Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 Brenda Novak Auction

Hard to believe, but the 2012 Brenda Novak Auction for the Cure of Diabetes is right around the corner, little more than 2 months away. Since my Teen has this disease, I've been contributing a quilted project for several years now. This year, I'm offering something a little different that I hope will appeal to authors, but perhaps readers might like this, too.

I am offering to make a "book cover wall hanging"--that is I will design and make a wall hanging that includes the images of up to 4 book covers. High-resolution files, submitted by the winning bidder, will be printed onto fabric and sewn into a quilt that will probably measure around 24" x 18", depending on how many book covers are used. To illustrate what I'm thinking of, I made up a prototype for Brenda as a thank you for all she's done to make the auction happen.

I chose to work with Brenda's latest series and started with these three book covers:

I need to pause a moment and admire the incredible design work of the art department at MIRA. The colors of the covers are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. The sunrise or sunset at the top of each cover uses color that is carried over into the color of the printing of Brenda's name. I was inspired to do a sketch that would incorporate the main color of each cover and the color of Brenda's name. I decided to frame each cover with a border matching Brenda's name. Then I would make strips to run the length of the quilt, top and bottom, using the main color of each cover. Here's what I drew:

I dug through my fabric stash and found fabrics to match the colors in the covers. And I found a fabulous fabric that worked as a border and frames the quilt so nicely. Here's the finished quilt: 


Here are some close-ups of the quilting:

To give you an idea of the scale of the quilt and also how well the image transfers to fabric, here's a copy of Inside next to its image on the quilt:

So, I'm looking forward to seeing if anyone will bid on this and give me a chance to design something around another set of book covers. When May gets here, I hope you'll help me spread the word!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TBR Day. Conor's Way / Laura Lee Guhrke. 1996

Back in the early 2000's, when I began lurking at the old AAR boards, I heard talk of this book. And according to Amazon, I apparently broke down and purchased a copy for myself via Marketplace in 2004 for a "mere" $4.75. Today a used print copy goes for about $25. I don't know why I waited so long to read it. I'd keep seeing references to how good it is, especially from KristieJ who has been nagging our TBR hostess to read it forever. I think I was saving it for a day when I knew I needed to read a really good book. But when I saw that this month's theme was "Recommended Read" it was clear that this was the book I had to read.

I was really, really stupid to wait 8 years to read this.

Frankly, I should just end this review with that statement. I am writing this Tuesday evening. Earlier today I saw on Twitter that at least 2 other TBR participants are reviewing this for today as well. And they'll probably do a better job at it than me. But this book deserves lots of love.

This American historical takes place in 1871 in Louisiana. Clearly, the Reconstruction South is not at all a romantic setting, but Guhrke uses the history of that time and place with a light and deft hand to bring two characters to life in a wonderfully nuanced way. Olivia Maitland is a 29-year old woman, the only surviving member of her family. Her brothers had been killed at Gettysburg and her parents are now dead. She owns the remains of a plantation; the freed slaves are long gone, her hired hand has passed away, and she has 3 young girls she's raising--the orphaned daughters of her childhood friend. Olivia needs a man to help her out.

Conor Branigan is also the only surviving member of his family. Evicted from their home in Ireland when Conor was 11, Conor's sisters died from starvation and Conor himself eventually joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After he's arrested for smuggling guns, he's imprisoned, tortured, and eventually let out. He winds up in America and travels a circuit as a prize-fighter. The book opens with Conor at a fight in Louisiana where he refuses to throw the fight in favor of his opponent. This earns him a severe beating and he's left on the road for dead. It's here that Olivia finds him and she takes him home and nurses him back to health.

When Olivia was looking for a man to hire to help around her farm, Conor was not what she had in mind. A former prisoner with a history of violence, Conor is not the sort of person Olivia wants anywhere near herself or her girls. As Conor recovers, he begins to help out around the farm and agrees to stay through Olivia's peach harvest. The bulk of the book is the growing relationship between Olivia and Conor. Olivia and her girls represent everything that Conor ever hoped to have, yet now does not feel that he deserves. He insists that he is not there to stay. And Olivia is too pragmatic after all she's been through to expect that she can change his mind.

There's also a subplot here involving one Vernon Tyler, a wealthy man who was once the overseer on Olivia's plantation and a suitor for her hand. Olivia's father wouldn't allow Vernon to court his daughter and now, after the war, thanks to Vernon's wealthy Yankee father-in-law, Vernon wants to build a railroad through that part of the country. All that stands in his way is Olivia's land and she won't sell. Olivia naively thinks her "no" is enough, but Conor knows all too well that Vernon will do whatever it takes to get that land. Conor is torn between his need to protect Olivia and his need to be on the move again.

The romance here is beautifully done; it grows throughout the course of the book. There are some flashbacks to Conor's past in Ireland, but they are brief and to the point. They barely distract from the main narrative, instead giving us insight into who Conor has become--a bitter, angry man. He views the South's destruction during the war as justice since he can relate to the inhumane treatment former slaves once received. Olivia could have been an equally bitter woman. She may still have her home, but it's falling apart around her and she is on the verge of losing everything. But she goes through each day with purpose and dignity. She strikes a balance between missing the luxuries of her former way of life and and recognizing it was wrong. She loves her daughters as if she'd given birth to them and soon loves Conor as well. It's up to him to accept that love and choose to reciprocate.

The book is well-crafted. Guhrke lightly weaves in the history without hitting us over the head with it. As I said, the flashbacks are brief and to the point. I got a strong sense of place and the characters--all was believable. I loved the emotional quality to the book; this is actually something that I've always admired about Guhrke's writing. She manages to reveal her characters to us little by little and the journey made it very hard to put the book down. All I wanted to do was read it.

Let me repeat: I was really, really stupid to wait 8 years to read this.

So Kristie, if you're reading this, you are absolutely right about this one. I hope this redeems me to some small degree as I was one of the few who just never felt the love for Broken Wing.

Finally, if you want to read the book but don't have an e-reader, leave a comment. I'm buying myself an e-copy for my Kindle and I'll hold a drawing--the winner gets my used paper copy. It's well-worn, but all the pages are here. I'll draw a name on Sunday night. I'm willing to mail world-wide. Just promise me you won't wait 8 years to read it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Phyl's 5 Phaves from January

5. Trouble at the Wedding / Laura Lee Guhrke. An impoverished Earl of dubious character is about to marry a wealthy American heiress from the backwaters of Mississippi. Her uncle hires an impoverished Duke, also of dubious character, to put a stop to the wedding. And thus begins this Edwardian-set historical that explores the British aristocracy's need for American money at the turn of the 20th century. Christian, the Duke and our hero, was married before and is determined to never marry again. Annabel is a smart and determined young woman who has a very business-like, practical approach to marriage. She wants to find a place in society specifically so her younger sister will never have to experience the social ostracism that Annabel experienced as a teen. Besides the setting, the best part of this book for me was Annabel who knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it. She understood how to use and make money and it was refreshing to see Christian come to her for advice about money.

4. An Unexpected Gentleman by Alissa Johnson. I have to say that this was an unexpected pleasure to read. I wasn't sure I would like this one, but I had liked the previous book in the series (Nearly a Lady) well enough that I wanted to keep reading. Adelaide is expecting to become engaged to Robert when Connor, Robert's bastard half-brother, compromises Adelaide and marries her instead. Adelaide is not exactly happy to be manipulated this way, but in truth she is far more attracted to Connor and she has few choices left to her. There is a lot of anger and resentment between Connor and Robert and Adelaide is in the middle of it all. Nonetheless, Connor's attraction to Adelaide is real and poignant. I enjoyed Adelaide and Connor's emotional journey and I like a book where the protagonists marry early in the book and have to work their way to a happy marriage.

3. His Secret Past by Ellen Hartman. This was my January TBR read. A solid, sweet read.

2. Unraveled by Courtney Milan. This is Milan's third and final book in her series about the Turner siblings. Middle brother Smite is the hero here. He's a magistrate and when Miranda Darling appears before him in court he knows he's seen her before--using a different name. Smite goes after her to find out why she did that. Smite is a rigid and controlled person. He has become that way to deal with the trauma that he experienced as a child--stuff that's been hinted at in the earlier books. But it doesn't mean that he doesn't feel, and feel deeply. As Smite becomes involved with Miranda, we learn more about what happened to him and what makes him tick.  Meanwhile, Miranda doesn't have magical healing powers. What she does have is the ability to live with him in spite of his very real issues. That's a special kind of love. Miranda is a great heroine. She doesn't make stupid or unrealistic decisions. Once again, Milan has crafted a wonderful story with characters who seem very real. It's always a shame when I reach the end of this kind of book.

1. The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan. This was a surprising treat that I reviewed here. While I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it was the best written book I read last month, it was still very well done. Moreover, the story is one that has continued to stick with me. So because of that, it's my #1 pick for the month. By a hair. A bargain for anyone with an e-reader.