All The Light We Cannot See – Book Review

AllTheLightOpen your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility. – from All The Light We Cannot See, page 49 –

Hitler is marching in the streets and the Nazis move ever closer to France. Marie-Laure, age twelve, lives in Paris with her father who works as a lock keeper at the Museum of Natural History. Marie’s eyesight is lost to her at the age of six, but she is able to navigate the streets like a sighted person with help from her father’s intricate miniature reproduction of their neighborhood. Inside the walls of the museum is a valuable jewel which is linked to a story of immortality and death. Just before the city falls to the Germans, Marie and her father flee Paris…with them is the jewel, or its replicate.

Werner is a young German boy being raised behind the doors of an orphanage in a small mining town. Werner and his sister, Jutta, become fascinated by a broken radio which Werner fixes. They listen late at night to voices from far away. With his talent for electronics, Werner is soon sent to an academy for Hitler Youth – a brutal, terrifying place that prepares him to use his skills to track down enemies of Hitler’s Riech.

In the walled city of Saint-Malo, Marie and Werner’s stories converge as Allied bombs fall. Written in magnificent prose, almost poetic in its narration, All The Light We Cannot See is a magical, searing novel about war, fear, radio, and the resilience of the human heart.

Author Anthony Doerr, who has won numerous literary prizes for his short stories, has written one of the best novels of 2014. He was inspired by the true story of Saint-Malo, a city on the edge of the sea in Brittany, France. In August of 1944, this historic jewel was almost completely destroyed by fire after the United States bombed it. Doerr captures the horror of the attack in his novel, placing the reader in the midst of the inferno.

Doors soar away from their frames. Bricks transmute into powder. Great distending clouds of chalk and earth and granite spout into the sky. All twelve bombers have already turned and climbed and realigned high above the Channel before roof slates blown into the air finish falling into the streets. -from All The Light We Cannot See, page 95 –

But, this book is less about the war and more about its impact on its main characters: Marie and Werner. Both characters are children who grow up against the backdrop of World War II – one a blind, French girl…the other a German youth whose promising future is threatened by the will of the State.

It was enough when Werner was a boy, wasn’t it? A world of wildflowers blooming up through the shapes of rusty cast-off parts. A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena’s fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar, and the trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams. – from All The Light We Cannot See, page 389 –

Doerr’s narrative moves back and forth in time and switches points of view from chapter to chapter. Skillfully crafted, the story unwinds with a slow tension that keeps the pages turning. I loved the beautiful writing, the loving character development, and Doerr’s ability to show his characters not as enemies, but as humans who desire the same things even though War separates them.

All The Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of historical and literary fiction…and certainly one of the best books of the year. Readers should not be intimidated by the page count – the book is superbly edited and every page is worth the read.

Highly recommended.



Garden Pillows for My Sister


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

My sister, Donna, wanted pillows for her home and I decided to make her two for Christmas. One is 20″ square, the other is 16″ and they are made to coordinate with each other.

The larger pillow uses the Photogenic pattern in Pillow Pop:

Donna.PhotogenicPillowFront10001I used a variety of coordinating fabrics to highlight that beautiful bird and butterflies. The back is pieced with a hidden zipper:

Donna.PhotogenicPillowBack10001The smaller pillow is one I designed myself. That blue dot fabric is Mochi Dot – a beautiful linen blend that is great for pillows as it has more of a home decor weight. I also pieced the back of this one and included a hidden zipper:Donna.GardenPillowFront10001

Donna.GardenPillowBack0001I kept the quilting simple – mostly echoing the patch design.

I love that my sister can get four different looks out of the two pillows if she likes.

Fronts together:

Donna.Pillowstogether.Front10001Front of one with back of the other:

Donna.Pillowstogether.Front.Back20001Donna.Pillowstogether.Front.Back10001And backs together:

Donna.Pillowstogether.Backs10001My goal was to create pillows that had a little bit of traditional flavor with a modern flare…and my sister had requested using some sage green in there too. She has a beautiful sun porch and I can just see these perched on her wicker furniture out there.

Happily, I saw Donna in New England recently and decided I wanted her to open these early…she loved them!

Pillow Pop Round-Up: November

BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop group is a really fun sew along over on Threadbias. We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

To learn more about the group, visit this post.

We have one more month of making pillows and would  love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it’s free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose  Graphic Juxtaposition (Easy) and Satellite (Challenging) as the pillows for November. It must be this busy time of year, because everyone who completed a pillow this month went for the easy one!

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.

Graphic Juxtaposition: A super simple design allows for a combination of a fun print with a textured fabric (the book suggested felted wool, but our participants chose a variety of fabrics).

GraphicJuxtaposition.KarenKaren’s adorable pillow used fabric from Cloud 9’s “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus” and some wide wale corduroy.

GraphicJuxtaposition.CathieCathie chose some fun camping inspired fabric to decorate her family’s trailer.

GraphicJuxtaposition.MargaretAnd Marget gave her pillow a stylish graphic appeal with this terrific fox print and some velvet.

I hope you’ll drop by in the early part of January to see the final round up of Pillow Pop projects!


Station Eleven – Book Review

StationElevenWhat was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. Twilight in the altered world, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a parking lot in the mysteriously named town of St. Deborah by the Water, Lake Michigan shining a half mile away. – from Station Eleven –

It is winter. Inside a theatre an audience is watching King Lear. A famous Hollywood actor slumps to the stage and dies. It is the final night before the world changes forever.

Station Eleven is the stunning fourth novel by the accomplished Emily St. John Mandel. Set in a post-pandemic world, the book follows the lives of six characters: the actor who dies on stage, the man who tries to save him, the actor’s first and second wives, as well as his best friend, and finally, a young child actor.

The narrative explores multiple points of view and moves back and forth in time which allows for in depth character development. The plot is multilayered and convincing. Mandel’s descriptions of the post-apoplyctic world ring true – devastating, and yet still infused with beauty.

Thematically, the novel examines the idea of connectiveness between individuals, the importance of art and literature in one’s life, faith, and the appreciation of the things we take for granted.

I have read all of Mandel’s novels – and Station Eleven is my favorite: perceptive, skillfully plotted, provocative, warm-hearted, and lyrical. Decidedly literary in style, but with the page turning quality of a suspense-thriller, Station Eleven is a gem of a novel. One of the best I’ve read this year.

Highly recommended.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher.

Sharp Objects – Book Review

SharpObjectsMy brain was stumbling from image to image of my mother, all ominous. Omen. The word beat again on my skin. Flash of thin, wild-haired Joya with the long nails, peeling skin from my mother. Flash of my mother and her pills and potions, sawing through my hair. – from Sharp Objects.

Camille Preaker has had a less than ideal childhood. She has spent time in a psychiatric hospital and is currently working as a reporter when she is asked to return to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. She temporarily moves back into her mother’s home and must revisit the memories of her childhood. As clues to the two murders are uncovered, Camille begins to realize that the murderer may be closer to her than anyone thought.

Gillian Flynn’s first novel is a dark, psychological study of a damaged family. Camille’s mother is a hypochondriac, and a bizarre woman who clearly has mental issues. Amma, Camille’s much younger half sister, is about the same age as the murder victims but her behavior is decidedly more mature…and not in a good way. Camille herself suffers from a dark past which is reflected in the obsessive cutting she has done to her own body over the years.

The novel is a compelling read which takes the reader to a very dark and bleak place. I thought I had figured out the plot, but Flynn throws in a twist at the end I didn’t see coming.

Readers who enjoy psychological thrillers will find much to enjoy in Sharp Objects. This is a well written first novel that is a good introduction to this author’s work. I’ve read Gone Girl which was a terrific, suspenseful novel…and Sharp Objects is not quite as accomplished, although it is still worth the read.



Pillow Pop Round-Up: October

BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop group is a really fun sew along over on Threadbias. We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

To learn more about the group, visit this post.

We’d love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it’s free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose A Bunch of Crosses (Easy) and Violet Cathedral (Challenging) as the pillows for October. Additionally, participants were encouraged to challenge themselves by re-working the Love Notes pillow – creating their own heartfelt message to a friend, family member or someone special. These pillows were entered in a contest and voted on by members of the group.

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.

A Bunch of Crosses: Simple 2.5″ squares create a bold statement in this thoroughly modern pillow.

BunchofCrosses.CathieCathie raided her scrap bin and created a wonderful pillow in hues of gray, pink and red.

BunchofCrosses.EricaErica chose soft turquoise and some low volume prints for a gorgeous interpretation.

BunchofCrosses.WendyMy pillow was inspired by Halloween and used a mini charm pack of the Comma collection by Zen Chic.

BunchofCrosses.CapetownGirlCapetown Girl’s pillow celebrates text prints and pops of red – don’t you just love those homemade tassels?

BunchofCrosses.SueSue’s pillow is a cheerful, fun pillow that uses fabrics from Lori Holt.

BunchofCross.GardencrafterGardencrafter chose some sweet solids and coordinated them with Kaffe Fassett prints to create a stunning pillow.

Violet Cathedral: Inspired by stained glass windows, this pillow adds sophistication and interest to any room.

VioletCathedral.MargaretMargaret chose a festive blue and gray palette that reminds us winter is on its way!

Love Note: A sweet way to tell someone you love how special they are – crafted with hand cut letters, this is a pillow that really sends a message.

LoveNotes.SueSue’s cheerful pillow borrowed inspiration from a well-known Beatles song

LoveNotes.CathieCathie got a little help from her grandchildren to send a sentimental message to her husband.

LoveNotes.CarolCarol honored her mother (and best friend)

LoveNotes.GardencrafterGardencrafter’s fun pillow reminds us that those we love do not have to be human!

LoveNotes.SippeSippe suggests we “give peace a chance” with her 70’s inspired pillow.

LoveNotes.WendyMy pillow reminds my sister, that although distance separates us, she is always in my heart.

All the Love Note pillows are winners in my view…but the one that garnered the most votes in the contest was:

The chicken pillow by Gardencrafter!!!!

LoveNoteCloseup.Gardencrafter…and the back is just as wonderful as the front:



Slowing Things Down


*Click on any photo to enjoy a larger view

MyFunnyValentine.front0001Recently I signed up to take Sarah Fielke’s Big Techniques from Small Scraps class on Craftsy. I love Sarah Fielke’s sense of color and design…and something about learning to needle turn applique just appealed to me right now.

Life goes past in a blur. There are weeks I can hardly remember where the hours went, especially now that the days are growing shorter. Sometimes it is just nice to slow things down.

MyFunnyValentine.detail0001I had fun pulling fabrics for this small project and I really enjoyed the hand work of applique. I also, for the first time, tried a little hand quilting (which I didn’t enjoy quite so much, but was glad I tried it).

MyFunnyValentine.detail20001I used a pretty piece of fabric for the back – something that popped with a burst of red.

MyFunnyValentine.backreveal0001This piece is far from perfect, but I finished it up with a sense of satisfaction. I’ve decided I need to do more of this kind of slow sewing. And so I made myself a little drawstring bag from this tutorial, so I have a place to carry my hand applique with threads, thimble, and scissors. Seems like the perfect thing right now…


Secrets of Eden – Book Review

secretsOfEdenI grieve for the parents who have outlived their children, and I will always despair for the children who have watched their own parents break the rapture of the night with violence. – from Secrets of Eden –

Reverend Stephen Drew watches over his flock in the small Vermont town of Haverill…or does he? When one of his parishioners (Alice Hayward) is strangled by her abusive husband, who then turns a gun on himself (leaving their fifteen year old daughter Katie an orphan), Stephen seems to be wrestling with his faith. But when later the coroner’s office rules George Hayward’s death a homicide, Stephen’s moral character rather than his faith is called into question. Stephen’s life is further complicated by the arrival of Heather Laurent, an author whose obsession with angels feels a little bit out of whack. And Catherine Benincasa, the deputy’s state attorney, is left to sort out all the characters in this small town and unravel what exactly happened on the day Alice and George Hayward died.

Chris Bohjalian’s novel, Secrets of Eden, is narrated in the four distinct voices of Stephen, Heather, Catherine, and Katie. This technique allows the reader to see events from very different perspectives and allows for some twists and turns along the way.

It becomes clear early on that the pastor is an unreliable narrator with plenty of secrets. He was one of my least favorite characters in the book. Heather, his romantic interest, is the character who connects all the other characters in the book but I felt she didn’t really move the plot forward…and her connection with angels, although interesting, seemed a bit extraneous. I really enjoyed the section narrated by Catherine who is a tough and smart woman with an unrelenting quest to find the truth. And finally there is Katie, a seemingly typical teen who has suffered through a childhood of violence and uncertainty and finally left parent-less.

None of the characters are exactly as they seem, most harbor secrets or dark pasts.

Thematically, Bohjalian explores the aftermath of domestic violence, betrayal, and the consequences of secrets. Although I figured out the ending about half way through the book, that did not take away my enjoyment of the story.

Bohjalian is a talented storyteller who knows how to reel in a reader. Secrets of Eden will appeal to readers who enjoy heavily plotted books told from multiple viewpoints. I liken Bohjalian’s narrative style to Jodi Picoult who also writes “ripped from the headlines” novels with multiple narrators.



Feeling Thankful

LabelCrew.OctoberPillow.labeldetail0001I love the transition from summer into autumn – the days get a little shorter, the air has a nip to it, clouds skid across blue skies and colors deepen. As October winds down into November, I start thinking about the holidays approaching. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a time to reflect on the good things, the things that make us thankful.

LabelCrew.OctoberPillow.detail0001I am thankful for the strong friendships I’ve forged this year with women who have found joy in piecing together bits of fabric and making beautiful quilts, table runners, and pillows. I am always thankful for the love of my family and the steady presence of my husband and comfort of my fur babies.

The other day I received a little package from Sweetwater with my subscription for their label crew and it seemed like the perfect thing to sew on a cold, rainy day.

LabelCrew.OctoberPillow.frontdetail0001I used a small mini charm pack of Basic Grey’s Persimmon collection (and some other scraps from my scrap bin) which combines soft oranges and golds with a touch of taupe and deep blue for a decidedly autumn feel. A natural linen fabric gives this 16″ square pillow a little texture.

The quilting is simple, using some orange thread to add a little fun.

The back is pieced with some of Basic Grey’s PB&J collection and sports a hidden zipper.

LabelCrew.OctoberPillow.back0001As I put the finishing touches on my pillow, I remembered to be thankful for the simple things – a warm, dry home…good health…the comfort of a fire in the wood stove…the cry of a redtail hawk…rain after months of drought. As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, I am determined to spend a little time each day to appreciate the things I normally take for granted.

LabelCrew.OctoberPillow.Frontwithleaves020001What about you? What are YOU thankful for this month?

Wordless Wednesday – Cattle Drive in Montana

 *Click on photos to enjoy a larger viewMontanaCattleDrivesepia020001


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