Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category

archies mirror

I was lying next to my son and we were staring up at the ceiling in his bedroom.  The cracks, shadows and peeling paint seemed to form land masses, islands and oceans; an entire world was taking shape above our heads.

“That’s a sea,” I said. “But it isn’t an ordinary sea, it’s a solid sea; a sea made of rocks and frozen waves. How about over there?”

“That’s a forest,” he replied.

“Oh yes. Is there anything strange about it?”

“It’s made of smoke instead of trees and giant scary spiders live there.”

“I like it…”

And that’s how the creation of the Land Beyond began, and from that came the inspiration for my book, Archie’s Mirror.  By the time we’d finished our exercise in ceiling cartography, we’d also established that there was a desert of blue moon sand where it’s permanently night, a town that looked as though it had been stitched together like a patchwork quilt and a palace hidden within a range of mountains carved from ice, inside which was a terrible secret.  This conversation between the two of us is replicated as a descriptive passage in the finished story and provides the reader with their first glimpse of the Land Beyond.

With the world taking shape I had to think about how I wanted to populate it.  Even though it contains the fantasy staples of sorceresses, giants, monsters and knights, I wanted to put a particular spin on them to keep the reader guessing.  And so the sorceress becomes an eccentric borderline bag lady (and part-time baker) whose particular wisdom has to be picked out of the erratic stream of consciousness that falls from her lips.  Similarly the giant is a golf-playing former thespian who you could describe as being closer to Richard Harris than Hagrid.  There there’s Palindrome the monkey with two faces, a cloud cuckoo who has a small, bad-tempered, but essential role to play (if you ever needed to build a cloud, who else would you look to?) and the Moon Wolves; real party animals, named after beatnik writers – people have since asked me, why beatnik wolves?  To which I always reply, wolves are cool, beatniks were cool so why not? It makes perfect sense to me.

So, in creating what I hope is a believably fantastical world and populating it with what I hope are believably fantastical characters, I had the landscape in place against which I could set Archie and his dog Max and their search for Archie’s missing father, the mysterious stage magician, Grimoire.  Archie’s Mirror has been written for both young and old to enjoy.  It’s a story with layers, some of which are peeled away by the end of this particular story, while others remain firmly in place to reveal their secrets in the second and third volumes of the trilogy.

As a first-time writer I’m really interested in getting feedback from readers who have explored the Land Beyond with Archie and Max, so do get in touch. In the words of the Sorceress: “This world fits together and works differently to the one you’re used to. Although, I suppose there are pockets of activity. Strange and unusual and a whole lot of…fun. I suppose those could be considered magic, if you wanted to consider them so.”

This blog post was written by Geoff Turner, author of Archie’s Mirror.  Geoff can also be found on Twitter (@geofftee), and The Land Beyond trilogy has a Facebook page here.

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It’s been a while since I last reviewed a book, and although I usually stick to reviews of craft books I’m breaking with tradition to help promote my brother-in-sin’s* latest offering.

Archie’s Mirror is Geoff Turner’s first foray into writing children’s literature, and it’s really rather good (for non-Brits, this translates as “excellent”).

Of course you may well be reading this and thinking “Well of course she’s giving it a good review, it was written by someone in her family.”

That’s not the case at all.  Although I tweeted briefly about it the day the book was published on Amazon, I refused to blog about it until I’d actually read it – and I certainly wouldn’t recommend something unless I truly liked it!  Family and friends of the author were promoting Archie’s Mirror all over Twitter and Facebook immediately after it was published, but I preferred to wait and see what it was like because I think I owe it to my blog followers to give an informed opinion.  So here it is, the review I submitted to Amazon.co.uk:

As an adult who still loves children’s literature this book was a joy to read. Imaginative and engaging, it ticks all the right boxes to capture the imagination of both children and adults alike. Children will enjoy the story for its own sake, and adults will too – with the added bonus of things like the beatnik wolves, a nice nod to more mature popular culture which might pass over the heads of younger children. The basic concept of the book bears a strong parallel to the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, but with a slightly darker feel (and without being weighed down by religious metaphors!) – if I had to describe this book in one sentence I’d say it was Narnia for the modern generation. Given how much I’ve always adored the work of C.S. Lewis this is high praise indeed.

The story develops well and at a good pace, so it’s easy to get engrossed. I’m looking forward to the second book already!

I genuinely enjoyed Archie’s Mirror, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who has children, or who likes a bit of children’s fiction themselves.  The book costs 97p on amazon.co.uk ($1.57 from amazon.com) and at that price it’s an absolute steal – so please do buy it, and having bought it please read it, and then review it yourself (it’s no good selling lots of copies if there are no reviews to encourage future customers!).  Unfortunately the book isn’t currently available in other e-reader formats, but if you keep an eye on the Facebook page you’ll get a heads up as soon as it is.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this review, and that I’ve tempted you sufficiently to go and buy a copy of the book yourself.  Geoff has been kind enough to write a little blog piece about Archie’s Mirror, and how he came to write it, which will be published on this blog next Saturday – so please pop back to read it!



*Geoff would be my brother-in-law if it weren’t for the fact that I refuse to marry his brother – why bother after over a decade?

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Way back in February I gave in to temptation and bought a book on a bit of a whim.  Dottie Angel is the alter-ego of artist/designer Tif Fussell…

dottie angel lives in a run down cottage over looking the sea. she has two airstream trailers in the yard, one is her studio and the other stores her vast collection of vintage notions… her eight children are home schooled and spend the day outside running barefoot and their evenings sitting by the fireplace, learning ancient crafting techniques. they never talk back to their mother and always smile… she has several chickens, seven rescued greyhounds and a bearded dragon named STIG… dottie spends most days dressed in an old vintage slip that belonged to her grandmother, that she customized. she thinks to herself, surely everyone dreams of living this life, or at least dressing like they do…

Now, I’m going to be a bit lazy here and quote the blurb which UPPERCASE (the publishers) have written about this book:

The Suitcase Series presents in glorious detail the lives of artists and designers. The books are image-based, full of artwork, beautiful photographs and artifacts from where the artists live and work. The books are small and intimate, like a diary or sketchbook with each including a special treasures. The book is a precious souvenir of a creative journey shared between the reader and the artist.

Dottie Angel is actually the second book in The Suitcase Series, and I’ve just bought the first one on the strength of this one, so look out for a review of that in due course!

So, what did I make of Dottie Angel?  The book is beautifully designed, chock full of photographs which help immerse you in the colourful and sometimes chaotic world of Tif Fussell.  The text takes you through the life of the artist and is interspersed with half a dozen or so how-to sections for little projects including crocheted jar covers and embroidered wall hangings.  The instructions are pretty basic, but in fairness so are the projects.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes and no: it’s a pretty, quirky glimpse into another person’s world.  Tif takes us on a journey through her life and whilst this isn’t a book designed to teach, I think that her frank honesty about her thoughts and work are quite inspiring.  She does the things she loves, she lives the life she crafts, and her passion is plain to see.  The only hesitation I have in recommending this book is the price… the book costs $35 (approx £23), and the shipping is $17 (£11), and $52, or £34, is an awful lot of money to spend on one book.  I’m sure I’ll dip into this book every now and then because the imagery is so pretty and I think it’s a good way to cheer up a rainy day (and boy aren’t we having a lot of those this summer?!), but as with any book which is mainly autobiographical in content I think people would be unlikely to read it from cover-to-cover more than once.

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This book popped up on Amazon as a recommendation after I’d been browsing some other art books.  I was intrigued and added it to my wishlist with the intention of going back in a few days and buying it… in the end it was a week before I went back to my wishlist, and to my astonishment the book was no longer available through Amazon, and secondhand copies in the marketplace were going for upwards of £50.  I hunted around online and it wasn’t in stock anywhere, what on earth was going on?  The book was first published in February, how could it possibly be out of print already?

I was intrigued because the book looked interesting, and I hadn’t found a single bad review of it, so I asked to be notified when it was available through Amazon again and eventually, at the beginning of June (a good two months after I’d first seen it on Amazon), I received an e-mail telling me it was in stock.  I didn’t dither, I went straight to the site and bought it.

It took just two days shy of a month to arrive, turning up the day before I was due to go on holiday, and to my woe it was too big and heavy to even consider taking with me.  I was more than a bit frustrated and wondered if this book was going to be worth all the effort of hunting it down.

The short answer is YES.

Looking through sketches done by other artists is like crack for me.  I love to see the different styles people have, the materials they use, and to immerse myself in their view of the world.  Being a city girl born and raised I especially love sketches of urban settings, so this book really is perfect for me.

If you’re looking for a ‘how to’ book then you should probably stop reading this review and find something else, because The Art of Urban Sketching is certainly not going to teach you how to draw.  It does have a little section entitled tools for your portable studio, but that’s just a rough guide and just shows you some examples of what various artists have in their sketch kit.  It’s always interesting to see what other people choose to use, but the lesson here is that every artist is different, and you should develop your own distinct style both in terms of your work and the tools you use to create it.

The layout of the book is good, and I like the style of it: the contents pages are quirky and although that may seem like a small detail I felt it set a good feeling for the rest of the book.

The book “transports you to more than 50 cities, from Seattle to Sydney, spanning every continent and 30 countries” and it really is a wonderful journey (although I’m suprised and disappointed that Prague isn’t in there!).  The sheer variety of styles is both breathtaking and inspiring, and although this is not a how-to type book the artists do provide little tips and insights into the way they draw.

About three quarters of the book is devoted to the journey from country to country, but the last part is full of suggested themes to help inspire you, including skylines, construction sites and seasons of the year.

Each theme is illustrated by the work of different artists and show how a different theme can be given a different feel depending on the style.

This is a cracking book and if you share my fascination with sketchbooks then you must get a copy.  I couldn’t put it down once I’d started it and I’m sure I’ll be dipping in and out of it for years to come.

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I have to ‘fess up and say that this book wasn’t actually at the top of my to-read pile, but the lovely Sally from Sow & Sew sent it to me as a birthday present and I couldn’t resist abandoning my current book for this one.

The Repurposed Library drew me in instantly as it is just up my street.  Projects that make use of books, what’s not to love?  The introduction was interesting as the author is definitely a kindred spirit and so much of what she wrote rang very true.  I particularly liked this

…repurposing a book is simply a different way of experiencing it and embracing its beauty.

It’s not uncommon for people to ask me how I can bear to cut up books (especially as I am an ardent lover of books, and won’t even crack the spines when I’m reading paperbacks), and although I often struggle to answer them coherently the quote above says it all.

Onto the main body of the book and the projects are varied and interesting.  Books like this are a great source of inspiration even if I never attempt the projects as-written.  The journal pictured above is a good example: I like the idea,  it’s simple and I think it would be attractive to customers as they can add their own pages… but the project instructions tell you to put all your pages in between the covers and then drill your holes through the whole lot.  I can see where this might be a time-saving exercise, but while using a regular hole punch to do batches of pages instead takes longer it’s just as easy (and safer for people who perhaps don’t often use a drill), and it also means that the holes are a standard distance apart – making it easier to add more pages in the future.

This idea for a quilted wall hanging is also a lovely one, but if I were to make one (which I’m sure I will at some point!) I’d stitch the pages onto fabric for added durability, whereas the instructions tell you to just stitch the pages to each other.  Hmm.

The book is really gorgeous, and full to the brim with interesting projects.  My particular favourites were the Hanging Mirror (above), the Book Ledge and the Best-Seller Bookshelf (below)…

…I think these will definitely be part of my redecorating future if/when we convert our loft.

Overall I’d recommend this book.  It’s packed full of projects which range from the very simple (requiring nothing more than a craft knife and some glue) to the more complex (needing specialist equipment such as a band saw).  The photography is beautiful, and the project instructions are pretty straightforward to follow; it also gives you good basic advice on repairing damaged book (and demystifies some of the terminology you might hear such as signatures and gutters).  My only criticism would be that the instructions use hand-drawn diagrams rather than photographs and not everyone will find these easy to relate to, using photographs would make the tutorials clearer for beginners.  That is a minor criticism though as the written instructions are very comprehensive and if you’re paying attention those should be all you need.

I’ll end this review with a photo of the project I’ll be trying out first from this book.  The Lettered Wreath is the perfect way to use up the plethora of random book pages I’ve got littering my studio…

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Everything Alice, by Hannah Read-Baldrey and Christine Leech.

I added this book to my Amazon wishlist after stumbling across it one day (and no, I can’t remember what I was looking for originally!), and was delighted to receive it as a Yule gift from my sister-in-sin.

The book starts off well, with a couple of lists of things which you’ll find useful.  Experienced crafters (and those who cook) will have these things anyway but everyone likes a good list, don’t they?

There’s a good range of projects, from simple sewing projects like the little lavender stuffed dormice pictured above to more complex things like the white rabbit pictured below.

I’m particularly tempted to make these gorgeous envelope cushions…

It’s not just sewing either.  There are papercraft projects too, including Mad Hatter cupcake boxes and this pretty tea time themed stationery

There are also edible treats in this book, cakes, confits, cookies and cordials…

… and if you want to make these beautiful cookies, don’t worry because there’s also a tutorial on how to make your own cookie cutters out of aluminium takeaway containers.  Brilliant!

As well as being packed to the brim with tutorials this book is also packed with gorgeous photography and imaginative illustrations.

I’d definitely recommend this book, even to those who aren’t especial fans of Alice in Wonderland.  It’s a great read, there’s lots of inspiration to be had and, unlike some, the writers don’t assume that you have access to unlimited funds and supplies.  Many of the projects are ideal for beginners, but the range of projects means that those who like to challenge themselves won’t be disappointed as there are more complex patterns to follow too.  There’s fun to be had with paint, glue, paper, fabric, beads and food – and the whimsical themes will appeal to children of all ages.

I’ve already tried my hand at one project (the Red King Slippers) and will no doubt be dipping back into this book very soon.

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I’ve recently acquired a whole heap of craft related books so I thought I might as well review them as I went along.  First up is Tips for Vintage Style by Cath Kidston.

This is a small book and the introduction tells us that it’s simply a very condensed version of her previous book Vintage Style.  This made me wary from the start – if she’d already written a book containing the same material then what, precisely, was the point of this one?

I ploughed on though and got through the book very quickly (really, half an hour of browsing at most).  To say it was disappointing would be quite an understatement.

There are a few, very brief, ‘tutorials’ (and I use the term very loosely) such as this


Quite a lot of her tips aren’t really tips unless you happen to live in a house like, say, hers.  Take this bit from the bathroom section for instance:

An original fireplace in the bathroom can make a lovely focal point.  Not only can you relax in the bath but you – and other people – can also take time out in armchairs cosily positioned on each side of the fire.  Try covering bathroom chairs with towelling fabric – it’s practical and turns the chair into a great place for hair drying and relaxing.

If your bathroom is spacious enough, include a wardrobe, which is always useful for storing bulky towels.

An even better addition, if there’s space, is a freestanding coat stand, for hanging up dressing gowns and towels.

I’d like to live in Cath Kidston’s world, it’s clearly far different from the real world where it’s generally a luxury if you’ve got room for a heated towel rail, never mind a fireplace.

Most of the book is in a similar vein.  Either suggesting impractical things like fireplaces in bathrooms (which is not a tip by any stretch of the imagination), or stating the blindingly obvious like “…a window seat can be a great addition to any room” – well yes, but you’ve either got bay windows (and thus the room for a window seat) or you haven’t, it’s not as though you can pop one in as an afterthought to brighten up a room.  She doesn’t provide any tips on how to downscale ideas for smaller rooms/properties, which is a bit of a flaw unless you happen to live in a spacious, airy, period house…

This book is really neither one thing or the other.  It’s not got enough information in it to be a helpful craft book, and although it does contain some lovely photographs of rooms and accoutrements they’re not large enough to be enjoyed fully as simple lifestyle/homeware porn.  I like perusing magazines like Country Home and others of that ilk, just to pore over the pretty photographs – and there are books out there which have a similar feel.  Big, coffee table style books full to the brim of large photos that you can daydream over while enjoying a cuppa.  This book is tiny (not much bigger than a postcard), and therefore the photographs are quite small and don’t have the same effect they probably had in the original book.

So, if you’ve come across this review whilst wondering whether to buy the book, take my advice and don’t bother.  It’s alright, and if you spot a copy at a car boot sale or in a charity shop then it’s worth a quid, but don’t pay full price for it.  I’m now curious about the book this was condensed from and may try and find a copy of that to read as it can only be an improvement!

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