Monday, January 25, 2010

Conference Championship Sunday--More Strips

Since I had to spend Saturday attending an all-day meeting, some important household chores were left until Sunday. Which left less time for sewing. Not to mention, the games were close and worth keeping an eye on. That also meant less sewing. Congrats to the Saints and the Colts. Should be a fun Super Bowl and I'm looking forward to it. I'll be hand sewing during the Super Bowl so I can keep a closer eye on the action. But if I watch all the commercials, I won't make much progress.

Meanwhile, during this last week I started working with those sets of strips for the Quilts of Valor project. The strips were in groups of two and I began joining those groups of two together.

I sewed them into strata of 10 strips each and I wound up with a stack of close to a dozen of these strata. The strata are about 40 in. long and anywhere from 20-30 in. wide. They'll get cut into 6.5 in. segments and sewn into one very, very long strip set that is to measure 10.5 YARDS. I've been told by the organizer I should get at least 3 strip sets (or 31.5 YARDS). I can't wait to figure out how to photograph that!

And then during the week I remembered that I had at least two fat quarter bundles of patriotic fabric that I could contribute to the cause and thus lessen the size of my stash (which is a tad out of control). So during the second game I cut a bunch of fabrics into more strips and began sewing those. Now I have enough to create more strata during the upcoming week.

But I also held back 6 fabrics. 3 blue and 3 red. I think I'll make a small throw from those. And that'll be my donation to Brenda Novak's 2010 auction for diabetes. I don't have time to do something as elaborate as last year's contribution and perhaps bidders will consider a small lap quilt appealing. We'll see! Meanwhile, check out the auction site. I can't believe how much stuff is already listed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

TBR Day. Warning Signs / CJ Lyons. 2009

Well it's a new year and for the 3rd year in a row, I'm participating in Keishon's TBR Challenge--the challenge to bloggers for us to reduce the size of those piles of books waiting To Be Read. Keishon has a list of suggested themes, but other than a stray romantic suspense, most of my TBR books are historicals. So I'm going to ignore the themes this year and go with what I have. I've been carting this month's entry around since Thanksgiving. But I also have had a gazillion library books to read and return, so this one kept staying on the back burner.
A year and a half ago I read CJ Lyons' debut book, Lifelines. I loved it and it was my number 1 phave the month I read it. Warning Signs is the second in Lyons' quartet of medical suspense novels centered around 4 women who work together in a Pittsburgh hospital. Marketed as general fiction (meaning you won't find them in the romance section at the store), they nonetheless have strong romantic elements. So far both books are written with the POVs only of the 4 female protagonists. Lifelines focused on ER attending physician, Lydia. Warning Signs focused on 4th-year medical student, Amanda. Urgent Care (recently released) features ER charge nurse, Nora. Leaving (I assume) resident physician Gina as the main protagonist for the final book, Isolation, due in December.
Like Lifelines, Warning Signs takes place over just a handful of days, although it's set a few months later. When a young, apparently healthy young woman is admitted to the ER with a type of paralysis, red flags are raised as she exhibits symptoms similar to at least 2 other patients who died. Each time, these patients were under the care of neurologist Dr. Lucas Stone, and Amanda has been carrying around quite a crush on the good doctor. We only ever see Dr. Stone through Amanda's eyes. He's an intense, focused individual with a clean fetish. He reminded me of TV's Monk. Anyhow, Amanda's running scared because she's been exhibiting some of the same strange symptoms that their patient has. She's chalking it up to the fatigue that's common among medical students and refuses to discuss her symptoms with the observant Lucas. But he's persistent and as Amanda and he get closer to the truth, some pretty strange things begin to happen.
This is a very engaging read. It is fast-paced, but we have plenty of opportunity to get to know the 4 women better and what drives them. Lydia is growing into her relationship with Trey; Nora is trying to cope with her break-up from Seth; and Gina--well Gina has all kinds of issues and a lot of growing up to do. Good thing her book is last. Should you have read Lifelines first? Yes, I'd say so, although I don't think you'd be lost in Warning Signs if you haven't. WS really is all about Amanda's medical mystery. There's a fair bit of medical terminology here, but nothing that gets in the way. In fact, I think Lyons does a good job of explaining conditions and procedures as they relate to the story. And the glimpse into life in a busy, urban hospital was fascinating. Since the author is an experienced pediatric ER doctor, I'm sure that what we're reading is authentic. My only complaint is that the climax and ending to the book seemed rushed, even though the pace of the whole book was fast.
I also enjoyed a lot of the references to Pittsburgh. I've been there a few times as several of my college roommates were from the area. Lyons' website has several pictures of the city and some interesting background to the books. Also, in looking at her website and then at Amazon, it appears that she's self-published some suspense books for the Kindle. Right now she's donating royalties from any Kindle sales of these books to Doctors Without Borders for Haiti relief. If you have a Kindle, go take a look.
Meanwhile I can definitely recommend this book. I'm looking forward to reading Urgent Care soon--hopefully before it becomes eligible for a TBR post.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Divisional Playoff Weekend, or, Strips Until My Brain is Fried

The QBFFs & I decided to participate in an all-day quilting event in February to make a boatload of quilts for the Quilts of Valor project. For homework prior to the big day, we each have to sew a pile of strips into something that will eventually measure 6.5 inches by 10.5 YARDS. Yeah, YARDS. That's a lot of strips. So during today's games I worked on my QOV strips. Here's my mess of strips. Oh look! On the far left there's my library copy of Nalini Singh's Blaze of Memory all ready to read. Only I have to read my monthly TBR book first.

So far I only got about half my cut strips sewn into sets of two. While the pile doesn't look real big, there are over 2 dozen sets of them. I'll be sewing them together into groups of 10, cutting them, and sewing again to get that great big long 10.5 YARDS of strips. It should be fun trying to get a picture of that!

Yesterday during the games I cut strips to make the binding and rod pocket for my stars quilt that I quilted last weekend. I've decided to enter this quilt in the June NQA show in Columbus. I don't expect it to win anything, but I'd like some judges' comments to see how I'm doing.

Yesterday I also cut strips to make these 2 little blocks. They're going out to California to be added to quilts already under construction. I have a niece and nephew graduating high school this year. Ladies at the church they attend make quilts every year for the seniors. So Aunt Phyl is making a contribution to each quilt. The nephew is a surfer, so he gets surfers added to his block. I wanted to do something similar for the niece, but hadn't a clue what to add. Fabrics for both blocks were from my late mother-in-law's fabric stash.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Matter of Class / Mary Balogh. 2010

Here's a short review because Mary Balogh's latest is a short book, slightly longer than a short story that would appear in an anthology, but shorter than one of her old traditionals. And it's an unusual story because of the way that it explores the wide gulf that existed between the classes in Regency England.

There's a cover quote from Debbie Macomber that says in part: This is a not-to-be-missed story with a surprising twist. And really, that's it in a nutshell. Of course, I'm a die-hard MB fan who never misses any of her books as it is. The twist caught me by surprise, although the way it's written allows you to catch on to the fact that something is up from almost the beginning. But I did not see the full extent of what she had done until the last chapter. And then I did something I never do. I went back to the beginning and read the whole thing over again. This time I caught the double-meanings that were laced throughout the book. Very cleverly done.

I'm not going to say a word about the plot. I don't want to give anything away. But there are several themes woven into this little book that are worth mentioning: the very wide gulf between the aristocracy and everyone else in society, how even grown children will strive to please their parents, how sons and daughters could be bartered in marriage in order to secure a family fortune, and how important it was for young women to have an absolutely spotless reputation. Balogh has often used issues of class, family, and money to great effect in her books. This one is no different. It's quite a gem. Oh, and check this out. The book has its own website complete with questions for use at a book club.

I read a library copy. If I can get my hands on a decent coupon, I'm buying this in hardcover to add to my MB collection.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wildcard Weekend, or Quilting Makes the Quilt

I'm not sure why exactly, but it turns out I get quite productive late in the football season. I turn on the games, warm up my machine and get to work. I don't really watch the games; I listen, even though I really do care which team wins or loses. I look up if something exciting happens, otherwise I keep my eyes focused on my sewing and my ears tuned to the TV. So this weekend we had approximately 14 hours of NFL playoff games (and I do NOT want to discuss any of the outcomes. I'm quite disgusted). I had this project from one of my QBFF challenges that I've been very anxious to finish. I love how bold and colorful it turned out. It would look nice in my office at work.
This quilt is approximately 42 x 42 inches. I quilted it fairly densely. All-in-all, I'd estimate I spent 9-11 hours quilting it. The sprial/starburst quilting design inside each star is from the book Thread Work Unraveled by Sarah Ann Smith. Nice book.
So here is the quilt in my machine on Saturday during the Jets/Bungles game.

This next picture shows the completed quilt--well, almost completed. I have to bind and label it. I'm not sure how well you can see the quilting. The lighting's not too good for this picture.

Here's a close-up of the quilting. I like how the inner border turned out. I saw that motif on a quilt in a quilt shop and I have this very pretty varigated green thread. I turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Phyl's 5 Phaves from December

I feel as if I should subtitle this post "Large Print and my Treadmill." Because that's how so many old Nora Roberts titles ended up on my December reading list and how 2 of those wound up as Phaves. Bear with me while I explain. In the recent past when I've been looking for an older title it has not been unusual for me to find it in my library's large print section. It's where I found a copy of Judith Ivory's The Proposition (see #3). I've always known that my daily treadmill time is much more enjoyable if I can read while I walk. But I really need ideal lighting conditions to walk while I read a paperback. When I figured out that a large print book is easiest on my eyes I went to the library and began browsing the large print shelves and discovered a whole section of old Nora Roberts titles (late '80s). I grabbed half a dozen and brought them home. What fun to discover these old categories. I'm hoping to go back and find old Linda Howard or Suzanne Brockmann books to read. Who else should I look for?

Meanwhile, I have to comment on what it's like to read books that are now over 20 years old. It's a little weird, I have to say, to read a "contemporary" that was pre-internet and pre-cell phones. Characters used typewriters! They smoked! But that's the small stuff. The big stuff is to realize how and why NR became the best-selling author she is. The books she wrote in the late '80s are well-written, often humorous and emotional, and show tremendous variety. The lead characters in the books I read this month include a TV producer, dancers, a model, an architect, a publisher, a scientist, a spy, and a romance novelist (see #1). There's nothing cookie-cutter about these books. It's been a real pleasure to discover them. And I was grateful for the incentive to stay on my treadmill a bit longer!

Anyhow, without further ado:

5. The Name of the Game by Nora Roberts. This book was originally published in 1988 and features a female TV producer. Johanna is the daughter of a famous Hollywood producer, but driven to succeed on her own. Besides having no time or interest in a relationship, she has serious trust issues. When movie star Sam Weaver appears on her game show Sam finds himself doing whatever it takes to prove to Johanna that she can believe they have a future together. I just looked this up on Amazon and discovered that this book was re-released this past week in a trade called "Duets." How timely!

4. The Preacher's Wife by Cheryl St. John. This is from Harlequin's inspirational line (Steeple Hill Love Inspired) and tells the story of a childless widow who agrees to marry a widowed preacher with three young daughters. The preacher and his daughters are still affected by the tragedy of losing their wife/mother. Josie says yes to the marriage, mostly because she is a very lonely woman (her only family is a bitter mother-in-law), but also because she believes it's what God wants her to do. The actions of the characters are very much based on their Christian faith, but nonetheless the book deals realistically with grief, with the dynamics of making a new family that has to include Josie, and how love can grow again. This book is touching and sweet and would appeal if you like inspy books.

3. The Proposition by Judith Ivory. When I reviewed Black Silk back in November, Jessica commented that she was reading this one and loving it. Since I enjoyed BS so much, I looked for this at the library, found it only in Large Print, and brought it home. This was a thoroughly entertaining read and I loved the Pygmalian tale told with the gender roles reversed. The ending was a bit of a fairy tale, but it worked. After having read two books now by Ivory, I'll be looking for more of her back list. How unfortunate that she's no longer writing.

2. The Lost, an anthology with stories by J.D. Robb, Patricia Gaffney, Mary Blayney, and Ruth Ryan Langan. This paranormal anthology revolves around the theme of something being lost. In the Robb story, Eve knows she has a murder on her hand, but no body. For fans of the In Death series, this is another fun installment. In the Blayney story, a man is cursed and in a sense lost in time as he is condemned to the same time and place while others around him age and move on. Langan tells a story of lost family. I liked all three of these stories. But my favorite was the Gaffney, "The Dog Days of Laurie Summer." This was just so well done. It tells the story of a woman who has an accident which leaves her body in a coma. But her consciousness enters the body of a labrador retriever. The dog, coincidentally enough, is adopted by Laurie's husband and son. And so Laurie learns some valuable truth about her life and marriage. I loved how Gaffney made Laurie both dog and human. Very well done.

1. Loving Jack by Nora Roberts. I think this is one of the best category romances I've ever read. It was funny, emotional, and very tightly written. As usual, Roberts gives great insight into her characters through their work. But you also see very clearly how Jackie and Nathan grow and learn to accept their differences. Jackie is a writer of historical romances, and while I don't imagine this book is autobiographical, I would not be surprised if Roberts described her own work process when she wrote Jackie. Roberts also tells us about the book Jackie is writing. That book became Lawless which I happen to have on reserve (in Large Print of course). Loving Jack was republished in 2008 in a double book called Love by Design, so it's probably readily available.