Monday, 29 February 2016

The Bridesmaid by Julia London

While I don't usually read modern romances, this was a fun and enjoyable story.

Kate Preston's travel plans to get to her cousin's wedding across the country and being threatened by a massive storm system that is causing all sorts of cancellations and delays.  Joe Firretti is finding is harder than expected to move across country to start his new job due to the same storm.  The two meet enroute and their trip takes more than a few unexpected turns.

This one sitting read is just long enough for the reader to get attached to Kate and Joe and be cheering for their budding relationship.  I particularly liked the introduction of Kate's family and their influence over the romance. 

Learn more about author Julia London and her other works by visiting her website. 

Cover image courtesy Sourcebooks.

note: I won my copy of this book in a giveaway sponsored by Sourcebooks.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

One of the first things I notice when I enter a house is the smell, and that smell gives me a feel for the people who live inside.

The teens in this story all want a safe and welcoming place to live.  They want people in that house to care for them, the make it a home.  They want it to smell like baking instead of disinfectant. (not that a clean house is a bad thing).

Teens also compare their parents to the parents of their friends. Some are better and some are worse, it`s all in the eye of the teens involved. A few even fantasize that life would be better if they had different parents.  A huge part of growing up is coming to terms with the family that you were born into.

Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank are all coming of age in the 1970`s in remote Alaska.  They live in a small community where most people know each other and their histories.  It`s a mixed culture community where many of the old practises have been maintained such as spending the summer at a hunting or fishing camp.

For a debut novel, author Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock did a great job of bringing these teens to life.  The relationships between the teens seemed so real with their rivalries and friendships.  I could clearily imagine the anguish that some of them were feeling and admit to shedding tears more than a few times.  This story has it`s sorrows, but they are well balanced with the joys and it left me with a feeling of hope for these and other teens facing the challenges of growing up.  I lreally enjoyed this book and look forward to future works by this author.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for my review ecopy.

Cover image courtesy Penguin Random House Canada

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Needlework Tuesday - Quilting for Charity

Last night was the monthly meeting of the Elmira Needle Sisters Quilt Guild.  I have been a member for fourteen or so years, since it was founded.  It was a sewing  night and we were making bags for a charity.
 Various member are already at work.
 The organizers had over a 100 kits ready to sew.
 Along with written directions, they made up samples showing the construction steps.
 They also had snacks to keep us going.

 All bags received a label so the recipient could put his/her name on it.

 Over thirty bags were completed and stuffed with toiletries.
The rest of the kits were taken home by the members to be completed prior to our next meeting at the end of March.  Stitching with friends is always a fun way to spend the evening.

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.

Mister Linky is waiting below for a link to your current needlework post. 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

In The High Mountains of Portugal, author Yann Martel has cleverly woven four tales of grief into an adventurous journey across Portugal.

In Part One (1904), we meet Tomas, who mourns his lover and young son, as he drives an early Renault into the mountains in search of long lost artifact. He is following the trail of crucifix made centuries ago by Father Ulisses, a missionary to Sao Tome, who left clues to it's creation in  his journal.  It was also a testement to the grief of losing his faith.

I was captivated by this section.  I enjoyed learning of the difficulties Tomas encountered on his trip and how he strove to overcome them. 

In Part Two (1938), we meet pathologist Eusebio Lozora, who is expected to perform the autopsy of his wife.  This is the one section of the book that I had trouble with.  I admit that I really didn't understand the wife.  She did draw some interesting parallels involving Agatha Christie.

In Part Three (1981), Peter Tovy has just been appointed to the Canadian Senate.  He is at loose ends, not having recovered from the loss of his dear wife.  I loved the tale of how he ended up with a chimpanzee in Portugal.  I could not put the book down once I reached this section.

These four men all deal with their grief in very different ways.  Mr. Martel has used the freedom of fiction to explore various ways of expressing their pain.  I am left pondering this round trip, return to the high mountains.  Did the journeys of these men provide a balm for their grief.

Cover image courtesy Penguin Random House Canada

Friday, 19 February 2016

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what was happening in this story, when whamo, every changed.  It was a major 'what the heck, I didn't see that coming' moment.  Way to go Mr. Koontz, you are one devious plot master.

At twenty two, Bibi Blair is a successful novelist and is looking forward to her fiance returning home from his current deployment.  Upon experiencing some severe symptoms, she is diagnosed with a rare brain cancer that will kill her within the year.  There is no hope for a cure or remission, it has never happened.

Miraculously she is cured, but at what cost.  She must find and save the life of young Ashley Bell.  This task is made harder by a mysterious organization which opposes her quest.

I was hooked into this story from the opening pages.  Bibi is an engaging young woman who is well poised for success.  When that is taken away, I wanted to stick with her and help her get back on track.  I cheered for her at every turn.

I live in a land locked area and really enjoyed the west coast California feel of the novel.  Bibi's involvement in the surf community,  and the surfer lingo helped transport me in this created world.  Once I accepted that world, I had no trouble believing everything else I read.  I was easily lead down this garden path.

This novel is made of stories within stories and shows the true power of the imagination.  Even after reading the conclusion, I am left wondering where that dividing line is between truth and fiction, does it even exist.

A tip of my hat to the unknown man with the golden retriever.

Cover image courtesy Random House Books.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

Ruby and her mother have arrived in Alaska to visit her father only to find out there has been a disastrous fire killing everyone at the village where he was staying.  I had expected that the rest of the story would be sad and depressing. Instead, it was full of grit and determination. 

Yasmin is convinced that she would know if her husband.  Since she knows in heart and in her soul that he is alive, she is determined to find him even though she will have to cross hundreds of miles of country she knows nothing about. 

I was captivated by this story. I wanted to stay with Ruby and her mom, wrap my arms around them and keep them warm and safe.  Author Rosamund Lupton's descriptions of the remote locations of Alaska were mesmerizing.  She was able to convey the vastness of the region and how very isolated the two were out on the ice highway.  From my city surrounded location, it seems like and impossible and fragile world.  I did learn about the resiliance of the people of Alaska.  Ruby and her mom showed their strength and learned how to survive in a place and weather that was totally foreign to them.

I didn't know what to expect from Ruby.  She was far more than a shadow of her mother.  She was strong in ways I wouldn't expect for a ten year and she had strengths and skills not only related to her being deaf, but to being her father's daughter.  A worthy character that I'd like to see again in a few years in another story. 

I liked that Ms. Lupton incorporated some Inuit tales into the main story.  It helped to give a more complete image of the community of Anaktue. 

I have only seen the northern lights one time, though the description in this book brought them back to vivid colours.  I easily imagined them dancing through the sky.  All the beauty of the Arctic was balanced by the exploration and conquest of the elements by the various corporations present in the far north.

I really enjoyed this story and enjoyed learning more about life in Alaska.

Thanks to Penguin Random House and Net Galley for my review ebook.
Cover image courtesy Penguin Random House

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Needlework Tuesday - Knitting Socks is Fiddly

 The extreme cold weather that we experienced in the past week has kept me inside more than usual.  That translated into lots of stitching time.

First I needed to get caught up on the block of the month project from my local quilt guild.  I added the white and lavender checker board pattern and then I added the modified log cabin blocks.

I didn't exactly follow the instructions, though I did keep true to the designer's vision.  More instructions are coming next week.  I'll thinking that I need to add more yellow to keep the balance.  At present, it measures approximately 29 x 34 inches.
 I finally cast on the socks and started stitching right away.  I am using 2.75 mm needles.The yarn is Mary Maxim Sweet Feet in colour 616 Lime.  The double wrapping for the smocking stitch is a bit tedious, but I am using the darning needle as suggested in the video by Lucy Neatby in the video that accompanies this Craftsy class.

I am ready to start the heel flaps.
close up to show the double wrap smocking stitch

I've have started the second half of my scarf.  Ia m using a pattern by designer Natalie Servant. It has an interesting chevron motif at each end.
the reverse sides of the pattern looks very interesting .
This scarf if working up nicely and should be finished in another two weeks, just in time for more warm weather.

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.

Mister Linky is waiting below for a link to your current needlework post. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

All the Winters After by Sere Prince Halverson

All the Winters After introduced me to some of the many mysteries of Alaska.  After a twenty year absence, Kachemak Winkel returns home to Caboose to find a young Russian woman living there. What the heck is she doing there and what is Kache going to do about it.  Nadia has been living in this abandoned cabin for ten years and all of a sudden the dead man from the photos has shown up at her door.  Has she finally cracked up from loneliness. Is she imagining him or could he possibly be real.

I was entranced by the prospect of a man returning to his hometown after such a long absence.  He had been hiding from his past and finally realised he had to face his ghosts.  As it turns out, the other main characters in this book are also hiding from something, mainly them selves.  Each have their compelling reasons to keep hiding.  As their stories unfolded, I couldn't stop reading and trying to second guess their mystery.

The story is set in Caboose, which stands in for the real Homer, Alaska .  I was fascinated to learn about this far away local, which is almost 4300 miles from where I live.  The long winters and midnight sun are something I can now imagine more clearly.  I enjoyed learning about the extent of gardening in the north and how much could be produced.

Kache, Nadia and their families were brought to life for me by author Sere Prince Halverson.  Central to Nadia's story is that of the Old Believers of Russian heritage.  They are akin to the Mennonites who live in my area.  I found myself cheering for both their families, hoping that they would do right by them.

This was a most enjoyable book. The author made me feel part of Kache's and Nadia's lives by sharing so much of their feelings about their troubles and their feelings for their families.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for my review copy and for use of the cover image.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Nikki Fife has just been released from prision after being conviceted of murdering her husband. she has hired  PI Kinsey Millhone to find out who really killed him.

The case is eight years stone cold, but Kinsie, in her brusk style, manages to ruffle more than a few feathers and searches out several new leads.

This is a good introduction to a series that now extends to twenty-four books.The most recent book in the series,   X , was published in January 2015.

While this book is dated by the technology, Kinsie's investigative techniques are solid.  As a lead character for a series, she is firm in her commitment to her clients, she's not perfect, but she tries hard to stick to her personal code of conduct.  She is a character that I could grow to like quite well.

Author Sue Grafton has assembled a likable pool of suspects, and I was even cheering for some to not be the murderr.  I was kept eagerly listening  till the final moments.  I listened to the unabridged audio book from Books on Tape.  It was read by Mary Peiffer.  She was able to emphasis Kinsie's no nonsense nature but also bring out her compassion when needed.

Cover image courtesy Audible Inc.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Needlework Tuesday - As Good As Finished

 I can finally breath a sigh of relief, this quilt is as good as finished needing only the binding.   I'll have to check my stash and see if I have a brown fabric that will work.

It measures about 61 inches on a side.

This quilt was fun to make.  I used a variety of templates from Marti Michell and made up the design from the middle out.

This quilt will find a home in our camper when that season arrives.
 One of my goals for this project was to practise my machine quilting.  I have such grand ideas in my head, but at present my skill level isn't there.  This quilt, with all the busy fabrics, gave me the opportunity  to play with a variety of designs.  I started with the tutorial  The Dizzy Daisy by Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt blog.   It is a combination of flowers and swirls/baptist fan motifs.
 The narrowest border, 1 inch, received a repeated swirl, inspired by the centre of the swirl/fans from the centre.  Show in the red/orange border at the right of the photo.  The next 2 inch border uses a motif that reminds me of corrugated cardboard.  It is easy to do and can be adapted to any width space.   Shown in the light green border on the left of the photo.

The middle row used just the swirl/fan of the Dizzy Daisy motif.

The tumbler border is 6 inches wide and this time I used the flowers from the centre.  There is a tutorial called Happy Blossoms. it was a bit tricky to get into the spaces, but with a few extra leaves added here and there, I was able to give a fairly consistent coverage. 

The final outer border gave me a bit of a challenge.  It was four inches wide, which would have been difficult to work with on my machine.  I first stitched a line, one inch from the previous border and added a row of swirls in that area.  Then I did the same corrugated cardboard motif, alternating it every three inches from horizontal to vertical.  Ignore the white chalk marks that I've yet to remove.

I did practise each motif on a separate piece of layered fabric before starting on the quilt.  Even with that, I did improve as the work progressed.  The hardest part of machine quilting is keeping the motifs at the same scale throughout the project.  Having a reference sample to refer to really helped.

Now that I have this completed, I am looking forward to my next quilt.

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.

Mister Linky is waiting below for a link to your current needlework post. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Mystery of Grace by Charles De Lint

I LOVE THIS BOOK.  Yes, I used capital letters as I have raised my voice to ensure I have your attentions.  I have listened to the audio book at least three times, and I know I am not done with it yet.

Grace Quintero is a kick-ass young woman who knows what she wants out of life.  She is passionate about customizing classic cars and happily spends her evenings listening to rock-a-billy music.

On Halloween, she meets John Burns at the Solona Music Hall, and by the end of the night she realizes that she has met her soul mate.  If only she had met him two weeks earlier.

This story grabbed me from the opening paragraphs and won't let go.  I read it first almost three years ago, and it remains fresh in my mind.  I am haunted by this love that is meant to be.

Author Charles De Lint has vividly rated two characters who resonate with life.  Each appears very different from the other, yet they compliment each other so well.  John is a man in love and it seems to natural that he would explore those things that Grace holds so dear.

What really draws me to this story is that while they have seeming insurmountable obstacle to their love, they both search for ways they know must exist to bridge them.  Theirs is a love that is meant to be.

I listened to the unabridged audio book read by  Paul Michael Garcia and Tai Sammons 9 hours 51 minutes.

Cover image courtesy Blackstone Audio.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Ruby Red by Kertin Gier

Time travel books are one of my favourite genre.  I particularly enjoy reading how the travellers copes with his or her alternate time periods.  In this novel, Gwyneth Shepherd has known about such travel all her life, but had expected that her cousin Charlotte would be the traveller.    Author Kerstin Gier well conveyed Gwyn's confusion and displeasure when she realised that she would be the traveller instead.

Joining her in her travels is Gideon; he has been training his entire life for these adventures.  Unlike him, Gwyn will have to use her instincts to guide her through the different time periods that she visits.  She also has a unique gift that should prove helpful.

Gwyn and Gideon make an interesting pair.  He wants to do this travelling and Gwyn is as of yet ambivalent about it.  He has been trained in skills such as fencing and period dance while she hasn't.  Time will tell whether Gwyn's lack of training will be a hindrance or an asset in their future.

I can't decide whether I like Gideon or not.  He is very self assured, almost smug in his superiority over Gwyn.  I supposed that he would need that assurance when travelling into different time periods and unknown situations.  Like Gwyn, he has to decide who is telling the truth and what that means for them.  Will he be able to stand up and make his decision or will he blindly follow what he has been told by the privileged old men controlling them.

I love the descriptions of the clothing that has been carefully crafted for the two of them.  What good would a time travel story be without such wonderful outfits.  It helps to set the mood by understanding the challenges of 'fitting in' in the past.

I listened to the unabridged audio book read by Marisa Calin.  8 hours 50 minutes.  Ms. Calin helped bring life to the characters.  She particularly brought out the venom of Charlotte's  mother and the neglect of Gwyn's grandmother.

I felt that the book ended too soon.  There was so much time spent building the characters and the settings, then a few short events and it was over.  Fortunately the story continues in Sapphire Blue.

Translated by Anthea Bell

The Ruby Red Trilogy:
  1. Ruby Red
  2. Sapphire Blue
  3. Emerald Green

Cover image courtesy Macmillan  Publishers

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Needlework Tuesday - Permission to Practice

Years ago, I read a book called The Practice Effect by author David Brin.  I was fascinated by the concept of items starting out as low quality, and that only with constant use they became better.  Clothing started as rags and the more they were worn, the better quality they became.  Staff were hired to wear a wealthy man's clothing and use his goods to improve their value.  If you stopped using and item, it would slowly revert to it's previous, coarse state.

Science fiction right.  Maybe not quite.  Consider the skills that you have.  You obtained them through constant use and practice, if you don't use them, they become rusty and not as fluent.  The often cited example of never forgetting how to ride a bicycle does acknowledge that you might wobble a bit at first when you try riding again after many years of abstaining.

Needlework skills are much the same.  If you want them to improve, then you have to use them, repeatedly.  Not only using them, but practicing as well.  Yes, we need to practice.

You would never expect sporting professionals to not practice and only ever play in games.  They practice far more hours than they ever do spend hours in competition.  Most of the time, I never practice my needlework.  I am assuming that like most of you, my stitching time must produce an item.  Practicing is wasted time.  That is just not so. 

Athletes do warm up exercises, so should we.  I know hand quilters who keep a simple project, such as a pre-printed panel, to stitch on for a few minutes prior to working on a main project in order to limber up their fingers.  For knitters, a simple garter stitch scarf would serve the same purpose. Stiff fingers are awkward and result in uneven tensions.

Yesterday, I received and newsletter from quilter Leah Day and she talked about practicing.  I have included that video below.

I practice. I knit tension squares.  I stitch test blocks for quilts.  I often grumble when I do this, but I don't really begrudge the time spent as it has saved me from huge errors in the long run and has resulted in a better outcome. 
I have included several photos of my practice pieces for machine quilting.  It is two layers of fabric with batting in between and I use contrasting thread to practice new motifs again and again, until I am satisfied.  When it gets too hard to see the stitching, I add another layer of fabric on top and keep stitching.  With the different colours it doesn't matter is they overlap.
(you could also put a piece of batting inside and old pillow case and practice with that)
Only when I am satisfied, do I move to my actual quilt top.  I have no intentions of ever using these practice pieces for anything, they are just for practice.  If I didn't overlap the stitching, I could trim them to an appropriate size, add binding and use as place mats.
It doesn't matter that they might never be used for anything, what does matter is that I am practicing my skill and learning and improving my technique.  This makes me happy and I end up with a better quality finish for my project, which was my goal in the first place.  So give your self permission to practice your stitching and never consider it wasted time.
I want to improve my sock knitting skills.  Kate at the blog Arts and Socks pointed out a new free class at Craftsy  called Knit Along 2016 Socks. It's not for the beginner, though if you've knit one pair of socks you'd probably be able ready to attempt the lessons.  I've signed up, watched the first lesson and have my wool for the first pair.  I am looking forward to learning more about sock knitting so I can avoid the problems I've previously encountered.  Thanks Kate.
These socks will require more attention than television watching will permit, so I needed another project.  Several years ago, I bought the pattern Fast Forward by Canadian  designer Natalie Servant and  then it sat.  I finally purchased the wool last year and yet it sat.  Nothing like the present for getting started.

Here's where the practice comes in.  Following the pattern, I used 4mm needles and started. I had about eight inches knit and realised the tension was way too tight.  Ripped it out and started again using 4.5mm needles.  Still a bit too tight, rip again.  Now I am using 5mm needles and it's almost perfect.  Sure, it's a drag ripping back that much, but I knew that I'd not be satisfied if I didn't and it would have been a much stiffer scarf in the end.  Now it will be soft and almost cuddly.  I am using Cascade 220 Heather wool in colour 2425.   I purchased enough for a co-ordinating hat as well.

At the end of the day, and at the end of the project, I am glad that I spent the time in practicing which ever skill I utilised.  I end up with a better project and that makes me happy.  If I'm not happy doing my crafts/arts/needlework, then I am doing something very wrong.  For this week, I wish you all happy practice.

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.

Mister Linky is waiting below for a link to your current needlework post, regardless of whether it is practice or not.

Cover image used courtesy of Penguin RandomHouse Canada.