Monday, June 22, 2015

A Little Something

I've actually finished a few things recently. Two of them are lap-sized and all I need to do is get some photos taken so I can post them here soon. I also whipped out this little wall hanging that I gave to my husband yesterday for Father's Day.

This is called Moonlight Moose and it's from a kit by On the Trail Creations that I bought through Keepsake Quilting (they have the BEST catalog). It's pretty small, about 11"x 16". It only took me 4 days to finish, but I worked on it for several long stretches during those 4 days. There's a lot of stitching and I had to keep changing thread colors and presser feet. It was well worth the effort, though.

So here's the finished project:
And next, here is an interesting view of the background, raw edges and all, before the applique pieces were added.
This is a close-up of the stitching. I used some of my machine's decorative stitches, which is something I rarely get a chance to do.
The raw-edge applique pieces were ironed on and stitched into place:
And then I added some background quilting. Here are a couple of close-ups of that:

The pattern came with an extra set of pattern pieces. I can certainly see myself making this again using my own fabrics. The instructions were well-written and easy to follow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TBR Day. It Started at Waterloo / Lynne Connolly. 2015

I love history. Since tomorrow marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, it seemed fitting to mark the occasion by reading this book. Now, I have to admit, it was only in my TBR e-pile about 12 hours before I began reading it, because it was just published yesterday. But I do have a couple other books by Lynne Connolly waiting to be read, so this does meet this month's theme of "More than One [author]."

With barely more than a day to read the book and write this review, it's a good thing it was relatively short.

This book is aptly named. It opens during the infamous ball given by the Duchess of Richmond the evening of June 15. Hostilities would begin the next day, culminating in the final battle at Waterloo on the 18th. Amelia Hartwell is the daughter of a British officer. She's minor gentry; she and her family have been following her father ("following the drum") for several years. She knows Dr. Will Kennaway, an army surgeon, as she's spent time with him over the last few years helping to care for the wounded. The two of them see each other at the ball and are talking just when it becomes apparent that the fighting is about to commence. During this time we learn that Amelia is ill-at-ease in fine society, and that she has strong feelings for the handsome doctor.

The second chapter begins three days later, after Napoleon's surrender. Soldiers are still being treated for their injuries. Will and Amelia have worked side-by-side, almost non-stop for those three days and they are exhausted. They pretty much fall into bed--to sleep--and are later caught by Amelia's mother who has come looking for her. Next thing we know, Amelia and Will are married.

Soon we learn that Will has been keeping a secret (which really isn't a secret to us because it's in the blurb). He's an earl. It's a title he never wanted, but inherited when his older brother died. With the war over, he is compelled to go back to London, take up his title, and enter society. This terrifies Amelia, who only wanted to work by her surgeon-husband's side. The bulk of the book is the story of both of them coming to terms with their marriage, their place in society, and the fact that their previous plans to continue hospital work have to change.

For the most part, I liked the book. It was very much like reading a traditional Regency. There's the overbearing, social-climbing mother; there's a powerful society matron; there's an uncomfortable society dinner; etc. Connolly does these things well. The part about why Will had kept his title a secret made sense, but the scenes with Will's younger brother seemed like a rushed resolution. Amelia and Will began their marriage under one set of expectations that had to change when Will agreed to go back to London as the Earl. With changed expectations, there's a lot of unhappiness on both sides that they need to work through. That's the part that interested me the most, but because the book is short, it wasn't dealt with as much as I would have liked. Still it was an enjoyable read and a fun way to mark this anniversary.

Tomorrow, lots of folks will be focused on Waterloo. But did you know that June 17 has been a busy day in history too?

  • 1775 -- The Battle of Bunker Hill, the second battle of the American Revolutionary War.
  • 1885 -- The Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor.
  • 1972 -- The Watergate break-in occurred and Nixon's staffers were arrested.
  • 1994 -- L.A. police chase O.J. Simpson while the world watches.
And, oh yes-- it's my birthday :)
58 years and counting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TBR Day. I Hear Adventure Calling / Emilie Loring. 1948

When it comes to "old school," I imagine it doesn't get too much better than this. If Mary Balogh was my gateway BACK to romance 10 years ago, Emilie Loring was my introduction to it (along with Grace Livingston Hill) over 40 years ago when I was 13 or 14. This Wikipedia entry about Loring is well worth reading. I had a rather large collection of Loring's books at one point, but I gave them away during a move. After a Twitter convo with @emilyjanehubb, Emily Jane kindly sent me a half dozen of her Loring duplicates. I was so thrilled because I immediately recognized several of the books she sent me. This one, though, I did not remember, so it became the perfect choice for this month's TBR Challenge.

The back cover blurb: Fran had been warned about Myles Jaffray. According to the gossip, nothing could stop Myles from breaking a woman's heart--not even a wedding ring. The more Myles made himself a part of her summer evenings, the more determined Fran became to resist his advances. But when the art gallery she worked for was robbed and the burglar left clues leading straight to Fran, she desperately needed help. The only person she could turn to was the man she despised--Myles Jaffray.

Reading Loring again after 40+ years and in a world that has changed in so many ways, the story itself became rather incidental to the experience of reading the book. The story is actually somewhat conventional. So rather than discuss the story, here are some the things about the writing, the setting, and the time period that hit me:

  • Right off the bat, on page 1, I was transported to the 1940s. In my head it's like watching a black-and-white post-war movie. There's an elevator operator, a switchboard operator, and Fran is wearing a beret. And on page 2 there's mention of a white cross in a field in Belgium. The war, and its aftermath, is a quiet backdrop to the book.
  • I think Loring was a champion of smart, independent women, even if they wind up in traditional rolls at the end of the day. In this book, Fran may be an heiress, but when a man she doesn't know (the hero, Myles) is in charge of the purse strings, Fran gets herself a job and learns to stand on her own two feet.
  • They didn't call it PTSD in 1948 (I don't think), but Loring understood the horror of war. There's a brief scene from Myles' POV where an airplane goes overhead and he's mentally transported to a time when he parachuted somewhere in Europe to help rescue the crew of a downed bomber. He cuts off his memory before it gets graphic, but Loring lets us know that even though the war is over, Myles is still dealing with the things he saw and had to do.
  • Loring never met an adjective she couldn't use. That Wikipedia entry puts it more kindly by saying she painted pictures with her words, describing things in exacting detail. This is the first sentence of chapter 2: A breeze lightly scented with the salty tang of kelp, murmurous with the lazy lap of the tide against rocks, stirred the palm-designed chintz hangings at the long open windows of the dining room in the Sargent home, Rocky Point. It's beautiful writing, but I've become accustomed to writing that moves the action forward as opposed to elaborately setting the stage. I'm not trying to be negative, because it isn't a bad thing, it's a different thing.
It was wonderful to re-visit Emilie Loring's world again. I think anyone who loves the Romance genre as it exists today should read at least one of her books. It's a narrow, white, upper-class world she created, but the romance was central to what she wrote and you can see modern genre conventions on every page.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Something Whimsical

Last summer a couple of my friends and I were each asked to make a small wall hanging (24" x 24") using pieces of two specific fabrics. We were given fat eighths (9" x 11") of a bright orange batik and a dark purple batik. And we were challenged to use the word "whimsey" as a theme. Our challenger was the owner of SewBatik, a fabric company that sells direct to consumers at quilt shows and online. Our quilts were due April 15, and I'm finally getting around to showing them off here.

QBFF T. calls her quilt "Sunshine and Showers."
I love the beading to show the rain, and the lace trim to represent flowers. It's the perfect May quilt.
She did a great job quilting this.

QBFF A. simply called hers "Whimsey Challenge." It's a beautiful, bold, graphic quilt.
Look at all of that beading!
The quilting cleverly follows the background's horizontal lines.

Finally, here's mine. When I saw the fabric, all I could think of was "Flower Power."
I quilted flowers all over it using yellow thread.
Groovy, huh?

Monday, May 11, 2015

April Reads

I'm going to experiment with a more rambling sort of post about my reading. Perhaps if I'm a little less formal, I'll be inclined to do this more often. I hope this is interesting, and even mildly entertaining. So here goes:

For some time now I've wanted to read Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles and when I noticed that my library has them in ebook form, I started checking them out. I read the first one, Summer at Willow Lake, back in February and then the next two, The Winter Lodge and Dockside, in April. I have really enjoyed these books, especially the fact that some of main characters are older (i.e. 40). In some ways this series is similar to other long, small-town series such as Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. Yet Lakeshore has more depth to it, which is probably an indicator of Wiggs' strength as a writer. The characters are very inter-connected and I'm not sure how easy it would be to read just one book as a stand-alone. At any rate, I'm eager to read the rest of the series and will probably be caught up by the end of the summer. Oh, and one more thing: these books have a feature that I wish I could appreciate more-- they are peppered with recipes that look delicious. I suspect if I cared more for cooking I'd be eager to try some of them out. But I do like how the dish, or an ingredient, is actually relevant in some way to the story.

I finally read Hard Time by Cara McKenna. I'd been meaning to get to it forever. Librarian heroine! Anyhow, I loved it. It gave me quite the book hangover, too. I thought about it for days. The ex-con and librarian make for the most unlikely of couples, yet McKenna made it work and made it believable that they could last as a couple. There's a depressing, dark tone, from the description of working in the prison, to the small economically-depressed community where Annie works. Eric and Annie's relationship is a bright light against that background. Anyhow, this is one I know I'll read again.

Usually I read a new Mary Balogh book as soon as it comes out. I don't know why, but I put Only Enchanting on the back burner and then realized I'd better read it before the next book is released in June. I liked it much better than some of her other recent releases so now I'm eager for that June release. Balogh was my gateway author back into romance, so I am very sentimental about her books and perhaps not always very objective either.

I did read the latest Nora Roberts stand-alone, The Liar as soon as it came out. I hesitate to call it romantic suspense, even though there's a thread of it running through the book. Heck, it was pretty obvious from the very beginning who the villain was going to be. But what I did like was the slow build of the romance and the way Shelby puts her life back together after her SOB husband dies. I found it entertaining and absorbing.

My re-reading via audiobook continued in April and I listened to 3 books: Nora Roberts Rising Tides (liked it very much), Lisa Kleypas' Again the Magic (I think I liked it better the first time around, but still found it entertaining), and Eloisa James' A Duke of Her Own (what the heck was I thinking). As an audiobook newbie, it's interesting to me how different the reading experience can be. Listening to ADoHO was downright boring through most of the middle. If I found the initial reading of it boring, I no longer remember that fact. Perhaps I skimmed it when I read it back then. But what you can skim in half an hour might take 4 hours to listen to. I persevered because I listened in the car and it passed the time.

And I'm going to end this with a mini-rant. I admit, I usually avoid negative comments about books, but this one bugged me for so long, and then I looked at my April list in preparation for this and it all came back to me. In browsing through my library's audio selection, I ran across Jennifer Ryan's The Return of Brodie McBride. The very brief description sounded interesting-- Former Army Ranger Brodie McBride returns home after 8 years to find the woman he never should have left behind.

Anyhow Brodie, when he was 18, decides he's not worthy, and breaks up with his girlfriend and then hightails it out of town. However he manages to have sex with his girlfriend, Rain, and another woman before he leaves, without protection, natch. His girlfriend and the other woman wind up pregnant and then Rain winds up raising both little girls. I am not going to try to describe this mess of a plot. There are so many things that made no sense to me (like, how do you get custody of a little girl without some kind of guardianship decree?). But here's the biggest one. Brodie comes home determined to marry Rain. After all, she HAS to know how much he's always and only loved her (even though he slept around while he was gone). C'mon, Rain. He left you pregnant with no explanation, no clue as to his whereabouts, and evidence that he'd had sex with another woman within hours of being with you. Snap! So easy to forgive. Within a week, Rain and the girls have moved in with Brodie and everything is going to be perfect--I assume. I DNF'd it. Do yourself a favor, avoid this one.

Sigh. We need a palate cleanser after that. Here you go:

Monday, May 4, 2015

The One in My Heart / Sherry Thomas. 2015

When I found out a couple of weeks ago that Sherry Thomas had a new book out, I bought it right away, even though it's not a historical and it's written in 1st person POV. I am fine with the former, a lot more cautious about the latter. But Thomas is pretty much an auto-buy author for me. Anyhow, after I bought it I found out that the hero, Bennett, is the great-great-grandson of Gigi and Camden from one of my all-time favorite books, Private Arrangements. I knew I wouldn't be able to read this right away, but I was looking for something to listen to. So I downloaded PA and (since it takes 7-10 days to listen to a book) ended up reading the two simultaneously as I finished up PA

That wound up being pretty weird. The books are very, very different. But there are a couple of references to Cam & Gigi in TOIMH that me and my crappy memory would undoubtedly have overlooked otherwise. I liked this book. I didn't love it, but I did like it and was pretty absorbed in it, especially the second half.

Evangeline, the heroine, has a chance encounter with Bennett that leads to a one-night stand. A few months later, they meet again and Bennett has a request. He'd like Eva to pretend to be his girlfriend as he attempts a reconciliation with his parents, from whom he's been estranged for over a decade. Eva is reluctant, in part because she is strongly attracted and she is afraid to become attached. Eva has abandonment issues, among other issues. As the book moves along, we learn that Eva's and Bennett's lives have intertwined at previous points even though they've never met until the book's opening. 

Both characters are interesting. Eva is an assistant professor of materials science working toward tenure. She's geeky and has geeky friends. Her interactions with her friends are fun and funny. Bennett is a doctor who made a ton of money before going to medical school. (How he made the money relates, in part, to PA.) Most of the book takes place in New York City where Bennett has a Park Avenue apartment--a deliberate ploy to put himself in the same sphere as his wealthy parents. I enjoyed the descriptions of the city as well as the fact that both of them had jobs that kept them busy and occupied. The book takes place over a several month period.

One thing that I often find hard in books with 1st person POV is when it becomes pretty clear to the reader that something is happening and yet the narrator is oblivious to it. Eva falls hard for Bennett pretty quickly and whenever he does something to communicate his feelings, she's sure it's all an act. Of course we know better. I don't know--I think this kind of thing is why I generally stay away from 1st person and it may bug me, but not you. I also found it hard to fully sympathize with Bennett's estrangement from his parents. For a guy who's done some rather bold things with his life, I'm not sure why he needed Eva as a cover to re-connect with them. I didn't feel the angst that I think I was supposed to feel.

Still, the story was interesting and had a subplot involving Eva's stepmother, Zelda, that I really liked. I took a look at a few Amazon reviews before writing this and it's clear that this book won't appeal to everyone. But I'm certainly not sorry I bought it. For now I can say that I'd read more like this from Thomas.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TBR Day. Craving Temptation / Deborah Fletcher Mello. 2014

I purchased this book last fall in part because I'm trying to make an effort to read more diversely. (The Twitter conversation surrounding #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been eye-opening.) This multi-cultural romance features a heroine whose father is a conservative Muslim and an African-American hero. It is the 2nd book in Mello's 2-part Just Desserts series. I have not read the first book and while the characters from it are a significant part of this story, I didn't feel I was missing anything important. The blurb:

After a rocky year, life is once again sweet for brothers Troy and Quentin Elliot, and Quentin's new wife, Harper. Their bakery, Just Desserts, is thriving, with Quentin as pastry chef, and attorney Troy handling the books. In fact, Troy is ready to pursue his next big goal: to run for Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee. The competition is tough, but there's one challenge Troy doesn't anticipate--his opponent's distractingly beautiful campaign manager and daughter, Amina Salman. . .

A fellow attorney, Amina hopes to reconnect with her estranged father. But a chance meeting with Troy quickly complicates her task. Not only is her passionate spirit at odds with her father's conservative values, her attraction to his rival leaves her even more conflicted. Soon, Amina and Troy are falling in love--but when they surrender to sweet temptation, they find themselves with more at stake than a campaign victory. . .

Amina's parents divorced when she was 12 and Amina ended up with her mother in Atlanta while her older brother, Basil, and younger sister, Rasheeda, stayed with their father in Memphis. Basil and Rasheeda grew up in a conservative Muslim environment, while Amina spent only her summers with their father. Her mother had "returned to her Baptist roots" and accordingly, Amina has lived between two worlds. As the book opens she is now a successful attorney with strong management and PR skills who has moved to Memphis to try and re-connect with her father and siblings as she manages her father's mayoral campaign.

Here are a few random bullet points:

  • For the most part I enjoyed the book. That's because I liked Amina. She was respectful toward her father, yet she remained true to herself. She was willing to disagree with him and she stood up for herself.
  • Amina's brother is the source of the conflict in the book. He is a mean bully who has been over-indulged by their father. Basil constantly undermines what Amina is trying to do for the campaign. This makes it easy for Amina to resign as campaign manager when her relationship with Troy deepens to the point it's a clear conflict of interest.
  • There are 2 parts to the book. The first half was Amina & Troy sneaking around to get to know one another and the second half was Basil going off the deep end trying to control Amina and using Rasheeda to do so.
  • I have to admit, I found it odd that Amina's father, who believes women are to be behind the scenes as wives and mothers, would allow his daughter to manage his campaign. And why do so if he wasn't going to take her advice?
  • When Basil goes off the deep end, it's because he's engaged in some shady real estate deals and he wants Amina to cover it up. He becomes violent and threatening towards Amina. At this point some of it seemed over the top. But, I liked that Amina doesn't give in to her brother.
  • There's no real conflict between Amina and Troy. Which is OK, but it makes you realize that this is rare in romance. And when Amina doesn't tell Troy something that he should know immediately, her reasons for waiting make sense and she's not running off by herself in a TSTL moment.
  • Troy came across to me as such a perfect man he was almost a cardboard character.
  • I really liked seeing Amina's relationship with her sister grow and how Rasheeda gains the courage to stand up for herself both by watching her sister do so, and -- I loved this -- through the romance novels Amina gives her to read.
So to sum up, I did like the book. Despite the fact that I am calling the suspense stuff at the end over the top, I have to admit that I couldn't put it down when I got to to it. I also want to say that I thought the description of conservative Muslim beliefs was respectful. If there were errors, I am not conversant enough to have recognized them. I would like to read more by this author.