Monday 31 March 2014

Grim: A Book Review

Grim – an anthology

I love Grimm's fairy tales – I have an absolutely beautiful old copy at home, given to me by my grandmother, with wonderful water colour panels, still with the protective tissue intact. It is a beautiful book. And the stories are superbly dark and macabre compared to the versions we're all familiar with. This anthology definitely plays on this part – these stories are indeed 'grim.'

I didn't have my usual slightly nervous feel to be reading short stories – I'm never sure how much I really like them as a reader – fairy tales seem to be in another category of their own. They are complete, but can definitely be tampered with!

Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology. It was compiled by various current YA authors, but I have actually only heard of Sarah Rees Brennan before! Much to my horror, I am apparently very behind in terms of YA authors, although this being American authors may have something to do with it. Anyway, as a whole, the anthology was just so much fun! There were a few fairy tales I wasn't very familiar with, which I looked up to be able to compare to the original, but the majority were ones I knew. There were two science fiction offerings, and I initially felt quite negatively about these – I'm not really into science fiction, and the idea of Grimm's tales being moulded into a science fiction world didn't sit well with me. Little did I know!

It turned out that my two favourites of the whole book were indeed the science fiction contributions! A Real Boy was a retelling of Pinnochio, with the character of Pinnochio being a robot with super intelligence but without a specific 'purpose' like other AI, so able to be more human. I was hooked, and really moved by this tiny masterpiece and its happy ending. I will definitely be on the look out for more written by Claudia Gray. My other favourite was Better, a retelling of the Pied Piper. Again, this was about a robot, but set on a space craft searching for another habitable planet. Now, this was chilling; Shaun D Hutchinson has done a brilliant job with the atmosphere. The end sent a literal shiver down my spine. I will also be looking him up.

Most of my favourites were the very modern retellings; possibly because I know most of the stories so well, it was only through radical retelling that the modern ones could be novel and exciting to me. There were plenty of beautiful retellings with little alteration, such as The Raven Princess, Before the Rose Bloomed, Beast/Beast and The Pink, which were fine, but they didn't excite me (based on The Raven, The Snow Queen, Beauty and the Beast and – what else? - The Pink).

I really enjoyed The Twelfth Girl, re-imagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and very similar to other fairy stories, such as Scottish Kate Crackernuts (which I love). Again, this was a modern retelling, with some beautiful description and a sinister ending. The first story in the anthology, The Key, was also enjoyable: this updated version of Bluebeard made a strong start to a strong anthology. There's also a brilliant version of Hansel and Gretel by Kimberly Darling, Julie Kagaua offers The Three Little Pigs updated and I really enjoyed Sell Out by Jackson Pearce.

In an anthology, there are always a few stories that don't really hit the spot for whatever reason. For me, these were Figment, Thinner than Water, Untethered, Sharper than a Serpent's Tongue and Skin Trade. This is not necessarily to say these are poorly written, just that for me they didn't work for various reasons. Interestingly enough, the one author who I have read before really disappointed me!Sarah Rees Brennan's humorous version of Beauty and the Beast just didn't work for me, although I adore her Demon's Lexicon trilogy. I could see what she was trying to do as she juxtaposed the “fairy tale world” with our own world and the amusing clash this created, but, for me, it just jarred without humour.

Overall, a great anthology – and it's given me some new names to look up! Thank you to NetGalley for providing me an ARC to read and review; all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Activity at Coombe Cottages

The 14th February 2014 was a amazing date for Coombe Cottages, as after16 years of us romanticising, and an out-of -the-blue opportunity, with the cooperation of neighbours the cottages bought the piece of land that nestles in front of them. J posted some time ago on the plans and they did finally happen for Number 2 on the 14-02-2014 an auspicious numerate almost  palindrome! 

Gradually before this time, and now very rapidly, the field has been transformed into a a very smart agricultural looking space with straight sheep proof fences, trimmed hedges and edges devoid of blackberry thickets and fallen trees. J at 52 has been the 'lad' to Bob our wonderful 76 year old tractor driving champion neighbour. We had all worried that the space we wanted to preserve would be destroyed by being so divided and tidied but it looks good.

J and Bob and Richard, the other owners of the neighbouring plots, have worked so very hard - cutting back, felling and dragging dead wood, flattening dips and creating straight lines at the fields  boundaries. This has been followed by post driving, gate hanging and putting in our new entrance onto Barton road which then divides immediately into our 3 areas. Most of the field now has wire and most has been strained and tensioned and fixed in place. We are a little behind everyone else with our gateway and water pipe trench ( we need a trough for those sheep!) to put in. 

And we aim to celebrate and name the piece we own on Easter Sunday with the first Coombe Cottage Field Festival. The invitations are out and we are hoping to have deputations from the North ( Mark Lins and super Sam) the East ( Tam and Heva) , the South ( all the Somerest crew)  and the middle ( Hopkinshaws..) as well as lots of lovely locals! The centrepiece of the whole weekend will be the biggest ever bonfire on Sunday evening as all the hedge clippings, dead bramble and rubbish are now towering high in the middle of the field! 

Book club 'Dark Matter' Michelle Paver

We were all pretty excited  to read a 'new' genre for us- a ghost story! A and Alysun got completely  lost in the dark on the way to Drew and Caroline's with every right turning not looking quite right in the darkness and drizzle. It felt like a bit of a portent ...

However we did get there and we all agreed that the description of place - the enormity of the ice and arctic sea, the sounds of the birds and the drama of weather and wind - was evocative and very real. We were in disagreement about how spooky or scary it was. Some of us who are already scared of darkness and the possibility of the supernatural did find this aspect of the book worked,  but for others although we could see the fear it was not one we actually experienced. In general we thought the psychological depiction of fears as fantastic - the heightening of senses and the tricks that we can play to try and make what we feel rational and safe. None of us actually believe in ghosts (Ithink) and we thought that the portrayal of the actual ghost wasn't necessary, and weakened  the story. We also were in agreement that the ending was disappointing - although we couldn't actually think of a book which we'd decided had a fantastic finale! 

Mother's Day

Mother, I love you so.
Said the child. I love you more than I know.
She laid her head on her mother's arm, 
And the love between them kept them warm.

                        -Stevie Smith

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Book Reviews: Frog Music and The History of the Rain

Regular readers (haha) to our blog may have noticed a change in my book reviews. I'm not doing a "What I've Been Reading" for each month, but am posting various reviews along the way. This is mostly because I have now become a "professional reader!" What is that, you may ask. Well, I didn't know either! Basically, I get "ARCs" (advanced reader copies) in return for reviews! So, here are two books (I read them as e-books) that I have read recently. All opinions are my own, although the e-books were free.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

When I found out that I had an approval to read an ARC of Frog Music, I was rather embarrassingly excited. I thought Room was a completely captivating book: so horrific and yet believable, a page turner from the beginning. Each characters' voice was distinct, and I also found it very interesting to view most of the central protagonists only through the eyes of another, as is always the case with first person narratives. The difference in Room is that Jack is five - it is such a unique perspective. So, it's safe to say that I started Frog Music with fairly high expectations.

Unfortunately, it didn't exceed my expectations.
It didn't even reach them. Is that because my expectations were just too hard? Not every novel can be a masterpiece, after all.

Frog Music is the story of Blanche, a French woman making her way in San Francisco through dance and prostitution during the nineteenth century. There are two storylines poised at once: before the murder of her friend Jenny, and afterwards. Donoghue has, again, created quite a unique, perspective doing this; plenty of novels have flashbacks but to have two continuous linear narratives occurring at the same time with the same characters is novel. Personally, I'm not sure it was entirely effective.

It's a sort of 'who-dunnit' and the last quarter was pacy, exciting and unexpected. I did really enjoy the home streak. Unfortunately, the rest of the book was a bit of a slog to get through. I actually ended up starting this again twice in the hope it would draw me in more and not be so difficult to read. It didn't work, so I cut my losses and kept going. I'm glad I did, because the ending was enjoyable; however, overall it doesn't seem worth it to read a lengthy novel when the majority of it is unenjoyable. 

Frog Music comes out on March 27th.

History of the Rain – Niall Williams

Where to start? This was a rich, expertly woven novel; each word is weighed up and chosen carefully, so that they flow like the rivers that permeate Williams' narrative.

History of the Rain is told in first person by Ruth Swain, sharing a story she tells whilst bed-ridden in rural Ireland. It is also second person: Ruth addresses the reader directly. It leaves questions: who does she think will be reading it? Is she leaving this for her family, or someone else? Of further interest is that it is not merely her story she is telling; she tells the story of her father, her grand-father, her great grand-father. Now, this makes for an intriguing premise. Ruth is telling stories that she wasn't even alive for, let alone been a witness to. Throughout the novel I was left wondering: how much of this had been reported to her, and how much has her own imagination taken control? The level of detail in many of the scenes is exquisite – but what does this mean? Where does truth end and make believe begin? Williams is asking us to question the validity of the past, of truth, and the sustaining power of stories.

As I have said, the language was beautiful. There are lots of examples of this: on describing her father, Ruth says he is “a bundle of angles”; Ruth's mother's hair is personified as she fights it into submission: “She tousled it loose and it laughed at her, then she tied it up too tight and it felt like a hand had grabbed her from above...” There are many more examples throughout the novel.

I loved Virgil, Ruth's father, his eccentricity and room full of books. There is a real link of empathy between myself as a reader, and Virgil as a character in Ruth's story.

He knew Ahab, he knew Tulkinghorn, he knew Quentin Compson and Sebastian Flyte and Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Bovary and Alyosha... but Virgil Swain did not know anything he could do in County Clare.”

He is out of his depth and, naturally, we feel protective of him. The burgeoning love story between Ruth's parents was my favourite part plot-wise, although it was tinged with sadness.

Plot-wise, I found it a bit of a struggle at the start. It took a long time to get into – I was thoroughly engrossed by the end, but the beginning lacked that page-turning quality. Possibly this was to do with getting used to Williams' style; History of the Rain is a book I am sure will bear reading again and again. For me, however, the beginning was too slow. I also became more used to Williams' meandering narrative; as Ruth herself says “Your narrator, you may already have grasped, is not gifted in matters chronological” - it is not a linear story. As the plot continued, I was more engrossed, although still very conscious of Ruth being the storyteller to events she had never witnessed. I enjoyed that ambiguity of truth, the wondering. In a way, we as readers are like bed-ridden Ruth, caught in a trap of stories and secrets, never knowing where true North is.

Ultimately, the novel had a sad tinge to it. Virgil, Ruth's father, was never able to meet the “Impossible Standard” laid down by his family, and we really feel his anguish over it. We never get to know as much about Ruth as her father, but we also feel pained over her: life narrowed to an attic bedroom and her illness. But she takes us on a journey of discovery in the past, and, true or untrue, it is a beautiful journey to witness.

History of the Rain comes out in April and will also be featured as Radio 4's book of the week during April.


Saturday 22 March 2014

Crochet at Craft Bee

Today E, with A as the support act, went to Craft Bee in Beckenham to learn crocheting. Ever since E discovered Lucy's blog at Attic 24 she has wanted to make Granny Squares so today we got a last-minute place on a Satruday workshop. We've been to Craft Bees before - Tilly, Es new blue machine had her debut here with the tote bag creation, and we also Lino printed last year...
So A relaxed whilst E and 6 ladies under the tuition of Clare talked of trebles and slip stitches, loops and foundation rows, and chains and holes.... The sun came through the window and clouds scudded across with the rumble of the traffic on the High street. Many peculiar shaped 'rectangles' and some rather fine Granny Squares  and flowers were made! 

Learning to hold the yarn, very different to knitting!

Dodgy grey squares...

Much better! A granny square emerges! (And nicer colours too...)

Everyone's finished creations!

Monday 17 March 2014

Happy Birthday Coombe Cottages and co and GIVEAWAY!

So it's been a whole year since our little blog started out. We've had plenty of page views, but no one has left any comments apart from people we know in the 'real world.' As a celebration, we're hosting a little giveaway! So if you are a lurker, or stumbling across is for the first time, please please leave a comment!

So, what we have to give away is... 

A bookmark! Seems like an appropriate prize as most of the posts on this blog are either about reading or crafts - this combines the two! The material is part of the stash that we got from the knitting and stitching show, and although it's very simple, it looks quite sweet (I hope!)

To be in for a chance to win, please leave a comment on this page and we'll choose at random the winner! If you aren't someone we know in person (if there are any) then please leave your email address so we can contact you. We'll send it to you, wherever you are, whatever country!

Please help us celebrate our blog birthday!

Good luck!

Knitting and Stitching Show 2014

Following a few years of indecisiveness, E and A were finally brave enough to visit the knitting and stitching show! It was held in Olympia this year and the huge venue was jam packed!

We saw...


Beautiful fabric...


More quilts...

Blue fabric, specially for A...

More quilts (I love this one)...


More buttons...

And lots more besides!

The booking system wasn't great, so we didn't get to the workshop we'd originally intended, but we did one workshop at a stall, and one that we managed to book on the day. So, after our first peruse around the place, we settled at a stand to do some decoupage. (Side note: not entirely sure what decoupage has to do with knitting or stitching, but never mind.) A chose a star to decorate and E worked on a coaster. It's surprisingly easy - A decided that this was her type of craft - fast, inexact and using lots of glue! (Actually, she was instructed to use less! But A's conviction is that PVA sticks the world together, and that hasn't changed.) want to see?

Our second workshop was very different. Sarah is part of a movement called craftivism and we spent a quiet hour stitching mini protest banners. A noticed that the slow process of stitching letters made the meaning of the words really sunk in a different way. More on this later, and the movement of craftivism, later. 

And, of course they did some shopping! 

Good haul, eh? Most of the things here have destinations in mind, so watch this space for more crafty activities...

This is also our one blog-aversary today! Our little blog is one year old today! Wow. So, as a celebration of our birthday, if you are reading this please, please leave a comment so we can say hello. I hope people have seen a little of our CCC life.


Saturday 15 March 2014

What an ipad really needs

Is of course a beautiful case.
As you may have noticed, the inhabitants of 2CC are recently into sewing. We are generally keen on making, (against the universal trend, I found myself hearing from the Prof of Making at UCL on Material World the other night).
My lovely iPad's lovely jacket started life as a shirt:

another shirt that I don't have a picture of, and to tart it up, a gold shawl found in a charity shop that cost £4 for one by one point four metres of glistening gold silk. No, I don't suppose it really is silk at all, but something synthetic. 
When initially cut up they looked like this:

and then this:

There is a wonderful website called the Missouri Quilt Company, where a very enthusiastic lady with a lovely accent, (very American but pronounces her T's as T's, so I imagine this to be a Missouri way of speaking), shows ways of putting bits of material together so they look better than they started. 
Following her directions, we then got to this:

The poor ipad has been living in a Jiffy bag for the last few months, and I thought it would miss this, so I opened the bag out and quilted the patchwork to one side, and the pocket part of the shirt to the other:

Finally, E brought back an excellent earthenware button, almost willow pattern, from the Kitting and 
Stitching Show at Olympia yesterday:

and look how well they go together:

What do you think?

Friday 14 March 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I love trilogies. Are trilogies a genre in their own right? I guess not, but there's something about this medium that just intrinsically appeals to me. So many YA books are trilogies now that I suppose I'm not alone in thinking that. What do other people think? What is it about trilogies that appeals so much?

Anyway, before I get started I have to say: I love this book. I've seen it around on Good Reads before and it's vaguely filtered through that it might be my kind of book, but I haven't gone  out of my way to read it. Do you know how big my to-read list is?

And that's only about a quarter of it! But this one got the VIB (Very Important Book) upgrade to the top of the pile.

Anyway, I was really pleased when Emma, my bibliotherapist, sent me Taylor's novel. Here is what Emma said:

Welcome to your Mr B's Reading Year! I'm Emma and I will be your bibliotherapist for the next 11 months. With arch book you will receive a book mark where you can collect your thoughts and share them with me if you like either by post or by email. For your first book I'm sending you the first part of one of my favourite new fantasy trilogies? It is incredibly imaginative and has a very mythological feel to it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Isn't that such a nice note to receive? She picked out this book especially for me! I can't quite believe it. It was so exciting receiving the beautiful parcel with Mr B's seal on it. The whole set-up of the reading year is fantastic, it quite makes me want to be a bibliotherapist! It's fun picking books for people, particularly if their tastes are similar to yours. I doubt it's as amazing as I think; it probably doesn't involve going to work and reading from 9-5 every day...

Am I rambling? Yes. Let's get back to the book.

Emma was right about how imaginative it is; I personally haven't come across a book quite like this, although it has different elements that are similar to other novels. It has a bold start, effectively introducing you to our central protagonist, Karou, her best friend, and ex boyfriend in one go. Although a very 'every day' occurrence (a class at college), Taylor is able to make it interesting and really quite fun. We are also introduced early to the idea that Karou is different...

Although she acts like a normal college girl within her classes, she is secretly living a double life. She lives with chimera, entities who are part animal, part human in Elsewhere, another
world. She never knew her parents and these people are her family: Brimstone, particularly is like a stern father to her.

It is a very engaging, well paced novel, and I loved the nods to mythology throughout. There were a couple of points I was dubious about (for instance, Karou's best friend barely batting an eyelid when she discovers the truth about Karou) but mostly Taylor's characters were very believable. I care about them, I care what happens to them. 

Although there's some pretty heavy and difficult things going on for the characters, Taylor also manage to create humour, and some of the ordinary trials of teenager, so it never got too dark. I have a sense that the next book is going to be a lot darker than this one... What a way to end it! Complete cliffhanger, holding on the rock face and slowly slipping down... I need to read the next one soon!

Thank you very much, Emma - 4 star review.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Sleepytime Blanket for Baby J

After finishing baby A's blanket I was rearing to make another one, this time for a friend of mine who gave birth at the beginning of March in Northern Ireland. It was rather a hard labour, but both mummy T and baby J are well and healthy.

We knew he was going to be a boy, so I decided to go down the very traditional route and make a blue themed blanket. I also used quite stiff backing, so it is more like a play mat than a blanket, although it can be used for either.

I was really inspired by some wonderful fabric from Plush Addict.

Isn't it amazing? I LOVE the little deer and the bees, although the second fabric up from the bottom was a bit weird. I didn't use that one. The rest was going to be scraps, so I drew out a rough plan for how I wanted it to look.

Some scraps were left over from baby A's blanket, some were from Coombe Cottage's material box, and some were from some charity shop clothes. They made a really nice selection of mostly boyish colours.

First I made the diagonal patterns. Each diamond was a quarter of a charm pack size (I'm learning the lingo!) Charm packs are 5 by 5 inches, so my quarter squares were 2.5 by 2.5 inches. Obviously this includes the includes seam allowances, so in the finished project they are smaller than this.

Here is me laying out the squares:

The green colours from my leftover fabric really add a nice element. I'm very into blue so I was worried they'd be too dull and spoil it, but it all worked out fine.

Then Tilly and I stitched them together in diagonal rows, like this;

Coming together, isn't it? This is always the exciting part of a project, when what's in your head begins to take shape. I made another panel the same, and then cut out the larger panels, tacking them together.

Isn't the 'Bambi' fabric wonderful? I love it! And i still have quite a lot left over... More projects to come, no doubt!
Then I pinned it to the backing - I used a wadding that had material on one side, which is easier to do, but the finished item won't be as pliable. Here it is pinned:

I know that it's a bit lopsided and everything, but I think the overall effect is okay. THEN, it was time to sew it together and to do the quilting! I did 'real' quilting this time- basically just sewed all of the diagonal lines to make sure thquilting didn't slip. Tilly struggled a bit getting through the quite thick layer of fabric (she's only little after all!) but we managed.

Do you want to see the finished product? Here goes...

TA DA! Yes, it still looks lopsided, but it is handmade after all.

With my Brave Little Bird label all stitched in.

Overall I'm pretty pleased with it, despite all its imperfections. And I think that Baby J likes it too:

He's only two weeks old - look how big he is! And how beautiful! Wishing Mummy T and Baby J all the love in the world

Hope you've enjoyed my blanket too, dear readers. Leave a comment if you want to.


Monday 10 March 2014

Introducing Mr B's

This year I am the proud recipient of a Mr B's Reading Year! Both A and J have had this in previous years and now it's my turn. I haven't read the book yet (my to-read list is dangerously out of hand) but doesn't it look so exciting wrapped up? And a personal note from my bibliotherapist; what a wonderful parcel to receive. Can't wait to get started!

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Sewing Adventures: A Tote Bag

Do you all remember my sewing machine? Here she is:

She has now been christened Tilly, short for Mathilda. (I'm not sure why this is her name, it just worked out that way!) So, the other part of my rather wonderful Christmas present this year was a course at Beckenham Crafty Bees on learning to use your machine, and to make a tote bag in an afternoon! I actually made the blanket for baby A before the course, so I already knew the ropes, but the pattern for the tote bag was very satisfying and we also learnt about proper seam allowances and clever things like that.

We started with the lining and the moved onto the outer layer. It has a pocket and everything! It was a really well run session - a good balance of assistance and doing things yourself, and we got to keep the pattern at the end so I can recreate as many bags as I like. The most exciting part was turning it inside out. Want to see?


(Sorry for the poor photos.) It's taken me a long time to write this one up, but I had to wait until after Little M's birthday as this was her present. So now Tilly's little creation is many miles away as Little M is in Czech-land. Very exciting!

Stay tuned for more adventures with Tilly and lots more books!

I can't give out the pattern here, as it belongs to Beckenham Crafty bees but here is their website - they offer lots of different sewing and other arty courses.