My best reads of 2017

Yeah, I know it’s March 2018 and I’m only just getting around to talking about my favourite reads of 2017, but you know I have a full time job and Etsy and so I don’t have as much spare time as I need. Plus who cares? No-one but me is setting the deadlines.

Last year I set myself a target of 33 books to read over the year on Goodreads’ reading challenge, but in the end I only read 24 but I choose not to care too much about that either because all that means is that I had more Etsy orders last year which is fantastic.

Out of those 33 books, I marked 13 in my book journal as being great reads, so here goes – sometimes when I look back over these I surprise myself..

January

I read three books in January and only really enjoyed one of them.

How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position by Tabish Khair
This is basically a modern comedy of errors, really good fun and the cover is larks to flash at the Daily Mail readers on the morning commute.

The worst book I read in January was one that was loaned to me by someone at work and was an anti sugar healthy eating book. Dullsville.

February

I read three books in Feb and only really enjoyed one.

The Foreshadowing – Marcus Sedgewick. Oh my that was a great book. It is written for young adults but there wasn’t anything childish about it. Really definitely recommend this one, its about a girl who suffers premonitions (its set during WW1) and no-one really believes her, its also about the limited freedom of young women of the time. I passed this one to Andy to read after me and he really enjoyed it too.

April

Oh no it took until April for me to really enjoy another book, but that was only two books so not so bad really.

The Glass Painter’s Daughter – Rachel Hore. Now this is one of those books that is passed on to you and you would never have read otherwise but it turned out to be a real page turner. Its about a woman who takes over her dying father’s stained glass business and gets a massive crush on the wrong man. Classic airport read stuff but don’t dismiss it for that, its well written and very enjoyable. The descriptions of the stained glass and processes are really evocative and beautiful.

May

The Hand that First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell. I won this book in a book swap game at the UK Bookcrossing Unconvention back whenever that was… Loved this book. Its about a woman who leaves suburbia as a very young woman looking for thrills and ends up drowning. Its all about the people she leaves behind and them remembering her life. Its such a good read, I was so glad to have read it and passed it on to someone at work and it made her cry. Sorry about the crying part but its a thrill to pass on a great book that chimes with other people too. Must read more Maggie O’Farrell.

June

Two great books in June!

Dangerious Liaisons – de Lados One of those rare books where the film adaptation stands on its own and one doesn’t spoil the other. The book of course is much more nuanced and has much more detail and depth but the film is just non-stop thrills – it’s actually my favourite film.

Mommie Dearest – Christina Crawford. Now this one I liked for all the wrong reasons. What a bitch. Poor Joanie. If ever a woman had a rough deal in life… Christina comes across as a spiteful, spoiled cow. No surprise to find she is ultimately cut out of the will. Serves her right. By the way, did you watch Feud? Wasn’t it just fabulous? I cried at the end.

July

Dead Kid Songs – Toby Litt. I am pretty sure I have read another of his books and didn’t like it so I wasn’t expecting to think much of this but I was so so wrong. Fantastic book about childhood and childhood allegiances and friendship. I loved this right up until the terribly clunky end which was crap but not so bad that the rest of the book was ruined. A close run thing though.

August

Four good books in August! No surprise that we went on holiday in August last year.

To the Edge of the Sky – Anhua Gao. Fascinating memoir of life in communist China. Not the most cheerful of poolside reading but I love books about life under communism. The unspeakable cruelty and fear, it fascinates me that people can actually want to cause that much unhappiness. Its extraordinary – what on earth do they get out of it? I know money and power and all that but really, the weight of the misery caused. Surely it isn’t worth it.

Driving Over Lemons – Chris Stewart. Great memoir about a guy who relocates to Andalucia, firstly on his own and then his wife joins him. Its so interesting, their lives are beyond grim to me but they love it. The characters in the area they live in are so colourful and all the plumbing problems and what have you they have to get over… really uplifting book in a ‘not in a million years’ type of way. When I finished reading this book I left it at the train station at Fleet and I’ve just found out its travelled on to South Africa! The person that read it after me really enjoyed it too.

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland. I definitely read this one in Bulgaria too. Pretty sure I left it in the ‘library’ at the hotel too. This is a magical realism book about a girl who is born covered in hair looking very much like a lion. She ends up being married to a sly pig of a travelling circus type and is completely taken in by him. Its about her waking up to the reality of her life and the people around her.

E is for Evidence – Sue Grafton. What do I need to say about the mighty Sue Grafton? Love these books, even though I’m only up to ‘E’ I fully intend to read the rest. They’re great light quick reads and yes I know the stories can be a bit silly but that’s a big part of their charm.

September

31 Dream Street – Lisa Jewell. Oh looks like I enjoy light reads more than I thought I did. This one is like a soap. Woman lives across the road from a shared house and becomes intrigued by the people that live there and disillusioned by her own life. It all comes right in the end.

Yarn Harlot – The Secret Life of a Knitter. You do have to be a knitter to get the most out of this book, its a riot if you are into knitting. I thought that her experiences would be somehow very different to mine because she is in America and has kids and all that but turns out there is a universal very funny truth of experience for knitters worldwide. Love her.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Yeah I know, they’re a bit tragic but I’m doing it anyway.

  1. Read at least 34 books this year.  Easy peasy, I’m on Goodreads so I’ve set myself a reading challenge.  Click here to see how I’m doing.  Right now I’m doing fantastically well, I have read no books yet this year and I’m apparently bang on target.
  2. Lose 20kgs.  Thought I’d chuck in the traditional fat bum challenge.  Though my bum isn’t actually that fat I have spotted a bit of thigh bulge today that has to be got rid of immediately if not sooner.  Then once I’ve lost 20kgs I’ll still want to lose another 10.  Then perhaps another 5.  We’ll see. I work for a law firm and the cakeage is immense and I loathe exercising so this one is a bit challenging. I also hate exercise clothes and seriously object to any heel lower than a kitten heel.  Keep thinking about taking up running but I also very much dislike outdoorsiness. And running.
  3. Do more embroidery.  I very rarely sew. Its the one thing I absolutely love doing and yet I hardly ever do it because I used to hand sew for a living and now I don’t and it may sound pathetic but its quite emotional for me and I’m a bit frightened I’ve lost all my skills. So much as I’ve amassed a huge quantity of yarn and patterns and stuff I’m going to scale back the knitting and crochet (except for snoods and Gin Poodles of course) and get back into embroidery.  I had a small test piece framed a few years ago and the framers asked me if I’d like to make more for them to sell.  So I might not be a complete ham-fisted duffer.
  4. Stop buying mass-produced junk.  You know that ‘make it, don’t buy it’ idea floating around at Christmas? Well I’m going to stop buying things from major chains and only buy handmade wherever possible.  I’ve had my last clothes shopping spree in 2016 so from now on I’m going to make my own clothes, at least they’ll fit properly and I won’t bump into anyone else wearing the same thing. I can try out embroidery on my own cuffs and that too can’t I? I’ve got a sewing machine up in the loft and I expect that is where it will stay because I don’t really like sewing machines.  Hand made clothes last longer because they’re better and every stitch is beautiful. I’m not expecting anyone else to agree or even see the simple beauty of a white cotton tacking stitch or go into ecstasy over a button hole, but your loss and all that.
  5. New Etsy shop. Once I’ve got my fingers back to being able to pick up with a needle a single thread in any fabric without looking I’ll be able to produce work worth selling. These are not going to sit well with super kitsch knitted poodle bottle cosies or even lovely vintage style hair accessories so they’ll need their own space.

Five resolutions are enough.

6. Oh but hang on. Food. Must stop eating things that make me ill, like fried things, fatty things, dairy, and eggs.  A doctor told me years ago that the odd sensation of my throat going all thick and gagging for hours after eating isn’t really normal and should be avoided. Spose he might have a point.

7. Bugger it I’ve thought of another.  I have a half brother somewhere.  Not even sure what his name is but I should find him in case he’s the head of membership of a major ballet company or something and can get me a hefty discount.

 

642 Things…

On Saturday I was having a bored wander around my local shopping centre, I’m not keen on shopping centres, I’m much more of a markets sort of person but there are no markets where I live or nearby not decent ones anyway after you’ve been spoilt on the markets of London.  Anyway, Cargo is closing down, I’m not sure if all the Cargo shops are closing but the ones near me most definitely are and they are selling off literally everything from sofas to till rolls.  I’ve been buying up odds and ends of Point of Sale items  dirt cheap to use at craft fairs and have so far managed to resist buying up discounted bedding (one of my shopping weak spots) when what I really need is a new saucepan.

So to look for a heavily discounted medium sized saucepan in an ice cream shade, naturally I start with books and notepads. I love a notepad, I have tons of them dotted around, most of them empty of anything but vague good intentions.  I’m just talking myself out of buying a lovely little blue and white striped feller with something trite in French on the front when I spot a nice weighty looking pad called 642 Things to Write About.  20% off. Anyway turns out this is a like a writer’s unblocker, a sort of writing plunger thing.  I leaf through it and its got all these great prompts like ‘Choose how you will die.’ or more cheerfuly ‘The greatness of sandwiches’.  Now what sort of brilliant idea is that for someone who neglects their blog?  Its a lovely thing too.  So I didn’t buy it.

I left the shop and dawdled home thinking that I should have bought it.  It was the last one too.  When I got home I thought some more about going back to buy it but I’m a lazy mare so I didn’t.  Sunday I checked the price on Amazon, the Cargo one was a good price, but its Easter Sunday so all the shops are closed except the Coop so I went and bought some brocolli, greekish yoghurt and a Bounty there.

I promised myself that if that last book was still there today I’d buy it and it would transform my blogging life to something more inspired than going on about my knitting. So off I trotted again today with my hair all wrong and wearing summer clothes for Storm Kate with a parka, looking like a parakeet on benefits to see if it was still there. And there it was there.  So I bought it. £6-odd! Should be £11.99 so that’s better than I could have got it from Amazon and its in my hand already.

So next time I let you know how I’m getting on with knitting poodles I will also be able to share with you my valuable thoughts on sandwiches.  There’s progress for you.

A pair of sparkly snoods

Things have gone a little quiet over the Easter weekend for me on Etsy orders so it gives me a chance to let you see the progression of an order I have just posted off to America.

I’ll take this picture by picture and explain what is going on. The first picture is the yarn I use to make the sparkly snoods, the cone on the right is super fine metallic blue lurex which I crochet in with the usual blue yarn.  The lurex is a funny thing, it is really quite strong but feels very delicate as if it would snap at any moment.  In the background of this pic you can see some of my snood making yarn, that wicker unit is crammed to bursting with the rest of my snood yarn and a small amount of Gin Poodle yarn also on the coffee table are a couple of books I’ve read and haven’t decided what to do with yet, a train timetable and a book and map that I intend to make paper flowers from.

Next pic is the snoods nearly finished, the silver one is pretty much done apart from adding the elastic, the ribbon bow and sewing in a label, the sparkly blue one  isn’t quite finished, I’m putting a neat edge along the hair band here.

Next up is the book I am struggling to get anywhere with (The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen) which I’m reading in between making things.  I just can’t get into it, I don’t like any of the characters and don’t really care what happens to them. I’m a quarter of the way through it so surely by now I should care a bit? I’ve set myself a modest target of reading 26 books this year and I’m already three books behind schedule. Ms Bowen is not not helping. Sometimes I just give up on a book I’m this apathetic about but this is a book I picked up through Bookcrossing so I feel like I owe it to its previous owner to let them know what happens to it so I’ll slog on.

The last two pictures are the snoods pretty much ready to go sitting on my bony knees – all I’ve got to do now is wrap them up in tissue paper and add some complimentary sparkly hair grips to the vintage postcard and send them off.  The postcard is just over 100 years old, I bought a job lot of them and while they last I’ll use them as my notepaper or hairgrip holders in all my orders.  This one shows Gertie Gitana who was a music hall actress also known as The Staffordshire Cinderella.  This one was written on and posted, nothing exciting though, just some bloke Dave asking after his mate Jim and saying he’ll be home soon because they expect to be sent off to France soon.  I wonder if he was a soldier in the First World War but he doesn’t say so expressly. If they are blank I usually write a message on the back but if they’ve been used I like to keep them as they are and just pop one in the package as a nice surprise. Not that it will be much of a surprise if the customer reads this post before the package arrives.

 

 

Today I’m Making – Gin Poodles

I have an Etsy shop called GinPoodle its where I sell all the things I make, and seeing as it is called GinPoodle the one thing I definitely have in stock in abundance at all times is of course… well actually I haven’t had any Gin Poodles in stock for a while now.

I don’t know who that happened really other than I’m quite often crocheting 1940s style hair snoods but its not really an excuse is it? So yesterday I decided to pull myself together and get at least one finished and up for sale by the end of the day.

The actual knitting part is fairly quick to do, its making the pom-poms that takes the time. I used to use a traditional pair of discs but that takes forever so now I’m a massive fan of Clover pom-pom makers, they really take the pain out of making them, I can whip one up in no time. I do still need 10 for every Gin Poodle though so its still a hill to climb. I did buy a Multipom but I didn’t really like it, I found the pom-poms come out looking quite cubic at this size, I expect its better for smaller ones.  SAM_2493

Then there are the eyes, nose and ribbon to sort out, until those are on I’ll admit the poodles do not look their cheeky best. That wicker storage unit in the background holds all my snood making yarn.  Yep, there’s a lot of it isn’t there? I’m not ashamed to say every one of those drawers is groaning with yarn and that’s not my entire stash.

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So here it is finished and listed for sale with a very bright peachy orange ribbon. SAM_2501

One Gin Poodle is very far from what I would call fully stocked so here are the beginnings of the next one, though I’m not sure I have enough of this flecked cream yarn so the body colour may well change.  I’ve signed up to do a makers market at the local carnival in the summer so I really need to concentrate on building up some stock for that rather than making things reactively or more accurately, randomly.

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I’ve been very behind with my reading too, I have a very reasonable set it yourself reading challenge on Goodreads – my goal is only to read 26 books this year, which is only one book a fortnight so that should be easily do-able but here I am five books behind schedule and it’s only March. In between bouts of frantic poodle knitting and watching Tipping Point I’m reading as much as I can.  Despite this book being a Daily Mail recommendation its actually pretty good – its about a woman who was put in a mental health institution 60 years ago by her family and then basically just left there and never spoken of again, so when the hospital is marked for closure her granddaughter hears about her for the first time as her only surviving relative.  Its a good read but pretty chilling to think this sort of thing really did happen.

2012 Reading Review

As its the last day of the year it must be time to do a review of the books I have read in 2012.

This year I set myself a conservative goal of reading 26 books, since I changed jobs I don’t have the nice long unbroken train journey to work which is where I get to read. This fact alone would make returning to work in London a very attractive idea but I’ve got to stay in my current job for at least another year or three to repair the ole CV.

Anyway I’m getting off track, I managed to exceed my target by 2.5 the .5 comes from the fact that I am exactly half way through my 29th book with little to no chance of finishing it today.

This has not been a stellar year for reading. I’ve only marked 11 out of those 28.5 books as being particularly good reads. I mark the good ones in my book journal with an asterisk so I’ve done the same here.

Here is my reading list for 2012 in full:

January
1. The Unlucky Lottery – Hakan Nesser – this is a Swedish crime novel and perhaps the translation was a bit off but it wasn’t the greatest read. I found it very hard to care whodunit and the policeman investigating the crime was a bit of an arse.
And that was it for January.

February
2. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith.  I know this book features in an awful lot of people’s all time favourite reads and I think knowing that made this a disappointing read for me.  It was ok, fine for commuting and would have made a nice beach read but nothing special.
3. Bel Canto – Ann Patchett.*  Ah now here is a book that did live up  to the hype. What a great idea and nothing unbelievable about it even though the story is extraordinary.  I’d read this again if I didn’t have about 400 waiting patiently to be read already.

March
4.  Diary of a Nobody – George and Wheedon Grossmith.*  This book is surprisingly modern, its very funny and I wish I’d kept my copy now.
5. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott.  So wincingly awful I didn’t get anywhere near finishing it.
6. Heart of Darkness & The Secret Sharer – Joseph Conrad.  I don’t remember anything at all about the first story but the second was quite good, its about a stowaway essentially.

April
7. Poems on the Underground – Various.* I am really not a fan of poetry, in fact even today I was cringing at the most awful conceited idiot spouting some tripe on the breakfast news, but this is a good collection probably mainly because it brings back lots of memories of London but still, I’ve actually kept it which is a minor miracle in itself.
8. Soul Mountain – Gao Xingjiang.  Another one I didn’t finish, a truly dreadful misogynist’s prolonged rape fantasy. Seriously, one of the only books I’ve felt like destroying.

May
9. Changing Babies – Deborah Moggarch* Fantastic collection of short stories by the woman that wrote Stolen – the 80s(?) novel that was adapted for TV about a woman who’s child was abducted by her ex-husband and taken abroad.  If you remember that fondly you’d love this collection. Virtually every single story was a cracker.

June
10. Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet* This was a re-read, I read it years ago and really loved it, so this was a re-read, it turned out to be not as good as I remembered but still a cracking read.
11. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens.* A great read even if the Fagin character is a bit worryingly stereotyped. I think I left this one in Greece on holiday.

July – pretty much all holiday reading..
12. Grumpy Old Men, Secret Diary – Stuart Prebble.  In a word, crap.
13.  Holy Fools – Joanne Harris.  I can’t remember why I didn’t give this one a star, I thought I liked it? Oh well you can’t trust memory.  At least this one was caught and on holiday in Greece too. When I say ‘caught’ I mean this got a journal on Bookcrossing from someone who picked it up and read it after me. This is a rare and special event in my life.
14. ‘…and that’s when it came off in my hand.’ – Louise Rennison* I know this is a teenager’s book, and I do not normally get on with books aimed at teenagers, I didn’t like them when I was a teenager but these are different.  These books are the funniest I’ve ever read and its now a tradition with me to read one every holiday.  Which reminds me I must buy the next one in the series in time for my 2013 holiday.
15. Work! Consume! Die! – Frankie Boyle.  This books is so shit that it actually spoiled my holiday a bit. I picked it up from the book sharing table at our apartments and that was a huge mistake. I put it back there when I’d finished too, I should have chucked it in on BBQ night.
16. Touching the Void – Joe Simpson.  Did not finish this one either, I tried to read it on the plane home and it made me feel so ill that I had to put it in the seat pocket, it actually made me come out in a cold nauseous sweat.

August
17. Enchanted Evening – M M Kaye. I’d read her other memoirs and loved them so I wish I hadn’t read this one, she comes across badly in it and now I don’t like her.  Trollop.
18. Meridon – Philippa Gregory.  As you’d expect its a page turner but its one of her early ones so not so polished and fabulous as say The Other Boleyn Girl but still a good story well told.
19. Stick it up your Punter! – Peter Chippendale & Chris Harrie *  Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, fascinating, hilarious and deeply worrying.  Its about The Sun newspaper basically which is not a paper I’m fond of but that doesn’t stop this from being a brilliant read.

September
20. Behind Closed Doors – Jenny Tomblin.*  Please don’t pass this by as just another misery memoir. Its a harrowing read but well worth reading.  She comes across as such a great woman, you’re desperate to go back in time and rescue her and her siblings but of course you can’t. It will definitely stay with you if you read this book.
21.  The Piano Teacher – Y. K. Lee*  This was an unexpected find, we have a book sharing box at work and I picked this up when I found myself unexpectedly having finished my previous read with nothing to read on the way home.  This is an absolutely cracking read, if you see a copy really you should pick it up. It does jump around in time a bit which I normally find really annoying but I love this book. Its set pre- during and post WW2 and basically follows some doomed relationships.  Its brilliant, I still think about the main characters and wish things had worked out better for them.
22. The Club – Mandasue Heller.  Shockingly crap. Its worse than a BBC1 early evening drama.

October
23. The Liar – Stephen Fry.  Oh dear, I was perhaps expecting too much for a first novel.  Avoid.

November
24. The Hippopotamus – Stephen Fry. * Well things improved dramatically in this one. A much better read, I’m glad I bothered to read this one, I nearly didn’t bother after The Liar but this cheered things up no end.
25. To be Read by Candlelight – Edith Wharton.  Fairly dull.

December
26. Dead Air – Iain Banks. I thought I liked Iain Banks, maybe I’m getting him confused with someone else because this was terrible, it was like reading Eastenders.
27.  Chasing Harry Winston – Lauren Weisberger.  Oh man! How shitty can you make a book and still get published? I mean even riding on the back of the success of The Devil Wears Prada this is taking the piss.  Do I need to say I didn’t finish it?
28. Hamlet – William Shakespeare.  Look, I know its Shakespeare but the ending is all wrong. It is.
29.  Perfect Victim – Christine McGuire & Carla Norton.*  I am not a big fan of true crime, I sort of suspect the target audience for true crime are perverts, sociopaths and psychos in training. I don’t know how I ended up with this on my well-balanced shelves but I’m sort of glad it did, even though I’m embarrassed to read it in public, its fascinating and horrifying. This nutter basically kidnapped a young woman and held her captive for SEVEN YEARS.  Chilling.