The Last Good Paradise – Book Review

LastGoodParadiseNow their life in tatters, Richard went off diving. Where had that protective, nurturing Richard gone? Amusing himself despite her torment. Ten years, every year since law school, lopped off. Ann worried because she knew from long professional experience that relationships only continued on some basis of parity, to be determined by the two parties. Where was that parity now? – from The Last Good Paradise –

Ann is a lawyer who is disillusioned by her corporate position and eager to support Richard, her husband, in opening their own restaurant. But when their life comes apart at the seams, they decide to empty their accounts. leave responsibility behind, and seek escape in a tropical paradise. Once on a remote island, they connect with a burnt out rock star and his young girlfriend, the flawed owner of the resort who has deep regrets about the path his life has taken, and a seemingly discordant couple who are native to the island and help run the resort.

Tatjana Soli’s newest novel explores the idea of failed dreams, the search for an ever more illusive paradise, and the pull of the technical, fast paced corporate world of computers, high finance, and success.

Richard and Ann seem like the typical all-American couple who are set on a path to success only to have their dreams shattered. When they escape their “real” lives to find freedom in “paradise,” they discover that paradise is not defined by ocean breezes, blue waters and endless sunny days. Rather, the idea of happiness and finding paradise is an inner journey and is linked to the connections we have with others.

Soli introduces some quirky characters and intersperses humor with tragedy to engage her readers in this modern tale of a group of people searching for meaning in a complex and isolating world.

I was prepared to love this novel because I adored The Lotus Eaters by this same author (read my review). But despite good writing, I felt a bit disconnected from the characters who at times felt oversimplified. I wondered if Soli intended to create caricatures to emphasis the outrageous and amplify her characters’ personalities. Instead the novel feel a bit flat for me.

Readers who enjoy novels firmly grounded in our contemporary world, will find this an interesting work of fiction. Read other reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Book Tour page and scroll down to the links.

3hstars

About the Author:

Tatjana Soli is a novelist and short story writer. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was the winner of the James Tait Black Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the LA Times Book Award. Her critically acclaimed second novel The Forgetting Tree was also a New York Times Notable book . Her stories have appeared in ZyzzyvaBoulevard, and The Sun, and have been listed in Best American Short Stories. She lives with her husband in Southern California.

tlclogoFTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog as part of the book tour through TLC Book Tours

 

Hush Hush – Book Review

HushhushThe first note appeared on Tess Monaghan’s car on a March day that was cranky as a toddler – wet, tired, prone to squalls. But Tess did not know the note was the first of anything. There is no first until the second arrives. – from Hush, Hush –

Readers who have been hooked on the Tess Monaghan novels by best selling author Laura Lippman, will be happy that the next installation in the series will be released February 24th.

This is the first Tess Monaghan novel I have read…but I am not a stranger to Lippman’s writing. I’ve read several of her stand alone novels and enjoyed how she mixes literary fiction and the suspense-thriller genre to create memorable characters and edge of your seat thrills.

Hush Hush can be read as a stand alone novel (although I think those who have started at the beginning of the series will be at an advantage in understanding the character of Tess on a deeper level). The writing in this book is a bit of a departure from Lippman’s literary-type novels as there is more emphasis on plot vs. character.

Tess returns in this book as a new parent and she is drawn into a disturbing case of a murder and a manipulative mother. Melisandre was found insane when she murdered her infant, but now she is back and looking to reconnect with her surviving children. As the novel unfolds, there is another murder, mysterious notes, and questionable relationships. Tess, assigned to provide security for Melisandre, tries to unravel the facts behind the public face of the woman who captured headlines. But could Tess be ignoring crucial events that could put her own life at risk?

Lippman inserts interview-style chapters to reveal character motivation which is something I enjoyed about the book as it allows for more in-depth development of some of the characters.

The publisher has set up an interactive website for the book here. The site will be updated weekly with new sweepstake opportunities, character profiles, and audio excerpts from Hush Hush. It even has an interactive map of Baltimore where you can see key events from the Tess series. There is currently a giveaway opportunity on the site (scroll down the page) and there will be ten lucky winners!

Hush Hush is a pretty straight forward mystery-crime novel and will appeal to readers who enjoy mystery series, or who have become engaged in the Tess Monaghan series.

3stars

FTC Disclosure: This advance reader’s edition was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

Little Quilts SAL Round Up – January

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!

We chose to sew the mini quilt Drawn Together for January – which proved to be quite popular. Drawn Together uses paper piecing to create a beautiful star within a star pattern. Members of the group put together some gorgeous quilts – and depending on the fabrics they chose, each one had a different “look” to it.

Check out these lovely finishes – be sure to click through to each member’s project page to see more detail for each quilt:

DrawnTogether.Katie

DrawnTogether.Mary

Katie and Mary chose beautiful soft colors for sweet versions of this quilt.

DrawnTogether.CathieCathie’s quilt also had a tranquil feel to it.

DrawnTogether.Kirsten

DrawnTogether.Margaret02

Both Kirsten and Margaret chose to make pillows from their mini quilts.

DrawnTogether.Audrey

DrawnTogether.Erica

Audrey and Erica and gave us bright, fiery colors for a bold statement.

DrawnTogether.Nicole

DrawnTogether.Carol

Nicole and Carol also made strong statements with their use of black prints (Nicole) and solids (Carol)

DrawnTogether.Valerie

DrawnTogether.Candice

DrawnTogether.Marsha

DrawnTogether.Margaret01

Pink and red were favorite colors for many participants, including Valerie, Candice, Marsha, and Margaret.

DrawnTogether.GardencrafterGardencrafter’s quilt was inspired by the colors lilac and turquoise.

DrawnTogether.Karen

DrawnTogether.Cynthia

Whereas Karen and Cynthia‘s quilts had a more scrappy feel to them.

DrawnTogether.WendyI also tried my hand at this one and was inspired by the print in the outer triangles.

Stay tuned for more little quilts each month!

The Dog Stars – Book Review

DogStarsSo I wonder what it is this need to tell. To animate somehow the deathly stillness of the profoundest beauty. Breathe life in the telling. Counter I guess to Bangley’s modus which is to kill just about everything that moves. – from Dog Stars, page 52 –

The world is not the same. A flu has wiped out 99 percent of all humans. The few remaining are fighting (quite literally) for survival. Enter Hig, a man who has lost his wife and unborn child and now lives in an abandoned hanger with his dog, Jasper, and a rough, gun toting survivalist named Bangley. Hig’s biggest joy is taking flight in a 1956 Cessna with his dog by his side. He loves breaking free of the confines of the airport. When he is not flying, he longs to walk into the forest and fish and hunt. But danger is everywhere. Hig never loses hope that there is more out there – love, friendship and the nature he so misses. So one day, he takes off in the Cessna and flies to the point of no return to try and discover a life he misses beyond all else.

Peter Heller has penned a spare, first person narrative about nature vs. technology, survival, memory and love. Hig is a character who reels the reader into his grief and loneliness…and then shows her there is still hope.

This novel is not simply a post-apocalyptic novel. Heller’s astute observations of nature and his poetic introspection into his characters elevate this book to a thoughtful, heartbreaking literary work. Hig mines his emotional territory with reflections of the past and the memories of those who died. His relationship with Jasper is one of the best parts of the book and demonstrates how love (no matter where it comes) can lift one up and give meaning to life.

The Dog Stars is one of the best books I read in 2014 – calamity, desperation…and finally a burst of hope that promises new beginnings. Tender, brilliantly penned, and a reminder that connection to others is what the world is all about, this is a novel that will appeal to readers who love great characters and literary fiction.

Highly recommended.

5stars

The Family Handyman Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual – Review

HandymanDIYManual.Are you someone who likes to take on DIY projects around the house? Or maybe you don’t like it, but you find yourself faced with fixing things like leaky pipes. Or maybe you want to revamp your landscaping or remodel the living room. If your answer to any of these is “Yes” than you need to go out and buy yourself a copy of the newly updated Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual published by editors of The Family Handyman by the Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

I received this book from the wonderful folks over at FSB Media and gifted it to my husband for Christmas. My guy is a very handy man (which I love) and he has owned and used all the previous editions of this book. So I was very happy that he agreed to assist me with this review.

The book has chapter divisions that make sense and uses colored tabbed pages to make finding what you need easy. It covers topics that range from Hand Tools to Power Tools, Plumbing, Electricity, Interior Repairs, Windows and Doors, Landscaping and more … there are a total of seventeen individual sections that provide basic information (readers can also access the Family Handyman website to get more in depth information for any project).

This updated version of the classic manual has improved illustrations which are clearer and easier to follow for those who are visual learners. A section on Cordless Tools has also been added, along with updated general codes/new developments for things like electrical installations.

My husband also noted that the book is a distinctive shape which makes if easy to locate on the bookshelf. When asked if he recommended it, he said “It is a great basic home reference book.

I try to steer clear of most home repairs, but I thumbed through this manual and discovered that even I could probably get by without too much trouble by following the instructions! And that says a lot!

Highly recommended as a home reference guide.

5stars

Nurture

SpringPlanting.042010-06-06care. nourish. develop. cultivate. consider. minister. treasure. foster.sustain. value.

Have you seen all the posts lately about choosing a word for the New Year? I’ve been thinking about the word I’d like to live by in 2015.

N.U.R.T.U.R.E.

I’m a physical therapist, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunt. I nurture others all the time. It is who I am, who I will always be. But this year, the word nurture is going to mean something a little different to me. Sure, I’ll keep on nurturing others (because that is what I do), but I am also going to spend some time nurturing myself.

What will this look like?

DSC_1136My Marriage…Spending time with just me and my wonderful husband, Kip

  • Road Trips
  • Sitting by a fire with a good glass of wine
  • Date nights
  • Candlelight Dinners
  • Long Walks
  • Bike Rides

PoppyQuiltwithPillows.LARGE photo0001My Creative Side…Spending time alone with my fabric and my imagination

  • Making what I want to make (as opposed to what others expect me to make)
  • Advancing my skills – going outside the box
  • Taking time to browse through Pinterest, Quilt Magazines, Craft Books – letting my imagination take my inspiration to new places
  • Just playing with no set goals

DSCN0350 (800x600)My Health…Taking care of myself

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Riding my bike and getting in shape for that century ride I want to do
  • Saying “no” when I am already maxed out
  • Eating more organics, leaner meat and less sugar

GirlsSewing03.14.2014.Conni.Cathie0001My Relationships with Others…Making time for my friends and family

  • Sewing with friends
  • Phone calls to those far away (instead of email and Facebook)
  • Sharing funny stories and things I am grateful for – inviting the people I love into my joy

NATURE.LARGEphoto0001The Earth…Spending time in nature

  • Grow a garden
  • Pick wildflowers
  • Take a hike
  • Enjoy the views wherever they may be
  • Watch a sunset
  • Get up for sunrise

Nurturing myself will enable me to nurture others – I will be happier, healthier, more patient, less anxious. I know this to be true.

What about you? Do you have a word for 2015?

A Doll Quilt for Holly

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

DwellDollQuilt.with bed010001My great niece, Holly, just turned four years old. She has American Girl Doll Emily who did not have her own bed. So for Christmas, I ordered a cute white bed with roses on the headboard and footboard, then used Camille Roskelley’s mini dwell pattern to make a quilt for the bed using a charm pack and some yardage from Aneela Hoey‘s Hello Petal collection.

DwellDollQuilt.closeupdetail0001I enlarged the borders just a bit so it would fit correctly on the bed.

This darling bed came with some simple white pillows, which I covered with more fabric from the Hello Petal collection.

DwellDollQuilt.closeup010001The back is a simple flower pattern from the same Aneela Hoey collection.

DwellDollQuilt.backreveal0001The weekend after Christmas, Holly and her mom and dad came up for a visit and Holly got to open her gift! She loved it (as you can see from that happy smile!).

DwellDollQuilt.Holly0001I think Emily also is enjoying her new bed and quilt!

DwellDollQuilt.withdoll0001

Sweet Sixteen – A Traditional Quilt for Mom

*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger viewSweetSixteen.front010001My mom has long desired a quilt for her bed and so my sister, Paula, and I decided to make her one for Christmas.

SweetSixteen.Draped010001My mother is a bit of a traditionalist and loves the colors of china blue and rose/raspberry. This quilt used a Jelly roll and a Charm pack of LeBouquet Francais by French General for Moda, plus Bella bleached white PFD for the solid squares. We mostly followed the pattern for Sweet Sixteen in the book Antique to Heirloom Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott…but added a scrappy border to increase the size slightly.

SweetSixteen.Binding0001At 75″ square this quilt fits perfectly on my mother’s double bed.

SweetSixteen.MomsbedFor the back, Paula and I chose a large cut of one of the blue patterned fabrics from the French General collection.

SweetSixteen.BackReveal020001We used a lightweight Tuscany 100% batting and I free motion quilted it with loops, spirals and stippling. We decided to keep the quilting tight because of all the negative space…so this is a really wrinkly quilt but is quite soft and drapey due to the batting used.

SweetSixteen.QuiltDetail0001

SweetSixteen.frontCloseUp010001
The quilt is bound with a solid red – again from the French General collection. And the label is machine embroidered and then hand stitched to the back of the quilt.

SweetSixteen.Label020001I think this one is one of my favorite quilts ever. I loved collaborating and sewing with my sister to make a super special quilt!

SweetSixteen.Folded0001

Pillow Pop Round-Up: December and a New Sew Along for 2015

BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop 2014 Sew Along wrapped up in December. This was such a fun group which produced a huge amount of gorgeous pillows. The administrators of the group (me, Valerie and Margaret) had so much fun that we decided to do another Sew Along in 2015. Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn more!

We’ll be keeping the Pillow Pop group open since it has such great reference material (although I expect things to be quiet over there)…so it is not too late to sew a few pillows.

We chose  Snowflake (Challenging) and Fair Feathered Friends (Easy) as the pillows for December. Maybe Snowflake felt a bit too challenging in the midst of holiday celebrations because no one chose that one this month! But we did get some awesome pillows using the Fair Feathered Friends pattern.

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.

Fair Feathered Friends – This beginner friendly pattern uses fun prints to create a colorful, versatile pillow.

Gardencrafter made her nieces, Sophie and Sarah, each a pillow using this pattern:

FairFeathered.Gardencrafter01Sarah’s pillow is hip and celebrates her love of volleyball with some cute fabric on the back.

FairFeathered.Gardencrafter02Sophie’s love of batiks is celebrated in her version of the pillow.

FairFeathered.MargaretMargaret used some beautiful Kate Spain fabric to create a festive, Christmas pillow with a red flannel backing.

So that wraps up Pillow Pop!

Want to join another Sew Along in 2015??!?

We’re hosting the Little Quilts Sew Along over on Threadbias. Joining Threadbias is free and allows you to create your own project pages, join a variety of groups, and meet other like minded sewists!

LittleQuilts.LTWe’ll be sewing 12 projects from Little Quilts by Sarah Fielke and Amy Lobsiger. The projects are all mini quilts and range from easy to challenging. You’ll learn how to reverse applique, paper piece, sew wonky, hand quilt, and more. Most of the projects are “scrap friendly.”

Members are required to purchase the book as we won’t be supplying pattern information due to copyright law. But we will supply lots of motivation, conversation, general tips and inspiration. We’ll also be hosting a swap later in the year, as well as a challenge. I hope you’ll join us!

 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Book Review

NarrowRoadIn this way, thought Nakamura, the Japanese spirit is now itself the railway, and the railway the Japanese spirit, our narrow road to the deep north, helping to take the beauty and wisdom of Basho to the larger world. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 94 –

It is August of 1943 along the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Australian doctor Dorrigo Evans and his comrades are struggling each and every day to survive as POWs in a Japanese camp. They face starvation, daily beatings, illness, monsoons, mud…and the never-ending toil to complete the great railroad which the Japanese Emperor desires. Dorrigo lives for his men, he fights for their survival, and mourns their deaths. He tries to banish his memories of his uncle’s wife – a woman who enchanted him, loved him, and changed his world.

How does anyone survive the tortures of being a prisoner of war? That question kept repeating itself to me as I read and tried to find the meaning hidden behind the transcendent prose of Richard Flannagan.

They are survivors of grim, pinched decades who have been left with this irreducible minimum: a belief in each other, a belief that they cleave to only more strongly when death comes. For if the living let go of the dead, their own life ceases to matter. The fact of their own survival somehow demands that they are one, now and forever. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 155 –

This nonlinear novel takes the reader from the hot, wet jungle of Burma to Australia years after the war. It explores death, the connection between humans in the face of adversity, evil, goodness, guilt and remorse…and the power of love.

Without love, what was the world? Just objects, things, light, darkness. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 291 –

This is a brutal novel and one that is not for the faint of heart. Flannagan’s prose is searing, devastating, and measured. There is a good deal of brutality and violence. The suffering of the POWs is revealed in affecting language that made it hard for me to fall asleep at night.

The main character – Dorrigo – at first seems unlikeable, but by the end of the book, it is clear his heart is wholly human: flawed, proud, loving, resentful. He is a complex man who is forever changed by his experiences. In fact, the Japanese guards are also portrayed as not all evil – they have families, they love, they fear. If it were Flannagan’s desire to develop humanity within his characters, even those who commit unspeakable acts, he has succeeded.

One message that the novel seems to impart is that of the pointlessness of war. The Thai-Burma Death Railway was constructed in 1942-43 as a means for the Japanese to supply forces in Burma while bypassing the sea routes that made them vulnerable to attack. More than 12,000 allied troops being held captive, died during the railway’s construction…including 2700 Australians. Flannagan reflects on the railway post-war:

And of that colossal ruin, boundless and buried, the lone and level jungle stretched far away. Of imperial dreams and dead men, all that remained was long grass. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 227 –

The Narrow Road to the Deep North captured the 2014 Man Booker Prize and I believe it was worthy of this award. While it is difficult reading on an emotional level, the prose is deeply moving and offers a look into the human spirit. Basho’s literary classic, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, suggests: “every day is a journey, and the journey itself home.” Flannagan’s novel, which borrowed Basho’s title, is about the journey of one man…and his search for “home.” Readers who are not squeamish and who enjoy literary fiction, will want to put this one on their reading list.

Highly recommended.

5stars

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