Monday, May 9, 2016

Pretty Purple Quilt

In my February posts about my sister, I mentioned that she gave me a ton of her stuff--fabric, tools, a machine, and lots of partially completed projects. I brought it all home, stacked in the guest room and tried to figure out where to store it all. Gradually, I organized it, re-arranged some of my own stuff, and figured out how to put it away. It was an emotional process and it took months. I didn't always get a lot of sewing done; it was hard to find the energy as I continued to get used to her being gone.

A few months before she passed away, Char handed me this particular quilt and insisted that I finish it soon. It's actually a quilt top that I made for her back in 2006. She sent me the pattern and fabric and asked me to make just the top. She was going to use it in the book she was writing. When I was finished I sent her the completed top, the pattern, and the leftover fabric. In the book, it's used to demonstrate a basting technique. So she basted the layers together, took pictures for the book, but in the years following never got around to quilting it.

When she gave it to me last fall, she said she couldn't find the pattern or leftover fabric. I wasn't able to find it either as I went through her sewing room. So I can't tell you the name of this, but it reminds me of a floor tile pattern or a garden trellis. I just think of it as the pretty purple quilt. I spent the winter quilting it and finished it in March.
 I didn't do anything fancy with the quilting, just a simple meander across the whole thing.
I keep it on my bed now. A warm, comforting reminder of Char.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

TBR Day. Special Interests / Emma Barry. 2014

I remember reading a number of positive reviews of this book when it came out almost exactly two years ago. I'm sure I purchased it on the strength of those reviews, but like too many of the books I buy, it got pushed to the back burner. I was scrolling through my Kindle titles recently and realized that this would be an excellent choice for this month's TBR Challenge.

The blurb:
Compared to love, politics is easy
Union organizer Millie Frank's world isn't filled with cocktails and nightclubs…until she's turned into an unwitting minor celebrity. As if being part of a hostage situation wasn't traumatizing enough, now her face is splashed across the news. But Millie's got fresher wounds to nurse—like being shot down by the arrogant bad boy she stupidly hit on.
Parker Beckett will do whatever it takes to close a deal for the senate majority leader, including selling out union labor. Charming and smart on the surface, he's also cynical and uncommitted—an asset on the Hill. But something about Millie has stuck with him and when negotiations bring her to his office, Parker breaks his own rules and asks her out.
Parker can't understand how Millie has retained her idealism in a place like D.C. Millie can't believe what Parker's willing to sacrifice in order to pass a budget. But as they navigate their political differences, what grows between them looks a lot like a relationship…and maybe even a little like love.
Special Interests by Emma Barry, is a smart, fun look at two people at political odds who cannot fight their attraction to one another. It seemed extremely appropriate to read this book during a time when we in the U.S. have an abundance of "Super Tuesdays." The primaries dominate the news cycle and cynicism about our government abounds. I liked reading a book about two people who are behind the politicians whose faces are in the news, yet are the ones doing the real work of government.

To me, the book's strengths lie in the ways we get to know both Millie and Parker. Parker is a workaholic--any personal time he gives himself is devoted to his mother and his grandparents. Millie cares deeply for the unions she represents, but is also dealing with the trauma of having been caught up in a hostage situation. The dialogue between the two is great and pretty funny in spots. There's real poignancy to Parker's interactions with his grandfather who has Alzheimer's, and also to the way Parker helps Millie with her nightmares. When their personal and professional lives overlap, there is a genuine conflict that needs to be resolved. Passing a budget is a very real issue, as we Americans have experienced in the not-too-distant past. And given a government where compromise isn't on the table, there's a cost to getting results. All of this is so well portrayed in the book.

One aspect I didn't care for so much was that Millie's insecurities got in the way so easily and then what I perceived to be Parker's over-reaction to them. Their relationship is still very new and playing out against a very stressful political issue and suddenly there's an all-or-nothing moment. I had a hard time buying into that. But it only briefly dimmed my enjoyment of the book, and Parker and Millie's reconciliation was sweet and believable.

Altogether, this is an easy book to recommend. I've already purchased Private Politics, the next book in the series, and look forward to reading it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

While You Were Mine / Ann Howard Creel. 2016

I sort of stumbled across this book when it was a March Kindle First* offering. As near as I can tell, Ann Howard Creel (no website found) is primarily a YA author. This is her second "adult" novel. I can't tell if it's being marketed as a romance or not, but it definitely meets the definition, HEA and all.

While You Were Mine uses the iconic photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day as it's jumping off point. 
The blurb:

Everything she loved could so easily be lost.
The end of WWII should have brought joy to Gwen Mullen. But on V-J Day, her worst fear is realized. As celebrating crowds gather in Times Square, a soldier appears on her doorstep to claim Mary, the baby abandoned to Gwen one year earlier. Suddenly Gwen is on the verge of losing the child she has nurtured and loves dearly.
With no legal claim to Mary, Gwen begins to teach Lieutenant John McKee how to care for his child, knowing that he will ultimately take Mary away. What starts as a contentious relationship, however, turns into something more, and Gwen must open her heart to learn that love means taking chances.
While You Were Mine paints a vivid portrait of 1940s New York and tells an enchanting tale of the nature of love and trust.

Told primarily in first person from Gwen's POV, the book opens with the celebration in Times Square. But soon Gwen is racing home, only to find John on her doorstep looking for his wife and baby daughter. The book goes back over a year to when Gwen takes a young bride into her apartment as a roommate. Alice is pregnant and because she's had no letters from her husband, she's convinced he's dead. Eventually Alice gives birth to little Mary. But Alice cannot bond with her daughter and becomes increasingly detached. So she tells Gwen that she has to leave and she's going to California. Despite all of Gwen's efforts, Alice walks out leaving Mary behind. At first Gwen is resentful. As a young, single woman who loves the energy of New York City, she is forced to stay home to care for Mary. Gwen knows she could turn the child over to the authorities, but she cannot bear the thought of what might happen to Mary. Over the course of the next year Gwen becomes more and more attached to Mary.

But when John comes home just as the war ends, Gwen knows that she's going to have to give Mary back to John. John is bewildered by that fact that Alice is gone. John had been captured by the Germans and held in a POW camp for nearly a year. His memories of Alice were the incentive he needed to stay alive despite the conditions of his captivity. Everything he had imagined crumbles to dust when he learns Alice is gone. Leaving Mary with Gwen a while longer, he goes to California hoping to find Alice. When his search proves fruitless, he comes back to New York, bringing his sister with him. His plan is to take Mary to Ohio where his sister lives and let his sister help him raise Mary. But when he is back in New York and sees the bond Mary has with Gwen, he cannot separate them and sends his sister alone back to Ohio.

So John stays in New York, finds a place to live and a job, and begins to get to know his daughter. He also gets to know Gwen and slowly a relationship develops between them. John gets a divorce because of abandonment and hopes for a life with Gwen and Mary and maybe more children. But then Alice reappears and John needs to make a choice.

This novel paints a vivid picture of life in America immediately after the war. Men returned home by the thousands and jobs and housing were scarce at first. While John is haunted by his memories, there's a secondary character, Dennis, who is clearly suffering and cannot function normally after his discharge. Gwen herself is very cautious and has a hard time standing up for what she wants. She's guarding her heart from more hurt. John is a pleaser and has a hard time saying no when he ought to. These are flawed characters trying to make a way out of an impossible situation during a time of upheaval and change. Things take place slowly, over the course of four and a half months, which I thought made things more authentic.

I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't always happy with the choices Gwen and John made, and the resolution was rather too easy, although not unexpected. Still, the portrait of life in New York from V-J day to New Year's Eve in 1945 was fascinating. Creel provides just enough detail to give the reader a very strong sense of time and place. This was one of those books I had a hard time putting down. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an unusual historical romance.

*Kindle First is a program for Amazon Prime members. I don't know if it's available outside of the US or not. Anyhow, once a month I get an opportunity to "buy" one book for free from a list of 4-6 books of various genres. There's usually a romance offering, although not always. Usually I've never heard of the authors.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Re-reading the Psy-Changling Series

Last spring I decided to re-read Nalini Singh's entire Psy-Changeling Series when I discovered my public library owned it in downloadable audio format. Yesterday I finished Shards of Hope, the latest book in the series. All together it took me about 9 months to listen to 14 books (I did not attempt to re-read any of the novellas). It was an interesting experience. Last July, when I was part-way the series through I blogged this:
First, I'm extremely glad I decided to do this re-read. It's been almost nine years since the 1st book, Slave to Sensation, was published and over the years I've forgotten as much as I've remembered. Some books have been more compelling, and thus more memorable than others. Some, like Blaze of Memory have not been so memorable. Case in point, with BoM-- as I listened I knew I'd read it before, but honestly couldn't remember any of it until near the end. And this is kind of important because Singh has carefully built the Psy-Changeling world and each book is full of clues as to what will be coming. When I finally get to listen to the latest book, Shards of Hope, I suspect that some parts of it will make much more sense than they did when I read the book in June. Anyhow, I am enjoying the re-read and the narration by Angela Dawe. Her voice goes a little lower in volume when it goes low for the male lines, which makes it hard to drive with the windows down on the freeway (I hate to use the A/C). But I figure that's on me, not her.
And it's true, even though I'd read Shards of Hope in print last June, it was for more enjoyable now that I was re-acquainted with the major players and various groups. For example, in June I couldn't remember who the "Forgotten" were and I did not remember that Zaira made an appearance in Shield of Winter. I liked Shards of Hope first time around, but I definitely enjoyed it way more this time now that the details were fresher in my mind. The truth is, this is a series that you need to read from the beginning and each book builds on the one that came before.

You might be thinking, "Wow, Phyl, you must have an awful memory." Yep. It sucks. It's one of the main reasons I quit reading Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series. I was totally lost when trying to read the 5th book. When there's too much time between releases (and hey! I do get that the poor author needs time to write her book) it can be a deal breaker for me. This is especially true for a paranormal or SF/F series where the author is doing a lot of world-building. Sometimes I'll be reading an In Death book and it'll refer to one of Eve's previous cases. I don't even try to remember. Fortunately, it rarely has an impact on the current book. Anyhow, I steer clear of lengthy series these days and prefer the ones where there may be many appearances by happy couples (I'm looking at you, Mary Balogh), but I still get a central, satisfying romance. I don't need to worry about world-building and the accompanying details.

Anyhow, this was a great experience. I'm so glad my library owned them all. I am sad, though, that for the time being I have no more psy-changeling books to listen to. And I hope I can remember enough to enjoy future books in the series. Truthfully, I'm a little worried.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

TBR Day. Badlands / Jill Sorenson. 2014

It's series catch-up month for the TBR Challenge and this month it was a pretty easy choice. I have several books from this series that I've been wanting to read, so it was time to get back to them.

Badlands by Jill Sorenson is the 3rd book in her romantic suspense series named after the first book, Aftershock. I loved Aftershock and I also enjoyed the first book in her MC series, Riding Dirty. This book picks up with two of the characters from Aftershock and uses some of the same settings in Riding Dirty, around the Salton Sea of southern California.

Penny and Owen were trapped with several others in the earthquake described in Aftershock. In Badlands it's now five years later. Thanks to his heroics in the aftermath of the earthquake, Owen, an ex-con, is now working as a bodyguard for Penny's father, a presidential candidate. For years the two of them have kept their feelings for one another to themselves. Penny is a single mother devoted to raising her son, Cruz, and Owen knows his job means he can't get emotionally involved.

But then Penny, Cruz, and Owen are all kidnapped and taken out to the California Badlands in a plot to get Penny's father to withdraw from the presidential race. The kidnapping is compounded by the fact that one of the kidnappers (and the ringleader) is none other than Owen's older brother, Shane. Shane takes them all to badlands near the Salton Sea, not far from where the brothers grew up, so its an area they both know fairly well. On the first night, Penny manages to take Cruz and escape into the desert. When the gang attempts to retrieve them, Owen also gets away, finds Penny and Cruz, and begins to lead them to safety. Of course, things don't exactly go smoothly....

I really enjoyed this book. The suspense was very well done, and Sorenson does a great job of describing the terrain, the heat, and all of the obstacles Penny, Cruz, and Owen face. We get a good look at Owen's family, the forces that shaped both he and Shane, and the very real differences between Owen and Penny. Besides the suspense angle, I think the romance angle was also well done. Both characters have to reach for what they want. Owen feels held back by his upbringing and his time in prison; Penny has conformed herself to her parents' wishes to overcome the stigma of being a single mother. I liked both of these characters very much.

I'm happy to recommend this book. I don't think you need to read the earlier entries to enjoy this one, although if you haven't read Aftershock, you're missing another great book.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Sampling of Char's Quilts

To those of you who offered me your condolences on the passing of my sister, I want to say thank you again for your kind words. It meant so much to me. It has really helped to finally talk about it.

So now I want to brag on my sister just a little bit. She really was exceptionally creative with her quilting; she put a lot of thought into the quilting of the quilt. Rather than try to tell you about it in my words, I'll just let these pictures of her quilts speak about it.

First up this is a little baby quilt. If you click to enlarge you'll see the pattern of flowers, leaves, and stems quilted in red and green.

Here's the quilt she did for the QBFF paint chip challenge back in 2011.

I currently have this one hanging in my kitchen nook. I love looking at it.
The small sections quilted with the rainbow variegated thread are a great touch.

The center section is quilted with metallic thread. This is not easy to do. It requires the right needle in your machine and adjustments to the tension to keep the thread from breaking.

This next one is her original design. She had created a pattern for it and sold it at a quilt shop near her home. In her piles of unfinished quilts was the beginning of another one of these.

I am fairly sure the following is also an original design. In addition to this finished table topper, you'll see below three unquilted tops and the beginnings of two more.

I love the variations in the unfinished tops below. She undoubtedly had a lot of fun making these.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

57, 3, 15

57 years.
3 months.
15 days.

That's how old my sister was when she died on December 30, 2015.

Char spent four and a half years in a tug of war with cancer. For a while there she seemed to be in total control. But that insidious disease came back and this time would not let up. Here's the kicker. She had uterine cancer, just like me. Only hers was Stage 4 when they found it. Mine barely qualified as Stage 1. Life is often unfair, but that seemed the cruelest irony of all. As I wept that she was dying, she wept because I was not.

It's taken me a long time to process this and to be willing to talk openly about it. Some of you reading this have been very open with your own struggles with health, grief, death, and dying. I've wanted to be, but I think I needed for the worst of it to be over first. Every time I tried to write about it, I'd sit paralyzed at the keyboard. I just wasn't ready I guess.

Char decided to suspend further treatment last August. It was making her worse, not better. The cancer had metastasized to her lungs, liver, and kidneys. I think that's when I began to pull back from social media, especially after my own surgery in October. Since I couldn't bring myself to talk about it, it was better to be silent, although there were occasional exceptions. I was still reading, so the monthly TBR post cost me little. I would check in on Twitter at least once a day, maybe make a comment, but I stopped scrolling through to see what I might be missing. I was sewing a lot as well, although I barely actually finished anything. As your mind does when you're grieving, I kept skipping from project to project.

There's a lot I could tell you about her, but I'll limit myself to this: She and I shared a special bond over the last 15 years because we both loved to make quilts. We talked endlessly about them and our time together was frequently filled with sewing. She was an extremely accomplished sewist-- she made beautifully tailored clothes and home dec items. When I first started quilting, long before she did, she had this idea that quilting was only done by hand because that's the way I was doing it. One day I took her to a quilt show to show her differently and she was instantly hooked. Within just a few years of that she was teaching quilting and winning awards. For me quilting was a hobby, for her it was becoming a second profession. In 2007 she published a book about machine quilting. She was about to start another book when she received her cancer diagnosis.

In the months leading up to her death Char began to give away many of her possessions. She had an extensive fabric stash, several sewing machines, countless tools, patterns, etc. She had dozens of projects in various stages of completion. She made me take much of this home with me. She was adamant that I complete a couple of specific quilts and keep them. The rest she told me to finish or not, she didn't have it in her to care anymore.

In the years to come I hope to finish many of the things she started, besides working on my own projects. When I pull fabric from my stash some of it will have been hers. For the rest of my life my quilting will have a piece of her in it. I knew my sister was talented, but I'm also learning just how driven she was and how many ideas she had for the future. I found notes, sketches, and half-started projects in the boxes she gave me. Many of these were things she continued to work on even as she fought her cancer. We had dreamed of traveling together in our retirement, going to quilt shows or camping out west. I hope I still get to do those things, but it won't be the same.

I believe in Heaven and I believe she is there. She may be in a far better world than this one, but I sure wish she were still here. Thanks for reading.

Char & I at our nephew's wedding in September.