Wednesday 26 February 2014

Paws and Whiskers: An Anthology Chosen by Jacqueline Wilson

When I was younger, I loved Jacqueline Wilson's books. I practically devoured them, reading and reading my dog-eared copies until the spines split. I wanted to be her characters: Eliza from The Bed and Breakfast Star, Ruby from Double Act (although I was probably more a Garnet), Tracey Beaker in the dumping group, and even Lottie from the Lottie project.

Now I'm a twenty-something year old, I've obviously grown out of that. Of course. Now, I've realised that who I really want to be is Jaqueline Wilson herself.

This was a really lovely and well-chosen collection of stories and extracts about dogs and cats. I myself am more of a cat person than a dog person, so I had a natural swing to enjoy those stories more. But I still loved the dog stories, particularly the extract from “The Incredible Journey.” It was really moving.

One concern I had about this novel was that reading only short snippets from stories would feel so incomplete that no satisfaction could be gained. Luckily, I was mostly wrong with this feeling, as I knew most of the books they came from: One Hundred and One Dalmations, Just William, Dick King Smith... I haven't read Jean Ure's novel Ice Lolly and this particular extract was unsatisfying for me. It left you with too many questions; questions can be very good, but this was too much. I was delighted to see The Cat That Walked by Itself; it has inspired me to reread Just So Stories.

The first story, Jacqueline's own, was lovely, and her oh-so-familiar and comforting authorial voice shone through. I liked Leonie, and it was a very complete short story – I wasn't left feeling cheated. Amongst the old favourites were some unexpected surprises: I never knew that Ian McEwan wrote for children! (Note to self: must find out more!) I was also shocked to see the Patrick Ness' extract from Chaos Walking, as the rest of the stories were aimed at much younger children. I would feel uncomfortable with a young child reading Ness' books because, brilliant though they are, they are very violent. It seemed a little out of place to me.

Nick Sharratt's illustrations were similarly comforting, memories of reading by torchlight in tents and gobbling down books in some vague fear that they might leave if I didn't! It was odd to see Nick Sharratt's drawings in place of the traditional pictures for some of these stories (One Hundred and One Dalmations, Alice Through the Looking Glass) but I enjoyed the change. I also loved the cover under the dust jacket!

Overall, a wonderful anthology, and for a very worthy cause. It will appeal to animal lovers of nearly any age, anyone who knows about the bond you can feel to a dog or cat. Very enjoyable. And a proportion of royalties all go to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home - you get to feel virtuous through reading!

Now, excuse me while I go away to find a copy of Just So Stories...

Note: I was given a pre-publication copy of this for free, but all opinions expressed are my own.

Monday 17 February 2014

Signs of Spring

Spring coming to my windowsill garden!

Spring coming for a new sewing project! (more to come on this later)

And most of all Spring coming to Two Coombe Cottages!

Bring it on!

Friday 14 February 2014

Spread Some Indie (book) Love this Valentine's Day


Hello readers, and Happy Valentine's Day! I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Valentine's Day, but I saw this post and thought it was a great idea! I have been reading quite a lot of self-published books recently (for reviewing purposes) and what better place to publicise them all, and read about some more?
Head over to and look at some other people's posts - let's give self published authors a chance!

I've decided to review a few different 'indie' books that I've been reading recently; also go and check out my post on From Thine Own Well by Norm Hamilton, which is also self-published.

Let's start with a book of short stories: Questions and Answers by James R Holden.

It's kind of odd - short stories are my favourite medium to write. I love writing them, love the constraints of word limits and fitting so many subtleties into such a short space. I love breaking the normal rules of beginning-middle-end and the creation of back stories that only get hinted at. I love making twists that leave you gasping.

But, I'm not that keen on reading them. I've always thought that writing them is just more enjoyable than reading them. (Does that make me some kind of authorial hypocrite?)
This collection was an exception. As promised, they were "love stories but, unusually perhaps, most are written from a male perspective." And this was what made it exciting and different for me. I'm not much of a romantic, really (I might even call myself a sceptic at times), but these were real. Real, guttural emotion. Real characters. Real writing.
James Holden's collection is a real gem. I'm not sure what I expected from it - I won this book through a First Read giveaway, and wasn't sure what kind of quality the writing would be. I was, pleasantly, surprised by it. Unfortunately, there were a few typos and grammatical errors that left me screaming (I'm completely a grammar nazi), but I let them slide.
Of the thirteen stories, I think my favourites were the two that had very alien cultures in them: Highlands and Bleed. The countries of Ethiopia and Indonesia were brought into full technicolour - I could really see them. I also enjoyed The Dog Group and Cracks in the Wall a lot.
A really promising set of short stories from new author, James R Holden.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in a GoodReads giveaway.


"Eight thousand candidates sign up for the Suicide Game. Only one can win. Their destination: the Night Stadium, a place of makeup and music, fear and adrenaline, blood and romance, celebration and death.
Each candidate has his or her own reason for entering the Game. The Council runs the Game. The outcome of the Game is left to the laps of the gods. The candidates will jump to their deaths in order to win everything, before capacity crowds in the Stadium. The public follows every jump, live on TV and on their mobile screens, choosing their favorite candidates and betting on their lives.
The Game’s community also includes geeks, mafia, makeup artists, master chefs, models, musicians, ordinary workers, spies, terrorists, and many others. SG - Suicide Game is the story of the candidates’ journey. It boldly imagines a place where death and denial are interwoven with hope, choices and the innate desire for happiness. Impressive in the totality of its vision, it is an exploration of the best and worst things in our lives, nightmares and especially, our dreams."

Note: this was another book that I received free in a GoodReads giveaway
I was slightly worried that this would be just a rip-off of The Hunger Games (which I love), but it turned out to be totally different. The comparisons are natural because of the genre and nature of the book, but they're not really even similar! Really quite an unexpected read. I think that Haidji's first language may not be English, which did unfortunately show through the writing: at times it felt stilted and awkward.
The basic premise of the book was intriguing, and there were stories within stories, all layered upon each other. At the outset, we appeared to be seeing a little into the lives of some of the random contestants in separate chapters: their characters, their interests, family lives, and most of all what had motivated them to take part in the Suicide Game. However, it transpires that these are the last seven candidates alive, so it is much more relevant knowing their backgrounds. I think that these early chapters were my favourite ones actually: the insight was really interesting, and I loved all of their backstories. I would actually have liked to have known more, if I'm honest. I became particularly fond of a couple of characters, attached to their personality quirks, especially the bike-rider.
However, there were parts of this novel that left me disatisfied. The entire Suicide Game was rigged because they were choosing which lines to cut; I was never clear how much the public knew this. It seemed obvious and, in this case, why would they choose to invest large amounts of money in it? I have already mentioned the stilted writing style, but also some of the point of view shifts were confusing.
Overall, an interesting, but ultimately a little disapppointing read.

In The End is the story of a disparate group of individuals trying to survive in the immediate two week aftermath of a nuclear attack on nearby Denver. Allegiances and friendships are forged at the same time as violent conflict is unleashed between the group, as their true colours are shown.
Edward M Wolfe has written a pacy and compelling narrative; not a single chapter occurs without excitement and movement of the plot forwards. The characterisation of some protagonists, particularly Tori and Trey who are brother and sister, felt reasonably believable and their actions fitted their situations. However, I was uncertain about others' reactions, and I wonder how much experience Wolfe has with small children, as Elizabeth did not behave as a three year old would be expected to. Similarly, college students, Angela and Jim, were not as convincing to me.
Although the plot was fast-moving and action-packed, there were some continuity issues: for example, unexplained inconsistency as to whether to the power was off, and Monica's husband changing name at one point! Some of the writing needed more editing in my opinion, as the point of view shifts made some chapters very confusing. There was also a tendency to go into too much detail on technical issues, which most people (myself included) would find a little tedious.
Overall, it was a fun novel to read due to its subject matter, and plenty of people would enjoy it. Personally, it wasn't my cup of tea but I can see potential in Wolfe's writing.

Note: I received a copy of In The End as GoodReads giveaway.

Gone by Julie Elizabeth Powell has a truly unique and interesting premise. It is inspired by her real life experience of a daughter being in a vegetative state for seventeen years of her life, after being resuscitated at age two, before dying a second time at nineteen. Her mother, Powell, questions: where was she gone in that time? This novel offers one explanation.
From this question comes a bizarre and adult Alice-in-Wonderland style world (complete with a pair called Fun and Games - any reminders of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee?) in which a mother travels, meeting her daughter in Avalon, then moving to another facet of the same world, Caprice, where she rescues a bunch of strange creatures from an evil fate. It is a bizarre book - compelling in its way, but I couldn't quite get into it. I really wanted to enjoy this book a lot, and I'm not sure what got in the way for me. The bizarreness of the worlds started to grate on me, although I liked the various characters: I think I needed a little more grounding throughout to enjoy it fully. However, this is not to say that others will feel the same way, and I really commend Powell on such an innovative and different book. It is truly unique - I have never read anything like it - and I was moved by her story.
Note: I received a copy of Gone in exchange for an honest review.

Rafflecopter Code: a Rafflecopter giveaway Alternately You can grab the Rafflecopter code from here: Linky Code for Blogger Platform: Linky Code for WordPress Platform: Goodreads Giveaway Bookshelf HTML:

Thanks everyone for reading - please leave a comment! What do you think of self publishing? One thing I would say to all authors who self publish is proof-read, proof-read, proof-read! Mistakes are easy to miss but annoying to find!

E xx

Saturday 8 February 2014

Promising Debut: From Thine Own Well by Norm Hamilton

This book really appealed to me because of the subject matter; it's set in the Canadian near future and is about, primarily, the consequences of over-mining and fracking. Fracking is of particular interest to me because my cousin, Little M, is quite involved in anti-fracking activism and has been to Canada as well! So, this was a theme close to my heart; when the book giveaway was announced, I had to go for it!

This review is part of a review tour, so head on over to the other blogs and check out their thoughts too!

The author is Canadian Norm Hamilton, who has lived in Yukon for 40 years, where From Thine Own Well is set. He is now retired and living on Vancouver Island with his wife, hoping to dedicate more time to writing. This is his debut work of fiction, although he has published a non-fiction book about photography, another passion of his.

The year is 2036, in Yukon, Canada. It is a dystopian future where restrictions on mining and fracking are virtually non existant - a piece of legislation called The Agreement means that foreign companies do not have to adhere to Canadian law. This means that international companies, mostly Chinese, have come in and exploited the land in whatever ways they wish.

From Thine Own Well tells the story of some activists, fighting for their right to know the truth of what is going on, andjustice for the area and its people. They are a very eclectic mix of people - a reclusive old man, a young couple with children, a lesbian couple, a renowned photographer, an elderly nurse... The diversity of characters is one of the appeals for me. Hamilton has also given us the perspective of the corporate and governmental officials, meaning we see both sides of the battle. 

Without giving much away, From Thine Own Well encompasses both global and personal tragedies in a sensitive way. It brings you from an individual perspective to looking at things more generally, allowing you to see the impact these companies have in all the different respects. There are also some unexpected twists - I really didn't see one thing in particular coming!

I really enjoyed the topic and setting of this book. It is a very novel idea: I don't think I have ever read a dystopian book set so immediately in the future. As I said, the premise appealed to me personally, and it was fascinating what Hamilton had done with the idea. I've never read a book quite like it.

Unfortunately, the characterisation of some of the "baddies" was quite stereotypical, and they seemed almost like caricatures of evil people. The exception to this would probably be Wolfgang Grimm, who had some more depth to his character, but the others (particularly Sam Chong, the Vice President of the Department of Peace and Well Being, who takes over when Grimm does not manage to contain the situation in Yukon) need some work on.

I also felt that there were too many coincidences for the novel to be entirely believable. For example: the characters meeting each other (Stone meeting Kirsten, Nora approaching Landon, Danielle and Sherry meeting Gerard) fell into place a little too easily, and was therefore a bit contrived. There were moments when I felt too skeptical to be drawn into the story.

As I said before, there was a brilliant plot twist to do with Paddy, one of the activists - I was flabbergasted! Hamilton successfully hid some of the truth about him from readers, and I enjoyed being surprised in this way.

Overall, I enjoyed From Thine Own Well, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to read it. It is a really promising debut, with a brilliant premise, only slightly let down by some sloppy writing. With more practice and perhaps a different way of editing, Hamilton's future novels could be works of real genius!

Thank you for the opportunity of reading this book!


Thursday 6 February 2014

Adventures into Sewing

It's been a while since our last update here, and I'm going back a bit to update things. My Christmas present from A and J this year was...

A sewing machine! A lovely dinky little one from John Lewis. Isn't it sweet? I wonder whether I should name him/her... is it normal to name sewing machines?

I was home for a few days around Christmas, and this seemed the perfect time to try it out - I do know how to sew, but have always been very under confident machine sewing. Hand sewing? Fine - I've done quite a lot of it, involving various sorts of embroidery and cross stitch. (Although I still can't get the hang of French knots!) But machine sewing? It's sort of bee a scary block for me - my little experience has been at school, which was fine although uninteresting, and on Alison's machine, which was unsuccessful and terrifying! 

Fortunately, my little machine came up trumps. It isn't fancy, like these digital ones with all kinds of amazing stitches, but it sews and doesn't get stuck and has quite enough stitches to be getting on with.

Mr Father Christmas had given me some beautiful material squares, so I decided my first project would be a patchwork cot blanket for baby A, the daughter of one of J's ex-colleagues.

Using a rather nice Liberty sewing book I got last year from Christmas, I decided on a simple brick pattern.

I started my cutting up all the beautiful material:

Isn't it a lovely selection? Part of me didn't want to use it because then it would be gone! But that's such a stupid reason that I managed to cut it up, and started sewing. It was so much easier than I thought... 

Ta-da! Dont the colours all look so wonderful? I love it. Then came the slightly harder part of sewing it to the backing, and using quilting. J was sent out on a mission to find wadding at the nearest Dunelm Mill shop and came up trumps. For my first quilt, I wasn't able to do 'real' quilting, so I made single knots through the layers at every other corner instead. Not the proper way to do things! But, for my first foray into machine sewing, I have to admit that it hasn't come out half badly. Would you like to see?

Isn't it lovely? The dark blue backing fabric was taken from A's material box. R, J's ex-colleague, and baby A seemed to like it. Do you want to see it again?

Okay...just one more.

Small, but satisfactory. 

Stay tuned for my next adventures in the world of machine stitching!