Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Reading 2014

Here in the U.S., today is Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. It's a day off for a lot of us, but not for everyone. I'm one of the lucky ones with a 3-day weekend. So I thought I'd visit my blog (hello, poor neglected blog) and reflect on some of the reading I did this summer.

tl;dr version: I re-read a lot. I read a lot of Nora. I even listened to a few audiobooks. I'm not a fan of a recent RITA winner. And is anything NOT a part of a series? New Robin D. Owens--love.

Re-reads.

I spent some time re-reading a couple of favorite series. I went back to Mary Balogh's Slightly series and read the whole thing in about 2 weeks time. It was interesting to note that my initial opinions still hold. My favorite by far is the first one, Slightly Married. I really dislike numbers 4 and 5, Slightly Tempted and Slightly Sinful. Most people seem to love Slightly Dangerous the most, but I don't feel the love. I just don't get Christine's appeal as a heroine for Bewcastle.

I also re-read Nora Robert's Born In series. Enjoyable comfort reads and now I have an itch to re-read the Chesapeake Bay series. And that leads me to...

Nora.

I also wound up reading two of her much older books, River's End (2000) and Public Secrets (1990). I liked them both very much, but loved, loved, loved Public Secrets. That one is a lengthy saga that begins in the 60s and ends in the 80s. I felt myself re-living much of my youth. Coincidentally, the books have some themes in common (public figures, hero cop who is son of detective first investigating a murder, and a murder that takes decades to solve). I did not know that they would feel that similar when I chose to read them. Reading so much by the same author in a short period of time reveals interesting quirks. Nora likes to use the word "completely" a lot. And that leads me to...

Audiobooks.

So, I've never been one for audiobooks. I am re-thinking that position. I had to make a 20-hour (round trip) drive in August to visit family. Normally I make that trip with someone else in the car. Often my husband does all the driving and I spend my time reading my Kindle. This time I had to go by myself and I knew I needed a book or two to listen to. That's how I ended up with the two NR books mentioned above. That's how I noticed that use of "completely." I wonder what I overlook when I read instead of listen. 

But I did find that listening to a book while I sew is less distracting than having the TV on. I like how productive I can be. And that leads me to...

The RITAs.

When Sarah MacLean won another RITA for best historical I decided to try her books again. I had tried a couple a few years ago and did not finish them. They felt too modern; I like my historicals to be more... well, historical. I had really liked Pamela Clare's Defiant so I was bummed when that one didn't win. Then MacLean won again this year, so I decided to continue my audiobook journey with her RITA-winning series, which I found at my library. I finished A Rogue by Any Other Name and while I found her characters sympathetic, I was not blown away. Right now I'm on One Good Earl Deserves a Lover. I like the heroine, but the whole plot and set-up strikes me as so improbable I'd rather quit reading it. But I want to finish it to see what made No Good Duke Goes Unpunished a winner. I loved The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan and The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas, and really wanted one of them to win this year. Oh well, different strokes and all that. And that leads me to...

Series.

There's very little out there these days that isn't part of a series. It's rather exhausting to try and remember details from various series when you read as much as I do. A good author can bring salient points to mind without an info dump. Thank you Jo Goodman, for one of my favorite reads of the summer, In Want of a Wife. I also enjoyed ongoing entries by Nalini Singh (Shield of Winter) and Virginia Kantra (Carolina Man).

I started several new series this summer. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I'm going to highlight only one. Robin D. Owens has a new series out about a woman who can see ghosts and needs to help them over to the other side. I'm not a huge paranormal fan, but I've always loved Owens' Heart Mate books and there are several familiar elements here, including communicating with a pet. This series, though, appears to follow the same couple. I read the first book, Ghost Seer, a few weeks ago. The next one, Ghost Layer, releases tomorrow. These books are set in Denver, and Owens gives a great sense of place. The ghosts in the book are from the late 1800s, so there's a unique blend of western historical/modern Colorado. I'm eager to read the new book. And that leads me to...

Oh Wait, I'm Done.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aviatrix Medallion, an Instagram Quilt-Along

Back in January, modern quilter Elizabeth Hartman showed off a pattern she was working on, called Aviatrix Medallion. It didn't really catch my attention, though, until in March she showed a version done in Kona Solids, with this as the center medallion:
(You can view the full quilt here, and I encourage you to look. It's a remarkable collection of traditional blocks turned into a stunning modern quilt.) As you can see from the picture above, the color shadings turn a lone star block into birds pointing toward the center. I've never seen this pattern before, but Hartman said it's a traditional pattern called Doves in the Window. When she published it, I purchased the pattern. To be honest, I found the whole quilt rather busy, but I was determined to make the center medallion, at least as a wall hanging.

In April Hartman announced she would be making another version of the quilt and she encouraged her blog followers to make it along with her. The quilt-along would be hosted by her on Instagram with the hashtag #aviatrixmedallion. I have an account there (I'm @QuilterPhyl) and I began following the hashtag as people posted the fabrics they were going to use. When I saw that some quilters were choosing fabrics that were different from the bright solids Hartman used, I began to get IDEAS. 

People, I was seriously stressed in April. I did NOT have time for IDEAS.

But look what I've been doing:

That's my center block above. I am using all batiks except for the dark grey background which is a woven linen. The contrasting texture is fun. I also purposely decided to stick to colors on the cool side of the color wheel.
I finished the center block above and decided I needed more color.
When I finished the first border I was still on the fence about making the whole thing or stopping right there. But I loved my colors and was having great fun on Instagram sharing my pictures and checking each day to see how others were doing. Oh what the heck...
And that's as far along as I am right now. While a few participants in the quilt-along are finished with their tops, others are just starting and plenty, like me are slowly plodding along. I have a skinny neutral border to add and two more colored borders. I also have other projects that need to come first (friends and family keep having babies!!!). But I sneak a little work on this into the mix whenever I can.

If you have an Instagram account and some time to spare, do check #aviatrixmedallion there to see the amazing variety of quilts being made from this one pattern. And I'll post a few updates to mine here as I make progress.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

TBR Day. The Beekeeper's Ball / Susan Wiggs. 2014


This is my first TBR post since November. I am totally cheating.

This month's theme is RITA. Susan Wiggs has won 3 RITAs. This book was published June 24, so it's been on no one's TBR for more than 3 weeks. But it was due back at the library yesterday, so I had to read it and return it lest I start wracking up fines. My library TBR pile is often a delicate dance between books I have to read right away and books I can renew. And that doesn't take into account the books I own and would like to read.

Anyhow, my library has started this interesting program called "Quick Picks." In an effort to attract people back into the library, high-interest books are made available only to walk-in patrons. If you get lucky you can by-pass the reserve lists, but there is no renewal. The program has only been in place a month and I go over a couple of times a week to check what's on the Quick Pick shelf (the library is only 200 yards from the back door of the law library where I work). So far this one has been the only romance, but I remain hopeful.

This book was not even on my radar and after I started it I realized it was Book 2 in Wiggs' Bella Vista Chronicles. Fortunately this book was very readable even though I hadn't read Book 1, The Apple Orchard (2013). The blurb:

Isabel Johansen, a celebrated chef who grew up in the sleepy Sonoma town of Archangel, is transforming her childhood home into a destination cooking school—a unique place for other dreamers to come and learn the culinary arts. Bella Vista's rambling mission-style hacienda, with its working apple orchards, bountiful gardens and beehives, is the idyllic venue for Isabel's project…and the perfect place for her to forget the past. 

But Isabel's carefully ordered plans begin to go awry when swaggering, war-torn journalist Cormac O'Neill arrives to dig up old history. He's always been better at exposing the lives of others than showing his own closely guarded heart, but the pleasures of small-town life and the searing sensuality of Isabel's kitchen coax him into revealing a few truths of his own. 

The dreamy sweetness of summer is the perfect time of year for a grand family wedding and the enchanting Beekeeper's Ball, bringing emotions to a head in a story where the past and present collide to create an unexpected new future. 

It turns out that there is quite a bit more to this book than the blurb indicates. Cormac O'Neill (Mac) has come to Bella Vista to interview Isabel's grandfather, Magnus, and write a book about him. Isabel's grandfather had been a part of the Danish Resistance during WWII; Isabel's (deceased) grandmother was Jewish and survived the concentration camps. A surprising amount of the book takes place during the war as we learn about Isabel's grandparents and how they survived the war. Isabel hears stories she never knew about as Mac talks with Magnus.

Isabel has lived a sheltered isolated life. Mac is a war-weary globe-trotting journalist. For Mac, Isabel represents a home and a sense of permanence. For Isabel, Mac offers adventure and an opportunity to try new things. I enjoyed their story.

There's a lot happening in the book, and I do mean a lot; the romance does not take center stage. There's a character from Isabel's past--back when she went to cooking school--who stirs up bad memories. Old family secrets are revealed as Magnus tells his story to Mac. There's also some carryover from Book One. Tess, the heroine of that book, is Isabel's half-sister and Isabel is busy helping plan Tess's wedding. Beekeeping and honey are woven throughout the book. Each section begins with an interesting tidbit about bees and then a recipe using honey. Too bad I don't like to cook. The various dishes sounded wonderful. And finally I thought that the ending was rather abrupt. It's clearly a set-up to Book 3, although Wiggs' website gives no indication one way or another that a Book 3 is on the way.

All-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed the book even though so much was going on. Magnus and Eva's story in Denmark was really interesting. I was a little disgruntled at the abruptness of the ending and the fact that the next book is probably pretty far out on the horizon. On the other hand, when I went over to the library yesterday to return it, I went upstairs and found The Apple Orchard. I'm looking forward to reading that.

Oh, and no new romance on the Quick Pick shelf. Bummer.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Forgotten Seamstress / Liz Trenow. 2014


(UK edition cover)


Back in March or April, Sonomalass tweeted me about the May release of this book by Liz Trenow. This is a book centered around a quilt that brings together two very different women. She thought (rightly!) that I might be interested in a book wherein the quilt tells part of the story.

It should be no surprise that most quilts have a story to tell. The story might be "simple": a quilt is made out of love commemorating the birth of a child or grandchild, a wedding, a friendship, etc. Sometimes the stories are very complex, and even heartbreaking. I highly recommend a visit to the website for Sacred Threads, a biennial exhibit of quilts devoted to the themes: Expressions of Joy, Spirituality, Inspiration, Grief, Healing, and Peace/Brotherhood. There's a link to a gallery of quilts that tell some rather complex stories. A long time ago, when I was a novice quiltmaker, I went to a lecture by Pepper Cory and she showed us antique quilts she'd collected and told us some of the stories behind them. One in particular was particularly eye-opening. It was red and black on a background of white, colors of anger and grief. The quiltmaker had had a tragic life and that quilt was a sobering reflection. That's when I first learned that not every quilt is made from a happy place. For many women, they were and are an important form of expression of the totality of life's experiences.

The Forgotten Seamstress is about a young woman named Maria, an orphan with exceptional sewing skills who becomes a seamstress at Buckingham Palace before WWI. Her exciting new life takes a turn for the worse when she loses everything and is committed to an insane asylum. Maria spends most of her life in that asylum where she creates a quilt that tells the story of her life--a story that no one is willing to believe. The centerpiece of the quilt is scraps of fabric known as the May silks (scroll down to 2nd picture for a gorgeous view of the wedding dress), fabrics that were created specifically for the wedding gown of Princess Mary of Teck. In many ways Maria, and the book, celebrate the fine art of hand sewing and elaborate embroidery.

The Forgotten Seamstress is also about Caroline Meadows, a woman in her late thirties, who finds the quilt as she helps her mother clean out an attic. Caroline is at a crossroad in her life. She's just ended a long-term relationship, she's lost her job, and her mother has Alzheimer's and needs to move to assisted living. Caroline wants to return to interior design, her original career track. The quilt fascinates her and as she researches its origins, her own story becomes entwined with Maria's.

The book goes back and forth between "transcripts" of Maria narrating her story to a sociologist and the present day story of Caroline. I thought it was a clever way to craft the story. There's even a romantic subplot as Caroline becomes involved with a reporter named Ben who helps her research Maria's story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and once I got started I was hooked. I definitely recommend this multi-faceted tale.

Readers (and quilters especially) should be interested in this page of Trenow's website. Trenow collaborated with quiltmaker Lynne Edwards (no website found) who made Maria's quilt and provided a pattern for others to make the quilt for themselves. (It's tempting, but no, I have no plans to make it.)

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On a separate note, I know I have had few postings here over the last 6+ months. I haven't done a single TBR Challenge book this year. I didn't intend to disappear. But sometimes life takes a turn--not necessarily for good or bad, just a turn. I read like crazy and started half a dozen new sewing projects (finishing none) to cope with the turn my life took. But finally I can say that the road ahead looks a little straighter these days so I hope to show up here more often. Time will tell, but I sure am going to try.

Thanks for stopping by.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

It's Auction time again!

For the 10th year in a row, author Brenda Novak is sponsoring her annual online auction for diabetes research. For the 6th year in a row, I have a quilted item in the auction.

In case you haven't noticed the dearth of blog posting this last year, I have to say that it's been a busy, and at times, stressful year. Blogging has been low on my priority list. Knowing I shouldn't add to an already full plate, I decided to donate a quilt I made last summer. I made it for fun and it's never been used. It's just waiting for a good home.

So if you, or someone you know, needs a baby quilt, I hope you'll bid on it. Here's a direct link to my quilt on the auction site. Please feel free to "like" it on Facebook or tweet about it.

The quilt is made from a charm pack of the "Amelia" collection of fabrics by Me and My Sisters Designs for Moda. I used a soft flannel for the backing and quilted it simply with Aurifil 50 wt. white cotton thread. It measures about 45" x 50".



Thanks, as always, for your support and encouragement. It means the world to me and my family. Type 1 Diabetes is personal for us.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Quilts Made Modern / Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. 2010


Authors Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr run Modern Quilt Studio and I am an avid fan of their work. They've published several books now, as well as a magazine. This particular book is the first one I ever purchased about modern quilting. While there are a lot of great patterns and ideas for quilts, it was the first book that helped me understand what modern quilting is and how to think about design. I'd been anxious to use the book and I ended up choosing a pattern from it when I was given this group of Amy Butler fabrics by QBFFT.


In my mind, those fabrics did not lend themselves to something traditional. With the exception of the one solid, they seemed to fight with one another. I had to find a way to get them to work together. As I perused this book, as well as other pattern books, I kept coming back to this one photo, despite how different my fabrics were from the ones used in the book.


This quilt is called "Improv." The individual blocks are pieced using an improvisational technique. There is a degree of structure to get you started, but then it becomes kind of random. I began by cutting my 10 fabrics into strips of several different widths. Then I cut about half of those strips into small pieces 2-5 inches long. I tossed all of the small pieces into a container, mixed them up, and then randomly sewed them to the longer strips. Like this:


Here's my container of small pieces:


I wound up with small units that I sewed to more strips. Then I began to randomly sew those units together to create larger units:


Until I had a stack of blocks:


The blocks were supposed to measure 6.5 x 6.5 inches. But I wasn't paying attention at first and I soon realized my blocks were nearing 8 x 8. So I made 35 7.5 x 7.5 inch blocks. It was easy to get carried away.

I loved being forced to just sew units together. This really put me outside of anything I had ever done before. After auditioning the squares against various solids, I settled on this purple.


And here are some close-ups:


It's randomly quilted with spirals.



I'm really happy with how this turned out. This book not only gave me a great way to use those fabrics, but it taught me to think very differently about the kind of quilts I want to make. It's a tremendous resource for anyone interested in modern quilting.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

QBFF Challenge--FQ Exchange

Two years ago I blogged about a challenge the QBFFs and I had organized. We exchanged 2.5 yards of fabric. Each of us had to take the fabric we were given and make a completed quilt for the person who gave them the fabric.

 

These are the fabric collections we exchanged. The fabric for my quilt is to the left. The fabric I received is above on the far right.

It took 2 years for the last of us to finish her quilt. I actually finished mine in late 2012, but I couldn't reveal it until now. Below are the finished quilts.

The rules were pretty simple. We had to use some of each fabric, we could only add one more fabric, and the quilt had to be at least lap sized (bigger than a crib quilt, smaller than a bed quilt).

QBFFA and QBFFC exchanged the two collections in the upper left above. Here are their completed quilts side-by-side:


Here is the quilt QBFFT made for me. I absolutely love it! I think I need more yellow in my life:


Finally, here is the one I made for QBFFT. I used an interesting pattern, and I will blog more about it shortly.


We're already hard at work on our next two challenges! It's a great way to stretch our abilities.