Mitch Albom, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. Review.

3D-frankie-e1439344972792The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto starts off a little slowly as the narrator gets themself established. Considering that the narrator is music itself, this isn’t an easy task but it does make for a little of a slow burn. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Albom whose previous successes give him some leeway.

It’s like when JK Rowling spent pages and pages describing all the departments in the Ministry of Magic describing everything. It didn’t progress the storyline but by that point, no one was censoring her. Frankie Presto is a much shorter story than any Harry Potter could be, however.

Music, our narrator, is at the funeral of one of its beloved musicians, one of, if not the best one that there has been, Frankie Presto. A Spanish documentary is being made about Presto and the story cuts back and forth from Frankie’s childhood to his end. The book is full of cameos from all sorts of famous people such as Lyle Lovett, Duke Ellington, and Wynton Marsalis who either provide their best story or featuring in Frankie’s progress.

With such powerful emotions and dramatic tellings, long-time musician Albom keeps the telling sparse but appropriately wrapped in musical metaphors.

It’s a beautifully told story and I read it in one day. Highly recommended.

Downloaded from NetGalley.

Andrea Darby, The Husband Who Refused To Die

andrea-darby_coverAndrea Darby worked at the Bristol Evening Post in the early nineties as a sub-editor and played in the City of Bristol brass band in the early 2000s. She has never lived in Bristol and The Husband Who Refused To Die, her first novel, is set in the fictional town of Tetford but she does have some relevant links to make her Bristol-newsworthy. After all, Terry Pratchett used to be a Bristol journalist too – on the Western Daily News. If Darby makes it big, we’ll happily accept her as a local novelist.


What the book is about:

Her husband’s died …
Though he doesn’t see it that way …
So what next for Carrie?

Carrie’s husband Dan has died unexpectedly and left behind an extraordinary wish – to be frozen. He believes his life’s simply been ‘suspended’, that he can come back … one day … when science has moved on. He’d hoped his wife would want to do the same. But she doesn’t.

Two years on and mum-of-one Carrie tentatively reconnects with an old boyfriend, whose dramatic exit from her life has always been a painful mystery. But their romance is hampered by Carrie’s never-ending personal problems.
After Dan’s story is resurrected in the news headlines, some distressing secrets from the past are revealed, and Carrie is taunted by someone with a serious grudge.

But are the secrets true?
Will she discover who’s behind the malicious acts – and why?
Can there ever be closure for Carrie?

The author

Darby is a Gloucestershire-based journalist with a love of music and writing. She’s already working on her second novel. The Husband Who Refused to Die is out now and available from her publisher and from other book stores.

Writing challenge 2017

Write for five minutes a day [see link].

Also, is Scrivener worth using?


Reading challenge

My original reading challenge for this year (2016) was to finish 250 books and I think I read 21 or maybe 22. I’m quite happy with 22. I still love that number, though. The hugeness of 250 – the five-books-a-week of it – pleases me inordinately. However, the loveliness of reading 250 books is only fun in theory. At no point has it inspired me to actually read more than I do.

It’s a far-off adventurous challenge that I can dismiss as I knit and crochet and watch Four in a Bed on All4 as I dye yarn all night.

So this morning I had a more specific idea: I will finally make myself a reading list of the writers I have wanted to read for years but never got around to. I will read the MediaLens books I have yet to read, Chomsky, John Pilger, Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, The Racket, etc. Namely investigative and corruption-exposing books that are helpful. Helpful in what way? Um… in learning about the real world and not that proposed by the MSM. Primarily, using trusted sources for information.

Information about what? What do I want to find out?

I’m not sure. In the short term it’s how do we get to a place where the Conservative have 40% support while the state is being destroyed and public services eradicated?

On a broader theme, it’s: how to create a political movement that supports each individual in society? “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs.”

The world is facing imminent catastrophe and little seems to be said about changing behaviours and what we can do to save it. This is utterly bizarre to me. I also believe that change starts from where you are so local is where I need to focus.

My goal is to somehow see how Buddhism, capitalism, the propaganda model and Bristol all combine to demonstrate how the Green Party has failed to gain greater support. It’s quite lucky that my constituency, Bristol West, is one of the prize ones for the Green Party and one of the few in the country that have a chance at voting in a Green MP. Our leading candidate is Green MEP Molli Scot Caio so European matters will be on the list too.

Next up – the List.


  • Why Are We The Good Guys? (want to read) by David Cromwell
  • Newspeak (read) by David Edwards and David Cromwell
  • Guardians of Power (read) by David Edwards and David Cromwell
  • Free to be Human (want to read) by David Edwards
  • The Compassionate Revolution (own) by David Edwards
  • Private Planet by David Cromwell
  • Surviving Climate Change by David Cromwell and Mark Levee

Naomi Klein

  • This Changes Everything (own it)

Matt Kennard

  • The Racket (own it)

George Monbiot

  • The Age of Consent (own it)


  • Strikers, Hobblers, Conchies & Reds (own it)
  • Bristol novels

Noam Chomsky

  • Noam Chomsky – Necessary Illusions (already own it)
  • Alison Edgley – The Social and Political Thought of Noam Chomsky
    • In his work, Chomsky employs recognisably theoretical perspectives, as well as bodies of values, assumptions about human nature and reality, claims, and conclusions which not only look like theories, but I argue are theories. A prevalent example is what I refer to as his theory of the state. This theory holds that states are not neutral bodies operating for the good of all citizens in that society. Rather, they systematically serve the interests of elites at the expense of many of their own citizens. Writ large, the theory also leads to the claim that western states operate at the expense of large numbers of humanity beyond their own borders and citizens.

The Propaganda Model

Climate Change

European Parliament? (to come soon)

(I also want to work on my Bristol Literature list but that’s another topic for another post)

Bristol Book Group Social – next meeting

The next meeting for Bristol Book Group Social

Time: 8pm, Thursday 19th of January 2017

Place: King William Pub. 20 King St, Bristol, Avon BS1 4EF ‎(upstairs part)

Books: The Night Manager by John le Carré, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes and Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Reading all of the books is not required, pick whichever one interests you the most.

Future plans

We’ll be meeting again in February, when we’ll be discussing Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene, His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet and The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller.

You can find Bristol Book Group Social on Facebook.

In sunlight or in shadow by Lawrence Block

in-light-or-in-shadow“Edward Hopper is surely the greatest American narrative painter. His work bears special resonance for writers and readers, and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.”

So says Lawrence Block, who has invited seventeen outstanding writers to join him in an unprecedented anthology of brand-new stories: In Sunlight or In Shadow. The results are remarkable and range across all genres, wedding literary excellence to storytelling savvy.

Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonee, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.

In a beautifully produced anthology as befits such a collection of acclaimed authors, each story is illustrated with a quality full-color reproduction of the painting that inspired it.

What I thought: this collection of short stories promises a lot and delivers superbly. It’s hard to see how it could fail with such writers as King and Olen Butler amongst those chosen but it’s not only the writing. Hopper’s work is ideally suited for narrative explanation; for the befores and afters. A couple on a porch or a woman at a window. The paintings may have been left as ambiguous and undefined but these writers take up what was left unsaid.

This was one of my favourite books this year.

In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block.

Books for Christmas Lists

I have far too many half-written book reviews unposted so I’m going to ignore them for a second and post about books for Christmas from DK.  [NOT SPONSORED] They sent a list of their books to see what I thought and these are the ones I liked – and we have some of them.

star-wars_year-by-yearStar Wars Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated Edition presents the full story of Star Wars, including all the latest additions to the saga, just in time for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. £35




baby-touch-and-feelBaby Touch and Feel Christmas – £3.99 Ages 0-2 We got this one for Lois. It’s very sweet: explore the sparkly world of snowflakes and Santa together with this touchy feely book.




Disney Pixar Finding Dory Essential Collection – £14.99

Ages 6-12


The slipcase for the books lights up when you press a button to illuminate the sparkling coral reef and help find Dory.  It contains the Finding Dory Essential Guide and the Finding Dory Ultimate Sticker Book.






The Ultimate Peter Rabbit £14.99

This special anniversary edition celebrates 150 years since Beatrix Potter’s birth. Packed with artworks and insight from the Potter estate archives.




A – Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants £75

The ultimate garden reference book  that comes in a carry-box.



365-lego365 Things to Do with LEGO® Bricks – £16.99

Ages 6+

LEGO fun for every day of the year. This book is packed with fun and quirky activities, such as: build your own LEGO pet; challenge your friends to make the tallest LEGO tower against the clock; and learn how to make a stop-motion LEGO movie.


winter-wonderland-stickers-legoLEGO Winter Wonderland Ultimate Sticker Collection – £7.99

Ages 6+

Lots of Lego this year for Mersina but all while keeping in mind that anything Lois gets her hands on will be destroyed (or eaten). Nevertheless, this one also looks good – exploring wintery worlds and decking the halls with candy canes. I




No, you stand up

As one mass murder after another places men on the front pages of newspapers these last few weeks, another man, on Facebook, is telling women to take up more space. Be noisier. Be loud and gross. Stand up for yourselves etc. As if these are good things because men already do them. 
Apart from the obvious irony of a man telling women what to do, I wonder for what kind of woman would this be relevant?
Would it work on Serena Williams after her 19?
Ellen Degeneres and her $70 million annual salary?
Marie Curie who won two Nobel Prizes?
Steffi Graff who won 19 Grand Slams and the only one to win a Golden Slam?
Chrissie Wellington- ironman champion who wrote about using her urine to disincentivise fellow competitors from using her slipstream in races?
Would it work on Hilary Clinton? Whose number of people killed is a lot higher than the number of shares this guy got?
Would it work on Theresa May or Margaret Thatcher? Destroyer of countries, societies and individuals?
Who are these girls who need to take up more space? Who need to be loud and gross
The ones already doing full time jobs plus many other unpaid jobs and whose hours are filled with responsibilities?
The women who are leaving their homes as refugees and being the strongest survivors amongst the roughest (literal) waters?
He is not talking to empowered, strong, intelligent women or girls. He is talking to victims who if they want to be heard must rise up. He is not rallying against the structural inequalities, which see women weighed down with all the opposing forces available and still succeeding more than men. The ones who couldn’t work because they had to care for children and then had their pensions ripped away with no chance of making money to sustain themselves in the meantime. 
He is not talking to the ones succeeding in making black lives matter, speaking up for the environment and the world when men seek to destroy it. 
He is not speaking to the doctors and the teachers and the nurses who not only are expected to work for free but are now going to be paying the universities to let them work. 
Don’t tell us to take up more space. Look at yourself and own your guilt and role in this crazy and unequal world. 
Let’s look at some reality for a second?
How many mass murders have there been in the last 12 months?
How many were committed by women?
How many countries were invaded? Who invaded them? Who benefited?
Who destroyed more of the planet?
Who perpetrated more of the crimes?
Who had more road accidents?
Who caused more harm?
Who abused more?
Who helped more?
Who provided for more?
Who took care of the children?
Who took care of the dying? Of the patients? Of the babies?
Who created humanity?
It’s a sad state of affairs when most of the negatives are perpetrated by men, most of the positives are created and sustained by women, and it’s men who are telling women to be like them?
Why, for God’s sake? We don’t need more chaos, aggression and disaster. It’s time for men to become the humans they were meant to be. It’s time for them to sit down, shut up and care about things around them. Talk less, listen more, help others and repair, rebuild, and nurture. 
You stand up. You acknowledge your shame and blame. We will do just fine without some guy on Facebook telling us what to do. We will be even better with fewer men on the front of newspapers. 

The Great Ocean Road: a knitted asymmetric shawl

It’s been a bit of a busy time lately and I keep trying to find time to update this blog but fail miserably. It’s usually because I’m chasing a child around, working on an editing job, or knitting or designing. The designing part has been the most surprising part to that list.

Great Ocean Road

I started writing about it but then had to do something else. But here, see the following:

From a few weeks ago, when I first started writing this post

I have been preoccupied with designing a knitting pattern for the last few days. I took part in Aroha Knit (Francoise’s) #initiateknitdesign five day course and by the end came out with the beginnings of my first written pattern.

Some parts were harder than others. Finding time to knit up a swatch was a bit of a challenge when I was also running around after two little ones because daddy was away, and then translating my successful swatch design to the pattern was even more of a challenge.

What worked on a square, did not work at all on an ever-expanding shawl. From casting on 12 stitches, the pattern is worked until there are 282 on the needles. The stitches increase by one every odd row on only one side.

What I first thought needed to look like this:

Great Ocean Road initial swatch

and written up like the following pattern:


Turned out in fact to need to be written the other way around, as follows:


And then to be written with cable stitches rather than SSK and M1 stitches. The particularly surprising thing was that the cable stitches went on top of each other rather than a left-leaning diagonal pattern.


It was all rather mind-boggling and I frogged 21 times (give or take a few) but finally got there.

I have now found the final pattern I am sticking with. It’s this one here.

I originally wanted to use one light blue yarn and one sandy one but then realised I had a combination of both in the Suave sock Crushed Melon on Ice. It is 50% superwash Merino wool and 50% mulberry silk and it’s a very soft and silky combination. I used it a week ago for the Persephone crocheted shawl and it’s lovely to wear. Very soft.

The crushed melon colourway sold out very quickly but I dyed up a similar colour but brighter and more vivid: Orange in the Sky.

The pattern did great when it was first released and there have been nearly 3500 downloads. It was number one on the Hot Right Now chart for three days. A month later there have been some people who have made it and helped me sort out more problems with the pattern.

It’s been an educational experience.

I was so excited about releasing a pattern that I sent a swatch to a yarn company for a new pattern and it got accepted. I am in the process of knitting it up and writing the pattern.

A third pattern was rejected from a magazine but I had done a terrible job on knitting a swatch to show what it would look like. I’m now wondering whether to use it for my own yarn or to try to submit it elsewhere. It’s a bit of a niche pattern so I’m still thinking about it.

That’s it for the pattern business.

I have set up a Zanetto group on the Ravelry forums for any pattern support required.

CBeebies is too sacred to be patronised by 38 Degrees and cut by the Tories


What a patronising petition the 38 degrees team have put together to protest the cuts to CBeebies and CBBC!

Who doesn’t love CBeebies? Kids love it, and so do parents. BBC children’s programmes, like CBeebies, allow us those precious few minutes in a day to make a cuppa. And we can trust that our kids are watching quality shows.

The email was sent out by 38 Degrees campaign manager Rachel Diamond, in post since November 2015, but signed by many more. Unfortunately, Rachel, Rowan, Nat, David, Megan and the 38 Degrees team don’t seem to have watched and loved that very precious commodity they are trying to save because if they had they wouldn’t be effectively saying: ‘Mothers need a cup of tea and brave activists are fighting the corporate powers.’ They would realise that WE – the mothers / activists who can’t leave the house so are filling up the petition sites like theirs, are the ones who need to be brought on board. Who do they think the thousands who are trying to save Cbeebies are? We may sign this petition because it’s important but not the next one, or the thousand after that.

Well, if you’re listening, you patronising gits, the following is what carers / mothers / fathers know about Cbeebies:

CBeebies teaches our children. It doesn’t just distract them so we can sip and pause.

Here are some of the subjects that came up on the Cbeebies curriculum just last week.

Science: Nina and the Neurons

  • Volcanoes
  • Engineering
  • Earth
  • The scientific method!

Maths: Numtums and Numberjacks.

Arts and crafts:

  • Mister Maker.

Music appreciation and practice:

Nutrition (although the influence of the dairy lobby seems to be creeping in. There’s lots of eating dead animals and praising how ‘healthy’ they are, despite the UN’s warning of the devastating impact animal agriculture has on our planet, not to mention animal cruelty. The farm also shows an idealised version of how animals are grown to be used for animal needs and consumption rather than the reality.

  • I Can Cook
  • Mr Bloom

Equality: through casting and practice, they battle against gender, race and disability discrimination.


  • Topsy and Tim
  • Woolly and Tig
  • Abney and Teal

Learning how to deal with mistakes:


The above and many other shows.

Awareness of differences in terms of physical appearance and diversity in development and abilities:

  • Mr Tumble and any show with Justin Fletcher.

Change and addressing children’s fears:

  • Families
  • Friends
  • Topsy and Tim
  • Woolly and Tig

Going to school: one of the biggest changes children will face.

  • Topsy and Tim
  • Charlie and Lola

Friendships: pick a show, any show.

Crisis management:

  • Furchester
  • Postman Pat.

Writing and reading:

  • Alphablocks.

Regular routines for children who may come from chaotic households:

  • Bedtime stories


Celebrating individual children:

  • Birthday shows (which are now no longer on iplayer).


  • Katie Morag
  • Jack’s Boat
  • Teacup Travels
  • Abney and Teal

Physical geography:

  • Octonauts

Human geography:

  • Mr Bloom
  • GoJetters

And on and on and on and on. These are brief thoughts on only a handful of shows off the top of my head.

Note that all these shows are appropriate for under 5s!

Baby Jake, the Twirlywoos, In the Night Garden and the Teletubbies are educational and aimed at under 2s.

And on and on. I could fill so many different shows against each of these categories and then add more and more categories.

So how does the 38 degrees petition present its argument?




What kind of an ignorant person even wrote the patronising paragraph that I’m about to repeat?

“Who doesn’t love CBeebies? Kids love it, and so do parents. BBC children’s programmes, like CBeebies, allow us those precious few minutes in a day to make a cuppa. And we can trust that our kids are watching quality shows.”

Ignorant simpletons.

CBeebies is sacred to those of us who know it but is only a past-time for those who would use it as a tool.