Good Kings Bad Kings – Book Review

GoodKingsBadKingsI got a plan to run away. I’m gonna go right before they’re set to ship me out of here. I been figuring it out but there’s still a few details that need a little work. I know how I’m gonna sneak out, that’s easy, but I’m not sure where I’m gonna stay at. The plan has to be perfect so I don’t end up in a place even worse than this place. – Teddy Dobbs, from Good Kings Bad Kings, page 37 –

Teddy Dobbs is only one character who speaks to the reader in Susan Nussbaum’s novel about a group of teenagers living in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. There is also Yessenia Lopez who is still reeling from the loss of her tia Nene, and the tragic Mia Oviedo who is hiding a secret. Staff members also narrate this novel: Michelle Volkmann,a recruiter for the institution; the compassionate Joanne Madsen who is herself disabled, and the concerned Ricky Hernandez to name a few. Nussbaum alternates her characters’ voices chapter by chapter, revealing a community bound by necessity and challenged to survive in a world where they have little to no control.

I requested this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program because I thought it would resonate with me. I have worked as a physical therapist consultant for adults and kids with developmental delays. I love my clients. I appreciate their spirit and courage, their ability to live in the moment, and their open personalities. I have seen some of the sadness as well – the individuals who have been raped, or institutionalized in facilities that are no more than holding pens for people unable to care for themselves. I chose to work for a company that provides consistently excellent care in a clean, family-oriented setting (a home, not an institution) and so many of my clients who came for bad environments are now enjoying life in a much more independent and caring setting.

That said, I found myself feeling so sad as I read this novel. I do think Nussbaum is doing a service to the disabled community who are still living in institutions and finding their lives completely controlled by outside forces – some which are destructive. But I really had a hard time getting through this novel. It was painful for me despite some humorous voices. I ached for these characters.

Those readers who enjoy literary fiction will appreciate the honesty of the prose, and the careful development of the characters. But it is also a heartbreaking read, one that found me taking many breaks just to regroup.

This book was awarded the Pen/Bellwether Prize for fiction.

3hstars

FTC Disclosure: I received this book through the Library Thing Early Review program.

In Wilderness – Book Review

In WildernessShe will remember this moment all her life, she is sure of it. – from In Wilderness, first sentence –

The year is 1966. Katherine Reid is sick. She thinks she is probably dying. It seems as though her happy life has completely unraveled. And so, she leaves society behind and heads to a cabin in the Georgia Appalachian Mountains. She brings very little with her – a sleeping bag, a loaded gun, a tin plate. She expects to die soon – alone in the woods.

But Katherine is not alone. Not by a long shot. Twenty year old Danny, a troubled Vietnam Vet, has discovered Katherine. He watches her. Stalks her. Fantasizes about her. Danny’s past suggests violence – especially towards women. As winter gives way to spring, Katherine is still alive and Danny is getting closer.

Diane Thomas has penned a novel that is a psychological thriller about obsession, desire, and the healing powers of nature. Katherine finds that isolating herself seems to make her feel better, while at the same time she is living on the edge of terror.

She should leave immediately, run as fast as she can into town and catch a bus back to Atlanta. That’s the only sane, sensible thing to do. She knows this, and at the same time knows she will not go, knows she would not have gone even the other day. In this wilderness, and only here, she feels as if she isn’t dying. Dares not carry this thought further. Dares not hope. And dares not go. – from In Wilderness, page 94 –

Katherine is experiencing a clash of emotions that is elevated by a raw desire for something she has never known before. She sees the danger, but cannot stop what she is doing.

I was totally engrossed in this novel. I feared for Katherine. I longed to know more about Danny’s past. I wanted to see how this tale of two damaged people driven by erotic desire and something unnamed would end. Thomas weaves together the protagonists stories against the stunning backdrop of the wilderness. Beautiful, frightening and hauntingly compelling, this novel will resonate for readers who enjoy both literary fiction and thrillers.

Highly recommended.

4hStars

*FTC Disclosure: I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

A Zippered Pouch for my Handwork

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

ZipperedPouch.MSQC.010001Sometimes you just feel inspired by what another quilty friend does…and that was the case for this project. After looking at Mary’s awesome zippered pouches, I clicked over to the Missouri Quilt Company’s wonderful tutorial.

You can make these pouches any size and they stitch up quickly. I made mine 7″ X 9.5″ – big enough to store my handwork projects when I go on the road!

ZipperedPouch.MSQC.020001I used some Moon Bunnies (Mochi, Fall 2014, Rashida Coleman) and some Basics fabric from the Cotton and Steel collection. Their collections are so fun and I am excited to buy some of their Spring 2015 fabrics…check out the video below:

https://vimeo.com/127677533

So back to my pouch!

ZipperedPouch.MSQC.030001I used navy and white fabric from Carolyn Friedlander’s Doe collection to line the bag. I thought the bag needed that pop of pink from the zipper! I also decided to box the bottom to give it a little stability.

ZipperedPouch.MSQC.040001So much fun!

The Master Butchers Singing Club – Book Review

MastersButcherSince she had known Eva Waldvogel, and also traveled here and there with Cyprian, she had started to understand how a woman’s attention could succeed in making sense of man’s blind chaos, and yet women needed their own wildness. It was here. All ran riot. The garden and weedy yard would wax fuller until it turned into a jungle of unhitched vines and rusty birdbaths made of ham tins. Eva’s dog, the white shepherd, Schatzie, dug up old bones the former dog had buried and refused to rebury them. It would be awful, Delphine felt, when the leaves withered in the fall, to see the litter of femurs and clavicles, the knobs and knuckles. As if the scattered dead, rising to meet the Judgment, had to change and swap their parts to fit. -from The Master Butchers Singing Club, page 109-

Fidelis Waldvogel manages to survive the horrors of World War I, then returns to his German village and marries Eva – the pregnant widow of his best friend who was killed in action. The newly married couple set out for America and end up in Argus, North Dakota, where Fidelis opens his butcher business.

Delphine Watzka returns home to Argus, North Dakota with her boyfriend, Cyprian after years of performing as a traveling act. There she discovers her alcoholic father and the bodies of a man, woman and child in his basement.

The lives of these two characters merge when Delphine and Eva meet. The two forge an instant friendship and become inseparable.

Louise Erdrich’s rich novel about a German immigrant and his family is tender, thoughtful, funny, and deeply emotional. As with all Erdrich novels, there are many sharply developed, often quirky, characters. Erdrich never rushes the tempo of her story, carefully setting her scenes and building the relationships between the characters.

Fidelis is a complex man with simple needs. Delphine mourns the mother she has never known and longs for a deeper relationship with a man. Both characters take center stage without diminishing the impact of the other, more secondary characters.

This book is, at its heart, a family saga with a bit of a mystery at its center. Erdrich is exceptionally talented and able to make all the pieces fit, integrating the characters into the community they inhabit and providing a deep understanding of life in twentieth century, small town America.

I have yet to read an Erdrich novel I have not loved and The Master Butcher’s Singing Club is no exception. Erdrich writes with a mix of poignancy and humor, meticulous detail, and vivid imagery. I did not want this book to ever end.

Readers who love historical family sagas and literary novels will embrace this book.

Highly recommended.

5stars

The Girl on the Train – Book Review

GirlOnTheTrainI can’t do this, I can’t just be a wife. I don’t understand how anyone does it—there is literally nothing to do but wait. Wait for a man to come home and love you. Either that or look around for something to distract you. -from The Girl on the Train-

Rachel has turned into a drunk, lost, lonely and obsessive…and completely unreliable since she and Tom split. Tom has found Anna, and they’ve started a family…something Rachel has always wanted. So on her daily train commute to and from her job in London, Rachel allows herself to fantasize about a couple who live near the train tracks, in the same neighborhood where she and Tom once shared a home (and which he now shares with Anna). Rachel nicknames the couple Jess and Jason, and in her mind they are perfect and completely in love.

But are they?

Jess is really Megan, and Jason is really Scott…and their real life is not at all like the life Rachel has imagined for them. When Megan goes missing, Rachel inserts herself into their story and the “facts” become even more in question.

Swirling with secrets, innuendos, partial truths, and unreliable narrators, The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller in the style of Gone Girl. Paula Hawkins is adept at developing her characters and keeping the reader guessing as to what is truth and what is not. Hawkins omits key details which slip by unnoticed by the reader until the end – which is sure to surprise most readers.

I loved this book for its careful pacing and suspense. The confusing pieces of the plot are woven together to create a mystery which gradually is solved, revealing the real truth beneath the misconceptions.

Readers who enjoy a good psychological thriller, will find much to enjoy in Hawkin’s compelling novel.

Highly Recommended.

4hStars

A Mini Adventure

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

I am a co-host for a mini quilt sew-a-long in 2015 over on Threadbias. We are making quilts from the Little Quilts book by Sarah Fielke and Amy Lobsiger (you might have noticed that I am posting round ups for each month…and they are really fun to see how other quilters are interpreting these projects).

I’ve made the mini for each month now and thought I would share my interpretations of each quilt.

January’s project was Drawn Together – a lovely paper pieced mini that really called to me.

DrawnTogether.WendyMy favorite part of this project was the fabric selection. I have been challenging myself to use my stash first (rather than buy new fabric), and to also go to fabric in my stash that has been there for some time. The print for the large points (as well as the back) is Hullabaloo by Urban Chiks for Moda. I honestly do not remember when I bought this, but it was a long time ago and when I rediscovered it I decided it had to be my inspiration print for this little quilt. Other fabrics used are: Spot on by Robert Kaufman (gray dots), a basic print in coral from the 2014 collection of Cotton and Steel, a green dot from the Happy Go Lucky collection by Bonnie and Camille, and the charcoal Stof Quilters Basic (text print) in the center of the star. Additionally, I used Bella Bleached white for the background. The text print on the borders is a dark gray and white…unfortunately the selvedge was cut off and I don’t remember the name or designer of the fabric. I used more of the Stof dark gray for the binding.

drawntogether.backrevealI decided not to hand quilt this mini, but used an elongated stitch and echoed the star with some machine quilting.

drawntogether.onwallThis quilt has found a happy place on my wall above my quilt rack and next to my grandmother’s china cabinet filled with quilts.

February’s project was My Heart. I actually made this quilt in December and gave it to my sister, Paula. She loved it and it cheered her up and let her know I was thinking of her. Paula lost her battle with colon cancer in March and I decided to keep this little quilt for myself – something that will always remind me of Paula and our shared love.

MyHeart.WendyI stayed true to the scrappy version in the book, but decided to substitute a gray for the brown fabric. I picked out fabrics I knew Paula would love (see that little bird in the bottom row? Paula LOVED birds!), including some fun text prints.

MyHeart.Mini.FrontDetail0001 The back is a print from Lotta Jonsdotter’s collection Bella. And I added a sweet label from Sweetwater to remind Paula of the Christmas it arrived.

MyHeart.Mini.BackReveal0001This was a fun quilt to make…there is some needle turn reverse applique to sew up the tiny hearts…but it goes fast! I decided to machine quilt this piece rather than hand quilt as I was running short on time!

March’s quilt was Paper Dolls.

PaperDolls.WendyThe tiny scraps of fabric which make up the back mosaic came from my scrap bins. I had some fun stylizing the little girls’ dresses. This was the first time I used wool felt and also the first time I did a curved binding. I decided this one needed to find a home with my sister, Donna! She has it hanging in her craft room.

In April, the project selected was Polka Dot Baskets. I really love this little quilt and decided it needed a spring version.

PolkaDotBaskets.front10001I chose different colors of polka dots for each basket and coordinated low volume backgrounds. Although I did use black for the handles, I decided that black thread for quilting would be too harsh…so instead I used a gray thread and machine quilted around some of the blocks; I also used white thread for some of the other quilting.

PolkaDotBaskets.close up0001The little label patch was one I bought from Sweetwater…they have the cutest labels and I decided that it should be on the front since this is most likely going to be hung on the wall.

PolkaDotBaskets.label0001I went with a scrappy binding to emphasis the different polka dot prints used…and chose a yellow dot from the Sweetwater Hometown collection for the back.

PolkaDotBaskets.backreveal0001Finally, May’s project! Fans of May is a darling mini quilt. I wanted a vintage look for my version.

FansofMay.SunShot0001I chose sweet prints in blue, pink and yellow…and used a lot of polka dots. Instead of rick rack, I chose an antique lace for the edges of my fans (you can see that well in the photo above because of the sun shadow).

FansofMay.Close UP0001I used a yellow dot for the outer border to make this piece a little sunnier than the one in the book. I quilted some diagonal straight lines through the middle section, and then echoed the shape of the fans along the outer border. I chose a solid blue binding and a blue dot fabric for the back.

FansofMay.BackReveal0001Despite the itty bitty scraps of fabric and careful piecing, I rather enjoyed making this little quilt. I could imagine this mini on top of a little girl’s dresser!

Some might ask – what do you do with a mini quilt? Well, you can hang them on the wall, use them as a dresser or table topper, gift them to a friend or celebrate a special occasion. Either way, you will have fun making them!

Stay tuned for more mini quilts in my future.

Little Quilts SAL Round-Up: February, March and April

LittleQuilts.LTWe are hosting a sew along over on Threadbias in 2015! Members of the group will be sewing from the Little Quilts book by Sarah Fielke and Amy Lobsinger. Feel free to join us any time – if you are not a member of Threadbias yet, go ahead and sign up (it’s free!) and then find the Little Quilts group and click the “join” button. That’s it! Hope to see you there!

To get more detail on each project in this post, click on either the image or the link to go to the maker’s project page.

Because I was in New Hampshire for nearly 10 weeks, I did not have a chance to do the round-ups beginning in February…so this post will cover three months of round ups!

February’s choice for the sew-along was My Heart – an adorable mini quilt that pairs sweet hearts with windmills. The quilt uses reverse applique. It is the perfect project for those cute little novelty prints which can be fussy cut for the center of the hearts.

MyHeart.AudreyAudrey chose a bold color palette and customized her piece with buttons.

MyHeart.MargaretMargaret used a softer color scheme for a soothing look.

MyHeart.MaryMary paired lavender and turquoise for a stunning version.

MyHeart.Kady

Katie’s mini has a decidedly country feel.

MyHeart.LuvStitchingLuv Stitching used traditional prints in blue and red to make her mini pop.

MyHeart.MimuMimuscraft decided to mix things up and created her own, more simplified version of this mini.

MyHeart.WendyI decided to keep things lively with bright colors and some modern text fabrics.

MyHeart.CathieCathie used subtle colors to create a serene project.

March’s project was Paper Dolls – an adorable mini that uses  a little woolen fabric, hand applique and the opportunity to customize the dollies.

PaperDolls.MargaretMargaret’s dollies look adorable in their calico-style dresses.

PaperDolls.CathieCathie customized her dolls’ dresses with lace and hand embroidered their eyes.

PaperDolls.MimuMimuscraft’s version is a great example of how easy it is to customize this project – she added faces, special hair, different outfits, and created a boy and girl!

PaperDolls.WendyI had some fun adding a bit of ribbon to one of the dresses.

PaperDolls.GardencrafterGardencrafter used small scale prints to create traditional dresses for her dolls.

April’s project was Polka-Dot-Baskets – a fun way to use up favorite prints, it uses raw-edge applique to create a more improvisational look.

PolkaDotBaskets.MargaretMargaret was the only brave soul to finish this project by the end of April. She chose gorgeous Liberty fabrics and some linen to create a lovely mini that reminds us Spring is here!

I hope you’ll come back in a month to see the beautiful finishes for May – we have chose Fans of May (appropriate, yes?) and this is a gorgeous project that is sure to inspire!

Principles of Navigation – Book Review

Principles of NavigationFixing the broken had become his theme, personally and professionally, as he’d told Wolf, letting his friend assume “personal” meant his home remodeling and “professional” meant Rolly was back to creative work. But he wasn’t. – from Principles of Navigation –

Alice and Rolly Becotte are married and living in Indiana in 1999, on the cusp of a new century. Alice is a local reporter, and Rolly is an art professor at a small college. They are at a crossroads in their marriage – Alice desperately wants a baby, while Rolly yearns to develop his art and is afraid that parenthood will rob him of his dreams of artistic success. When Alice finally conceives, the faultlines widen, and then everything changes when they must deal with devastating news.

Lynn Sloan’s first novel is a moving portrayal of a marriage unraveling. An accomplished short fiction writer, Sloan knows how to distill a story down to its esssential parts without losing character or emotion. With a talent for exploring psychological tension, Sloan creates a haunting and poignant tale of love and loss, and the difficult choices we face when two people begin to grow in opposite directions.

Principles of Navigation is one of those novels which could easily be overlooked among the best selling genre novels, but that would be an utter shame for those readers who love literary fiction. Published by a small literary press (Fomite), this is a book which reeled me in slowly. I wanted to know how or if Alice and Rolly would sort out their lives. I grew to care about them both. Any writer who can keep me thinking of their characters even after I have finished reading their story, is an author I can highly recommend.

If you love literary fiction, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Principles of Navigation – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Highly Recommended.

4hStars

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

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Book Review

WeAreAllCompletelyIn 1996, ten years had passed since I’d last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared. The middle of my story is all about their absence, though if I hadn’t told you that, you might not have known. By 1996, whole days went by in which I hardly thought about either one. – from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves –

The definition of family has changed and evolved through the years, and Karen Joy Fowler’s latest novel puts an extra twist on that definition.

Rosemary Cooke, now a young adult, narrates the story of her life – beginning in the middle and then spiraling back to the year she was six when her family was changed forever. The novel moves back and forth from the present to flashbacks of Rosemary’s past as she reveals her unique family – including a brother who has been absent for a long time, and her sister, Fern, who was removed from the family.

Exploring such themes as post-traumatic stress, memory, family connectedness and the “sameness” between living beings, Fowler takes the traditional family saga and turns it on its head.

There have been a lot of spoilers for this book (which in my opinion wrecks its impact), but you won’t read them here. What I will tell you is that some of the subject matter will be disturbing for some readers (it was for me).

Haunting, poignant and original, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a novel which will appeal to readers who enjoy literary fiction and family dramas.

3hstars