A Stitch in Time

This week, I have mostly been… well, I’m not really sure. I’ve not been doing much reading, I’ve done no writing, so I must have been working on Rivka’s Christmas surprise! And I have. I’m writing an update post for that soon, scheduled for after Christmas Day.

VERY EXCITING THOUGH: Katie Cross has sent me a copy of The High Priest’s Daughter and I am clearing the decks for that one. I will be tucked up early tonight so I can dive back into Antebellum and the crisis in the Central Network. I hope there are more dragons.

VERY EXCITING THING THE SECOND: A very clever chap I know has been giving me sneaky previews of his new book. E O Higgins is powering up his steam-word-processing-engine and bringing us a sequel to Conversations with Spirits (eventually).

Slow progress with all other book type things. Though I did catch a bit of Roald Dahl day last weekend. His books – particularly Matilda (guess why) and The Witches – were some of the most-read on my shelves. And as I got older, I graduated to the short story collections for more grown up readers. The macabre and twisted worlds he created, with their often grotesque inhabitants… well, there was no one like him. The Hitchhiker, Man from the South, Royal Jelly to name a few, freaked me out but kept me hooked to the very last sentence.

Rivka taught me dragonscale smocking the other week. It was a crazy Saturday smocking party in the Highlands! I think technically it’s a type of American smocking, but we know it mainly from the costume lady on Game of Thrones because she used it to make the textured scale effect on Daenerys’s blue dresses. But it looks really cool. It’s puffy, but you can iron it flat. Rivka has done more of it than me, but I might find a use for it…

So baaaasically I’ve been crafting and working. And not getting enough sleep. But I’m working on it. I have some holiday coming up in a few weeks that is going to be hectic (understatement) but productive. And then NaNoWriMo. Holy swearwords!

And now, back up to the attic…

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Project – drawstring bag

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For this project you will need:

  • sturdy cotton/twill fabric (I’m using denim)
  • a contrasting colour/fabric band for the top (printed cottons are jazzy!)
  • cord (fabric, ribbon, plasticised rope…)
  • embroidery thread
  • an iron, if you’re doing it properly
  • a big ol’ safety pin

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I’m making my whole bag from denim, and adding a contrasting band over the top, with top stitching, so that the whole bag is sturdy! I cut my main bag on the fold, to save sewing the bottom seam – a handy tip, because if you sew the seam, if anything pointy gets jogged about in there, it might start to snag the seam and make a hole, but hey, I’m making mine without a bottom seam! I sort of blagged how big I want it to be, so decide on size based on what you want it to carry. It might only need to be big enough for a book or two, or you might want it big enough for a chunky towel and swimming kit. Your choice, craft fans! **Just remember – you’ll lose a little on the measurements because of seams and the fold down at the top for the cord channel**

As I’m using a printed cotton for the top band, I need the pattern to be even as best I can. If you’ve got one with polka dots or tiny flowers or a stripe, it’s easier to get away with, but I think this lady will notice if I chop a fox’s head off! My contrast bands are two foxes deep each (metric) but it can be as narrow or wide as you want. Personalisation and choice, my friends. When the bands get sewn on, they’ll be sewn to what will be the top edge at both sides, so you’ll get a long rectangle with bands at each end (mirror image, so your animals are all the right way up!!) before you sew up the sides. Mine are two bands with a gap, but you can do one wide one, or a narrow one at the bottom: Up. To. You.

It is at this point that we must repair to the ironing station. Proper sewing people will tell you that you need to press a lot of things when sewing, and hand on heart I don’t always bother. But for this, if you want your contrast band to have a nice crisp edge (and this will also help your top stitching) you should really press your edge under. So steam up those craft rooms! Fold the top and bottom edge of the contrast under until it’s as narrow as you want it to be, and press those folds so you get a sharp line. It’ll then stay tucked under, making the pinning a lot easier. Dual purpose ironing!

OK, now the work begins. Luckily this stitching is all in straight lines! Easy peasy.

**Before you do anything else, you need to know how fat your cord is going to be. If you are using ready-made cord, or ribbon, great. Grab it. If you’re going to make cord by plaiting things, or rouleau tubes, you need to do this now, so you can work out how big the cord channel needs to be at the top.**

I’m using a synthetic cord rope stuff they sell at Hobbycraft in the ribbons and rickrack section. It’s not very fat, so I don’t need a huge turn down at the top. Right. So. Measure from the top edges of your backing fabric twice the width and a bit of your cord channel. That’s where the top of the contrast band will sit, so it’s neat along the bottom of the cord channel. Neatness is key in this project I’m afraid.

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Remember how we pressed the contrast bands? Those creases should have held nicely. We’re going to top stitch now, so the band needs pinning to the right side (the visible-when-finished side) of the bag. The top edge needs to sit juuuuust under where the cord channel seam will be, so you won’t accidentally sew over the cord channel and make it too narrow. Pin those bands, and neatly, gently, lovingly top stitch. I’m using a matching thread (the top machine thread is visible, and the bottom thread is on the inside) but you can contrast if you like. Hopefully, she says confidently, when this big long rectangle is folded in half, the two sides will match up. If they don’t; make a cup of tea, and don’t stress about it. It can be fixed. It can be saved. It can be beautiful. **This is when I stitched the name on the front, when I could still get to the inside easily**

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If/when your two halves match, fold the rectangle right sides together so you can sew up the two sides. It is super important to make sure the two outsides are sandwiched together so that the seams are tucked inside the bag when you turn it the other way out. Pin the two sides together (making sure the band edges still match!) and sew up to just past the top of the contrast band. DON’T sew right up to the top and close off the holes you need for the cord. If you want to, when that’s done, and you’re breathing a sigh of relief, and also marvelling in your awesomeness, you can quickly stitch at right angles at the bottom of the cord channel just to fix the top of the seam.

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In order to make the edges nice and finished at the top, you need to turn in the sides at the top by a seam’s width (about 5/8 of an inch is standard) as far down as you measured, and machine stitch. This should naturally fold to follow the seam you’ve just done.

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This will stop the edge fraying and make it look like you made something competently. It’s all in the details. Then, turn the top edge down, right side facing out, so the tucked under bit is on the inside of the bag. It is now up to you which way round you stitch. I am going to stitch this so that the top thread on the machine is on the inside (so I’m sewing while looking at the fold) and the bottom machine thread will be visible from the outside. It’s up to you if you want hidden or contrasting thread. I’m choosing not to contrast thread. Pin and sew the two top edges and voilà, cord channel halves. This seam should run just above the top of your contrast bands, as you can see on the left below.

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We are so almost done! Now we need to thread the cord. I am choosing to attach my cord top and bottom, to make shoulder straps, but again, you can decide how you want your finished bag to look. Keep it hand-held if you want. If you’re going to attach the cord at the bottom as well, make sure you cut an eyelet big enough to get the cord through but not so big it can come back out. Because of the cord I’m using, I can pass it through, knot it, and then melt the ends with a match to stop it coming undone. So my eyelets need to be smaller than the knots. If you’re lucky enough to have a beefy eyelet punch, go with that. If not, you’ll need to buttonhole the edges with thread to stop them fraying and make it look neat. I hate that part.

Time for the threading and then we’re done, I promise. How many cups of tea have you had by now? I know this seems like a really long tutorial but you can zip through it, honest! You need to cut your cord in half, to make it “drawstring” properly. Take one half, put the safety pin on the end to help with feeding it through, and push it into the cord channel. Feed it through one side and come back the other. Pull it through until the ends are even. Now put the pin on the other half of the cord, and do the mirror image, so you have ends on each side. Put them through the holes at the bottom and secure with a knot or stitch. Ta-da! (or just knot the ends if you’re leaving it at that)

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I added one extra step: stitching on the name of the recipient with embroidery thread. This is optional. You could get applique letters, or free stitch initials, or whatever. I free-stitched the name cursive in the gap I put between the two bands.

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Now it’s really, really done. Enjoy your bags and salt the earth of your craft room, never to return! Until next time…

KEY POINTS:

  • MEASURE accurately or your sides won’t match
  • IRON those cotton bands!
  • FIRST top stitch
  • THEN side seams
  • NEXT top channel and threading
  • EYELET HOLE needs to stay SMALL
  • CINCH!

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Jogging my memory

Currently reading: C C Humphreys, Vlad

Hey you guys! I must be back at work full time because my online presence is virtually nil! The last few weeks I have mostly been planning and prepping for winter projects. And working. And, as a shock to me let alone anyone else, doing more exercise. All I need to do now is add blogging to the routine.

I’m still working through my TBR pile, and matching it to Book Bingo. So far I have crossed off two from the bingo board:

Author from another culture: Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune

Been on the to-read pile for more than 2 years: Stephen Hunt, Secrets of the Fire Sea

book bingo

Slowly getting through Vlad. It’s hard to place for me because the late fifteenth century in the Ottoman Empire region is not something I know much about. So I have no idea how well-researched it is. But it’s a very butch read at the moment. Teen bravado and mysticism and a bit of brooding.

Coming up next will be a project post for a little bag I made for my friend’s daughter for her gym kit. Hopefully I will explain it alright and the pictures will make sense!

I’m very aware that November is looming its ugly, cold, drizzly head. And with that comes NaNoWriMo. The annual scramble to remember our logins begins soon. Last year we came back to the news that our amazing ML had passed away, and it was a sad time to be a writer in Scotland Elsewhere region. But we pulled together a great little group for write-ins in Inverness and did her proud! Rivka and I met at a write-in, and kept in touch leading to us moving in together. Last year we met, amongst others, two lovely guys that we have also kept in touch with and now count as good friends.

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Writing, though it can be a very individual pursuit, is what has brought me into contact with so many lovely and talented people. Handily, we converse through words on the Internet a lot of the time, but our little local group also has dinners and coffee and games nights. Last time we met up, we played Exploding Kittens and Articulate and laughed until we hurt. So I hope we have a similar experience this year and find another couple of weirdos to add to our wordy family. Regardless of how many words we write (though I’m sure Rivka will zoom past 50k as she always does) we still win.

So that’s what I’m up to. Preparing to clear the decks for Katie Cross again – her next book, The High Priest’s Daughter, comes out in TEN FREAKIN’ DAYS on 15th September and she has once again kindly allowed me to have an ARC. I’m excited but with it being really tense now… ooooh. What next? How will it end?

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An end of trilogy coming up soon – Rivka has just about finished Coven so the end of the Last Ancient series is approaching… I think at the end of the month? Then she has A Kiss from the Grave on the cards for a spooky Hallowe’en release. It’s a horror story with possession and demons and apparently you won’t sleep with the lights off for a while. In case you missed it, here’s the book trailer. 100% real, no CGI effects!

Now onto the next job: putting the kettle on! Stay hip and happening, you crazy cats.

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Federal Bureau of Instigation

Currently reading: Stephen Hunt, Secrets of the Fire Sea

Feeling: Potent! (in the sense of “full of things that will burst forth with glorious purpose!”)

Whiiiiiich immediately makes me think of this

Whiiiiiich immediately makes me think of this

Hello, hello. Well, I’ve been on holiday, and I have *thunderclap* read a book that was not on my list. But I couldn’t help it, because I was at my parents’ house, and it was just lying there… and I was bored… it was The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie; a series of shorts – twelve in fact – about the famous moustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. AND I’M NOT SORRY. Also, bloody hell, the olden times were misogynistic!

I went out bureau hunting today. It wasn’t so much a hunt as going to a shop and saying “yes, we’ll have that bureau, please”, but hey. Let’s make it an adventure. It was not a bureau for me, dear reader, oh heavens no! I’ve had a bureau for a while now. It’s lovely and foldy and has cubbies. What sort of self-respecting writer doesn’t have a bureau? Tut tut. How could you doubt me? I love it almost as much as the cocktail cabinet of joy. I have a cocktail cabinet. FEAR ME.

Anyway… I helped my friend buy and transport the bureau in my lovely, battered old car. We also did some gardening. I can feel myself levelling up to a new and impressive state of middle-class-ness. Hurrah for furniture that needs a key, I say!

I’m sorry to say that over my holiday I did not manage to get the draft of Once Bitten re-edited. I did pretty well with it, but the middle third needs a bit (a lot) more punch. Looking at it objectively (ha!) I can see a few holes that need some narrative polyfilla to appeal to an audience that isn’t me, or in on the joke. So Broadening The Range is the new goal. I’m happier with it than I was. I feel like it’s improving with revision, so I’m going in the right direction. I’m transferring the draft to Novlr as I go along (with a back up, of course! Never again, NaNoWriMo 2012!) and enjoying that process. It’s a pretty simple interface at the moment, more or less WYSIWYG, but they’re adding new features and fixing bugs as they go, and it’s working for me.

I’ve got a little crafting to do over the next couple of days so perhaps I’ll photoblog the things. Perhaps. Gotta leave ‘em wanting more *nudge nudge*

Onwards and upwards!

velmakelly

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Personalised mugs

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A really simple project to do on a rainy day (or any time really!). It’s a bit of a cheat to describe this project because I didn’t design or invent anything. Basically, if you can write and you can wash dishes, you can do this craft.

You will need:

  • some smooth, plain ceramic items (mug, plate, tile, bowl)
  • ceramic and/or glass pens (all of the same fixing type see below)
  • your arm muscles
  • coffee or your beverage of choice
  • something cool to listen to while crafting
  • cotton buds (Q-tips)
  • scrap paper for blotting the pens
  • somewhere safe to store the pieces while they set properly

I am doing a really simple design on some mugs. I’m going on holiday next week with my old uni flatmates and since we all live far apart it’s hard to keep up with birthdays and Christmases. So I’m taking them a mug each with their name on it, and everyone else’s names on the back, to make a full set. I’m making one for me too!

FIRST – you need to wash the mug/plate/whatever and make sure it’s totally clean and dry. Try not to touch the area you want to paint with your fingers, because your fingerprints leave an oily residue. The glass pens I bought all say on the side that the surface you want to decorate must be dust and grease-free. There needs to be no barrier to the paint gripping to the ceramic.

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The pens I’m using are all designed to just air dry in three days. You can get ones that need oven-baking to fix. The place where I got my pens has them sorted by colour and nib size but not by type of fix, so I had to dig through to find the colours I wanted that were all the same type. I chose to use the ones that don’t need to go in the oven, just for convenience. The important thing is that your whole design is done in the same type of pen.

Now you’re set up with clean ceramics and shiny new glass/ceramic pens, it’s time to choose something to listen to and put the kettle on. Let’s do things in comfort and style, eh? I was drinking coffee and listening to The Infinite Monkey Cage podcasts, but whatever you want is fine. While that’s loading, brewing, etc, you will likely need to shake the pens to get the ink flowing. Sometimes this takes what feels like forever. No need to do weights on ceramic pen day! I had six to do so I was really flagging the end!

The only thing left to do is draw or write your design on the ceramic – being careful not to touch it unnecessarily! I was lucky because with the mugs, I could hold them by wedging my hand inside so I didn’t touch the outer surface. I started with doing block writing for each person’s mug. Everyone is getting a different colour (choosing who got which was the hardest part!) and on the back I wrote everyone else’s names in their colour. You’ll see in the photos.

NOTE: The pen will probably say this on the side in the instructions, but when you have shaken the pen to activate it, you need to take the cap off and blot the nib on paper first, to get the excess out of the way.

Some of the ink was runnier than others – the teal was quite metallic and thick, but the orange and green were more translucent and thin – so be patient and you can use cotton buds to clean your edges if you need to. If you’re super unhappy, you can always immediately wash off the whole lot and start again. I did that with the green, because the letters were too fuzzy the first time I did it. I found, because of the difference in ink, that I had to keep an eye on how they were drying, and keep turning them over to stop all the ink running to the bottom of the letters. I didn’t have any ink run outside the lines – it doesn’t go on that thick!

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After a few minutes, the ink will have set enough to leave and then mine took three days to be fixed for washing (or dishwasher). I had enough time to do mine in two stages, with three days between, because there was such a big area of paint on one side I didn’t want to smudge or accidentally smear on the table by trying to do the other side on the same day. So I did the first sides on Tuesday and then the second sides yesterday.

I did mine first, so I could test it was fixed! I re-washed the mugs to make sure that they hadn’t got dusty or greasy while drying (not that our house is a tip, mind!) and to make sure any fingerprints got cleaned off from me moving them about. Then I re-shook the pens, blotted them, and did the lines of text on the back. I did a couple at a time and waited for the runny inks to set a little before adding the next line, but I got all six sets of text done in 40 minutes, including washing.

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This is a great craft that is as complicated as you want to make it, and has a lot of possibilities. Personalised crockery is one, but why not potholder tiles; coasters; even a glass table top; champagne flutes etc. Just check your pens first to make sure they’re suited to the surface. And if I were you I’d stick to painting the outsides, just in case it starts to flake off in your food/drinks after repeated use and abuse. Even though they’re meant to be dishwasher safe, I’m going to recommend to my friends that they hand-wash the mugs at first, until they feel brave enough! I don’t have a dishwasher so it’s not an issue for me, but I’d be gutted if the ink flaked or ran because someone’s dishwasher was too brutal for it.

I still have enough time to add a little more to them if I want to, since I don’t need to wrap them for another week. I’ll see how I feel on Monday.

KEY NOTES:

  • WASH the ceramic first
  • follow the INSTRUCTIONS on the pens
  • DON’T TOUCH the ceramic as far as is possible
  • GET ARTY
  • make sure they DRY FOR THE FULL TIME NEEDED

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Review – Mildred’s Resistance

**DISCLAIMER** I was sent this book because I was super-excited about it on Twitter.

**DOUBLE DISCLAIMER** I just realised I can embed GIFs. I’m not sorry.

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Mildred’s Resistance is the prequel for Katie Cross’s YA Network series. The plot takes us back to the youth of the current High Priestess – Mildred – and explains how the actions of her generation have shaped and influenced the plots of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening. Most of the story takes place in and around Chatham Castle, the seat of power, and the people who work there. As it’s a prequel, if you’ve read Miss Mabel’s, you sort of know where it’s going. But just like when you see a documentary about events leading up to a war, or an assassination, it’s the journey and all those turning-point-moments that make it so interesting.

What I love about this story is the little touches that give depth to the characters: Evelyn is always in the middle of a drama, and serves herself the biggest slice of cake to compensate; Mildred crops her hair in order to feel like herself; half the cabinet are alcoholics… the little actions build into the big actions. The little check points along the way may leave you frustrated because it’s so clear how a character could have taken a different path but they sabotage themselves a lot.

Evelyn starts out a bit like Gwendoline Mary from the Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton. She is spoiled and treated well so she gets arrogant and obnoxious. But the tragedy of her childhood is a weakness that runs through her and drives her actions more than she thinks. Even when it’s on the surface, and she’s talking about her plans to “lead the poor” (i.e. oppress the poor), what it really comes down to is her abandonment issues. May (the grandmother of the Miss Mabel who runs the school in Bianca’s time) twists that fear for her own purposes, and gives her an outlet for it, but really, Evelyn is just a scared girl lashing out because she never grieved properly for her parents.

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Mildred has a similar start in life, but since her mother doesn’t know the High Priestess, she has to go and be poor somewhere else, with her brother. The differences in the way they grow up show all too clearly how divergent your path can get dependent on tiny choices and decisions, and your own personality and drive. Mildred finds magic difficult. She has to study harder and work longer than Evelyn and Stella, and even then it’s hit or miss. But she keeps going. She doesn’t blame external sources for her problems. Isadora, the Watcher who interviews the girls for what school they’ll go to, rejects Mildred from May’s school and sends her to another. She is separated from Stella and Evelyn who both go to May. And you’ll see how that turns out. Evelyn, the other hand, takes all obstacles as personal insults, or deliberate actions against her (egged on by May). Anyone who tries to check her is obviously jealous.

There are a few “aha!” moments for people who have read the other books in the series, as you realise who people are (including one near the end!!!) but you wouldn’t suffer if you hadn’t read them. This is an excellent prequel that you could read before you start the main series without anything being spoiled, or later to fill in the background to the world. What I like about the world in general is that people have ordinary names. There’s a tendency in fantasy – even fantasy with mainly human characters – for names to go down the extreme-sports thunder spectrum. I like that in the Network, ordinary people with ordinary names are the people who are doing the things. Some of the names are old-fashioned, but they’re not elfy-magic names. I’m sure you know what I mean.

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What I appreciate about all the Network books is that most of the characters are female. They still cover the range of motivation and emotion and personality that a typical male-driven fantasy would do, but wouldn’t you know it, the women still manage to carry the story! The male characters are important, and they are still fleshed out, but it is all about the building tension between Mildred and Evelyn. Neither of them shy away from a fight, or from doing the dirty work, but Cross also allows them to be vulnerable without losing integrity. The mainly female cast almost slips by unnoticed, until you think about it, because all the characters are people not just fantasy stereotypes. This would be excellent for any book, but I think for a YA book it’s important. While that might not be the point, and of course you have to write the story, it’s always great that as a by-product you get kickass ladies leading the way.

I very much enjoyed this book and am now even more excited about the next – The High Priest’s Daughter – which hopefully won’t be too far away either!

Mildred’s Resistance is released on 15th July! That’s next week!

More information can be found on Katie’s website, and you can find her on Twitter, here.

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Vacate your mind, but not your bookshelf

Currently just finished: The Magicians

Alright, guys and gals, it’s round-up time.

I’m still working on my master list, and have just crossed another off. I need to cheat a little though, because I just got my ARC of Mildred’s Resistance by Katie Cross, and I’m really looking forward to diving into that! Katie wrote me a really sweet message as well, just to butter me up a little 😉 It’s the prequel to the Network series (Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening) ahead of the third main timeline book set for this autumn!) and will give the back story for Mildred and Evelyn… two witches who were once best friends… BUT THEN. *thunderclap*

I also roped myself into a book challenge.

book bingo

I’m hoping that doing this bingo card will help me tear through some of my list over the summer, too. Found via Katie who found it via My Little Book Blog who found it via Savidge Reads who did it last year with Books on the Night Stand. You can make your own here. There are loads of prompts – hopefully it’ll help me clear the decks a little.

I’m on summer break now from work, so I’ll have plenty of time for reading. Haha. Hahahahaha. And all the sewing. And anything else I want to do. Plus holidays with the girls I lived with at uni and seeing family. It’s going to be back to work time before I know it! I’m still going to try keeping up with photo blogs for Rivka’s Christmas craft present, and I’ll schedule some posts ready for December and January (the crazy organisation!) as obviously I can’t say what it is or share it now or it’ll ruin the surprise. But soon… sooooooooon…

Ooh, it’s clouding up! Hopefully time for another storm. It’s been crazy hot here north of the Wall, and while summer is welcome (and it’s a lot easier to cope with now I’m not at work and restricted to things like clothing choices and professional language) it has been ridiculous. A good cloud burst will do us all good. That might have been thunder I just heard! Or a tractor. It’s hard to tell round here.

So I just finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I ripped through it, and I kinda like it. It’s a mix of The Catcher in the Rye and The Chronicles of Narnia, which don’t feel like they should gel. And on places they don’t, but that’s sort of the point of the book. I think? I would recommend it though if only because you’ll spend hours trying to work out the rules of Welters – a sort of magicians’ chess with the players as pieces. There’s a sequel, grumble, not that I’m at liberty to get it yet. Grumble.

Try not to melt, you guys. Be like this otter.

MjvGBan

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