Recent reads

This is definitely not a comprehensive list of books I’ve read so far this year! I’ve been working on this for ages, and time keeps running away, so I thought I would just go ahead and post it even though it’s shorter than I’d like. These are the books that have drawn me in enough to have some serious thoughts about them – mostly positive, but occasionally just ones that just made me think in a more general sense & that I’d love to have a conversation about.

*Edit: after writing this, I realized how much I had to say about Kingsolver’s book. You might want to skip that bit if you’re not in the mood to read something slightly ranty…*

Long Way to A Small Angry Planet

Janet & Alex raved about his book on Twitter enough to draw me in. I love sci-fi, but feel like I don’t really read enough contemporary sci-fi books. The reviews I read before I got hold of Long Way to a Small Angry Planet from my library all suggested it was brilliant & original. And it was brilliant! It’s about an interspecies crew on a tunneling spaceship, punching its way through space to the most remote corners of the galaxy in order to facilitate a peace deal with a notoriously difficult planet. The book is all about the journey, and you get to see all sorts of different alien cultures that Chambers has invented, and some very detailed relationships between them. It was really fascinating. Chambers  explores some serious issues, yet manages to keep an overall light feel to the book, which is quite an accomplishment. Plus, I did cry a bit at the end, which is always a sign of quality. I gave this book 4 out 5 stars on Goodreads, purely because while I felt it was brilliant, for me it didn’t feel too original (particularly in terms of plot).

A Closed and Common Orbit

This is a follow-on book to Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It centers around one of the main characters and another character who made a brief appearance. I preferred A Closed and Common Orbit ever so slightly to the first book, purely because I felt the premise was more unique. It’s hard to write about this book without feeling like I’m including lots of spoilers, though! The basic idea is that an AI has to learn how to pass for a human, and the book is all about the AI as well as the history of her friend who’s helping her (who happens to be a genetically enhanced human. Again, Chambers has taken on some big issues here, and handles them beautifully.


I love Michael Chabon! He’s brilliant at mixing fiction and non-fiction in a way that makes you question what he’s telling you, while wanting to believe every bit of ti. Also, I am a sucker for books with footnotes. Moonglow tells the story of the narrator’s grandfather’s life as he is on his deathbed. It’s a grand adventure, as you’d expect from Chabon, involving military escapades, a Jewish grandmother with an unsurprisingly traumatic personal history (much of the book is set around WWII), and a lasting obsession with scale rocketry & Wernher Von Braun. It may not be my favorite of Chabon’s books, but it was certainly worth reading & I would definitely recommend it. I feel my description of this book are inadequate, but do go check out the New Yorker review or the LA Review of Books review (FYI this one has lots of specific details about the book, so only read it if that doesn’t bother you.)

Feminism: A Very Short Introduction

I’m a newbie feminist. I think I only started identifying as a feminist about 5ish, maybe even less, years ago. I kept seeing my conservative friends from high school posting anti-feminist comments & posts on Facebook & got so annoyed that I decided actually I should start calling myself a feminist more often so they can get exposed to what feminism *actually* is, not what horrible pundits portray it as. But I’m naturally a softspoken person (i.e. I hate sharing my opinions), so it’s not something I spend a lot of time talking about. It’s fair to say I’m a bad feminist (and not in the Roxane Gay sense). However, it seems to be becoming increasingly important so I do want to learn more about it. A Very Short Introduction did what it said it would do, and I think overall it was okay. It was good that the author identified her focus on UK feminism at the beginning, though I feel she didn’t address contemporary British feminism at all. I’ll be looking for other introduction to feminism books; feel free to recommend one. I will say, though, that at this point I think I’d prefer a more academic text, rather than an individual’s book. I do want to read Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, etc, but for now I think I’m interested in reading about the context in which those kind of books were written. But perhaps that’s not so important? Again, very interested in your thoughts on this.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an account of Barbara Kingsolver’s year of producing her own food with her family. It was donated to R’s shop, and I bought it in their sale back in January. Self-sustainability is something I’ve been pondering for a while now, and I was interested in reading Suzi‘s thoughts on it the other week, too. As you know, I’ve also been growing some of my own food for a couple of years now, so it’s always interesting to read how others do it. Overall, though, I was a little disappointed with this book. It’s a topic that I’ve found nearly always ends up being an individual’s own personal polemic on how terrible modern society is and how we should all try to live rural lives. Now, I prefer a rural life, but frankly couldn’t be happier to be alive when I am. Of course we have problems, and of course I think they should be addressed, but I really don’t see how shutting ourselves away from modern life & its many benefits helps. Anyway, Kingsolver approaches her project from a mostly environmental perspective, which I appreciated, and I also like that she talked about the economics of growing your own food. She did get a little judgmental at times, though, which I didn’t like. I did like that her husband and daughter contributed to the book, and I particularly enjoyed her husband’s scientific essays that appeared throughout. I didn’t like that the one thing it didn’t seem to address from a balanced perspective is GM crops, mainly because I have my own personal views on that topic (i.e. my mum is part of a project working to identify and remove the gene that causes powderly mildew on wine grapes…) Anyway, between that and the occasional snobbery, and the lack of any practical advice on growing your own (I admit I secretly hoped this would talk about how to tackle pests organically, given its aims, and it didn’t! Sob.) I had quite conflicted feelings about this book. If you’d read it, I would really love to hear your thoughts on it.

Yarnalong: Audrey update

I’ve made a fair bit of progress on Audrey in Unst over the past couple of weeks. The front is done, and I’m now working on the back. Then it’ll just be the sleeves & button band to go. I’m loving that it’s all one piece, with no seams at all. I have to say, though, that I don’t think I like knitting bottom up. I miss being able to try it on as I go, and am worried the length won’t be right. I’ve done my best to try to make an educated guess, but there’s really no way to know.

As for reading, I am still reading Alice Munro’s short stories, but in the meantime I’ve also reread Fahrenheit 451. It has a timely message about the importance of freedom of speech, and Bradbury’s one of my favorite authors. I have to admit this isn’t my favorite of his books, though. Given that Bradbury was also a screenwriter, I was surprised to realize on rereading that this isn’t a particularly fast-paced book. Most of the characterization was really successful, but I never really bought into Beatty, one of the key characters. I also felt it leaned toward the didactic, with characters using lots of long speeches to convey the message of the book rather than showing me values via dialogue and plot. I’m just being picky, though. It’s certainly a classic worth reading if you haven’t yet.

I know I’m a bit late, but I’m linking up with Ginny’s Yarn Along. Pop along and see what others are reading & knitting. I’d love to hear what you’re working on, too.

5 happy things: a spring in my step

This is what my garden looks like at the moment. Yup, a mess. I was using the drill to put a hole in the bottom of the square pot. There are lots of positive things happening at the moment. Here are five of them.

    • It feels like spring! Not every day, but enough that I’m feeling like I’m getting a little more energy. This will be reflected in the rest of the post, I suspect. It is also wonderful to see flowers everywhere. Our daffodils still aren’t open, though, and I’m starting to get impatient!
    • My friend bought me these sheets a few months ago, but I haven’t gotten around to using them until now. They are amazing. As you can see, Pippa approves, too. The quality of fabric is pretty shocking, but I’m willing to forgive that. Can’t expect too much for £8 from Asda.

    • Speaking of which, my friends are incredible. I spent a lot of International Women’s Day thinking about the women who inspire me, and loads of them are people I know in person. I have male friends, too, but I have always had stronger friendships with women. I am so amazed by some of the friends I have – a poetry editor at a literary magazine, a library campaigner, a teacher trainee who’s using her time to teach refugees German (in Germany, so it is useful!), a mother of an autistic son who founded a non-profit to help him & others find employment in the tech industry, an artist who worked out a way to make music by painting, and countless friends who spend their time making and thinking about things that matter so that they (and in some cases their kids) can have joyful lives that will leave a positive impact.

    • We finally got frames for some art that we’ve had for ages. I’ve already put them up, though perhaps not in their permanent homes. One of the posters is from a concert we went to last year, and the other is from a poetry jam we helped organize back in 2009. The watercolor was done by R’s mother, who wouldn’t describe herself as an artist, but who I admire. This one was inspired by the following quote from Derek Tangye:

      There was space in the sky, and time was ours, and the air we breathed came to us from far away across the sea, and there were birds singing that we hadn’t noticed before.

    • There’s a new Fleet Foxes album coming out! It won’t be released until 16 June, but I’m already looking forward to it. I’ve been a big fan since their first album. They did a gig at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, and I can definitively say that it’s one of the best I’ve been to. It’s definitely the only gig where I actually felt like I was floating. I’m glad they’ve released the first single to tide me over:

What’s made you happy this week?

FO: Oven mitt


This project hails from my metaphorical (or maybe literal…) pile of unfinished projects. Specifically, this mitt was supposed to be a Christmas present for a friend in 2015. Oops. In my defence, that is the Christmas we moved house! Anyway, I finally managed to finish it & gave it to her last week. She loved it – as expected given how much she loves foxes.


Making oven mitts was pretty straightforward. I didn’t buy a pattern, but instead just traced my own double oven mitt. I have concerns about how heat-proof it is, given I just used polycotton quilt wadding, but I’ve asked her to let me know (I forgot to test them).

Overall, I was pretty happy with these. It was my first time using bias binding on a curve, and as you can see I had mixed levels of success with being even. I was pretty disappointed with it, but I did find sewing it so stressful that I just couldn’t go back and redo it. I was really pleased with my pattern matching, though, and with the binding on the pockets. Next time I’ll practice a bit more before I take on bias binding.






January sunshine in the 5 Valleys

This post is very overdue. These pictures are from when my mom visited back in January, right after my Oma’s burial. As always in January, the weather was quite variable so we stayed close to home. We visited Winchcombe, a lovely Cotswold village. Unfortunately it was cold and grey that day, and I didn’t get any good pictures.

When we visited Stroud and Painswick a few days later, though, the weather was glorious. I highly recommend a visit to the 5 Valleys if you’ve never been. The 5 Valleys are an area on the edge of the Cotswolds, and are one of my absolute favourite places in the world. I think you can see why from these pictures. Stroud is also a lovely town, well known for its farmers’ market. We bought some local seeds there – I’m going to be growing purple dwarf beans this year! Painswick is quite nearby, a tiny little quintessential Cotswold village which is home to a Rococo Garden. The snowdrops were just starting to peek out, so we visited there, too. On the way, we went past an inscription by Eric Gill, which I got very excited about! All in all, it was a wonderful day, and left me wanting to move to Stroud (which I think every time I visit, actually). I hope you’ll enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them.

View from the top of the Rococo Gardens.


Stroud Farmers’ Market.




An engraving by Eric Gill!




Rococo Garden.


Sadly, this tea room was closed. It has a great sign, though!








This was in the Patchwork Mouse, a sweet little cafe in Painswick. It was made by Laura Mirjami:




Just a heads-up, this post is about miscarriage. It’s not graphic, but may still be upsetting if it’s something that’s affected you.

Today should have been my due date. February has been a particularly hard month. On the 11th I visited a friend who happens to be pregnant, and we went to a sale of baby goods. She & her husband & toddler walked around while I drank tea and tried very hard not to cry when a woman with newborn twins sat down at my table. I’m working on finishing up a course that I thought I would be putting off for a year, as I had already started thinking about maternity leave (I’m not thrilled with one of my jobs right now, and was selfishly looking forward to it). On the first day, I spent the whole lunch break crying in the toilet. I have an acquaintance who is due to have a baby in 2 days. While I genuinely think I’ve dealt with the emotions of miscarriage well, clearly my skin is still thin and little things can rub it raw again. There have been lots of flashbacks this month: remembering when I told R by passing him a book of baby names; when I was in Brighton and fully embraced the pregnancy and made wishes for the baby on the beach; when I saw the first dark wet flush of blood; when I literally keeled over in the doctor’s office; when I was finally able to eat again after the vomiting when it finished and the horror of even thinking about cleaning the bathroom. Remembering walking around like a zombie, with no interest in eating or seeing anyone. But then, the last months have been okay. I don’t think about it every day. I have been busy and grateful for everything I’ve needed to do. I have come to terms with it and can talk about it without dissolving into tears. I think it’s as much as can be expected, really. Today, though, I am remembering, because it’s not something I really want to forget.

In honor of our loss, and the loss that others have experienced, we’ve made a donation to Tommy’s. Tommy’s is a charity that funds research into miscarriage and other pregnancy problems. They also run clinics to help women who are at high risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth. One of them is right next to one of my workplaces, so I guess it really hit home for me. I also found a great deal of comfort looking at their website after our miscarriage. It is sensitive, but fact-based, which is a rare find when you search for information about miscarriage.

You can donate to Tommy’s here if you feel so inclined.

My other posts about miscarriage are here.



Wednesday yarn along: casting on


It’s been a while since I posted for the yarn along, mainly because I haven’t been doing much knitting. Today I cast on for the Audrey in Unst cardigan in black. I have to wear black at work sometimes, and I’ve been wanting a nice cardigan to keep there in case I forget. Audrey in Unst is a simple but pretty pattern, and I don’t think it’ll take too long to make, provided I can tear myself away from books.

As for reading, I’m currently finishing up Michael Chabon’s latest, Moonglow. I must admit it’s not as great as some of his others, but I’ve still enjoyed reading it. Next on my list is The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell. Woodrell is one of the few authors I know of who sets his writing in the Ozarks (near where I grew up), so I do have a real soft spot for him. The Maid’s Version promises to be a small-town drama with complex characters.

Linking up with Ginny’s Yarn Along.