Thursday, 17 April 2014

On my bookshelf | The House of Silk

Thank you so much for your comments on my first On my bookshelf post. I really enjoyed finding out about your own reading habits and tastes and I'm thrilled that this blog series is something that you're going to be interested in.

 I'm SO excited to be talking about the very first book in this new blog series today. 

The House of Silk | Anthony Horowitz

The blurb...
THE GAME'S AFOOT...It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious 'House of Silk'...

What I thought...
One thing you need to know about me before reading my thoughts on this book is that I am an avid Sherlock Holmes fan. I love the short stories, the two films with Robert Downey Jr., the TV series 'Sherlock' with Benedict Cumberbatch (but not the Sky series 'Elementary'...that's awful!) and just the character in general. I love his quirkiness, his lack of social skills, his intelligence and his downright ability to be annoying. Arthur Conan Doyle created, in my opinion, one of the best literary characters the world has ever seen. I approached this new Sherlock Holmes story, therefore, with unease and low expectations but given that I had also had the same feelings before seeing the first Sherlock Holmes film and the TV series 'Sherlock' and adored them both instantly, I was willing to give it a go and read it with an open mind.

One other thing that you need to know is that The House of Silk is the first Sherlock Holmes item to have been written with the full endorsement of the Conan Doyle estate. Knowing that they surely would not have put their name to any old piece of rubbish (the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. stamp is actually printed on the back of the book) was the second push I needed towards starting it. To me, it spoke volumes.

I started the book back in January (I think) and by February I had only read the first few chapters. There was a period of about 4 weeks where I didn't pick the book up at all and it lay unopened on my bedside table looking very sorry for itself. I can contribute this to two factors. 1) The fact that this was the first book I had read since my holiday accomplishment of finishing three in about a week automatically meant that I was bound to be a bit sluggish to start with. The pressure of the speed of my previous encounter with a book was something that hindered the enthusiasm with which I longed to start this new book. 2) There is a lot of background story to the plot, details of which can easily be forgotten if reading in a state of near-exhaustion, like in my case. I found myself having to read back a chapter or so before picking up from where I had left off. This frustrated me and I eventually gave up altogether.

The parts of Sherlock Holmes stories where the client is explaining a series of strange events is not my favourite as we don't get to see the wonderfully hilarious and brilliant interactions between Holmes and Watson, so on reflection it doesn't come as a surprise to me that those first few chapters weren't something that I particularly enjoyed. However, the client's account is always pivotal to the plot of the rest of the story and so it is necessary to give it your full attention. I returned to the book when I was in a better frame of mind and once I got past the place where I had initially abandoned it, I read the rest in a matter of days.

The plot is mysterious and cunning with the right amount of twists and turns. It is brilliantly written, to the point where I forgot that I was reading a Sherlock Holmes story NOT written by Arthur Conan Doyle. He truly does master Conan Doyle's writing style and capture the essence of the character in a way that, I'm sure, nobody else could. Even Anthony Horowitz himself has acknowledged that this is probably his best work. If I hadn't been working, I know I would have been able to read it in one day. Reaching the end of a chapter is never enough; you're always left wanting to read on, if only your droopy eyelids would let you.

From what I know of reading the original stories, the resolution of the mystery should not be something that you could have worked out yourself as the whole unveiling relies on the intellectual prowess of our friend, Sherlock. If ever there was a case where this was true, it is The House of Silk. The ending was, in short, a shock. Not only would I never have been able to guess the events myself, but what the reader is presented with is uncomfortable and disturbing. It is the only part of the book that does not seem like a Conan Doyle creation. Anthony Horowitz seems to have capitalised on that fact, however, by explaining at the start of the book Watson's intention that his account of events be kept out of the public sphere for many decades as it was a tale that was too horrific for society at the time to bear. This did not, however, take away from my enjoyment of the book and I put it down feeling my love for Sherlock Holmes as fervently as ever.

I would give this book...

Read this book if you enjoy...
Anything Sherlock-Holmes related, but particularly the original stories (if you have never read any, be prepared that this novel might get you reaching for them! or any sort of crime drama.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first installment of my new blog series! Please let me know what you thought of the format of the there anything I didn't talk about that you would have liked to have known about? I'm  happy to adapt for next time!

Happy Thursday!

Big Picture Classes giveaway winners

The spot in Hello Story goes to:

I would LOVE to win a spot in Hello Story! My journaling needs the quality time with Ali. Thanks for the chance to win.

And the spot in Project Life Lessons goes to:

Thank you so much for the chance!! I looked at the sneak peek of Hello Story on pie charts and it really made me want to do the class! That would be my 1st choice, but I'm a PLer too so you really can't go wrong with these classes! :)

Congratulations ladies! Email me at stephbaxteruk{at}hotmail{dot}com (exchange the words in brackets for the symbols and you're good to go!).

Saturday, 12 April 2014

ON MY BOOKSHELF | A new blog series about reading

I love books. As in, seriously love books.

CONFESSION: Until last summer, I hadn’t read a book in two years.

This is painful to admit. Having studied English Literature at university, this is a complete and utter travesty.

My excuse – I was too busy and too tired. Always far too busy and too tired to read a book. As a teacher, this was a somewhat valid excuse. In my first year of teaching, I spent most evenings working at home until 10pm at which time I collapsed in a heap in bed and went to sleep. In my second year of teaching, I got ME/CFS for the second time and spent a lot of my time collapsed in a heap in bed, even when I hadn’t been up working until 10pm.

Now I am in my third year of teaching and am desperately trying to find more balance in life. This is not easy for me, I can tell you. However, it has forced me to give myself a stern talking to about reading, or the lack of it. I told myself I could no longer use the I’m-too-busy-and-tired excuse, especially given that I was spending a fair amount of time either on the internet or watching things on Netflix or LoveFilm. My justification that reading was more mentally taxing than either of those too activities was just not going to cut it anymore.

And so, a few weeks ago, I picked up my first book in two years and started reading.

And I loved it. As in, seriously loved it.

In the spirit of wanting to share more of me personally here, I decided to make a blog series about reading. It will be an ongoing series with no set time period, and no scheduled day, most likely. It will largely take the form of book reviews, both of ones I have just finished or ones I have read some time in the more distant past.

But before the first one, I feel there are some things about me as a reader that you ought to know.

I am a book snob. There literally is no denying it. I am massively opinionated when it comes to books, many of which you will learn just by reading this list. Please note that I in no way wish to offend anybody with these. I do not look down on anybody who does not share my own opinions and tastes. I am just a very particular when it comes to my own reading habits. They have been 22 (ish) years in the making and I’m not sure I can change them now.

I make a point to avoid reading books just because they are the latest craze. I have never read Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Grey or The Hunger Games. This is mainly because I cannot stand it when people jump on the bandwagon and make a book, or series of books in these cases, an overnight sensation with little or no regard for whether they are actually well-written or not. That is not to say that Harry Potter or The Hunger Games aren’t well-written. I’m sure they are. (50 Shades of Grey is another matter, however. I am pretty certain that it isn’t well-written, from what I’ve heard.) My point is simply that I don’t like to follow the crowd when it comes to reading. I read things that I like the sound of and that I think I will enjoy. If I am pretty certain I won’t enjoy it, then I won’t read it, whether or not it seems that everyone on the planet is raving about it. (Unless a friend who knows me and my reading tastes very well tells me that they are sure I will love it. I’m not so bad as to pass up a most sincere recommendation.) Currently, I am reading The Book Thief. Not because it has just been made into what looks like a really good film (although I hope it stays in the cinema long enough for me to see it after I’m done reading it!), but because I am drawn to literature about WW2. In short, if it fits my tastes, I read it. If it’s hyped up but it’s something I won’t be interested in, I won’t.

I love classic literature. At school, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, I wasn’t an overly keen reader in general for a long time. (Excluding the years when reading children’s books like the Beatrix Potter stories was still acceptable for my age in my eyes. I loved picture books as a small child.) I read books because we studied them in class and I didn’t like most of them. Lord of the Flies, for example. Hated it.  But somewhere during my final two years at school, something shifted so dramatically. So much so, that I decided to apply to study English Literature (with Education) at Cambridge University. For someone who, until very recently, didn’t particularly like reading, this was a very strange decision. (No wonder my teachers at school laughed at me when I told them.) From then on, I fell deeply in love with many of the classics. The Great Gatsby, most things by Charles Dickens, the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jane Eyre and, of course, Jane Austen. (More about her a bit later.) In my mind, you cannot beat a good classic book and it makes me sad when people dismiss a whole canon of literary heritage as ‘boring’. If you allow yourself, you can get utterly lost in the characters, the language and the history. Or, at least, I do.

I don’t like a lot of modern literature. I guess this sort of goes hand-in-hand with my last point. And it sounds like a ridiculous generalisation to make. But it’s true. I don’t even necessarily know why. I just know it’s true. I especially hate any kind of dystopian books which isn’t, of course, limited to modern literature, but you do find a lot of it about nowadays (hence why I won’t read The Hunger Games and why I hated The Handmaid’s Tale at school). I tend to stick with a few key modern authors that I know and love; Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan and Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n are my go-to writers of the current era.

If I was only allowed to read one author’s books for the rest of my life, it would, undoubtedly, be Jane Austen’s. I adore her. Plain and simple. It pains me to have to choose an absolute favourite book but, if I had to, I think it would have to be Pride and Prejudice. Now, I know that seems contradictory to the second point I made about not jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to reading popular books but I honestly read it because I knew I would enjoy it. I think my first encounter with Austen was reading Emma, after which I was hooked. (Incidentally, I think Emma was the catalyst for my love affair with classic literature in general.)

There is nothing like reading an amazing book for the very first time. I will never forget the first time I read The Shadow of the Wind. I was utterly blown away by it. It confirmed to me the power that reading can have over you if you will let yourself me immersed in the world that the story is presenting to you. It makes me sad that I will never be able to read The Shadow of the Wind for the very first time again. Or Pride and Prejudice, for that matter. That experience is gone now.

That said, I can happily read great books more than once. Some people I know would ask, “What is the point?” To them, I would ask how many times they’ve seen their favourite film. For me, it is no different (apart from the length of time it takes.) I think it’s great to re-read books that I love. I have, and will continue to, do this with my favourite books. It won’t be quite the same as the first time I read it but if I’ve allowed enough time to pass, then there are details that my memory will have forgotten that I can discover again; sentences or phrases that make my heart skip a beat just to read.

I believe that you actually can judge a book by its cover. Book covers are important for me. A good cover will lure me in, make me want to turn over to the back and read the blurb to see if it’s something I think I will enjoy. But I steer clear of anything that remotely resembles a cheap, poorly-written, fluffy chick lit book. (Again, no offence meant to those of you who do enjoy that type of book – it’s just not my cup of tea.) And if the book has been adapted into a screenplay, I try and get a copy where the cover is the original artwork, rather than an image for the film (I failed epically with this when I bought The Book Thief, not realising the illustration of the girl on the front is of the actress that plays the character in the film!). My favourite covers are ones that have some sort of embossing on the’s so inviting! The blurb is definitely important too. If I lose interest in reading that short paragraph, then that says a lot to me about the content inside.

I am particularly drawn to historical fiction. I love a book that is deeply rooted in historical events, particularly WW1 or WW2. Ever since studying WW1 literature as a unit for A-Level English Literature, I have been obsessed with books to do with the world wars. Birdsong is probably my favourite of these and I’m most definitely due another read of it. Philippa Gregory novels also feature quite significantly in my collection, being fascinated with the Tudor period.

I can be quite wary of adaptations of my favourite books. Sometimes I approach adaptations with excitement and sometimes with trepidation. Recently, I’ve learnt to go in not expecting too much – anything more is a bonus. Case in point: I was so excited when The Great Gatsby film came out and I ended up being very disappointed (although Leonardo DiCaprio did a marvellous job as Jay Gatsby). Having said that, there are some adaptations that I adore and could watch over and over again. The Atonement film, while tragic, is beautiful and so well done. Jane Austen adaptations are a bit of a mixed bag. I love both adaptations of Pride and Prejudice (BBC series and Keira Knightly film) for completely different reasons, as well as the TV film of Persuasion with Rupert Penry-Jones. The BBC Sense and Sensibility series is superior to the film version with Alan Rickman (although who doesn’t love a bit of Emma Thompson?!), while both TV versions of Emma (the ITV one with Kate Beckinsale and the BBC one with Romola Garai), I found to not be very good. I do like the film version with Gwenyth Paltrow, however, despite it being a bit silly and frivolous. I caught the first episode of the BBC Birdsong adaptation with Eddie Redmayne (yum!) but missed the rest and have been dying to see the rest ever since.

So...that is me.

What about you? What sort of reader are you?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Big Picture Classes giveaway

I have spots in TWO different Big Picture Classes workshops to give away today and I could not be more excited to share them with you...

Hello Story | 12 weeks of storytelling techniques with Ali Edwards

What's your story? This summer, say hello to a dozen fun strategies for sharing more of your words, and more of yourself, on your scrapbook pages.

In her new 12-week workshop, Hello Story, Ali Edwards will introduce you to 12 storytelling techniques—never-before-seen in her prior journaling workshops—that will bring creativity and clarity to both your writing and your page designs. Every week, you get to sit over Ali's shoulder and watch her transform her story ideas into timeless, authentic, story-rich scrapbook pages.

Through dozens of in-depth videos that cover storytelling and design ideas as well as 36+ exclusive layout examples from Ali (12" x 12" and 8 1/2" x 11" layouts, plus Project Life inserts), Hello Story will inspire you to take action and give you the tools you need to tell your own stories with confidence.

Are you ready to discover (or rediscover) the fun that comes from the interplay of design and words? By the end of class, you may even enjoy the writing process just as much as you love taking photos and playing with paint and paper!

Ali Edwards is one of my favourite memory-keepers and, I suspect, might be one of yours too! This awesome class is packed full of inspirational ways to tell your story through traditional layouts and Project Life®  spreads. Class started last week but there's plenty of time to catch up and you can definitely go at your own pace with this. I'm taking the class myself and I'm already SO inspired and ready to start telling stories in my own projects.

Project Life Lessons | Three weeks of photo, journaling and process ideas from 3 Project Life® experts.

Set yourself up for memory-keeping success in Project Life® Lessons! Three experts have teamed up to share tons of insider secrets for making the most of any Project Life project. Packed with videos, downloads, handouts, and beautiful layout examples, Project Life Lessons includes three times the content you'd find in a typical 3-week workshop.

Three experienced Project Lifers to the rescue! Elise Blaha Cripe, Annette Haring, and Megan Anderson and will share their tried-and-true tips in the areas of photo management, storytelling, organization, assembly, and more. Whether your approach involves weekly spreads, monthly highlights, or something more custom, you can establish an effective working process that will help you make your albums a better reflection of who you really are and what matters most to you.

Project Life® has my heart. I love the concept and how easy it is to put together. I love that I can make it anything I want it to be. I love getting inspiration from other people. That's why I'm so excited for this class to start! This class starts on 17th April so you'll still have a bit of time to get yourself ready and pull your favourite Project Life® supplies together!

So on to the giveaway...

ONE person will win a spot in the Hello Story class and ONE person will win a spot in the Project Life lessons class.

Please leave me a comment below by Monday at 8.00am BST saying which class you'd love to take and why, and I will choose two random winners.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Studio Calico news

I've got a couple of really fun things to share with you today that are happening over at Studio Calico!

First up...

YES!! Studio Calico have just today announced a new mid-release line called South of Market. Here's what they had to say about it over on the blog:

"Our next release takes you into a bustling farmer's market with a fresh color palette of spring greens, cheery yellows, and vibrant reds and pinks. You got your first taste of this new line in ourBluegrass Farm kits, but you'll see more in our shop when it ships in May. Be sure to click "notify me" on the items you're interested in so that you'll get an email once they're stocked!"

This new collection is full of lovely patterned paper, letter stickers, wood veneer, a new Handbook and more! Here's a quick look at some of my favourite products from the line...

Head over to the Studio Calico shop and be sure to hit the 'Notify me' button to register your interest in the items that you love. That way, you'll get an email once the items hit the shop. Easy peasy!

The second thing I'd like to share today is a fabulous promotion Studio Calico is currently offering...

If you sign up for a new subscription, starting with the Bluegrass Farm Scrapbook kit, you'll be able to make use of the rewards status that subscribers usually get after a year's subscription. Perks of rewards customers are:

  • 10% discount on add-on kit purchases. This discount is automatically applied to your order and can be combined with other specials and promotions.
  • 25% discount off online classes
  • 25% discount off digital items
  • Priority shipping. Your package will be in the first batch of packages shipped each month.
  • Special promotions and discounts given periodically
  • •Order add-ons 12 hours early during a special presale
  • Multiple orders are bundled automatically and combine towards free shipping when you order between the 27th and end of the month. Your subscription will not be assessed the shipping fee if the combined total (including subscription price) is greater than $79,or $99 for Canadian customers. *free shipping does not apply to international orders
  • Earn Calico Points on add-on purchases at 5 points per dollar
For current subscribers, you can also earn  instant rewards status by extending your current subscription to the Scrapbook Kit...

Head to the digital store and follow the instructions above to renew your subscription to the Scrapbook Kit to start benefitting from instant rewards status.

If you're a current rewards customer through a monthly subscription to the Cards or Project Life® kits, you can switch over to the Scrapbook kit without losing your rewards benefits. You can cancel your current Card or Project Life® subscription (which would remove your rewards status) and start a Scrapbook subscription (with instant Rewards Status) therefore your Reward Status would remain active with the "switching" of kits. There is a limited supply of Bluegrass Farm Scrapbook kits left, and when they're gone, so is this offer. Subscribe now to start enjoying your rewards perks!

I'm off to see the new Captain America film tonight...I'm so excited!

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Making a Project Life/encourgament card with re-usable items

I hope your week has got off to a great start! I've got a quick tutorial for you today that I hope you'll like :)

Lately, I've been thinking about how I could make more use of items that I consider to be reusable - things like cut files and stamps. I love using these things you can literally use them over and over again without ever having to worry about them running out! This makes them particularly useful for anything you need to replicate 'en masse' too, like invitations, thank you cards, etc.

Today I decided to make a quick little 3x4 card using watercolours, stamps and a cut file...this would look great in a Project Life album or would even be cute to give to someone with a little handwritten note of encouragement on the back.

1. I started by gathered together the items I knew I wanted to use so that they were all within easy reach...I find this makes the process so much quicker!

2. Using the Versmark Watermark stamp pad, I stamped two small phrases at the bottom of the 3x4 grid card and embossed it with white embossing powder.

3. Then I used watercolours to create a resist wash over the top of the embossed phrases. I used pink, orange and yellow and made sure to add some extra water with my brush to make the colours blend together nicely.

4. After letting the paint dry for a few minutes, I used the glue pen to adhere the cut file to the card and added some gold sequins as a finishing touch.

This was the first time I used watercolours like this and while I don't feel I have the technique perfected yet, it was super fun and definitely made me want to do it again in the future!

I'd love to see what you've made with reusable me up in the comments!

Happy Monday :)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bluegrass Farm reveal!

I don't even know where to start to explain what I love about Bluegrass Farm, Studio Calico's April kits! I think a big part of it for me is the colours spring-like and fresh! Just what I need to cheer me up!

I only managed one spread this time has been extremely stressful in the past couple of weeks. But there's only one week of school left before the Easter break...I've got plans for my two weeks off involving this kit and my Project Life album! I'm determined to get caught up as I've let myself get woefully behind!

Here's my spread...

March 8th | Bluegrass Farm Project Life Kit
There is SO MUCH to love about this kit and I'm so sad I didn't have much time to play with it! I went really super simple on this spread to save time...literally just the cards, one of the stickers and a couple of digital files (Bluegrass Farm Scrapbook digital stamps; Bluegrass Farm cut files by Hello Forever). And what a happy accident that I actually had some photos from a trip to the farm just waiting to be put into my album!

I'll hopefully stop in to share some more spreads that I'm going to make with this month's kits some time in April! And I know I still owe you a post on my Project Life process for 2014...lucky I have been sitting on it actually, as just this week I made a big decision regarding my initial approach for this year's album! I'll put something together on that while I'm off for Easter too. I've also got a fun blog series in the works...I've written the first post...just need to put some finishing touches into it!

Happy Thursday!