Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TBR Day. A Fine Passion / Stephanie Laurens. 2005

This month's TBR theme is virgin heroes. I wonder if Stephanie Laurens could even write a virgin hero. Probably not, but I won't hold it against her. Meanwhile it turns out that the only book I have in my TBR that would fit the theme is Outlander. That sucker scares the heck out of me. I wasn't even going to try. I think I'd need an entire month to finish it. But I digress.
It's been quite some time since I've read a Stephanie Laurens book. A Fine Passion is #4 in her Bastion Club series. I've been intrigued with her new series that stars heroes who've been in India. But being rather obsessive, I knew I wouldn't allow myself to start the new series without finishing the old series, so it was time to return to the Bastion Club.
I'll start off by saying I find myself rather ambivalent about this book. There was a lot to like here, but quite a bit that just did not ring true. Now granted, almost everything I know about Regency England comes from other romance novels. After awhile, you put it all together and hope you're forming an accurate picture of what life would have been like. I am also well aware that Laurens has been criticized frquently because her books seem anachronistic. I'm not sure I always agree. Certainly, for example, you can assume that an aristocratic woman would have had very little personal freedom. But that doesn't mean that that same woman couldn't have had a strong personality, a strong sense of personal worth, and a full understanding of her place in the world. E.g. Honoria in Devil's Bride (LOVE that book!).
First, the plot. Lady Clarice Altwood, heroine of AFP, is living quietly in the country with her older, unmarried cousin James, taking care of him and in general ordering the lives of those around her. That latter task would normally fall to Baron Jack Warnefleet, but he hasn't been home in over a decade. Jack finally comes home (having first served in the war and then taking care of his distant estates) and meets Clarice. He soon learns the extent to which she's been managing things and while at first he's upset, he quickly learns to appreciate all she's done and admire her character, intelligence, and personal strength. He's puzzled that Clarice is buried in the country, but he (and we) soon learn that Clarice left London in disgrace rather than marry the man who had compromised her in order to trap her into marriage. Her late father had banished her, and she's had no contact with any of her immediate family in 7 years.
Shortly after Jack returns an attempt at murder leaves a mystery to be solved. Someone is trying to frame James for treason. James is a scholar and not good at dealing with practicalities. So naturally Clarice has to go to London to clear James' name. James had been a mentor to Jack, so Jack also wants to help. Jack & Clarice go back to London, have an affair, solve the mystery, and earn their HEA. It's a pretty typical Laurens book.
Being typical means there's a fair bit to like here. I liked Jack alot. He was just a little bit arrogant, but also able to recognize his own mistakes and fix them. He decides early on that he wants to marry Clarice, but knows that she has to want to marry him in return. They seem to genuinely respect each other. The more modern term of marriage as a partnership isn't used here, but the idea is implied. Clarice is a fortunate woman--when she is banished from London she is able to go to a cousin and create a quiet life for herself. She is aware of the consequences of her actions and while it is painful that her family (her brothers in particular) turn their backs on her, she doesn't whine and moan about it. It is what it is.
OK. So here's what I did not like. From almost the beginning the book reads more like a military campaign. I didn't mind it at first. Mentally Jack thinks of Clarice as Boadicea, the Warrior Queen. But the theme was over-used when the action moves to London. All of the sudden this woman who had been banished in disgrace is welcomed back with open arms and is leading the campaign to restore her cousin's good name. Everything is described in terms of her campaign to fix things. I just found it impossible to believe that any woman, let alone one living in disgrace, would be able to waltz back into society and wield enough influence to fix her brothers' love lives, bend the Bishop of London to her will, and return to the ballrooms of London as if nothing had ever happened. Oh, and have this affair that no one would notice. There's an evil stepmother subplot that was sort of entertaining. But why did it take Clarice's return to cause her older brother to suddenly grow a spine and put the stepmother in her place? I just couldn't accept the London half of the story as it relates to my own understanding of "Regency world." The mystery wasn't even all that engaging and Laurens usually does a pretty good job at this one.
So in the end I don't think I can recommend this particular entry in the series. I'll persevere though and read more. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

All those strips

So, back during the football playoffs I blogged about all of these strips I was sewing together for a Quilts of Valor project my guild was doing. Before yesterday's "Super Sew-In" I had to finish prepping my strips. First, I cut the strip sets into smaller sets 6.5" wide:

Then I had to sew them end-to-end until I had sets that were approx. 10 yards long. Here they are laid out in my upstairs hallway. I'm standing several feet into the guest room and they extend down the hall into the master bedroom, up against the treadmill.

Rolled up like this, they don't look like so much fabric.

The QBFFs and I, along with a helper, formed one of the teams of 4. We had 12 teams working on quilts during yesterday's day-long sewing event sponsored by my guild. Here's our workspace.

And here are the 3 quilt tops we finished yesterday. As a group we were particularly fond of the middle quilt which was harder to make and took quite a bit of coordination between us.

Well hello! That's me!

Happy Valentine's Day to any of you who celebrate it. I leave you with a placemat I made last week. This was another guild service project. We collected about 80 of these to donate to Meals on Wheels. They'll be used to make the trays of food more festive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Whisper Challenge

Here's an odd little project to show you.

Remember the old child's game "telephone"? Someone whispers a sentence into the ear of the person next to them and then it goes around the room and you see how the sentence changes as it's repeated by each player. Well, I entered a guild challenge based upon that game and here is my little quilt. We were placed into groups of 4 people per group. One of our members, a talented photographer, passed photos out to one person in each group. Person #1 had to make a quilt based on one of the photos. The other 3 people in the group were not allowed to see any of the photos. In November the photo was returned and the finished quilt was passed on to person #2. Person #2 (which would be me in my group) had to make a quilt based on Person #1's quilt. Us #2s have to turn in our completed quilts to #3s on Thursday night and return the 1st quilt to their owners.

I wish I could show you the quilt I had to "copy." But I need to get permission to first. I can tell you that I'm pretty sure the original photo was a cityscape of some city I cannot recognize. My #1 must have scanned the original photo, played a little with the picture by distorting it to a degree. Then she printed it onto fabric. She made a second fabric print, only the second print distorted the colors as well as the image.
My quilt is the same dimensions as hers and orients the images the same way she did. Essentially I traced the main images and made a "map". I used that map for raw edge applique. I copied the colors she used, even in the sashing and border. Her quilting was different though. She used a technique to imitate window panes. I decided to eliminate the window pane effect and let the raw images stand. The whole thing is only 10" x 21". I started working on it Saturday. I spent nearly 3 months staring at it trying to figure out what to do. I'm anxious to see all 4 quilts together with the original photo. They'll be displayed in a gallery this summer. Maybe I'll be allowed to get a photo of the 4 together to post here.

And because I cannot stop myself from taking pictures of all this snow (more is on the way!) here are more bonus pictures.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stars quilt

It started with three very disparate fabrics. The QBFFs and I decided to have a challenge. We each picked a fabric and gave a fat quarter piece to the others. My choice was the blue batik with orange highlights. QBFF A. chose the pink. QBFF T. chose the purple. These fabrics were not going to be able to go into something tame and calm.

I've posted pictures of this as a work in progress, but here it is finished, hanging on the wall of the guest room. The next picture is a close-up of the quilting which I did on my Baby Lock mid-arm domestic machine. The pattern is from the July/August issue of Fons & Porter Love of Quilting. I'll be entering this in the June NQA show.

As I was getting the photos ready for this blog post I realized that I never posted the picture of the completed large version of the Christmas Candle.

And here's a bonus picture. This will keep me indoors sewing all weekend :-)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Phyl's 5 Phaves for January

5. Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr. Robyn Carr has become my new crack. I can't get enough of the Virgin River novels. Shoot me now. They're sappy. They're full of babies. The women have almost all been through some sort of trauma--widows, abusive ex-husbands, rape, etc., etc. But Carr weaves some excellent stories about the growing town of Virgin River, up in the mountains of Northern California. Virgin River comes across as this mini-utopia. This particular book was both emotional and funny, and it touched on issues of faith without being preachy. And it was NOT weighted down with back story!!! This time there was just enough to move the story forward. Thank you for that, Ms. Carr because that is one criticism I've had of previous books in the series. Anyhow, FF is the story of Virgin River's new pastor and the church he is restoring. He hires Ellie to be his new assistant. It turns out that Ellie is in desperate need of a "respectable" job in order to win custody of her kids back from her ex-husband. Naturally there's more to Ellie's story and as Pastor Noah gets involved their relationship becomes personal.

4. Fault Line by Barry Eisler. I had the privilege of writing a review of this which appeared here at Dear Author. I enjoyed this fast-paced thriller which was by a new-to-me author. I've gotten the first of his John Rain novels from the library and am looking forward to reading more of his books.

3. Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale. I've been thinking about writing a full blog post about this book, but time has gotten the better of me and I'm not so sure I'll get to it. Suffice it to say that I was thoroughly entertained by LiF. I think sometimes people make so much of this extremely talented author that it's almost intimidating to talk about her books--especially this book since it is her first new one in 5 years. It's a Regency-set historical, set out in the country. Callie has been jilted 3 times and at 27 she is lonely and has serious self-esteem issues. She was once in love with her neighbor, Trev, but her father drove Trev away. Now Trev is back, Callie's father is dead, and even though Trev says he loves her, he doesn't seem to want her any more than the men who jilted her. Of course Trev DOES want her, only because of how he spent the last 10 years since leaving home, he doesn't feel particularly worthy of Callie. Emotional, poignant, funny--these words describe LiF.

2. Lawless by Nora Roberts. My #1 phave for December was Roberts' Loving Jack and it told the story of Jackie who was writing her first romance novel. Parts of that fictional novel are woven through the plot of Loving Jack. In Lawless, the fictional novel becomes a real novel and we're treated to the full story of Sarah and Jake. This was yet another of my large print library reads, although I see Lawless was re-released in 2009 in a two-fer called The Law of Love. I think I read once that Lawless is Roberts' only historical. If true, it's a shame because she did the historical very well. You have some common tropes here--the innocent and sheltered, but determined, heroine in Sarah, and the jaded hero in Jake, who can't help feeling protective. This was a fun read.

1. A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh. Hands down this month it has to be this one. Of course I'm biased because Mary Balogh's books re-introduced me to romance fiction. But I honestly think this is the best thing she's written in years and I was so taken with the twist and the way she crafted the story. It stuck with me for weeks. I wrote more about it here.