Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Amigurumi Bigfoot Elephant

I love elephants, in case it wasn't obvious by the title of my blog, so it was clear that when I discovered Amigurumi ("the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures" - Wikipedia) the first project I would attempt had to be an elephant!

And here he is:

I think he turned out quite well considering I had to teach myself how to crochet as I went along.  He's kinda cute though isn't he?!

When I decided to take up this new hobby I scoured the internet and luckily came across this fabulous website Amigurumi To Go! where I found the pattern for this little guy.  Sharon has lots of other similar patterns available on the website which I will eventually be trying my hand at.

As I mentioned I had to teach myself how to crochet and Sharon also has a really good video tutorial on how to start off your Amigurumi with a Magic Circle which was explained really well and helped hugely when I was starting and I'm glad to say that I have used this technique on other projects since.

Before Assembly:

And here he is posing some more:

Many thanks have to go to Sharon Ojala and all the other bloggers out there who take the time to share their patterns online and make then available free of charge.  It gave me the opportunity to learn a new hobby which I am really enjoying and hopefully I'll one day be able to create some patterns of my own....although I think I'm a fair bit away from that yet!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Review: Shatter by Michael Robotham

Professor Joseph O'Loughlin is currently teaching Psychology in a University while battling quietly with Parkinson's disease. He is quickly brought back into the action when he is called to try to help talk down a jumper on Clifton suspension bridge. The woman is naked and appears to be talking on a mobile phone. Unfortunately he cannot save her and she jumps. 

Shortly afterwards, he receives a visit from her daughter, who claims that her mother would never have commited suicide and that somebody must have made her do it. And so the investigation begins as Joe tries to use his skills at reading people to find out what is going on. As more suicides take place the plot thickens. 

I really enjoyed this book, slight variation on the normal crime thriller and the protagonist is excellently written and is a very likeable character. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mount TBR Challenge

So I might have mentioned that I love books, so much so that I have a teeny weeny addiction to buying them.  Around about this time last year I realised that I had 130 books on my shelf.....that I hadn't read yet!  And so, I decided to set myself a challenge for this year, I would not buy or borrow any books and would only read the books which are on my unread shelf.  The only exception to this rule is any Book Club books but my choices for the book club must be from my own shelves.

It's been tough and approaching the end of the year, I'm nowhere near as far through these 130 books as I had hoped but it's still going strong.  If you fancy having a look to see how I'm getting on, you can follow my progress on Leeds Book Club for reviews and scores.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We need to talk about Kevin was another book club choice...not mine I hasten to add, but having heard recommendations from others, I was looking forward to reading it. Oh how my mind was soon changed. 

I have avoided reviewing this book for a while now, because I'm very conflicted about it. In some ways, it is an excellent book and I would urge others to read it, however it then comes to mind how I practically threw the book at the person who loaned it to me the very next day after I finished it, and shouted at them for making me read it. I soon calmed down.

Here's some arguements for and against We Need to talk about Kevin.

Lets start with for shall we?
Once you get past the very slow paced start of the book where Eva rambles on about her heritage,her courtship with her husband Franklin and her carefree existence travelling the world, it picks up pace hugely and is quite un-put-downable.It is completely a book which sucks you in, and despite the fact that I really didn't like it (see below), I couldn't stop reading it. 

Yeah that's pretty much it for the for arguement, lets move on to against.
The main reason I suppose I disliked this book is that the story is so shocking. Well it was to me anyway. Something I've discovered while discussing the book with others is that this is very much a matter of individual perception. For me, the thought of having a child is a little bit scary, and the book really played on this for me. Eva decides to have a baby because her husband Franklin wants one, and she thinks that she should, not because she particularly wants to. We find out early on that Kevin has participated in a school shooting, and the premise of the book is the debate on nature vs nurture I suppose you could call it. Has Kevin committed this atrocious act because Eva never really wanted him in the first place or are there arguments put forth in the book to show that Kevin is inherently "evil" and nothing she could have done would have prevented his crime?

The book chronicles Kevin's life, and as I mentioned, life before Kevin, in a series of letters from Eva to Franklin and in my opinion there is no doubt that there was something wrong with Kevin from early on in his life. Others however say that the stories Eva tells throughout the book are nothing but exaggerations of actual events and that she had decided that she didn't love him, when he was born and needed a good reason for this, (not accepting post-natal depression?). 

I was quite horrified throughout the novel with the different events and with Kevin's character, and this is mainly why I needed to get the book off my hands as soon as possible. It haunted me, Kevin haunted me, even little baby Kevin appeared in my dreams while reading this book. It is not something I would put myself through again....

However, at book club, we spoke about this book for no less than 4 hours, non-stop. 
That's the most we've ever talked about a book for. So is that a good sign? I would be disinclined to recommend this book to an individual, but for a book club, maybe. Everybody's opinion on this book is very different, and it stirs up great conversations. When I finished it, I needed to talk about it, perhaps because I was traumatised, or perhaps because it's just one of those books. 

So to conclude, I definitely didn't like it, in fact I hated it, but for it to stir up such a reaction as all of this, maybe it's worth a read.

 Score: 1/5

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My Knitted Patchwork Style Throw

Up until now, I haven't really been talking much about my craft section, however I have secretly been working on a few projects which I will share with you.

The first one I want to show you is my Knitted Patchwork Style Throw.  I have been working on this on and off for years now, I would knit tirelessly for a couple of weeks then leave it to one side and not pick it up again for maybe months.  However about 6 months ago, I decided with only a few squares left to do on it that I was going to finish it once and for all, and it's something I'm actually really really proud of.

The pattern was taken from a knitting magazine which I started collecting.  Included in each issue was a pattern for each square and a ball of wool.   Given that there are 90 squares in total, you imagine this took a long time to collect.

But finally I did get them all and here is the finished product.  I would say that I started this originally at least 5 years ago, but each square probably took between 2 and 4 hours to knit depending on the difficulty level and also any extra embroidery or embellishment which had to be added.

The most daunting part of the task was actually putting all my squares together.  Remember I had 90 of them to sew and I'm not too confident with my sewing skills so this particular operation was put off for quite a while.  Once I had the squares sewn together, the next step was to add a crochet edging to it, you can't really see from the photos but there are 2 rows of edging, a bluey grey and then maroon on the very outside.

I'm not too sure what to do with this now that it's done,  it's actually very very heavy and even when I was working on the edging and had it spread over my lap, I was absolutely boiling underneath it!  For not it will probably stay on the bed in the spare room, where I can show off my handiwork. :)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

There seems to be a huge influx of dystopian novels on the market again. I recently read an article which claimed that the number of books in this genre rises and falls in relation to the political or economical situation in the real world. Perhaps people are looking for reassurance that things could in fact be worse, and what better place to get it than a dystopian novel?
I personally love a good dystopia, hmmm seems a bit of a contradiction there, but it's true. I'm a big fan of 1984, Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange (the classics) however Margaret Atwood is definitely getting closer to the top of the list.

This is the second of her novels I have read, and this one far surpasses the previous one.

As with any good dystopia, it is written in a sort of way which presumes that the reader knows what this world is like, and has experience of it, so you have to learn slowly about this horrible new place as you read and gleam small pieces of information dropped casually into conversation. The narrators are writing, not to readers in the past or in a different dimension, they are writing to their peers, and the commonality amongst them all is that the point of view we see is contradictory to the expected or perhaps even legal one of their world.

From what we know of the world in The Handmaid's Tale, something (an unknown something) has happened which has caused a large percentage of the population to become sterile. Because of this, young and fertile women are given the position of Handmaid's. These handmaids are then selected to serve rich or powerful couples, such as members of government whose wives cannot bear children. The thing I particularly like about this part of the novel is the incongruity in what exactly this means. In one way, a Handmaid is a servant, however in another way they are looked upon with awe and respect by many. Within the families where they are employed however, many of the wives feel threatened by these women brought in to do something where they have failed. It's a mixture of reverence and revulsion that they experience in their daily lives. 

At the back of it all however, they are nothing more than slaves, whose only purpose is to bear children. If they cannot do this after 3 attempts, they are banished and declared an unwoman. Sex becomes a ritual almost religious ceremony where husband, wife and handmaid all take part. But women have no rights, and no power in this world. Both the handmaids and the wives partake in this almost primitive lifestyle, with no hope of escape. Once again, failure to conceive is blamed on the woman, the chance that the man may be the sterile one is never really considered and I'm sure would be considered blasphemy. 

The further you read in this novel, the more familiar I think it sounds. That's the disturbing part of dystopias for me, the knowledge that something like this isn't as alien as it appears at first. This world was created by a military dictatorship who froze women's assets and made them completely dependent on their husbands and partners. It could happen, in fact, it is almost a return to earlier times.

Either way, I absolutely loved reading this book, I was completely hooked and it just got better as I read on.

Score: 5/5 - Amazing Read

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Butterfly Cakes

Started craving these cakes one day, and had to ring my mum and describe them to her to find out the actual name for them.  I remember these from when I was younger, they were the staple snack at all my friend's birthday parties and they are yummy!  So when she finally understood what I was talking about... (my description went something like "you know those cakes with the cream and the top of the cake is cut off and stuck on top....") I went looking for the recipe, found a really easy one at BBC Good Food to which I added my own small touches.  Also had a fabulous 6 year old helper with me making these, hence the pink icing and the sprinkles!

Recipe: (Makes 14)

113g butter (softened)
113g castor sugar
113g self raising flour
2 medium free range eggs (again, I only had small ones so threw in 3)
1 tsp vanilla essence

Butter Cream Icing:
56g butter (softened)
113g sieved icing sugar
1 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp vanilla essence
Few drops of red food colouring
Lots and lots of sprinkles

1) Preheat oven to 190° C
2) Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy and pale
3) Beat eggs and add them bit by bit with spoons of sifted flour to ensure mix doesn't curdle
4) Gently fold in any flour left over when egg is used up and add Vanilla essence
5) Half fill paper cases with mixture and bake for 15 mins until risen
6)When cakes are cool, carefully cut a slice from the top of cake and cut this in half
7) Spread the butter cream icing on top of the cake, cover with sprinkles and stick the 2 halves of the top of the cake back on to resemble wings!

They were absolutely gorgeous for a first attempt, only thing I forgot to do was sprinkle some icing sugar over the top, but they worked without it too!