reading – one very good, the other not

Two books read recently . . . one very good, the other not (in my humble opinion).

The not so good, I’m afraid to say, was.

“The Ickabog” by J. K. Rowling.  I read the French translation because 11 year old Cléo lent me her copy.  I don’t think, the fact I read it in translation, had anything to do with the way I felt about this book because the translation seemed to flow well. I am not ashamed to say, I loved the entire HP saga, which I have read several times both in French and English, never tiring of those adventures.  It was with high expectations, therefore, that I began this book.  The only positive things I can find to say about this are: it’s keeping children reading (which is always a good thing) and the author gave all royalities to a charity she has set up.  Other than that, it was a complete let-down.  Aimed at children aged 7-11 (from what I gather) I found the style to be too childish for an 11 year old and too grown up for a 7 year old.  As for story content:  too much Grimm fairytale for my liking.  People dying, or being murdered, left right & centre.  Young children being orphaned and then dropping like flies in the over-populated orphanage.  The story extends over a period of 10 years (with main characters being only 5 years old at the start, and 15 years old towards the end).  It just went on and on until the last couple of chapters when the author suddenly seemed to remember she was writing a children’s book and needed to find a “happy” end.

Cléo, my 11 year old neighbour thought it was “quite good” and, when I had a chat with her after reading it myself, she didn’t seem terribly phased by all the deaths & murders that had shocked me.  However, she did also think it went on and on, and agreed it probably wasn’t suitable bed-time reading matter for a 7 year old!


On a brighter note . . . I’ve been making use of my tablet for bed-time reading.  I usually prefer to read paper versions of books, simply because I like the feel of a real book on my lap, but I went browsing in the google store.  There are hundreds of books to download for free (usually the “first” in a series) most of which seem to be the “cosy mystery” sort.  The first free download that tempted me was this one.

“The Confectioner’s Guild” by Claire Luana.

This is teen fiction, and there are 4 in the series:  “The Confectioner Chronicles”.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am seriously considering buying the other three in the series.  The heroine in “The Confectioner’s Guild” is a 16-year old girl called Wren.  I’d say the author is therefore targetting 14-16 year olds with this series, and even though I’m more than 4 decades outside of that age group, I found it to be a very enjoyable read.  Lots of intrigue, magic, action, suspense and, only one murder!  Very funny in places too.

If you want to know more: here’s the blurb from the back cover.

“Wren knew her sweet treats could work wonders, but she never knew they could work magic. She barely has time to wrap her head around the stunning revelation when the head of the prestigious Confectioner’s Guild falls down dead before her. Poisoned by her cupcake.

Now facing murder charges in a magical world she doesn’t understand, Wren must discover the true killer or face the headsman’s axe. With the help of a handsome inspector and several new friends, Wren just might manage to learn the ropes, master her new powers, and find out who framed her.  But when their search for clues leads to a deep-rooted conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, she realizes that the Guild Master isn’t the only one at risk of death by chocolate. 

If Wren can’t bring the powerful culprit to justice, she and her friends will meet a bittersweet end.” 


“turf wars” – Olivier Norek

I’ve recently finished reading a really gritty trilogy by French author Olivier Norek.  Mr Norek was a police captain for 19 years, working in Seine-Saint-Denis (93), one of the suburbs north-east of Paris.  His writing pulls no punches.  It’s graphic, gritty and gripping.  From what I can make out, only two of the 3 have been translated into English, but if you have a strong stomach, I do advise you to keep your eyes open.

First in the trilogy is “CODE 93”

English translation is called “THE LOST AND THE DAMNED”.

Story outline:  An emasculated corpse opens its eyes on the mortuary slab.  A mobile phone starts ringing inside the corpse of a young drug addict, death caused by unexplained burns.  After 15 years service on the Seine-Saint-Denis police force, Victor Coste, police captain is prepared for the worst. Add to that, a series of anonymous letters leading to a mysterious case file “Code 93” of cases never investigated.

Second in the series is “TERRITOIRES”

English translation is called “TURF WARS”.

Storyline: There’s a new predator in town.  Three dealers are executed within the space of as many days.  Captain Coste and his team have to act fast because the new enemy takes over, contaminating the town like a virus. A town where everyone adapts to survive. Where dealers put pressure on old age pensioners, where young teenagers are there to do the dirty work, where the authorities don’t dare intervene in the high rise blocks for fear of rioting,  where politicians turn a blind eye.

Third, and final in the trilogy is “SURTENSIONS”

Sadly, I don’t think this one has been translated (yet).

Storyline:  Will this woman stop at nothing to help her brother escape from prison?  How far will this father go to protect his family from the four predators who are squatting in his home?  How do five criminels – a pedophile, a murderer, an ex legionnaire, a kidnapper and a robber – all become part of Coste’s latest investigation?  And why is Coste  prepared go in  headlong, even when it means putting those he cares about in danger?

keeping busy

I realise I haven’t been posting as often as I usually do, which doesn’t mean to say I’ve been sitting around doing nothing.  I have been working on a few secret crafting projects, which I won’t be able to reveal until the end of the year, but I got the camera out and took a few pics of what I can show you.

Knitting has been high on the agenda over recent weeks.  I showed you my first attempt at knitting a doll sweater, writing my own pattern, last month.  Since then, I knitted a second sweater, just in stocking stitch and garter, which meant tweaking the pattern.

This one knitted in Stylecraft Special DK “Cream” turned out slightly bigger than the previous one, in broken rib, but still a fairly good fit.

Anyway, I learned from that that stitch pattern used affects the number of stitches & rows needed . . . so I’ve cast on again, to do some more tweaking.

While knitting, I like to follow something on TV but there never seems to be much of any interest these days. You’d think, with lockdown, that those in charge of the numerous channels would make an effort and schedule something worth watching. But no . . . it’s the same old repeats of repeats.  If I’m going to watch repeats, I prefer to choose what I watch, and my current viewing is the above:  “Call the Midwife”.  I absolutely love this series (as you can see from the fact that I own all seasons so far, 1 – 9) and I could watch it all day.  I don’t!  because the husband can only take it in small doses but I have taken to knitting in the spare bedroom, where we have a DVD player & large screen.

When not knitting, I’ve been crocheting

A couple of very pink YipYip underway!

And when it’s time for bed . . . my routine is always to make a mug of hot chocolate and read a few chapters of a good book before lights out.  Just after the first lockdown, March – May, once bookshops were allowed to reopen, I ordered a couple of books from our local bookshop.  A series of 4, I had read reviews about (only in French, I’m afraid) and a fifth in English.

The series “U4” (aimed at teens) sparked my interest.  4 novels, written by 4 different authors but with one story-line and close collaboration between authors.  Written in 2015, the story:  a virus, called U4 because it originates in Utrecht, Holland, and is a 4th generation mutation, decimates Europe, killing 90% of the population. For some unknown reason, the only survivors are teenagers, aged approx 13 – 18.  The 4 main protagonists are all members of “WOT” (Warriors of Time) an on-line MMORPG and, just before the internet crashes, they receive a message from the “Game Master”, inciting them to make their way to Paris to meet on 24th December to “go back in time and defeat the virus”.

Anyone would think I’d had enough of reading about viruses with what’s going on this year, but I was intrigued, and curious to see if this story, written in 2015, would come close to what we’re all experiencing in 2020.  The four novels are:  “U4 – Jules” by Carole Trébor;  “U4 – Koridwen” by Yves Grevet; “U4 – Yannis” by Florence Hinckel and “U4 – Stéphane” by Vincent Villeminot.  They can be read in any order or simulatenously.  My personal favourite was Jules . . . but all four books were well-written.

Other novel, in English, is “The Wicked Deep” by Shea Ernshaw.  Another novel aimed at teenagers and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  Didn’t see the end coming.  Here’s what’s printed on the back cover:

“Two centuries ago, in small, isolated Sparrow, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery and drowned in the waters surrounding the town. Now, each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three girls and seeking revenge by dragging boys to their watery deaths.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the town’s fate. Then, on the eve of the sisters’ return, Bo Carter arrives: unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into or the fact that his arrival will change everything . . .

Mistrust and lies spread quickly throught the salty, rain-soaked Streets. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannont. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself”.


“The Cellar “–Minette Walters

Flying home from Birmingham International the other week, and mooching around faced with  a 2 hour delay, I came across a bookshop that was having a closing down sale.  Everything had to go! and books were all priced at £1 only.

I didn’t need any more incentive to nip inside and come back out with 4 new books.

book cellar

One being “The Cellar” by Minette Walters.  I’d never read anything by this author before but it looked very promising.

Text from back cover:

Muna’s bedroom is a dark, windowless cellar and her activities are confined to cooking and cleaning.  She’s grown used to being maltreated by the Songoli family; to being a slave.

She’s never been outside, and doesn’t know how to read or write, and cannot speak English.

At least that’s what the Songolis believe.

But Muna is far cleverer – and her plans more terrifying – than the Songolis, or anyone else, can ever imagine . . .

* * * * * *

Be warned, this is a story of domestic slavery, of mental & physical abuse, with the central character, Muna, a 14 year old girl having been stolen from an orphanage years earlier and brought to live in England by the Songoli family.  Her desperate situation could have continued for many more years had it not been for the disappearance of the Songolis youngest son, which brings the police into their home.  Fear of the police discovering the fact that Muna is being kept as a slave, leads the Songolis to lie during the police enquiry . . . a web of lies which Muna cleverly begins to use to her advantage.

Once I started reading, I really didn’t put this book down!  It captivated me during the 2 hour wait at airport and the 90 minute flight . . . I’ll definitely be looking out for more by Minette Walters!

buttons galore

Like any respectable crafter/sewist, I have a button box.  Well I actually have several because I inherited my MIL’s button box, which also contained buttons from her mother’s sewing days . . . so I have several generations of buttons in several boxes. 

For example

buttons 01

A few black glass buttons, and quite a few clear glass buttons in different shapes.

buttons 02

There are also toggles, pretty plastic buttons, some in mother-of-pearl . . . some metal buttons from FIL’s merchant navy uniform, a plastic button with a squirrel, a swan, and even  small metal button with a wild boar’s head.

Anyway . . . I had a fun time sorting through some of these more special buttons a while back, and that spurred me on to buy myself a book.

“Old Buttons” by Sylvia Llewelyn.

button book

It’s a very small format, but  packed full of lots of lovely, life-sized photos of vintage/antique buttons.

button book 01

Also contains lots of interesting snippets of information regarding the history of buttons and the button industry.

After flicking through that, I then went on the internet, admiring vintage/original buttons and ended up buying a few (okay, a lot!) . . . since I already seem to have something of a collection going on.

buttons 03

buttons 04

This last set will remain on their original card, but I’m seriously considering mounting some of my very special buttons onto card, and framing, to hang in my sewing room. 

I wonder will this inspire you to have a rummage through your button box, and play with some of the treasures you find?

curling up with a good book #2

books 02

I think it was Cathy who mentioned a Sarah Waters’ novel a few months ago in one of her Yarn A-long posts.  I had never heard of Sarah Waters, so decided to give her writing a try.

The titles that grabbed my interest were the above.  And the one I read first was:

“THE PAYING GUESTS” – Sarah Waters (2014)

(summary from back cover)

It is 1922, and in a hushed south London villa life is about to be transformed, as genteel widow Mrs Wray and her discontented daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.  Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class”, bring with them gramophone music, colour, fun – and dangerous desires.  The most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama . . . A love story that is also a crime story, this is vintage Sarah Waters.

Now, I really didn’t know what to expect when I turned the first page.   I was therefore  probably expecting something rather prim & proper, what with the story being set in the 1920s and one of the main characters appearing, at a first glance, to be a rather dried up spinster.  All I can say is: first impressions are deceiving lol.  Sarah Waters paints a vivid picture of London, barely recovered from WWI, still grieving the deaths of sons and fathers . . . the “what will the neighbours think?” society where appearances matter . . . subtly introducing a passionate love affair, violent death, and the most rivetting criminal investigation.  I just couldn’t put this book down.  Without giving anything away . . . I was rooting for Frances all the way, biting my finger nails with worry, grateful that police forensics in the 1920s weren’t what they are today and all the while convinced that it could only end in tears.

Definitely a 5 star read.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“THE NIGHT WATCH” – Sarah Waters (2006)

summary from back cover)

Tender and tragic, set against the turbulent backdrop of wartime Britain, “The Night Watch” is the extraordinary story of four Londoners: Kay, who wanders the streets in mannish clothes, restless and searching . . . Helen, who harbours a troubling secret . . . Viv, glamour girl, recklessly loyal to her soldier lover . . . and Duncan, an apparent innocent, struggling with demons of his own.  Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liaisons and sexual adventure, to end with the beginning in 1941, this is an astonishing novel.

I picked up this Sarah Waters novel because I rather liked the idea of the novel working in reverse chronological order, and the fact it was set during wartime London.  However, I don’t think the idea to begin in 1947 and move back in time to 1941 really worked.   I found it quite a good read.  Could tell that Sarah Waters had done lots of research to get things historically correct, and she again makes use of the historical setting to draw our attention to certain things (eg abortion, suicide and homosexuality) which were illegal at the time.  Characters were all likeable but  not enough to really grab me  Only 3 stars for this.  It was a good bed-time read, but  really wasn’t the same standard as “The Paying Guests”.

curling up with a good book

I am avoiding making any “to do” lists for 2019 in the crafting area.  I’ll just be stitching, crocheting, sewing, knitting etc as the fancy takes me.  However I have decided to share some book titles with you on a more regular basis this year (hoping to make it the 1st Friday of each month).  Quite a few of the blogs I follow include book reviews and I always find it helpful, to discover a new author (not necessarily “new” but unknown to me) or title, and those reviews do encourage me to keep my eyes open at the library or, sometimes to go on-line and treat myself to a new novel.  I used to be an avid reader, but these days reading time is strictly reserved for bed-time reading (or hospital waiting rooms).  Anyway . . .  I want to share two recent reads with you for January.  These two, picked up for 1€ apiece at a local car boot sale.  I read French translations (which explains book titles in photo) but I’ve given the original titles below.

books 01

“I LET YOU GO” – Clare Mackintosh (2014)

(summary from back cover)

In a split-second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare.  Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows, to start afresh.  Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.  Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future.  But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

This book had mixed reviews but I found it totally gripping.  I don’t want to give too much away, but we follow Jenna in her escape from a past life and her attempts to wipe the slate clean and start afresh.   The author doesn’t give away much in the first part, and leaves the reader guessing what happened in Jenna’s past life, trying to piece the puzzle together with what information Jenna shares.  The first part of the novel is written in the first person narrative, from Jenna’s viewpoint.  Where the novel really has you hooked, is in the second part when the author – still in first person narrative – switches to a different character and we find ourselves in the head of the man Jenna ran away from.  Lots of twists and turns.  A very satisfying end . . . and I’ll admit to having gone back and read the first few chapter again (on finishing) because I really didn’t see it coming.

If I’m going to start giving books stars, I’ll give this one 5 stars (out of 5).  It had all the ingredients I look for in an excellent read.  Characters I could become involved with; a police investigation running all the way through; well written narrative & dialogues and beautifully described scenery . . . plus lots of suspense.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The second novel:

“CHAOS” – Patricia Cornwell (2016)

Now, I’m not even going to bother giving you a summary of this one.  All I can say is: don’t bother!

Such a disappointment!  I read all of Patricia Cornwell’s first Kay Scarpetta novels, and they were excellent.  I picked this one up (24th in the Scarpetta series)  expecting it to be another great crime novel, full of forensic science and autopsies . . . and quite frankly, it was a waste of 1€.  No idea what Patricia Cornwell was playing at with this novel.  Nothing happens.  For over 500 pages.   I did read it from start to finish although I’m darned if I know why I wasted my time.  So bad, I won’t even give it a star.

“The Sewing Machine” – Natalie Fergie

I don’t often do book reviews so when I do, it’s because I enjoyed a book so much and worry that other people may be missing out on a wonderful read.

“The Sewing Machine” by Natalie Fergie is absolutely outstanding!

sewing machine back

Published in 2017 through a new website: Unbound, it came into print because of a network of patrons who pledged cash in order for this book to see the light of day.  On the front cover, the storyline is summed up with the following “clue”:  One sewing machine.  Two families.  Three secrets.  Four generations.  Millions of stitches.

Here’s the review from the back cover:

There’s going to be a strike!

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory.  For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents.  His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.”

* * * * * * * *

Natalie Fergie has truly created a masterpiece with this, her first novel!  The story goes back and forth between the main protagonists, beginning in 1911, 1954 and 2016 so be patient during the first 3 chapters as we meet Jean, Connie and Fred . . . then read on as Natalie weaves her magic.

Just to give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this book . . . I bought three copies!  Yes, three.  One for myself and two to gift to sewing friends.  AND, no sooner had I turned the last page with a happy tear in my eye (sentimental me!) than I opened the book at page one and started reading it again!   That’s how outstanding a book it is!

more birthday goodies – yippee!

I’ve really been spoiled rotten for my birthday, you know!  Husband invited our neighbours round for dinner that evening.  Neighbours being Cléo (the little girl who loves sewing lessons), baby sister Mona (who is 4 months old and parents R & P.

The husband invited them because he had decided to cook up one of my favourite dishes (rabbit, in a rich red wine sauce, with lots of yummy veggies) . . . and when you take the time to marinade and slow cook a rabbit, there’s way too much for just 2 people.  Hence, the dinner guests.   He should have kept quiet about my birthday, but he didn’t . . . which means guests came bearing gifts, when it wasn’t at all necessary.  But I’m not going to complain, because they were lovely gifts!

First . . .

from Cléo

A very colourful drawing by Cléo (which is now hanging in my sewing room).  I am, apparently, Cléo’s “favourite sewer” lol.  I’m probably the only sewer she knows, but that’s beside the point!  And this drawing shows the two of us at work in my sewing room, with Cléo sitting in front of Juki.  Now, please note the attention to detail here.  The very bright object under Cléo’s feet is . . . the small suitcase I put under the table with the foot pedal on top, so it’s the correct height for Cléo to work the pedal while sitting down.  It’s actually red, not pink, but we’ll allow for artistic licence and pink being the artist’s favourite colour!    And those bright colours on the left . . . well that’s my stack of plastic drawers where I store all my fabrics! 

Next there was a bag full of goodies.

from Cléo 01

A sock bunny made entirely by Cléo, with no help at all from her Mum!  (I made sure we didn’t mention what the meat was at dinner time, as I’m not sure she would have eaten it if she’d known).  A retractable tape measure, in the shape of a PINK snail, a very interesting black object which looks like a stick of lipstick, but isn’t.

from Cleo 02

It’s a very nifty needle holder!!!  Lid pulls off, the bottom twists round and hey presto . . . there’s a tiny pincushion inside complete with half a dozen needles!  And . . . a gift voucher to go shopping on amazon!

Well, I can tell you . . . it didn’t take me long to have a shopping spree lol.  There were a few books I had been looking at, so “click, click” and here’s what I bought.


“Daughters of the Dragon” by William Andrews because Lynn had done a really good write-up of that, and it sounded like something I would enjoy (I’ll let you know).  And “Love to Sew – Teddy Bears” by Monika Schleich.

This second one because, yes, I’m very tempted to head off in another sewing direction, and try my hand at making a few teddy bears.  This book contains 16 different models, with full sized patterns for all, and very details instructions with lots of photos to explain step-by-step.  Here are a couple of the designs in the book.

books 01

books 02

books 03

Sooooooo cute!  Not sure when I’ll actually attempt teddy bear making, but hopefully I’ll manage to squeeze one into my busy schedule this year.

butterfly happy dancing


I’m having a little happy dance, with the last backstitch on a lovely blue butterfly.  This is a design by Dimensions.  Stitched exactly as the model suggests, with “Welcome” in the corner.  I’ve already pulled out some (possible) fabric for the proper finish.  Planning on making this into a small wall-hanging for my sister’s Christmas pressie.  So that will be added to my Christmas sewing pile but I will give myself a few days to think about how to do it.

The other day, I was all excited because the postman brought a parcel, containing a book I’d had on pre-order.


It’s packed full of the most colourful monsters, all more friendly than scarey but I’m going to have to be very strict with myself!  No new crochet projects until I’ve finished the current WIPs (which have been waiting for months!).  But that didn’t stop me from nipping into our local discount store for a few (more like 12) colourful balls of yarn.


Hihi, I actually bought 3 x 50g of each colour because several of the monsters in the book look quite big.  I already have white & black in the same brand, so as soon as I finish my current crochet projects, I’ll be dithering about what monster to make first, and in what colour.