window rather than the door), to food, sheep, community, evening entertainment. All this interspersed with the etymology of the Icelandic words and some cute illustrations – highly recommended to anyone with a passing interest in Iceland and/or its history.

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Review – Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced LivingLagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living by Linnea Dunne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel like I was perhaps unfairly influenced whilst reading this, as it was so soon after finishing The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People , as there are many similarities to both the content and the style of the books.
Lagom has many of the same ideas or lifestyle philosophies of the Lykke and it’s predecessor The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well and is published in the same format, a rather small and compact yet beautiful hardback book with a focus on sleek design accompanied by stunning photos.
However I found that Lagom had a lack of.. focus or flow throughout the book, and whilst it too had lovely pictures of homes that were ‘just enough’ and not too showy, that minimalist yet cosy feel of IKEA, there were also several design flaws – mostly dark text on dark backgrounds. As someone with perfect eyesight I struggled reading parts of the book due to this – however this is down really to the publisher rather than the author, I would really have thought that in 2018, accessibility would be an essential component to a professionally published book?

Plus points were really interesting information about community living and facts about the focus on home life/worklife balance and things like shared parental leave. There’s also several recipes that may get used particularly at Christmas.
Overall I gave it a 3/5 because I liked it but didn’t love it, however if you’re a Scandophile like me then it’s probably worth laying your hands on.

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Review: Looking For Alaska

 

I don’t know how he does it? Maybe John Green has a secret line into my heart so he knows exactly when and where to tug?
Without giving away huge spoilers, this is essentially a book about growing up, friendship, choices/not-choices. About dealing or not dealing with death.

The story starts with Miles Halter choosing to leave high school to attend a boarding school instead. Not having many real friends at his old school, he quickly finds the sort of friends, that honestly, I’ve only read about in books. The book itself doesn’t even cover a whole school year, yet is well paced. I feel I could draw you a map of Culver Creek school, if I could draw well, I can smell the woods they hide out in.

I don’t know what else to say, except Green manages to smash my heart into a million pieces (again ~ first time was with the Fault in Our Stars) and pick them up and put them back together and all without me hating him. He writes beautifully, and I do find myself wondering just how much is autobiographical and how much is pure imagination.

If you’ve not read it, I’d highly recommend it – 5/5.