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Things to Make and Mend - Ruth Thomas

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2 Reviews

Paperback: 272 pages / Publisher: Faber and Faber / Published: 7 Feb 2008

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    2 Reviews
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      20.11.2013 13:37
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      Things to Make and Mend

      My local Poundland have a 2-for-£1 offer on a range of fiction books, and I picked this one up because it appealed to my crafty side. I've read a few fiction books that involve knitting as a key part to the story, and it seemed to me that this would be similar, but focussing on embroidery instead. Worth a try for 50p, or so I thought.

      Back of the book blurb: "As teenagers, Sally Tuttle and Rowena Cresswell were inseparable - united in teen angst and scorn for needlework lessons - until a devastating incident destroyed their friendship. Now both single mothers in their early forties, they are haunted by memories of their lost intimacy.
      When Sally, a faithful employee of In Stitches repair shop, unexpectedly wins an embroidery prize and is invited to speak at a conference in Edinburgh, it seems she has a chance to recapture something of her old, lost self."

      This book has a somewhat unique feature in that it has two main characters, and the chapters alternate between Sally and Rowena to show both sides of the story. This was a little difficult to get used to at first, but it does come together by the end and I was certain that I had managed to piece together the hints about the disastrous circumstances under which their friendship was lost, as I was seeing the story from both viewpoints. However, the actual conclusion was not that one that I had been expecting and it took me by surprise. In fact, so much so that I overlooked the key reveal point, and it wasn't until several pages later that the penny dropped and I had to go back and read the last part again. This was neatly done and I thought that the author had done well in providing plenty of information about both women and their lives, without giving away the truth behind the big secret.

      Both Sally and Rowena are dissatisfied with their lives. Although the book was easy to read I did struggle a bit because the subject matter was just plain depressing. There was a real sense of melancholy throughout, and although I appreciate the talent in the author's simplistic descriptions of mundane everyday events, it meant that I could not really warm to either character and it was not pleasurable to read. I like a bit of escapism in my books and there was no action or suspense here; just two 40-something women reminiscing on their past mistakes and the burdens that this has come to bear upon their future selves. I found it frustrating that so much of the book is set in the past, and very little actually happens in the present time. Only a couple of days pass throughout the majority of the book. This means that there is very little opportunity to focus on resolving the main problem that the book presents, and the ending left things hanging with no real sense of conclusion.

      I had been expecting there to be more mention of embroidery in a sense of it being something that Sally is passionate about, but other than some detailed descriptions of thread colours and a few passing references, it is more there as a central inanimate thing upon which the rest of the plot builds. From the base idea of the embroidery prize and the conference that Sally is attending, the idea expands out to pull in other characters who have a connection with sewing and ties them together at the end, but although the idea is important in the story, the actual act of embroidery hardly gets a mention. I personally thought this was a shame, as I think that descriptions of a particular craft can help the reader to connect more with the story or the characters.

      This isn't a bad book, nor is it badly written, however it is just not well suited to my tastes and as such I would not be able to recommend it. The characters and settings were too dull, with too much focus on what has already happened in the past, and not enough time spent on working towards a definitive ending. The ending was imbued with such an sense of awkwardness that it made me feel uncomfortable and I was really wishing for a clichéd happy ending, which I think might have given the book the lift that it needed!

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      • More +
        05.12.2012 10:14
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        I loved it!

        This is a review of the 2007 book 'Things to Make and Mend' by Ruth Thomas. It is noted as a Good Housekeeping Winner from their book awards so is already given some hype. I was given this book as part of my birthday present from Mum who knows how much I love reading so she always tries to buy me something to read that I might enjoy.

        A bit about
        The book is all about the schoolgirl friendship between Sally Tuttle and Rowena Cresswell. The book actually starts as them both being adults and having flash backs to their time at school, particularly the sewing classes given by the hard to please Miss Button. When they are 15 the girls part ways, for different reasons, both leaving school and badly missing each other but both have their reasons for the silence.

        Timelines
        Thirty years after leaving school, Sally is a seamstress and Rowena is married to an academic. Both are mothers and have been married in their time apart. Sally is invited to Edinburgh to present a project she is working on (tapestry) and talk about the award she has won for her work. Rowena is also in Edinburgh to see her Son off as he moves to America. Both learn a lot about themselves on the trip but as the reader we are waiting for the inevitable moment when they will bump in to each other.

        My thoughts
        I found this a really charming book to read. It is subtly written with clues along the way as to what happened to Rowena and Sally's friendship. As usual with teens it is fraught with angst, competition, boys and fear of failing school work. I actually guessed half way through what the outcome may have been so spoiled the big reveal somewhat for myself but it was quite well hidden in the text so it's a wonder I figured it out!

        To buy?
        I would recommend this as a great book to read. I think my Mum picked it up in Poundland actually so it may be worth looking out for.

        Final word
        I am quite an arty person and enjoy making and mending things anyway so perhaps this book is suited to me personally more than many. I read this book in many short bursts (having just had a baby I snatch 5 minutes wherever I can!) and read it in early labour and found it a very soothing read. However, the mix of fiction between the short chapter commentaries on sewing methods is quite unique and adds a great flavour to the book. I have not read anything like this book and enjoyed it for its individual style. A recommended read.

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