Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TBR Day. Dearly Beloved / Mary Jo Putney. 1990

This month's theme is Classic Romance. I really don't have anything left in my TBR pile that meets that definition. Since Mary Jo Putney has written at least one romance that I do consider classic (Shattered Rainbows, how I love you), I picked up this one, which is one of her earlier books.

Gentle reader, I could not read this book. I didn't throw it against the wall. I threw it away.

The book opens when a semi-drunk Gervase, having made a tryst with a serving girl at the inn where he's staying, stumbles upstairs, goes to the wrong room and proceeds to rape 15-yo Diana. Despite the fact that she's screaming her head off, he assumes it's the serving girl just playing games. Her screams bring her father who then forces the two of them to marry. When Gervase sobers up, he refuses to consider that he might have gone to the wrong room. He believes he was entrapped. So he writes a letter to his lawyer instructing him to pay Diana an annual allowance under the condition that he never see her again.

That's the first chapter. I decided to skip a few hundred pages and see if I could find any reason to keep reading. Stuff had happened. Diana was left pregnant. She makes a life for herself and her son. Then she must decide her life is boring, so she hies off to London so she can become a high-priced courtesan where -- ta-da! -- she runs into Gervase. She can't tell him who she is or she'll lose her annuity. But, hey, she'll become the mistress of the man who raped, impregnated, and abandoned her.

I skipped a bunch more pages. There's spy stuff and a villain and a cute kid. And love, I guess. They love each other, but can't be honest with each other. OK.

Oh look! The truth comes out! Gervase has been betrayed by her deception! She's evil, she must leave! Opps the villain tries to kill Diana. Gervase to the rescue. Love, love, HEA. No. Just no.

Warning! Major spoiler ahead:

See, one thing I did see as I skimmed the end was that as a young boy, Gervase had been raped by his own mother. He grows up traumatized and feeling self-hatred. Now, I have no intention of belittling what happened to Gervase. But how are we to believe that Gervase's behavior is acceptable while Diana's is not? In the few passages I read, I saw nothing in Gervase that made the way he treated Diana both in the beginning, and especially later when she finally tells him who she is, that made Gervase hero material.

Maybe, just maybe if I'd read the whole book I'd think differently. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. Not when I have so many other choices of reading material.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Free-Motion Quilting with Angela Walters. 2012

For a long time I've wanted to add reviews of quilting books to this blog. And here we go with the first one. I hope to do 2-3 per year, to highlight how I use my library of quilting books.

When I was preparing to quilt my Asian-themed quilt, I had only the vaguest idea of what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do a straight-line plaid stitch through the 2-inch blocks. I knew I would do a simple little curvy stitch through the first narrow border. Like this:

Next, I knew I wanted each panel to have its own all-over design that would in some way reflect the fabric. But I did NOT know how to achieve the results I wanted. That is, I knew I wanted something that looked like water in one panel, leaves in another, etc. But I had never actually stitched designs like that before and I was feeling rather adrift and panicky.

Then I stumbled across this book at my local quilt shop. I had no idea who Angela Walters is. I discovered she's quite well-known among modern quilters for her quilting. She uses a long-arm machine and quilts for clients as well as for herself. In fact, she recently had an amazing quilt featured on the cover of the June/July issue of Quilters Newsletter. For a look at something different, go here.

Anyhow, when I opened the book and saw this page and knew I'd found the answer to my quilting dilemma:
The quilt on the page above features different designs in each panel. I looked at the one called "wood grain" and I thought that if I made my swirls rounded instead of pointy, the panel would look like moving water. I saw leaves and a flower design that looked like the chrysanthemums in one of my fabrics. If I could duplicate her results, I was saved!

This book is a wonderful collection of 28 different quilting designs. There's a wide variety of designs to suit a wide variety of quilts. Each design is featured with step-by-step instructions like this:
The photography is so well-done. You not only see how to do the stitching, but what it would look like when executed in a quilt. She discusses how to use the designs in various types of quilts. There are some great examples. Following her instructions, I practiced drawing the designs on a blank piece of paper. Then using a small practice quilt sandwich, I quilted a small section of each design so I could get a sense of rhythm. Then I went to work. Of the five large panels in my quilt, four of them use designs in this book.

I outlined the printed ginkgo leaves and then stitched Pebbles (p. 26) around them, as if the leaves had fallen on a path.

Flower Power (p. 67):

Allover Leaves (p. 66):

Water (adapted from Wood Grain with Knots, p. 70):

The fifth panel was little flowers that I just copied from the printed fabric:

Finally, the border was meant to look like grass; I've quilted this design before:

I do not use a long-arm machine like Walters. With a long-arm machine, the quilt is stationary and the machine is mounted on a track, has handles attached, and is moved around by the quilter. I have a mid-arm machine set into a table. In my case the machine is stationary and I move the quilt around with my hands and quilt in small sections at a time. The fabulous thing about this book is that her instructions were easily adapted to the kind of machine I use. The only difficult design was the water because I had to pull the quilt through the machine to stitch from end to end. It was hard to keep my stitching smooth and even. The other designs that I could do in small sections were much easier to execute.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for someone who is looking for inspiration when quilting their quilt. I know that I will be using this book again and again in years to come.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Quilts Finished June 2013

My June UFO project was a big one. I had pieced the central portion of this quilt in February at my guild's retreat. And by the terms of the UFO contest at my local quilt shop, I only needed to finish piecing the top. Then I made the rather insane decision to enter it in the June NQA show. That meant it had to be fully finished by the 20th of June in order to have it to the show on time.

I didn't want to take the easy way out by doing an all-over (i.e. boring) quilting pattern. I wanted the quilting to reflect the themes of the Asian fabrics. So each large panel across the quilt is quilted differently. From top to bottom I quilted small flowers, water, leaves, chrysanthemums, and ginkgo leaves fallen among pebbles. The border fabric is printed bamboo, so I quilted long, skinny leaves--they kind of look like grass. Oh my, was that a ton of work. But I am so pleased with how it turned out:

This picture shows a little more detail of the quilting:

Here's a shot from the back:

I didn't win any ribbons, but I did have the pleasure of seeing it hang in a national show. The judges remarks were very complimentary. They were also spot-on when they said my quilting needs improvement. My skills are definitely improving, but when I compare my work to the ones that won ribbons, well, I know I have a long way to go. BTW, I have a flickr set of pictures from the show. The first 23 pictures are of the quilts that won ribbons in my category. Please go take a look if you're interested in seeing how my work compares to others.

The minute I had that quilt shipped off to the show, I turned my attention to this cheery little wall hanging. A long-time co-worker was leaving at the end of June because she, and too many others, were victims of a staff reduction where I work. D lives out in the country, loves the outdoors, and is a talented photographer. These bright flowers remind me of her personality. Anyhow, I whipped this puppy out in 4 days.

The little squares of green, as well as the flowers and leaves were fused down. Then I went around each and every shape with a zig-zag stitch to applique them down. Then I quilted the background.

I don't want to admit how dirty my house was by the end of June. Fortunately I was able to catch up on that.

My YTD tally is 10 quilts in 6 months. I need a nap.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Phyl's 5 Phaves from May

For a variety of reasons, June was a particularly busy and stressful month. I've spent this first week of July taking a few deep breaths and relaxing. Blogging has not been high on my list of things to do. I did finish 2 quilts. One had to be ready for the annual NQA show and another had to be ready for a goodbye party. I'll be posting pictures of those soon.

Meanwhile, here are 5 books I remember really enjoying back in May.

5. Shattered by Karen Robards. Years ago I read as many of Robards' historicals as I could find in my local library. At the time I wasn't too interested in RS, so I didn't continue to read her. A friend recommended Shattered to me and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Lisa Scott grew up in privilege in a small Kentucky town. After working for a large law firm in the big city she's back home to care for her mother who is slowly dying of ALS. She goes to work for DA Scott Buchanan, former neighbor whose upbringing was as different from Lisa's as could be. While working for him, Lisa is assigned to log cold case files. A co-worker shows her a file that includes a picture of a missing family-- and the mother bears an uncanny resemblance to Lisa. Lisa goes to Scott and their efforts to solve the cold case and discover the truth about this missing family lead to attempts on Lisa's life and the uncovering of decades-old secrets. Meanwhile, Scott, who had had a thing for Lisa when they were teens, and Lisa grow closer together. This was an entertaining and suspenseful read and I suspect I'll be reading more of Robards' RS in the future.

4. Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly. Click that link! Look who finally has a real honest-to-gosh web site! The banner across the top is very pretty. Anyhow, Kelly's latest isn't a Regency, but a Western set in Ft. Laramie, WY several years after the Civil War. Susanna Hopkins is practically penniless when she arrives at the fort to begin teaching the officers' children. Army surgeon Joe Randolph is immediately drawn to the sad, quiet Susanna. Both of them bear the scars of the past; Susanna is particularly anxious to hide hers as the truth about her divorce would cost her this job and leave her destitute and alone. As usual, Kelly does the angst well amid the fascinating details of life in a 19th century army outpost. I enjoyed Joe and Susanna very much and I was intrigued by the very real class distinctions that existed between the officers and enlisted men, that carried over to their families. I really loved this book and perhaps the only reason it wasn't #1 this month is that the character of Joe was so very much like Jesse Randolph in The Wedding Journey, a book I re-read shortly before this book. Western lovers should definitely read this for the authenticity and period detail as well as the emotional and touching romance.

3. Kill and Tell by Linda Howard. This was my May TBR read. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this very over-the-top RS.

2. The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand. This is another winner for me in Florand's Chocolate series. This one takes place in the south of France instead of Paris where top chef Gabriel Delange has a famous restaurant. Once upon a time, Gabriel had worked for Jolie Manon's father in Paris, and Gabriel has never forgiven Manon for what Manon stole from him. When Gabriel sues Manon to stop publication of a cookbook that has Gabriel's creation on the cover, Jolie comes to Gabriel to try and repair the breach. Gabriel falls hard for Jolie almost immediately, but Jolie is conflicted over what she sees as her duty to her father. Jolie is a mass of insecurities that almost became too much. Fortunately there was so much to love: Gabriel's big personality and persistent pursuit of Jolie, sexy and witty dialogue between the two, vivid descriptions of the village, and of course the food porn. Honestly, I just loved it and in less than a year, Florand has become a must-read author for me.

1. Aftershock by Jill Sorenson. OK, so here's how old I am. I came of age during the "golden age"* of disaster movies in the 1970s. My personal favorite is The Towering Inferno, but Earthquake was awesome with the introduction of Sensurround that made you feel the earthquake and its aftershocks sitting there in the theater. Reading Sorenson's Aftershock was a bit like revisiting those riveting movies of my youth. With more romance. Paramedic Lauren Boyer finds herself trapped in a large cavern created by the collapse of San Diego freeways when a huge earthquake hits the city. She's trapped with a number of other survivors, including Garrett Wright, an Iraq war veteran. Soon, not only is it a battle to merely survive, it's a battle against fellow survivors. I tell you, once I started this I did not put it down. I intend to get around to reading the sequels, too. Meanwhile, this book was awesome. Seriously.

*Disaster movies at Wikipedia.