ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Uncategorized Archive



August 2020



Sew Step by Step by Alison Smith MBE

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Two Stars

Best for:
People who already know how to use a sewing machine (despite the title)

In a nutshell:
Author Smith shares some great detailed information regarding making garments and other items, assuming you know how to use a sewing machine.

Worth quoting:

Why I chose it:
I’m trying to teach myself machine sewing and this book claimed to be a how-to for using a sewing machine.

If this book only claimed to help with patterns, fabrics, seams, etc, it would be a 5 star review. The photos and diagrams are great, the detail seems to be about right. It’s well-organized and easy to navigate.


This book claims to teach sewing machine use. The sub-title literally is “how to use your sewing machine…” The back description says “Discover how to …use a sewing machine.” It does not do any of that. There is one (1) photo of a sewing machine that is basically the same as the diagram in the instruction booklet that came with my machine, where they point out the parts. But there is zero discussion of what the different parts do! What’s the point? What the fuck is a bobbin? There seem to be two places that thread goes through – why? Seriously, how does the sewing machine work?

In a book that is more than 200 pages long, I am baffled that the author didn’t include an additional three or four pages providing even a high level overview of machine sewing. It’s odd – the book both assumes no knowledge of machine sewing (given all the detail provided in all the other sections – different seams, hems, buttonholes, etc.) and yet provides no knowledge of how to use a sewing machine.

Just … what? Why? I’d argue this is a failure of editing as much as the author – someone at some point should have said “hey, if you’re going to market this as a book to teach people how to use a sewing machine, you should include some information on how to use a sewing machine.”

I cannot recommend this book for people who are new to machine sewing, but I definitely recommend it to people who are looking for a good reference book after having a couple years of experience with their sewing machine.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it for once I actually know how to sew – the other parts seem very helpful!



January 2020



The Last by Hanna Jameson

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4 Stars

Best for: Anyone who enjoyed Station Eleven, or who likes the post-apocalypse genre and is looking for one aimed at adults.

In a nutshell: Nuclear War has started. Two months later, 20 people remain at a hotel deep into a Swiss forest. A child is discovered dead. History professor Jon decides to document what has happened, and what happens next.

Worth quoting: “A lot of people confuse movement with progress.”

Why I chose it: Buy one get one half off sale. I’d chosen American Marriage, and was scanning for another. This had a recommendation by Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven), so I picked it up.

What happens when the world ends not from an outbreak of disease, but from a day of nuclear war? If you are nowhere near the blasts, how do you survive? Do you want to survive? What is your life like?

For the guests at this hotel in Switzerland, they have plenty of food, comfortable hotel beds, and water. No internet, and rationed electricity. What do they do? Should they explore beyond the hotel? Try to get to their homes? Do their homes exist anymore?

That’s enough to try to figure out but then a dead girl is found in one of the water towers. Millions – possibly billions – have already died. But this is a death close to home, and for Jon, it means something to try to find justice for her. While also grappling with the existential crisis of a completely different world than the one that existed before he arrived at this hotel for a conference.

The book appears to be suggesting that Trump is why the nuclear blasts happened. This leads to an interesting discussion about the responsibility of those who voted for him. In a nod to the 53% of white women who voted for him in 2016, the one US citizen at the hotel who voted for him is indeed a white women. The characters are complicated – no one is outright evil, everyone appears to be just doing their best in a shitty situation.

I think the only thing that I could take any issue with were a couple of word choices that the US folks in the story made that are very much British English terms: tannoy (megaphone) and mitigating circumstances (which is the specific term for seeking some allowance or delay in an exam or paper because of something beyond a student’s control). I’d never heard either of those terms used in that way until I moved the UK. But that’s really the only thing I could take issue with.

Oh! Sorry, one more thing, which is the publisher’s fault, not the author. The back jacket reads “You and nineteen other survivors hole up in an isolated Swiss hotel. You wait, you survive. Then you find the body. One of your number has blood on their hands. The race is on to find the killer … before the killer finds you.” That’s … not a great description of the book. Yes, there is a murder and yes, the protagonist spends a fair bit of time focused on that. But this isn’t a thriller about finding a murderer, per se. It’s a thriller, but the thriller isn’t just about that, if that makes sense. In fact, I’d argue that’s a side story. So if you’re looking for a straightforward thriller, this isn’t it. But hopefully you’ll still pick it up, because it’s really good.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend