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Spring Pillows

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If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you probably have noticed a lot of pillows! That is because I am sewing along in a Threadbias Pillow Pop group (actually, I’m helping to lead this group!). I’ve been trying to make at least one pillow for every month to help members of the group as needed. If you want to join us, there is no deadline to sign up. I am really impressed with some of the interpretations of the pillows from the Pillow Pop book  – we have a very creative bunch over there!

I’ve been getting ahead the last few weeks and have three spring pillows to show you today – they are all very different, but to me they represent spring so well. All three pillows measure 20″ X 20″ finished.

GardenDistrict.FinishedFront.010001April’s Pillow is called Garden District … and it was a bit labor intensive, but I made some small changes in the pattern which made it come together quicker (namely, I chose to strip piece some of the petals and used one fabric for other petals in the design).

The fabrics in this one were scraps of Bonnie and Camille collections to make the petals.

GardenDistrict.FinishedFront.020001I used Kona solid in Taupe for the trellis.

The pillow is machine quilted using a red thread and following the pattern of the petals.

GardenDistrict.Front10001I made a simple envelope back to finish this one.

GardenDistrict.FinishedBack0001FreshBloomPillow.Front020001May’s pillow, Fresh Bloom, is meant to represent a vibrant bloom of flowers using fusible applique. The project in the book used multiple colorways and over 80 circles. I decided I wanted something less scrappy looking that more clearly depicted a flower.

I chose three colorways: orange, yellow and gray…and cut about 45 circles of various sizes. Careful placement of each colorway resulted in a pillow which looks like a bouquet of brightly colored flowers.

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I quilted Fresh Bloom by stitching about 1/8th of an inch along the edge of each petal and then echoed the entire “bloom” around the outside.

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The back is pieced and sports a hidden zipper.

PhotogenicPillow.front030001Perhaps my favorite pillow of the three is June’s pillow which is titled Photogenic. I was thrilled to discover some vintage Heather Bailey fabric – two older collections which I bought when I first started quilting and then had no idea how to use those huge prints.

This pillow is super easy to piece and I finished it in less than 3 hours. I chose a print with huge roses to be my focus fabric.

I really like how the turquoise and kelly green prints frame the whole thing.

The back is pieced with a hidden zipper closure.

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I used a simple, straight line echo quilting to make the pillow pop.

PhotogenicPillow.quilting0001I really had a lot of fun making all three of these springy pillows which I hope I will enjoy year round!

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Tapestry of Fortunes – Book Review

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TapestryofFortunesDon’t we all want company in some form, are we not attracted to the idea of a body beside us in a thunderstorm, or another voice to help decide on dinner; to share astonishment at the latest political buffoonery or appreciation for the lush sets on Downtown Abbey? Are we not, at our most basic, social animals, people who need other people, whether we want to or not? – from Tapestry of Fortunes -

Cecelia Ross is reeling when her best friend dies of cancer. A motivational speaker who often does not follow her own advice, Cece feels lost and alone. Impulsively she decides to take a leave of absence from her work, sell her home, and move into an apartment with three female roommates. She also receives an unexpected postcard from an old boyfriend – a man who she once loved and has never truly forgotten.

Tapestry of Fortunes explores female friendship and healing from loss, as well as rediscovering connections with others.

Elizabeth Berg has long been a favorite author of mine when I want to sit down and read a novel with strong female characters. So I was a little disappointed with this latest effort. I really wanted to love Cece and her new found friends, but everything felt very contrived to me. I couldn’t fully believe how fast the friendship between Cece, Joni, Renie and Lise developed…and the impulsive decision for them to pick up and make a long journey together felt a little unbelievable.

Despite these shortcomings, I did finish the novel and it was an okay read for me. Berg’s prose can be spare and insightful, and I liked the themes of change and personal growth which she explored in the book.  Readers who have loved previous work by this author might be a bit disappointed with Tapestry of Fortunes – but if you are looking for a light, quick read, this one might just appeal to you.

Other reviews of books I’ve read  by Elizabeth Berg:

3stars

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.

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Still Life with Breadcrumbs – Book Review

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StillLifeThe problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. ow she wasn’t sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she’d been. - from Still Life with Breadcrumbs, page 223 -

Rebecca Winter made her mark as a photographer with one photograph – a domestic scene of crumbs and dirty dishes. Her name became synonymous with women’s rights and the anger of housewives. But that was then.

Now she finds herself at age sixty, divorced, struggling financially, tasked with caring for her aging parents, and alone. She is forced to rent out her home in New York City (a home she loves) and moves out to the country to a rambling, tumbledown cabin in the woods. Rebecca has no idea how she is going to support herself. She feels creatively stagnant and anxious. And then one day, walking in the woods, she discovers a white cross placed haphazardly on the forest floor and she snaps a photo.

As Still Life with Breadcrumbs unfolds, Rebecca meets a roofer named Jim and adopts a mangy dog.. She continues to find the strange white crosses in the woods and begins to think her life may be on the upswing. But life does not always follow the path one thinks it will…and Rebecca begins to wonder if the images behind her lens may not be all there is to life.

Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite authors after having read her brilliant, albeit disturbing, novel Every Last One (read my review). I was excited to pick up this latest book, and I am glad I did. Although I do not think it rises to the level of achievement of Every Last One, it is full of beautifully written characters and unexpected turns of events. Rebecca’s growth – from a woman seeking acclaim to a woman recognizing the more important things in life – drives the narrative. I loved how although she does not consider herself a dog person, Rebecca finds a bond with a homeless, neglected dog who steals her heart.

Quindlen explores the themes of aging, rediscovery, love and friendship in her new novel. I was glad to read a novel with a sixty year old protagonist who was still vital, funny, and interesting (too often older characters are portrayed negatively in fiction).

Quindlen’s prose compels the reader to keep turning the pages…and Still Life With Breadcrumbs will certainly appeal to those who love women’s fiction and well constructed characters.

This book was long listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

4Stars

 

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Cold Comfort Farm – Book Review

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ColdComfortFarmThe life of the journalist is poor, nasty, brutish and short. So is his style. You, who are so adept at the lovely polishing of every grave and lucent phrase, will realize the magnitude of the task which confronted me when I found, after spending ten years as a journalist, learning to say exactly what I meant in short sentences, that I must learn, if I was to achieve literature and favourable reviews, to write as though I were not quite sure about what I meant but was jolly well going to say something all the same in sentences as long as possible. - from Stella Gibbons to Tony -

Cold Comfort Farm was first published in 1932 and was Stella Gibbons’ first novel. It is one of those novels which became almost an instant classic, but which is not the first book one thinks of when they think “classic literature.” Stella Gibbons was born in the UK and her novel is set there. Flora Poste finds herself highly educated, but unable to support herself after the death of both her parents. She immediately sets about contacting various relatives and asking if she can live with them (this as a way of not finding work). She accepts an invitation to live on Cold Comfort Farm with her aunt and extended relatives. The farm is out in the country (as farms tend to be) and the characters who live there include Elfine (a flighty free spirit), Seth, Reuben, Judith Starkadder, Adam (who washes dishes with a twig), Amos Starkadder and a menagerie of farm animals  including the cows Feckless, Graceless, Aimless and Pointless.

The novel is essentially satire  – lighthearted, funny and a bit eccentric. Despite it being written in the 1930′s, it has a modern appeal.  The characters and their weirdness are what drive the narrative…and much of the plot is meandering as a way of supporting the growth of the characters.

I enjoyed much of the book, but will admit to growing weary of it before turning the last page. Some of what happens just felt silly to me. Flora does redeem herself from a selfish, lazy person into someone I grew to like. There is a “mystery” in the novel which unfortunately Gibbons leaves unresolved. I found that a bit annoying.

Over all, Cold Comfort Farm is worth the read for those who enjoy British Literature and Classic Fiction…but be prepared to set aside reality and simply step into the crazy world of the Starkadders first!

3hstars

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TransAtlantic – Book Review

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TransatlanticWhat was a life anyway? An accumulation of small shelves of incident. Stacked at odd angles to each other. The long blades of an ice saw cutting sparks into a block of cold. Sharpening the blades, seating them, slotting them into handles. Leaning down to make the cut. A brief leap of ember in the air. – from TransAtlantic -

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 on Maryland’s eastern shore. He lived enslaved, beaten, and abused…but becoming literate and finally escaping slavery in September 1838. Douglas went on to become a lecturer and speaker, seeking to end slavery forever. He went on a three year speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland. He worked closely with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to recruit northern blacks for the Union Army, and later went on to support the rights of women.

Douglass canceled a tea in Sandymount to get there on time. He arrived along the teeming docks. He could not believe the size of the crowd: as if the whole sponge of Dublin had been squeezed down into a huge sink. So many dishes, so many rags, such a riot of human cutlery. – from TransAtlantic -

Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. They flew from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Galway, Ireland – crashing their plane on landing, but surviving.

Floating icebergs below. The roughly furrowed sea. They know there will be no turning back. It is all mathematics now. To convert the fuel into time and distance. To set the throttle for the optimum burn. To know the angles and the edges, and the spaces in between. - from TransAtlantic -

Democrat George Mitchell served as a United States Senator from Maine from 1980 to 1995 and as Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. He played a pivotal role in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland as an appointee to the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland (1995–2001).

They carried their sorrow – not with photos under their arms, or with public wailing, or by beating their chests, but with a weariness around the eyes. Mothers and daughters and children and grandmothers, too. They never fought the wars, but they suffered them, blood and bone. How many times has he heard it? How often were there two ways to say the one thing? My son died. – from TransAtlantic -

These four men take a central role in Colum McCann’s sterling novel, TransAtlantic. McCann introduces them all separately, and then weaves their lives together against the backdrop of the history in Ireland and four generations of extraordinary women. Lily Duggan is an Irish housemaid and it is from her that the women in this novel spiral out across the decades.

McCann is a poet with the English language – he pares down his words to deliver a story steeped in history, yet lyrically captured. When George Mitchell, exhausted, sits in Prime Minister Blair’s office, so close to an agreement and yet so far away from a document that will end the bloodshed…McCann captures the moment perfectly:

The Prime Minister’s shirt open to the second button. They are stuck now on a point of language. The British and their words. The Irish and their endless meanings. How did such a small sea ever come between them? - from TransAtlantic -

He also just as succinctly and beautifully captures the senseless loss of thousands during the Civil War:

They lifted the soldiers as gently as they could and placed them in the grass in the imprints of others who had been there just hours ago. All around, the grass was exhausted by the shape of the war. - from TransAtlantic -

McCann never loses his way in this novel about history and the men and women who played such a pivotal role in it. Large in scope, yet made personal by the characters who people it, TransAtlantic is a luminous story of courage, family, love, and loss.

I loved McCann’s novel Let the Great World Spin (read my review) and I was certainly not disappointed by his newest work. Once again, McCann pulls off an ambitious, yet wholly readable work of literary fiction that stays with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

Readers who appreciate extraordinary literary fiction laced with history, will find much to love in TransAtlantic.

5stars

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review on my blog as part of the Library Thing Early Review Program.

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Scrappy Churn Dash Tablerunner

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*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view

I made this sweet table runner as part of Sherri McConnell’s celebration of the little things this year.  Every month she posts a new project on her blog. If you make the project for that month, you will get the next project pattern for free. All the patterns are also for sale in her shop on Craftsy.

This churn dash table runner is charm pack or mini charm pack friendly (1 charm pack or 2 minis) I used a charm pack of the new collection by Zen Chic: Sphere. The pattern did not call for the outer border that I put on (I wanted my runner to be wider than the 9.5″ which was how the pattern was written). I used Modern Basics II Robin’s Egg (by Alissa Haight Carlton for In the Beginning Fabrics) which is a luscious cross weave which I bought at Cuts of Cotton (love that shop!)

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I used up the whole charm pack by piecing the back and also making a scrappy binding.

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The white in this runner is Bella bleached white (PFD) which is my go-to white these days.

I did straight line quilting with my walking foot and simply echoed the design using a turquoise thread (which shows best on the back).

This runner measures 48.5″ X 13″.

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Pillow Pop Round-Up: March

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BlogButtonHave you checked out the Pillow Pop group on Threadbias? We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

We currently have 50 members in the Pillow Pop group and would love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it is free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose Life Aquatic (easy) and Cosmos (challenging) as the pillows for March…and here are the wonderful finishes with links back to each sewist’s project page. I hope you will click through to see the entire projects as the backs and quilting on each pillow are also fabulous.

Life Aquatic: Uses complimentary colors to create the pop.

LifeAquatic.Skynme

Erica’s vibrant pillow uses bold Kaffe Fassett fabrics and Essex linen

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Karen chose different values of turquoise and added a punch of tangerine to create a beachy feel

LifeAquatic.Wendy LifeAquatic.CarolMarie

Both Carol and I decided to add a little surprise in our pillows – mine has a gnome and a sweet butterfly flutters it wings in Carol’s.

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Terry’s pillow uses subtle grays with a bold pop of red to create a beautiful modern feel.

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Cathie’s use of golden yellows and modern grays evokes a sunny day; while Sewbusy chose some beautiful low volume fabrics as the backdrop for her cheerful raspberry cross

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Marsha put a wholly original modern spin on her pillow with a double cross against a neutral background

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And Belinda’s Spider Man theme turns this into a fun pillow for any child

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Jo’s pillow evokes a night sky with pops of black and blue.

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Terry used a soft gray and neutral palette to make the purple in her pillow take center stage.

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Sue used Bonnie and Camille fabrics and a gorgeous Wickerweave fabric to create a stunning version of this pillow.

LifeAquatic.Kathie LifeAquatic.Margaret

Kathie used some wonderful Tula Pink fabric and fussy cut a bunny for the cross, while Margaret framed her low volume prints with a bright splash of red.

Cosmos: Layered hexagons gives a modern feel to a traditional pattern.

Cosmos.Cally

Valerie’s pillow evokes wildflowers with a beautiful yellow and gray-plum palette

Cosmos.ReaderOwl

Karen created a textured pillow with a fabulous gray wool as the background for her hexie flower

Cosmos.Margaret

Margaret used a variety of violet and raspberry fabrics to give her pillow a sweet feel

Cosmos.Skymne

Erica softened her bold colors with super silky voile by Anna Maria Horner

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Summer in the South – Book Review

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SummerInTheSouthWho knew what baggage Charlie might have brought with him from New Orleans? What demons he might have battled? It was so difficult to ascertain a man’s true character glimpsed only through the eyes of others. – from Summer in the South -

Ava Dabrowski finds herself reeling from a failed romance and the death of her mother when she decides to accept an invitation to spend the summer in Woodburn, Tennessee at the home of an old college acquaintance, Will Fraser. Ava has a dream to write a novel, but she finds it hard to get started once she arrives in Tennessee. Woodburn is a classic small Southern town and Will and his family take center stage. Ava moves into Will’s aunts’ home – a rambling, historic house that is haunted by the ghosts of the past. When she unearths a family mystery – that of the death of Charlie Woodburn – the story consumes her and her novel comes to life. But things are not always as they first appear, and the mystery of Charlie and his untimely death have been kept secret for a long, long time. As Ava becomes embroiled in the lives of the Woodburns, she discovers that truth may be more compelling than fiction.

Cathy Holton’s Summer in the South is a well-written novel about a young woman caught in a dark mystery from the past. It explores the Southern culture, family loyalty and the difficulty of untangling fact from gossip and community lore. Ava Dabrowski is a strong, “Yankee” woman who finds herself unsettled when she moves to a small Southern town where the rules of society are anything but clear. When she begins to dig into the history of the Woodburn family, she finds herself confronting shadows and ghosts and the tricky maze of high class Southern etiquette.

There is a bit of romance mixed into the mystery in Holton’s novel, but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot. I found this book highly readable, and the ending took me a little by surprise as the reader finally uncovers the truth behind Charlie’s death.

Readers who love novels set in the South, and for those who like women’s literature and a bit of mystery in their reading, will find much to enjoy in Summer in the South.

4Stars

I’ve read one other novel by this author. Read my review of Beach Trip.

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Quatrefoil Block Tutorial

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*click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view

I am sewing as part of a Quilting Bee group on Threadbias, and April is my month to be “Queen.” After lots of thought, I’ve decided to ask my hive-mates to make me Quatrefoil blocks using tangerine/orange and turquoise/teal. Although I found a tutorial on line, I didn’t like one part of it and decided to write my own tutorial to help make this block come together in a snap!

All seams in this tutorial are a scant 1/4″.

Fabric Requirements and Cutting

This tutorial results in a 12.5″ X 12.5″ block.

You will need fabric in two colorways (in this tutorial – tangerine and turquoise) and background fabric (in this case Bella Bleached White-pfd). Cut the following:

1 – 4.5″ X  4.5″ square (for the center)
4 – 4.5″ X  4.5″ squares (for the petals – this should be a different colorway than the center. You can use all the same fabric, or different fabrics if you want a scrappier flower)
1 – 2.5″ X 11″ strip of one accent color
1 – 2.5″ X 11″ strip of a second accent color
2 – 2.5″ X 11″ strips of the background fabric (white)
8 – 2.5″ X 2.5″ squares of background fabric (white)

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Constructing the 4 Patches which make up the corners of the Block

Match one 2.5″ X 11″ white (background) strip with each of the 2.5″ X 11″ strips of accent fabric and join them along the long sides, right sides together.

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Open each strip set and press toward the patterned fabric (away from the white fabric). You will then have two strip sets, one in each colorway:

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Square up one end of each strip set, and then sub-cut each of your strip sets into four 2.5″ X 4.5″ rectangles:

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You should now have 8 two patch units, 4 of each colorway:

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Match each 2-patch with its opposite colorway and layout in a 4-patch layout with the patterned squares diagonally opposite each other. If you have pressed correctly, you will now be able to nest the seams when you sew these together.

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Join each pair, sewing right sides together. You will now have four 4-patch units which should measure 4.5″ square. Use a clear, square ruler to make sure your units are 4.5″ square (trim if necessary).

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Constructing the Petal Units

Select your four 4.5″ squares of petal fabric, and your eight 2.5″ squares of background fabric. Draw a diagonal line on the backs of each of the background fabric squares and then place one background square on top of each of the 4.5″ squares of petal fabric (in one corner, edges lined up), right sides together. You will then sew just a smidge to the right of the drawn line.

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Trim off the corner after stitching (1/4″ from the stitch line), and then open the block and press

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Place another 2.5″ square of background fabric on an adjacent side of the petal fabric (right sides together) and again stitch just to the right of the diagonal line, trim the corner, and press open.

QuatrefoilTutorial.PetalConstruction40001 QuatrefoilTutorial.PetalConstruction50001 QuatrefoilTutorial.PetalConstruction60001

You will now have four petal blocks, each measuring 4.5″ square – measure and trim if needed.

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Layout your block in rows (as below), with the center square in the middle surrounded by your petal blocks, and the 4-patch blocks in each corner.

NOTE: Each 4-patch block has two colorways. The same colorway should occur in each outer corner. It does not matter how you position your 4-patches, as long as each is positioned the same. In my example, I have chosen to make the colorway which matches the center be the inside corner squares of the block. But, you could just as easily flip these around so that the inside square matches the petals which would give  the flower a more monochromatic look.

QuatrefoilTutorial.Layout0001

You will next join the blocks in each row together, left to right. And then join each row together, top to bottom, to complete the block.

A Note about Joining the Petal Blocks to the 4-Patch Blocks

This can be a little tricky if you have never done it before. But there is a trick to getting the seams to match.  Lay a 4-patch block on top of a petal block (right sides together). Insert a pin at the seam line (where the background fabric and a patterned piece come together on the 4-patch block) a 1/4″ from the stitch edge and straight down so that it intersects the diagonal seam of the petal block:

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This is the correct placement for the seams to be joined. Pin the blocks together in this position and stitch them together and your seams should match when opened up.

When all the rows are joined, your block should look like this:

QuatrefoilTutorial.Block10001

Have fun!!!!

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Is This Tomorrow – Book Review

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IsThisTomorrowShe watched Jimmy sprint out of her house. He tore out across her lawn, crossed the street, and veered to the left toward his home, two houses down, a yellow ranch house with white shutters. When he got to the door, he turned and waved with both hands, grinning. Later, that’s what she told the police. How happy he was. How he smiled. - from Is This Tomorrow -

Ava Lark and her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, are living in a Boston suburb in 1956. Ava is divorced and works hard to provide for Lewis whose father is no longer in the picture. She tries to make friends in her small neighborhood, but the fact that she is Jewish and unmarried isolates her. Jimmy and Rose are the kids next door and they and Lewis have formed a solid friendship. But one afternoon, Jimmy goes missing and suddenly Ava and Lewis fall under suspicion. Despite Lewis and Rose’s strong bond, when Rose and her mother move out of state, the two close friends lose contact with each other.

Years later, Ava still lives in her little neighborhood, Lewis has moved to the midwest where he is working as a nurse’s aid, and Rose has created a new life for herself as a teacher in Michigan. The mystery of Jimmy’s disappearance has touched them all. When something happens that reunites Rose and Lewis, the trauma of that dark day is reignited and forces both young adults to answer some hard questions: What happens when someone you love disappears? Are some mysteries better left unsolved? Should we go back to our pasts to find healing for the future?

Is This Tomorrow is a novel about love and loss. And it is about navigating the rough waters of adolescence and growing up after a heartbreaking tragedy. Caroline Leavitt creates memorable, empathetic characters and sets them down in mid-century America just outside an iconic city.

Ava is a woman who grew up in an era of stay at home mothers and the pressure of being the perfect wife. She is forced to evolve and change when her marriage fails and must rely on her courage to care for her young son and make her way in a society which is largely judgmental about her ethnicity. The kids in the story – Rose, Jimmy and Lewis – represent the innocence of kids growing up in a time when neighborhoods felt safe.

The cataclysmic event of a missing child is the conflict which blows apart relationships and challenges each character’s view of the world.

Leavitt is skilled at creating a novel filled with tension, but also allows the characters to drive the plot. Is This Tomorrow is a haunting tale of literary suspense with a bit of a surprise ending that will break the reader’s heart.

Readers who love family centered stories with well developed characters will enjoy this book.

Recommended.

4Stars

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