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.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Some Book Talk and more

Well, hasn't the romance online community been messed up this week? I'm glad I've managed to stay away from the big blogs and virtually hang with folks who tell it like it is and mostly just want to read some good books. So in that spirit, how about a little book talk and a couple of pretty pictures?

First up, I've totally failed at posting my last two TBR Challenge reads. I did read the books. In February my recommended read was Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex. This review of the book at DukeDukeGoose (damn, is that not the best blog name ever?) is what made me decide to read it for the February challenge. I have to admit I was skeptical because it's a Regency "chick in pants" book and I generally find them implausible. Not this time. Essex made it perfectly reasonable that heroine Sally Kent could pass as a young boy who knew her way around a ship. People often see what they want to see. And when the hero figures out the truth pretty quickly, well, it's because he knew the family. Sailing in the British Navy was not a comfortable job, and Essex doesn't shy away from that. At the same time she doesn't dwell on the unpleasantness overmuch through all the action. The relationship between Sally and Col develops at a reasonable pace and the resolution makes sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

My series catch up book for March was Jade Lee's Wedded in Scandal. This was a case of going back to the beginning after having started mid-way through her Bridal Favors series last year. This book is about Helaine, a woman who is trying to establish her dressmaker's shop. Helaine is actually the daughter of a disgraced Earl who ran away leaving his wife and daughter destitute. Helaine is trying to win the business of the hero's sister who is about to be married and needs a trousseau. I found quite a few things to like about this book. The first is the way Helaine stands her ground against Robert, the hero, who wants to make her his mistress. He has no clue who she really is and Helaine is aware that she could lose the business she's carefully built if she chooses wrong. I also thought parts of the book were quite funny. Humor is always subjective, but this book made me laugh out loud in some places.

I've been averaging 2-3 audiobooks per month, mostly listening while in the car. All re-reads. I listened to Courtney Milan's Turner series and recently started in on Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Bay series. Oh, and I listened to Nicholas Boulton's reading of Flowers from the Storm. OMG, now I know why everyone was raving about his performance. So glad I bought that one. I'll listen again, I'm sure. I (mostly) gave up buying soda to pay for my Audible subscription. I figured it was a good incentive to cut down on my diet soda consumption and it's been totally worth it.

A few brief comments about other recent reads:

I have loved Grace Burrowes "Kiss" series. I think she has a great contemporary voice and I hope she keeps writing them. I'm a non-lawyer working in a law school and I do enjoy books that feature lawyers. I thought the first book, A Single Kiss, gave a fascinating look at family court.

Today I finished Razed by Shiloh Walker. I loved it. Could not put it down. Keelie is a closed-off woman and Zane has been in love with her for years. It's sweet with a healthy dose of angst. It's not one of Walker's suspense novels. I would say you should read the first Barnes brothers book (Wrecked) first.

I keep a list of what I've read in the sidebar on my blog (in case you're seeing this in a feeder). Looking back at the last couple of months, I'd say I haven't read any clunkers; I'd recommend them all. I will say that I especially liked Once Upon a Rose (Laura Florand), Riding Dirty (Jill Sorenson), and Say Yes to the Marquess (Tessa Dare). I have to admit, that last one surprised me. Dare's books are really anachronistic and the purist in me usually shies away from books like that. But she has a way with characters that I can't help but love.

OK. Well this has been a long post. I'll conclude with a couple of pictures. We had to travel to eastern Pennsylvania last week to see my parents. We made a "slight" detour and went up to Niagara Falls to see the ice that had built up over the winter. A good chunk of the ice is gone now, but there was still a lot to see. We enjoyed the view, spent a wonderful night in a B&B on the Canadian side and visited a most awesome quilt shop in Ithaca, NY on the way south. Here are a few pictures of the ice:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Something Rather Modern

The quilt on the cover of the fall 2013 issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited was the source of my latest finish. The quilt's designer is Jen Eskridge and she created an interesting pattern that was fun and rather different than anything I've made to date.
I gathered up a collection of fabrics that all fell into the same group of colors: brown, gray, black, white, and off white. I made a bunch of circles. Some circles were sewn inside bigger circles, others were scattered to overlap. While I followed the layout above in general, mine comes out looking slightly different. There is less space between the circles, and I think I wound up with more circles than in the original. Still, this was a great, easy-to-follow pattern.
I finished this top almost a year ago and was immediately intimidated by all of the white space I needed to quilt. I wanted to do something creative in the background, but instead I settled on quilting a variety of motifs in the circles themselves and doing a plain meander in the background. I'm not disappointed. When the light hits it just right, there's such texture!

Here is a shot of it while in the middle of quilting the background:
And here a couple of close-ups of the circles. Hopefully you can see some of the different ways I quilted the circles.

Here's a shot of the back of the quilt:
I kind of like looking at the back, even though some of my quilting isn't as smooth as I'd like.

This is going to a former co-worker as her "good-bye" present. She has waited very patiently for it. We're having lunch soon so I can give it to her.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Little Quilt

A couple of years ago I took a class from Teri Henderson Tope on reverse applique. This is a method where the top layer is cut away to reveal the fabric underneath. (Regular applique involves sewing pieces of fabric down to a background.) The class involved making a small floral piece and the applique work was done totally by hand. I only managed to sew a few of the petals of one flower in the class that day, so every now and then I would pick it up and work on it for a little while. When the block was finished I sewed the corner pieces on and decided to hand quilt it. That, too, was something I did little by little. And low and behold, last week I finally finished it.

This first picture is a close-up. Hopefully you can see some of the applique stitching.
 And this second picture is the finished quilt. It measures just 17" x 17".
When I first began quilting I hand pieced and hand quilted everything I made. Slowly I transitioned to using my machines for all of my piecing and quilting. In doing this project I realized how much I still enjoy hand quilting and I've taken steps to make sure I do more of it this year. I'll tell you about it next time out.

Meanwhile the tally stands at one finished quilt for 2015.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

TBR Day. Love for Lucinda / Gayle Buck. 1996

Last month while I was out in California to spend Christmas with my in-laws, I had the great pleasure of meeting up with our TBR coordinator, SuperWendy. She took me to an awesome used bookstore with a whole room full of romance. As I write this I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of the Room of Awesome. Anyhow, while I now buy pretty much only in digital, there were some titles I was anxious to buy to fill in my print keeper collection. I scored about a dozen of those. There was also a little section of old Signet Regencies. As I browsed through, I picked out this book by Gayle Buck (no website found), an author I had enjoyed reading before. This was one I had not read.

So even though it had only been in the TBR pile 4 weeks, I picked it out because it was short (this month's theme) and in honor of my visit with Wendy.
Love for Lucinda is the story of our heroine, a recent widow who had a brief, unhappy marriage to a libertine. Lucinda's late husband kept her exiled in the country and now that her period of mourning is over, she is determined to return to London to resume the social life that was interrupted when her husband banished her. As a young widow with a modest fortune, she attracts a lot of attention. There's her wastrel cousin who wants her money, a match-making mama who wants Lucinda for her son, an acquaintance from the country who is courting her, and her husband's cousin who is her friend-- to name a few. I think this book would probably be called a "Regency Romp" because of the humorous situation of all of these men after Lucinda.

This book is all Lucinda and her return to society. With the exception of some odd sentences here and there, the POV is Lucinda's. The rigid structure of polite society is a major part of the story. Lucinda is careful to have a companion so that all of the proprieties are observed. She also ends up helping her late husband's sister come out into society. There are so many parties and balls as well as all of the men in her orbit that somehow the romance is left until the 9th page from the end. It was kind of obvious who the hero was going to be, but just to be sure I cheated and read the last page when I was only about 15-20% into the book. By the time I was 75% in, I was frustrated because Lucinda and her hero spent so little time on the page together. It is hard to consider this at all a romance just because two people end up together at the end. Actually, 3 couples end up together as both the companion and the sister-in-law find true love as well. All neatly wrapped up and mostly off the page. Lots of telling, little showing.

So sadly, this book was a bust. Still, it's a nifty souvenir of a wonderful morning spent with a kind friend who knows all the best places to go. Thanks, Wendy!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mister DJ Quilt

My last finished quilt of the year is a twin-sized quilt that's my version of this quilt by Melissa Corry found on the Moda Bake Shop site. I even used the same fabric, Sphere by Zen Chic. The fun thing about this particular pattern is that the maker needs to put the strips together randomly making it highly unlikely that there are two identical quilts made from this pattern. But since I used the same fabric, mine looks very much like the one Melissa made.
I like the name, "Mister DJ," because it does remind me of the indicators on a music board. It's a very clever design.

This pattern uses two rolls of pre-cut strips. I had to separate the strips into high-volume, low-volume piles and then cut them into sets of varying lengths. The cut sections were then paired and sewn together with a small strip of the green. I wound up with 210 strips. In a pile they looked like this:
They had to be pieced together randomly, so in order to ensure that, I jumbled them up into a pile like this:
And I just grabbed and sewed, grabbed and sewed, until it looked like this:
Similarly, I grabbed the pairs randomly to build the blocks:
I put the blocks on my design wall:
And then I had a quilt top:
Here are some pictures of the quilting:

Because I was thinking of the lights on a sound board, I quilted loopy horizontal lines in the bottom, darker strips and loopy vertical lines in the upper, lighter strips. I put no quilting in the green. I quilted with two colors of Aurifil thread--gray for the upper parts, turquoise for the lower parts.

Kudos to Melissa Corry, for an imaginative and easy-to-follow pattern. I would like to make it again some time, perhaps using batiks or fall colors. The trick is finding a fabric collection with a good contrast and enough color to make parts of the quilt pop out. Of course, I have all those other things I need to finish first!

My 2014 tally is 7 finished quilts and 1 finished bag. I made 3 additional quilt tops that are waiting to be quilted (I haven't shown them here yet). Looking ahead to 2015, I want to quilt all three of those. I also want to return to working on my Aviatrix Medallion quilt and of course I have a few other things I'm anxious to start. So here's hoping for plenty of quality quilting time.