Book reviews – Learn to Sew with Lauren and Sew Fabulous


Lauren Guthrie Learn to Sew with LaurenTwo easy picks from my TBR today. Now – does everyone treat sewing or other craft books like people do cookery books, buying them, poring over them, deciding what to make … then not getting round to it for ages? Or is that just me? Anyway, I bought both of these books on 6 September last year, when I dashed between two book launch parties, one (Lauren’s) fairly local to me, at her lovely shop, Guthrie and Ghanie, and the other (Stuart’s) in House of Fraser’s haberdashery department in Birmingham City Centre. And they seemed to deserve to be read and reviewed together.

Stuart Hillard Sew FabulousThey’re quite different books, although both aimed at the beginner. Lauren’s has some household items but also simple clothes for adults and children, and Stuart’s concentrates on home decoration, with an emphasis on quilting – and this of course reflects the specialities they displayed on the Great British Sewing Bee. Both books are beautifully edited, I’m pleased to say, especially after my disappointment with the Sewing Bee book itself, and the personality of the author shines through in both. I did make sure to ask both Lauren and Stuart about this aspect when I caught up with them at their launches, but was very pleased to find this was the case when I read them.

So, on with the reviews, and a sneaky confession under those …

Lauren Guthrie – “Learn to Sew with Lauren”

The aim of this book is to take you through first steps of sewing, with a large section on basic skills and materials, which sensibly tells you when to consult your sewing machine manual or pattern and when to follow the general instructions. The projects then run from “Easy Peasy” beginners’ projects through to more tricky pieces (with pockets, yokes and a dress), in a sensible and well thought through progression, and the instructions link back nicely to the Techniques section at the beginning.

Full-size paper patterns are included in a pocket in the book, with some more simple templates in the back and instructions on measuring for blinds, etc. There are good, clear illustrations, and some pictures of Lauren as well as models. I was a little disappointed to see a pretty girl’s summertime set which mentioned little girls getting involved in sewing (why not boys?) then some “Adventure Shorts” which were very firmly aimed at boys – I would think that any active child would like these, so that was a bit of a shame, but didn’t ruin the book for me, of course, and was only a minor point in an otherwise very good book.

It was hard not to compare these books as I read them so close together, and I think Lauren’s has a slight edge in terms of explaining techniques, especially making bias binding and creating piping. I will certainly be trying out some pyjama bottoms and one or two of the bags from this book, and it’s an attractive buy that would make a good present for the novice at sewing (male or female!). I would pair it with one of the starter sets you can buy from the shop as a good gift set.

This book would suit: Anyone learning to sew, brushing up their skills, or looking for some simple to challenging projects to complete reasonably quickly.

Stuart Hillard – “Sew Fabulous”

As I mentioned above, this book concentrates on furnishings and decorations for the house and garden, with inspiring room sets at the beginning of each chapter. Instead of being arranged from easy to difficult, this has a chapter per room, from the entrance hall to the garden, with a chapter on gifts at the end – each project is marked as being of one of six difficulty levels, from no-sew to challenging. This works well and it’s easy to see which projects you’ll be capable of (although I found bunting being marked as a little more difficult than I find it!).

The pictures are very good and Stuart appears in a few. I have to say that this one had me in stitches (ha!) at times, as Stuart’s voice and personality very much shine through in little asides and comments. It’s rare to find a craft book that actually makes you giggle, so extra points there! There is also a very good explanation of the types of fabric to choose for these projects.

As implied in my other review, some of the explanations in the basic skills section are a little more perfunctory than in Lauren’s book – however, this is not designed specifically as a learn to sew book; the explanations work and there are plenty of resources online etc. for learning how to do these things (or just buy both books and flip to Lauren’s if you’re confused about bias binding!). And the instructions in the beginning section and by specific projects using quilting are very good (and if I was doing Lauren’s quilting projects, I’d check on details in here, so swings and roundabouts).

Again, there are full-sized patterns in a pocket and templates to copy, too. A really good book if you fancy making fabric gifts or items for your home, including simple lined curtains.

This book would suit: People looking to brush up their skills with furnishing fabrics and home decoration.


Paul Magrs Mrs Danby and CompanyA quick confession – well, it would have been rude not to order the new Paul Magrs novel, “Mrs Danby and Company”, given that I’ve read pretty well all of his other books (apart from the brain-eating one, as I am contractually obliged to mention whenever I mention Paul’s books) and he’s gone to the trouble of creating this one himself. It appears very steampunk from the look of the cover and should be a well-written romp through time and space, if the blurb on the back (which is a bit difficult for the older eye to make out) is to be believed. Because this is only just out, I’m going to promote it up the TBR and read and review it soon, to bump up those online reviews and help people get to know about it.

No disclaimer needed: Although I know and have met all of the authors of these books, I bought all of the books myself and have not been asked to write reviews.

Lovely, lovely books … more and more of them …


Birthday booksIt’s that time of year when my TBR goes **POP** and I don’t mind at all, because there are worse addictions, aren’t there! There’s Christmas, then there’s my birthday, and in between, for the last few years, I’ve seen my friend Elaine, from Chicago, who I met in the LibraryThing Virago Group – she comes over for a Shakespeare conference in Stratford every January, and we seem to alternate between meeting in Stratford and meeting in Birmingham. Some other Viragoites tend to come up as well, so we have a nice little gathering. This year, there was a meetup in London, too, which I couldn’t fit in, so it was a small group of four of us (Claire, Luci, Elaine and me) who met in town and took the bus to Kings Heath.

Liz, Claire, Elaine

Once in Kings Heath, we “did” the charity shops, and had lunch at the lovely Kitchen Garden Cafe, where, incidentally, I’d been for a birthday tea on Saturday and had received several suspiciously book-shaped parcels. We also visited the Kings Heath Village Square and “did” the labyrinth, which is a lovely meditative experience, reading quotations by wise people from different traditions and looking at the lovely mosaics (done by a friend’s sister, in a classic of Two Degrees Of South Birmingham). Unfortunately, it was so sunny that my pictures of the four of us came out with me looking very odd indeed and all of us with our eyes shut. This is me, Claire and Elaine, plus the rather menacing finger of my glove.

Kings Heath Village Square LabyrinthBut here we all are, standing in the middle of the labyrinth. There you find a smaller version of the labyrinth set in metal into the pavement. And can you see? In the middle of that labyrinth, there’s another teeny-tiny one! Anyway, there in our sensible shoes, from 12 o’clock, are Elaine, Luci, me and Claire.

On to more charity shops … Because of those book-shaped parcels, I was verrrrry careful about what I picked up for myself , concentrating on books that nobody was likely to have bought for me already. In fact, I had a near miss, as I picked up an Ann Tyler I hadn’t yet read, wondered if I’d like it, *immediately* regretted leaving it, then unwrapped it the next morning from a lovely book parcel! The Oxfam Books in KH, usually a good source of Viragoes, was closed for refurbishment, so we popped on the bus up to Moseley and visited the lovely big one there.

So, what did I come home with?

Charity shop book findsWell, first of all, Luci had one of her bulging sacks of books with her. It’s always exciting when she does this, and this time I picked out a copy of E.R. Braithwaite’s “To Sir, With Love” in the Windmill edition in which I first read it, and “The House in Norham Gardens” by Penelope Lively, which I haven’t read for years. In the shops, I selected a Georgette Heyer I didn’t yet have (“The Black Moth”) and New Statesman writer Laurie Penny’s “Penny Red”, which is signed. Then we have the next best thing to a first edition of Iris Murdoch’s first novel, “Under the Net”, in the first Reprints Society edition from 1955 (actually, the price of the proper first has now dropped and I’m seriously considering springing for a copy or maybe asking my friends to contribute to a copy next birthday …) and Pagan Kennedy’s novel, “Spinsters” – I read Kennedy’s book about her zine a while ago, so it was nice to find this – also signed! And that was it!

I took my friends back into town on the bus, where we met Genny and Ali, two more Birmingham Viragoites. They all went off to see the Cathedral and go to a lovely cafe, and I went home again, tired but happy wending my way etc. etc. to find that I hadn’t quite got away with it and a couple of my clients had noticed I was skiving off. They were OK about it, though!

I had saved the gifts from my tea party until the day itself, so I had something to open. And what a lovely array of Things to Open I had. This is a book blog, so I’ll concentrate on the books …

Birthday booksI knew about the Mollie Panter-Downes “Minnie’s Room” because I bought it myself when I went down to the Persephone bookshop in November, then passed it to Ali to wrap up for my birthday. Ali also chose me “Bombay Stories” by Saadat Hasan Manto, which has The. Most. Beautiful. cover ever (which I will share when I come to read it). The Vintage Classics are a lovely series. Gill gave me “That Dorky Homemade Look” by Lisa Boyer, which looks hilarious and is all about learning to quilt and accepting if you do it badly. As More Sewing is one of my “things” for 2015, this will be both amusing and instructive. Jen put together a lovely square parcel of three books, Anne Tyler’s “The Beginner’s Goodbye”, Susan Cain’s “Quiet” which is that one about introverts everyone’s been reading, and David Bellos’ “Is That a Fish in your Ear?” which is about translation. What treats!

birthdayIn addition to various lovely book-related and Boots tokens and some pampery treats, I also opened a lovely Banned Books bracelet from Meg, a fab Scrabble mug from Sian, Scrabble coasters and tea from Laura (did they coordinate on purpose?) and amazing mugs from Linda. I’m so pleased to be able to move away from my tatty purple mugs and have something lovely to choose from each tea time! I’d actually seen one of these personalised authors’ mugs on someone else’s Facebook feed and had a twinge of jealousy, and there one is, and with my married name, which is lovely!

APA StylebookAs I’m sharing book acquisitions here, I feel duty-bound to add in one more that arrived on my birthday – not as thrilling to everyone as the others, but exciting for me. So exciting that I wrote a blog post about it over on my business blog! This editing style is one I don’t use that much, but I’ve got a big project using it and it’s quite different, so I picked up another book to add to my reference shelf.

Phew. A long post full of STUFF. Have you read any of these books? Do you have a different mug for each kind of tea you have? (I’m thinking of pairing mugs and tea now, officially!). When do you think I’ll reach these January acquisitions and review them here, given that I read my TBR in order of receipt?!

Book review – “The Woman Who Stole My Life” and a possible readalong …


Jan 2015 To Be Read shelfA singleton review today as I’m reading two that really DO go together at the moment and don’t want to lose the reviewing momentum. The book I’m reviewing here isn’t even on the TBR picture, as I borrowed it from my friend Linda, unable to resist the new Marian Keyes. I don’t read much of what gets described as chick-lit, but Keyes is always hilarious and warm with good plots, and I never mind saying I’m a fan. After the review, some talk of a readalong. Having mentioned almost in passing that I had started “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”, I’ve been very surprised at how many people have popped up to say they’ve read or want to read it, and some kind of lose readalong has been posited – see below for more info.

Marian Keyes – “The Woman who Stole my Life”

(borrowed from Linda December 2014)

I was initially flummoxed by this not being about the Walsh sisters, although from a little research, it seems that I’ve skipped a couple of Keyes’ more recent books, and not all of them are about the same family. Anyway, I also wasn’t immediately grabbed by the story, which flicks around a bit at the beginning, with half-mentionings and flashbacks. However, Marian Keyes is like a drug — you keep reading, even if you’re not immediately hooked, for the gems of wry humour and hilarious one-liners, and I gradually got held by the characters and plot.

Although these are new characters, we still find the hilarious older generation, scrapping siblings and bizarre friends, complemented in this case by the rather marvellous Jeffrey, son of the heroine, Stella, who has some very odd ways. I enjoyed her vulnerable men, as I always do (they seem real, like the beardy love-interest chap in the Miranda programmes and indeed Carole Matthews’ novels, which is why she’s another chick-lit author I enjoy), and the cast of supporting characters such as Stella’s hilariously serious brother-in-law add depth.

I can’t talk about the plot because that would give it away, but there are twists and turns and whole sections abroad (some of the plot points there were a little fantastic, but we’ll forgive her for that). Some reviews bang on about the sex scenes, but I skimmed those (not very Keyesian) and didn’t find them too disturbing. A good satisfying ending and a fun read.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Robert TressellNow for a bit of a possible readalong. I have been kind of sort of hankering after reading Robert Tressell’s “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” for years and years – after all, it’s a classic of Socialist writing and political and social commentary, so right up my street. Then I discovered it was published in 1914. Now, there’s not a lot published that year that I’ve fancied reading, and it is, of course, the first year in my Century of Reading project: I’m not currently “allowed” to just buy books randomly for that purpose only, but I had it in mind, then spotted it in Fireside Books in Windermere when we were on our minimoon last year.

I started reading it when it came to the top of the TBR this month, and was first of all struck by the small size of the type and the large thickness of the book – so much so, in fact, that I veered away to Marian Keyes for a bit of light relief before I started. I then gritted my teeth to have a go, and discovered that I found it a relatively attractive and easy read, its group of tradesmen reminding me a bit of Hardy’s country groupings, and the discussion of whether people had the right to vote if they didn’t understand the issues curiously pertinent to today’s pre-election mitherings.

I mentioned that it was going better than expected on Facebook, and was astounded at the number of people who either said they were planning to read it or HAD read it – people from different circles of my acquaintance, and of different backgrounds and reading habits. It’s not universally liked, but it does seem to attract attention and interest, and probably is a good book to read in the run-up to a General Election. So I posited a readalong.

It’s quite relaxed – if you want to talk about the book, do so in the comments, or write your own blog post(s) and post a link in the comments so we can all see them. Read it now or read it later … but it might be nice to have a chat about it.

Note: my reading has become a little derailed by the introduction of a kitten to the narrative. Especially in a didactic book like this, animal characters are usually introduced to make a point or allow a plot development – and I fear the worst. I’ve had a little flick, through the Google Books version of the book online, but couldn’t find anything horrible. But maybe someone who’s read it and remembers it could let me know (not in graphic detail if there is graphic detail) what happens to the poor thing. Yes, I know there’s other horror, there’s an unwell baby and violent impulses bubbling under in the labouring classes – I’m afraid it’s animal stuff that really upsets me, and that’s probably for another discussion.

Anyway, if you’d like to join in, pop a comment below to mark your intention, then feel free to discuss and post links as you go. Happy reading!

Janet Rosina West – “Rosie Rinkstar”, “Rosie Rinkstar: Aiming High”, “Rosie Rinkstar: Making it Happen”


Rosie Rinkstar booksIn a roundabout way, I came to be sent copies of these indie-published paperbacks by the author. They turned out to be highly readable and enjoyable novels about a teen ice skater working her way up through the ranks, taking tests and entering competitions. Rosie Rinkstar started out life in a skating magazine, “iSKATE”, which ran from 2006-2011, and Janet Rosina West decided to continue her adventures in these novels, with one more to come in 2015.

What I particularly liked about these books as a series was the cast of characters – this can be quite narrow in books for young readers, even in the pony books which this book echoes (main character can’t afford all the posh things, comes up against ultra-competitive rivals who have everything brand new while she has to struggle, etc. – not a bad genre to echo, I hasten to add), but here we not only find Rosie, her very annoying younger sister, her contemporaries at school and in the skating world but also the guys who clean the ice rink, Rosie’s mum’s gay friends and Rosie’s Nan and her gang of friends from the sheltered housing, who are up for learning to ice skate and providing lots of support for Rosie in various ways. The books also cover, sensitively and not sensationally, issues around immigration, bullying, fostering and adoption and eating disorders – but not in a worthy way, just as part of what goes on in life, and the books are great fun!

In “Rosie Rinkstar” we get to meet the main cast of characters and find out all sorts of interesting facts about how the business of competitive skating works, with behind-the-scenes information and explanations that fit naturally into the plot. Rosie and her best friend Sergei are practising pairs work in secret, and a school project gives Rosie a new interest, while a pushy skate mum causes problems. I like the way in which we jump straight in, both in terms of the first scene and in terms of the bits of information we find out about Rosie and her family’s past. Her Nan is quickly an attractive character, but then it looks like she’s keeping something worrying from everyone.

In “Rosie Rinkstar: Aiming High”, Nan’s secret and Rosie and Sergei’s secret partnership are both out in the open. We learn more about the characters’ back stories and they become more three-dimensional. Rosie has to cope with a busy sideline – which is totally believeable because it’s supported plausibly enough by the other characters. It’s worth mentioning here that both male and female characters are presented as being able to be strong, creative, nurturing or  all three at the same time, which is refreshing and makes the books highly recommendable. Rosie comes up against a new club chairman and has to learn new skills in diplomacy, but her friends support her through the battles.

“Rosie Rinkstar: Making it Happen” displays more ambition, both on the part of Rosie and that of her author. We take on a different location and encounter more descriptive writing, but the warmth is still there, and the great range of characters. There’s a useful and interesting cyber-bullying theme which again is handled sensitively, with feelings being explored and group dynamics being portrayed. Rosie wishes she hadn’t come out of her shell and taken more of the centre stage, but she learns to handle those feelings and become more sociable. Hard work as well as talent is needed, but there are giggles along the way, and it’s an engaging read.

Overall, an attractive and entertaining series with a good heart and a good moral structure without being preachy or boring.

These books would suit Confident readers of chapter books who still like to have a few illustrations; people in the ice skating world or people who want to know more about it; readers from related genres such as pony book readers.

I’d like, with the blessing of the author, to pass these books along to another reader, so if you know a young reader who’d like to look at them, or you’re an adult reader of children’s books like me, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll do a prize draw if there’s more than one request.

You can find the Rosie Rinkstar novels on Amazon.

Book reviews – The Big Red Train Ride and The Man of Property – plus the TBR gets out of control


Jan 2015 To Be Read shelfWell, I’m doing quite well for reading at the start of this near year … which is a good job, because the TBR has got slightly out of control, and I haven’t even had my birthday yet. More about that later – for now, here are two reviews of books which are both actually re-reads (even though my official Month of Re-Reading this year isn’t until February) of great favourite authors, pleasurable in the extreme to revisit.

Eric Newby – “The Big Red Train Ride”

(21 June 2014 – book stall in the Kings Heath Village Square)

Regular readers of this blog will know that Newby is one of my favourite travel writers – or even writers, full stop. So I was pleased to find a copy of this read-but-not-owned book on a book stall, and had been greatly looking forward to reading it – I started this at the tail-end of December, but didn’t want to rush it.

This is the story of his journey across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, accompanied by his doughty wife, Wanda, Otto, a German photographer who isn’t allowed to take many photos, and Mischa, their guide, seemingly mainly there to ensure that they speak to as many mayors as possible and visit a wire factory (there are a very amusing couple of paragraphs on Wire Factories I Have Known in the book).

The journey was made in the 1970s, so it was obviously very different to the Russia of today, still being the Soviet Union and a fascinatingly closed society, where people without a permit were simply not allowed to visit certain places, and there was a strong suspicion that people were still being sent to Siberia as a punishment for crimes or speaking out against the administration.

Newby is his customary mix of drily funny and serious where he needs to be about history and horror. Very much of his time, some of his language is couched in very Cold War terms, and he describes people’s behaviour as being ‘mouldy’ or ‘not quite the thing’, but he’s far from being stuffy, of course, and you can’t fault his commitment to the journey or his powers of description.

Although the actual journey only takes a couple of weeks (with stops at some towns), the book does not feel padded out, and the comparisons to the descriptions made by previous travellers are very interesting. A good read.

This book would suit: Newby fans, travel writing fans, people who have read Paul Theroux and Colin Thubron’s more po-faced books on Siberia and fancy a change.

John Galsworthy – “The Man of Property” and “Indian Summer of a Forsyte”


The start of the Forsyste Saga read, which I’m doing alongside Ali, Karen, Bridget and a few other people (if you’re reading along, do put a note in the comments of where I can find your reviews).

Although these books are based on a satirical view of the aspirational upper middle classes of the late Victorian period, they can’t help being warm, entertaining page-turners that are eminently readable, otherwise they wouldn’t have the life they have now in e-books, republished sets of trilogies, etc. In this, the first of the nine novels and its accompanying Interlude, we meet the elder Forsyte generation – ten brothers and sisters, the offspring of the majority of them, and then their offspring, too – a wonderfully diverse cast, from Aunt Ann with her unchanging grey curls pinned to her front hair every morning to the artistic grand-daughter who writes melodramatic songs.

It centres at first around the patriarch of the family, Old Jolyon, and his grand-daughter June, who has just got herself engaged to the thrusting young architect, Bosinney, who the family find to be not quite the right sort. It broadens out into the story of Old Jolyon’s nephew, Soames, and his estrangement from his wife, Irene – their marriage has never quite ‘taken’, and she’s obviously dissatisfied and distressed, a situation which no one can understand except June, who is repelled in the end by what she then understands to be happening.

There’s quite a shocking scene in Irene and Soames’ marriage at one point; this is cleverly seen only from Soames’ point of view, with his human frailties clearly struggling with his outward persona as a Man of Property, both human (in the form of his wife) and architectural (in the form of a country seat he is having built). Galsworthy gives us a detailed psychological portrait of Soames’ own suffering, and I found it interesting that I found myself identifying far more with Old Jolyon and Soames than I remember doing when I read this as a much younger woman (I last read this in 2009 but don’t recall if my allegiance had switched by then).

As Soames appears to over-reach himself financially and emotionally, the family flows around and into the developing scandal, commenting, putting two and two together, and always working to balance individuality against the class hegemony which demands conservative obedience to the laws of property. Old Jolyon’s estranged son is even dragged into things. It can’t end happily, and it doesn’t, although the Interlude, while again holding some carefully sign-posted tragedy itself, speaks of happier and more settled times.

Galsworthy does an excellent job of keeping a large cast of characters fresh and delineated in our minds and holding our attention. It was tempting to plunge into the next book and the next, but I must attack the growing TBR, too.

This book would suit: People who like a family saga, Hardy fans, fans of Edwardian literature before all that funny Modernism came through, people who like a thumping good read.

Ali’s review is here, and Kaggsy’s and Bridget’s will be linked to when it appears, too.

The Vicar's DaughterNow to the horrors of the TBR. First of all, the lovely Karen/Kaggsy, having seen my E.H. Young acquisitions over Christmas, offered me another one to read – I felt I was helping her weed some books out of her house, so was able to say yes without feeling bad about not offering one in return. We have a large overlap in our book taste, so I’m sure a swapsie will be winging its way in due course. This looks another good read, although I have to say that I won’t get to that stage in the TBR for a little while yet …

Jan 2015 2Then, through a rather circuitous route, these Rosie Rinkstar novels by Janet Rosina West made their way to me. It’s a lovely series about a teenage ice skater and her trials and tribulations on the way to ice-dance stardom, really nicely done and I’m almost the whole way through them now, so look out for reviews coming soon.

Ken Livingstone, Omid Djallili and Orla KieleyAnd then, well, this is a justification and a half … I picked up a lovely book about designer Orla Kiely (you know, her with the lovely stylised leaf and flower patterns that look a bit 70s and Swedish) for my best friend for Christmas. I thought about getting myself a copy, but didn’t. Fool! So, long story short, in order to get free click-and-collect delivery, I had to order some more books to make up a certain total.

So, I was tempted by Omid Djalili’s autobiography (although seemingly only up to his early days in showbiz – what it is about these showbiz types eking out their memoirs into two or more books? They never used to, but now you only get the bits about other famous people in Book Two, don’t you!) and also Ken Livingstone’s (which is satisfyingly substantial and certainly doesn’t stop when it’s only just got started, from the look of it).

Just what I needed: more books. And I’ve borrowed the latest Marian Keyes from my friend Linda, and it would be RUDE not to dive into that soon, right?

How’s your year with books going? Have you got off to a flying start or are you still finishing stuff from the end of last year? Anything good coming up? Doing any challenges and managing to get on with them? Do share!

Book review – The Election


The Election by Ellie Levenson and Marek Jagucki

The Election by Ellie Levenson and Marek Jagucki

Back last year, I joined a Kickstarter that was trying to publish a book then called “Democracy for Toddlers”, which aimed at explaining elections and the voting process to small children. It caught my attention and seemed to be A Good Thing, so I helped to fund it, it made its target, and I received my copies of the book in the week. Here they are, along with the postcards that accompanied them – a lovely, bright cover and a new title which sounds a bit less worthy and will probably be more attractive (although I did like the working title).

It’s aimed at young children, and has easy text for an adult to read and explain, or an older reader to read for themselves, and lovely, inclusive, bright and colourful illustrations. Both Mum and Dad and different people in the neighbourhood are active in politics, and although it doesn’t go into what policies are, etc., it does explain that “they have different ideas about how they would run things if they were in charge”, and the parents explain that, “We like the stripy party because we think their ideas are better,” which is what it’s all about, isn’t it!

The book covers elections, the fact that both parties want to be in charge, canvassing, putting up posters, the actual voting process (which includes electronic voting, which I don’t think exists in the UK yet but including it is a good way of assuring appeal in other countries / on an on-going basis), and the announcement of the results. It’s comprehensive but in no way worthy or boring, and it makes everything very personal to the children in the book / reading the book.

I’m going to pass my copies to some small relatives and the child of a friend. With elections coming up in the UK in May, this is a good buy for this year, but also of course would be applicable in other countries and for local and European elections, etc.

The Election by Ellie Levenson and Marek Jagucki

Sample page from “The Election”

Here’s a spread from the book – the photo is a bit wonky because it’s standard children’s paperback size and that’s quite hard to hold and photograph! Very warm and detailed illustrations.

The book was officially launched on Monday 5 January and is available direct from Fisherton Press and also from Amazon and  Ellie Levenson’s local independent bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop. If you buy it for a child in your life, I’d love to hear what they make of it, and so would the nice people at Fishterton Press.

You can also read an interview with Ellie, the founder of Fishterton Press, as part of her on-going involvement in my Small Business Chat series over on my business blog.

Top books of 2014 (plus state of the TBR and 2015 reading plans)


Jan 2015 TBRA busy post this time, but we’ll get there. Thanks for bearing with my massive book review posting session this last few days as I read and read and read … although I think this post got missed by a few people in all the late-night confusion. Here to the left is the current state of my TBR – not too bad at all, given that 10 books joined it over the Christmas period! But, as I’ve said, I did a lot of reading over the Festive Season, in fact managing to finish 12 books in December, which is something of a record for this rather lacking reading year! Read on for my Top 10 reads of 2014 and reading plans for 2015 …

Top 10 books of 2014

First, some terrible statistics. I only read 104 books in 2014 (50 fiction and 54 non-fiction). Oddly, I read almost the same number of non-fiction books as last year; it’s fiction that was much lower. I was basically down over 40 books on last year. I don’t know why: I’ve been about as busy as ever with my business, didn’t think I’d been exercising more or doing more other things, but there we go. I’m going to try to devote more time to reading in 2015. I’ve only done a top 10 as that’s just under 10% of my books read, so here we go – some real crackers in here, I have to say. They’re in order of reading …

Winifred Holtby – “The Crowded Street” – read in a lovely Persephone edition, a Christmas 2013 present, this classic novel of the early stages of the modern women’s movement is an absorbing story as well as a novel of ideas.

E. Arnot Robertson – “Ordinary Families” – one of those eccentric families you find in Virago books, and full of sailing and birdwatching – a real joy to read.

George Eliot – “Adam Bede” – I continued my gentle meander through those of Eliot’s works that are NOT “Middlemarch” (I love “Middlemarch”, but it was the only Eliot I read for years and years, even though I read that particular one several times during those years and years) with this Hardyesque tale of village life: you can’t help but fall in love with Mr Bede.

Halldor Laxness – “Independent People” – a great slab of a book about the bitterness of life in Iceland before mod cons came to the island, but my goodness it was a good read and held my attention. It’s comparable to the great sagas in its language and themes, and it helped my understanding of the place when I got there.

Guy Deutscher – “Through the Language Glass” – an accessible and fascinating book looking at whether the language you grow up speaking influences your experience of the world, or vice versa.

Ruth Adam – “A Woman’s Place 1910-1975” – an excellent Persephone detailing in social history terms the experience of women through much of the 20th century, wearing its learning and research lightly and very readable.

Bob Harris – “The International Bank of Bob” – worthwhile but never worthy, the author starts off doing a few Kiva loans and ends up travelling the world meeting people he has helped to support – a brilliant read and a nice companion to my own (lower-key) Kiva lending activities.

Frances White – “Becoming Iris Murdoch” – a book about my favourite author, by someone I’m lucky enough to call a friend, and mentioning my own research in passing, so how could it not make the top 10 – plus it happens to be a moving, intelligent and highly readable account of a period in Murdoch’s life which has not been so well studied.

Michael Swan – “Learner English” – a book all about the effects that people’s native language have on their production of English – utterly fascinating, hugely detailed and highly useful for a large portion of my work. What’s not to like!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – “Americanah” – fabulous novel about the experience of a Nigerian woman in the US and back in Nigeria; this explains why I don’t do this top 10 post until 1 January every year, as I only finished reading it on Christmas Day!

Honourable mentions

These books were excellent and highly enjoyable reads that were just outside the Top 10 …

Edward Hancox – “Iceland Defrosted” – I read a few books about Iceland before our visit in June, fiction and non-fiction, but this one was by far the most helpful and inspiring, explaining the nation and its people and sharing the author’s love for the place. Recommended reading for anyone planning to visit Iceland.

Katharine d’Souza – “Deeds not Words” – a book set in “a” Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and other familiar locations, with a great story and satisfying characters.

Charlie Hill – “The Space Between Us” – and I have to make space to mention a book set in the Moseley of my own student days, the first novel about road protestors, and a thumping good read (I have a review in my notebook but not on here – how?)

Reading plans for 2015

Jan 2015 coming upThese are the books that are coming up next on my TBR pile, and very good they look, too. I’m not doing my Month of Re-Reading until February this year, because coming after Christmas and in my Birthday Month, having a month where I don’t hook anything off the TBR shelf isn’t the best and most relaxing thing I can do.

Apart from reading books from the TBR, I am planning to do the following two reading challenges …

Re-read “The Forsyte Saga” – I’m doing this alongside Heaven-Ali and Kaggsysbookishramblings: we are going to read the three trilogies plus extras over the year. Watch out for linked reviews as we go.

Read some Trollope – this is my own adventure – I’ve never read any Anthony Trollope but I think I’d like him, so I’ve downloaded all of his Barsetshire and Palliser novels onto my Kindle and I’m going to read through them as it takes my fancy.

Continue Reading the Century – I announced my plan to do this “naturally” (i.e. not forcing it and not reading a book just because it fell under a particular year) this time last year, and I’m doing quite well with my list: I’ve now read books for 36 of the years, and I have another 13 coming up on my TBR (or in my Kindle) and will include one Galsworthy in the list. I have a massive gap around the 1950s and 60s – I’m sure I can fit in an Iris Murdoch, but I’d love recommendations for books from those years I might enjoy, as it’s an obvious gap!

So, there we go. Have you got any big reading plans (or small reading plans) for 2015? Did you read and enjoy any of my top 10? Happy New Year!