Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Quilting update

Wow! I haven't posted a quilting update in ages. I went back and looked and realized that I haven't finished a project since September. Me, being me of course, started a couple of new ones. And I did churn out a dozen Kindle covers for my ... ahem ... Etsy store (Christine may now say "I told you so.").

Remember the paint chip challenge?

Here's the table runner I made (it's not quilted yet):

Remember the Block of the Month? The project that will one day look like this:

I've got 7 blocks done and a mile of sashing:

Now, if you want to see some seriously beautiful little art quilts that are bright and funky, you MUST follow this link. Frieda Anderson, a quilt artist & teacher came to town and I got to take a class from her a couple of weeks ago. The class project was the cone flowers quilt that's in the 3rd row of that link, 2nd from the left. Mine's only partway done, but here's a preview:

So that's what I'm working on. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today I give thanks.

In the United States it is Thanksgiving Day. A healthy percentage of us will spend the day with family and/or friends. We'll eat too much, watch some TV (football!), and hopefully even spend some time thinking of those things for which are thankful.

In what has now become tradition, tomorrow, Friday, another healthy percentage of us will run out the door at some freakishly early hour to spend tons of money. Because despite how grateful we may be today, apparently we still don't have enough stuff. Since I hate crowds, odds are good I'll hibernate at home. But if you plan to do some shopping tomorrow, make sure you download this free app!

I think our society is very weird.

Meanwhile, since I'm 53 years old, I decided to list 53 things for which I am grateful today. In the order in which they occur to me:

  1. My husband.
  2. My son.
  3. My parents, siblings, and their families.
  4. My in-laws, including my late mother-in-law. It's been 4 years since she passed and it surprises me sometimes how much I still miss her.
  5. Despite various health issues, my parents are still living independently.
  6. This blog and the online friends I have made.
  7. The PC I'm using to create this list--2 weeks ago I was sure it was dead for good.
  8. My Pfaff 7530. 16 years old and still a workhorse.
  9. My Brother PQ 1500-S which makes machine quilting a dream.
  10. My BFF MJ.
  11. My QBFFs AM and TB.
  12. Mary Balogh's A Summer to Remember--the book that re-ignited my love of the Romance Novel
  13. Mary Balogh's Heartless--still my favorite.
  14. Jesus Christ.
  15. The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.
  16. The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies.
  17. Penn State.
  18. Joe Paterno.
  19. Michael Vick--sometimes repentance is genuine and he just may be the proof people can change. I'm starting to believe.
  20. My fabric stash.
  21. Chocolate.
  22. Peanut Butter.
  23. Weight Watchers.
  24. Those 86 lbs. I lost in 2005-2006.
  25. Insulin.
  26. An employer that lets me work only 30 hours/week.
  27. Libraries.
  28. Old friends.
  29. New friends.
  30. All those quilt ideas running around in my brain.
  31. Summer days when the temperature goes over 90.
  32. Snow days.
  33. Mike Schmidt.
  34. Sean Connery.
  35. Flannel sheets.
  36. Home-grown tomatoes.
  37. My Kindle. I'm not so sure I'm grateful for one-click buy, though. Man, that's deadly!
  38. The Internet.
  39. Unlimited texting. So, hey! I finally joined Twitter last week. Not that I tweet, I just follow.
  40. Google. Yeah, I know, they want to rule the earth. But still....
  41. Whole Foods.
  42. Volkswagon. In the last 30 years I have owned and driven just 3 VW diesels. Can you say 45+ MPG? A total of 415,000 miles.
  43. ESPN.
  44. XM Satellite radio.
  45. Diet Coke.
  46. My home.
  47. Enjuvia--best drug ever.
  48. Music.
  49. Yellowstone National Park.
  50. Christmas lights.
  51. Leftover turkey.
  52. All the people who voted for my story idea earlier this year and made me a winner.
  53. High-Def TV.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Phyl's 5 Phaves for October

Some computer problems have kept me off other blogs as well as my own over the last couple of weeks. So I apologize that this is so late. I just hope I can remember enough about what I read back in October to make this coherent!

The 5 books I've chosen for this list all have something in common--they have an uncommon twist in location (the historicals) and/or gender roles. It made for some rather fun reading last month and if you find yourself interested in any of these, I hope you, too, will appreciate what makes them different.

5. The Surrender of a Lady by Tiffany Clare. When I finished this book I was not at all certain that I would include it here. Surrender is Clare's debut historical romance and while I thought that this highly sensual book was beautifully written, it wasn't terribly romantic. The book begins as Elena is sold by her husband into Constantinople's slave market in order to pay a debt. Her husband is weak and foolish and loses his own life. When Elena is sold into a very exclusive brothel to be made over into an expensive and highly desired whore, she realizes that she has no way out of her predicament and no one who will come to her aid. She makes the conscious decision to learn contentment, if not happiness, and adapt to her new life. Fast forward 5 years: Elena is now Jinan and one night she is recognized by the man she had once hoped to marry 10 years previously when she was a young debutant in England. Griffin has been battling his own demons the last 10 years, including the one that reminds him that he ran away from England, leaving Elena behind. Griffin purchases a 3-month contract for Jinan's services and the two proceed to have an affair. The book is largely about their sexual affair and during it they never really acknowledge Jinan's true identity. As a result they don't really know one another anymore and it's hard as a reader to believe they are really in love with one another. Griffin is determined to free Jinan so that she can become Elena again. Elena has reasons why she wants to remain Jinan and she doesn't share those with Griffin. I won't venture into spoiler territory, but Clare does a wonderful job of helping us understand why Jinan makes the choices she does. Elena/Jinan is a woman who has been totally at the mercy of the men in her life and I appreciate how Jinan has come to terms with being Jinan. The book reminds us that we can never go back, only forward. Jinan goes through tremendous growth in the book. Griffin doesn't seem to grow until it's almost too late; I was left unconvinced that he really understood Jinan. Nonetheless, they have their hard-earned HEA and ultimately I was left wanting to read more by Clare.

4. Warrior / Zoe Archer. Everyone is talking about Archer's Blades of the Rose series. These books blend historical with magic and unusual place-settings. Archer's heroines are smart and capable. Each book has the hero and heroine on a mission to save the world's magic from a group that would seek to use the magic to enslave the world to their ideals. Warrior is the book with the Indiana Jones-like cover and in the tradition of Indy, it is a fast-paced adventure through Mongolia. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I can understand why so many bloggers are talking about the series. I've also read the second book, Scoundrel, and today the third, Rebel, was a FREE Kindle download!

3. Whisper of Scandal / Nicola Cornick. Here's a Regency romance that is set in large part north of the Arctic Circle! Cornick's latest trilogy begins with this story of Lady Joanna Ware, widow of a famous adventurer who finds herself at odds with Alex, Lord Grant, best friend of Joanna's late husband David. The two of them have very differing views of David and now they find that they've been named co-guardians of David's illegitimate child, a little girl who has been left in the care of some Russian monks on a small island in the Arctic north. Together they travel there to claim the girl and in the process come to understand one another, and David, better, and of course eventually fall in love. The romantic themes are familiar, but the location is not. Cornick is one of my favorite Regency authors, and this was another well-written and emotionally satisfying romance.

2. Dagger-Star / Elizabeth Vaughan. I've been waiting a couple of years to read this. Vaughan publishes a book a year and when this trilogy began I decided to wait until all 3 were published before reading it. So when I got my Kindle in September, this is one of the first books I bought. This book is set in the same world as the Warprize trilogy (which I love!), but is separate from that trilogy. Red Gloves is the name of a female mercenary who is traveling with her "sword sister" looking for work when they happen upon a man living alone in the middle of the remnants of a once-prosperous farm. The land has been burned out; the people scattered or killed. But the threat remains and Red is the woman to deal with it once and for all. What I particularly liked about this book is the way Vaughan turned our gender expectations upside down. Red has the skills, personality, and habits of your typical Regency rake. Josiah is no innocent miss, but he is more gentle and nurturing; he is working to bring his farm back to life. Red and Josiah are good together; they complement each other. Within the first few pages it may seem as if Red will be hard to like, but Vaughan gave me enough clues to keep me reading. I really liked this story and I have the next book ready to read soon.

1. The Dangerous Viscount / Miranda Neville. I wrote a full review of this here last month. It was easily my favorite for the way this book also turned our gender expectations upside down and for the way Neville made me like two flawed characters who need to forgive and be forgiven.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet--Romance or Girl Utopia?

Utopia -- n -- any real or imaginary society, place, state, etc., considered to be perfect or ideal.

So tonight I finished Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. There's an excellent review of it here at AAR. I loved that the reviewer called the series "wedding porn." Yeah, it's definitely that. All-in-all this proved to be an enjoyable, lighthearted series that celebrates love and the best of our WASP-ish wedding traditions. The books are heavy on various elements of weddings and the wedding planners who make them happen. The level of romance varies, and I think HEA is the lightest when it comes to the romantic relationship--in this case between Parker & Malcolm. That's actually a tad disappointing, because after the 3 previous books, Parker had the biggest buildup to be heroine in her own story. 

There's a sentence in that AAR review that got me to thinking:

Add that to the fact that four best friends are living together in a mansion (weren’t you planning to do that?), and you cover a lot of fantasy ground. 

Besides the excellence of Roberts' writing (let's just say that's a given and put that aside), ultimately I think what made this series so captivating for me wasn't the individual romances but the fantasy of four young women who have been friends forever, remain friends, and somehow at the end of the day find themselves living together in what I will call a 21st century commune. There's a throw-away line toward the end of Parker's book about how one day there will be a ton of children running around the Brown family estate. Sounds like a commune to me.

Anyhow, I got to thinking about that word "fantasy" which led me to thinking of "utopia." Here are some the elements of perfect and ideal found in the books:
  • Four women remaining such tight friends since the time they were children and enjoying a level of emotional intimacy that I suspect is actually rather rare. 
  • Heroes who do not seem to mind the relationship the women have. Additionally they seem willing and able to pitch in and help at events (setting up/tearing down) even though one assumes the business hires helpers for all of that labor.
  • Money does not seem to be a worry (Mansion, remember?).
  • Plenty of clients for the business. None of the clients seem to worry about money either.
  • Mrs. Grady is like the ever-present fairy godmother dispensing food and good advice at the drop of a hat. (I want one of those!)
  • Incredibly talented heroines who excel at what they do for the business. They solve every problem thrown their way. No disasters allowed here.
  • An awful lot of champagne is consumed, especially in book 4.

If you've read the books, you can probably think of more examples.

Let me be clear. I love the fantasy. I devoured these books. 

But in the end they weren't all terribly romantic and if it's romance you're expecting I'd say that the books are quite a bit more and quite a bit less, if that makes sense. Weddings are a celebration of romantic love. So all of the focus on the weddings reminds us of the ideal of romantic love, and not necessarily the gritty day-to-day reality of building and maintaining a romantic relationship over time. There's just enough about each of the four couples to convince us that each couple will enjoy a HEA, but probably not as much as a dedicated romance reader might wish for. Your mileage may vary, of course.