Monday, January 16, 2017

The Candidate by Lis Wiehl and Sebastian Stuart

Related imageTHE CANDIDATE is the second book in Lisa Wiehl's Newsmaker series.  Since I had not read the first book, it took me a bit to synthesize all the details of main character Erica Sparks' life -- her former problems with alcohol, her past success as a reporter, her rise to cable news fame, her long distance engagement, and her insecurity over being a mother.  As those details fell into place, I was drawn into the story.  Erica is set to do up-close interviews with the 3 leading presidential candidates
(1 Republican, 2 Democratic) when a bomb goes off at a Democratic rally just inches from Erica, killing one candidate and his wife.  Of course, the whole country is on alert as it seems the young man who planted the bomb has disappeared.  But as Erica covers that story, it is the remaining Democratic candidate, a former prisoner of war, and his wife who set off an uneasiness in Sparks.  Her covert investigation into Mike Ortiz, his wealthy wife Celeste, and their seemingly perfect marriage leads Erica into the darkest plot imaginable.

I like thrillers and this book certainly qualifies as one.  The book kept my interest enough that I read it in one sitting, but the whole time I was reading, I was slightly put off.  Perhaps it was because this book was written so close to this election cycle and it included the names of real people in government and the news industry.  Definitely, Celeste Ortiz's obsession with Lily Liu is creepy and dark.  As the book moved into its final scenes and the truth becomes more apparent, I felt the book had a few flaws.  Why would such a formidable plot to take over our country leave a lowly prison guard alive in Iraq?  They had no problem snuffing out all likely trails in the US, so why did this one person live?  In my estimation, this was too convenient of a way to give Erica the truth.  From there until the end, the story just fell apart for me, especially this next point.  Spoiler Warning ---  Why, when a plan to wipe out Erica's memory is revealed, does it not begin?  Of course, it is that lag in starting that evil action which gives Erica an escape.

A day after finishing the book,  I am still not sure what my final reaction is. 
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Friday, January 13, 2017

THE PATTERN ARTIST by Nancy Moser

Image result for pattern artist moserIt's 1911 and Annie Wood, a nineteen year old house maid from England has dreams of moving up in life.  And she is sure it will be her talent with a needle and thread that will lift her out of her lowly servant status.  A trip to New York with the wealthy Kidd family is eye-opening in many ways.  She is awed by the Statue of Liberty and the crowded city, but several small incidents with the lady's maids of Mrs. Kidd and her adult daughter make Annie realize that the Kidds do not know she has been the one doing the exquisite alterations on their many gowns. That knowledge helps her see  that her current position is a dead end. After a trip to the famed store Macy's, Annie decides that she will leave behind her past and attempt a future in America.  Going with her are Danny and Iris, two young house servants from the Friesens, the American friends of the Kidds.

Moser did a commendable job of recreating New York life in 1911; we see the working class of a neighborhood bakery, the small, but comfortable life of a widow working at Macy's, and the appeal of the largest retail store in America -- all through Annie's eyes as she secures a job at Macy's and begins a new life. Despite all that the future seems to promise, Annie can not shake the past when Grasston, a disgruntled butler from the Friesen estate who blames her for his dismal, begins to stalk her.   I enjoyed reading all about life in this time period, and I was drawn to the book because of the connections to sewing, especially the design elements of the pattern industry.  However, I thought the pace of Annie's rise in status was not realistic.  Within a matter of days, she gets a job at Macy's, gets noticed for her talent, and is offered a better job.  And then the same happens again, almost immediately.  If those things had happened, say, over a year's time, it would have been much more believable.  Annie's determination and entrepreneurship certainly rang true;  I believe thousands of women made better lives for themselves during this time period and it took Annie's kind of drive to make that happen.  While I had problems accepting the short time frame for the entire book, I did enjoy the story, the characters, and the look inside both Macy's and Butterick.  I hope Nancy Moser continues to find interesting aspects of our pasts and brings them to life through hopeful stories.  I
obtained a copy of this book through my library system. 

January 2017 quilting projects -- so far

It's two weeks into 2017 and I have two projects done and a last one from 2016 to share.  All were
fast and quick but I love them.  First up is a holiday wall panel that I added a piano border to and then free motion quilted to accent each part of the panel.  This panel caught my eye somewhere on our summer travels (can't remember where) because of the Christmas sleigh.  We had a black cutter just that shape when I was a kid and we could hitch up our horse to take rides across the snow-covered fields.  The cutter remains in the shed of our farm which is now owned by my brother.  No horses there now, so there are no rides.  Although I was never a horse person, seeing a sleigh or cutter always takes me back to those rides.  Sweet memories.  Added note --- yesterday, an Amish neighbor went by in a cutter almost identical to the one we had on the farm. 

Project # 1 for 2017 was a bit of a Christmas left over and it was another panel.  Although it has Christmas red and green colors, they are more subdued and the message on the panel is WINTER GARDEN DREAMS and FEED THE BIRDS.  I had a perfect spot for this panel, but I could not add qanything to its width, so I simply quilted it, added a couple 3-d decorations, bound it and hung it.  This panel really gave me some neat areas to practice free motion quilting and I was pleased with the results. With cardinals and a deer, this is perfect for Wisconsin winters.  By the way, the photo makes it look like the paenl is crooked and it really isn't.

Last is a small lap quilt in tumbler blocks.  This went together very fast and I was happy with the
results.  It is quilted by using decorative stitches along the seam lines and then meandering in the purple sashing.  This will be a donation somewhere. Lots of small pieces used, but many more left!
My next project is not sewing, but going through my whole fabric stash to reorganize.  I already spent an hour and a half and sorted through one small storage basket.  Ideas for new small projects already running through my mind. These scraps need to be put to use.  On to writing a book review and then back to the scrap piles!!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Reading in the New Year

It appears that rather than "ringing in the New Year," I have been "reading to announce the arrival of 2017."  Only one week into the year, and I have finished four books.  I've already posted a lengthy detailed review of HUNTING CAMP 52.  Since then I've read THE LONG JOURNEY TO JAKE PALMER by James L. Rubart, author of THE FIVE TIMES I MET MYSELF.  5 TIMES is a book I would recommend more readily than THE LONG JOURNEY.  While both books have encounters and happenings that defy reality, let's say are more spiritual and allegorical, I just did not like this new book very much.  And I will take full responsibility for that -- the book is well written, Rubart is a talented author, the overall message is sound.  I just struggled reading it a bit.

The second book I read this week was an easy read, a story of fleeing the past, starting over, and then facing the past.  Of course, there has to be a bit of romance thrown in. Perhaps the best part of THE RED DOOR INN is its setting -- the island when Anne of Green Gables author L.M. Montgomery wrote and lived.  I had seen publicity for this book so decided to seek it through the library system. The only copy I could score was a large print one.  I don't know what it is, but large print books just totally slow down my reading.  My eyes have trouble tracking from one line to another; I think my vision field takes in a bigger space and then because all the letters are so big and clear, I can not focus on the correct line.  I found myself quite often closing the book for a bit, not because I was not enjoying the story, but because I was tired of trying to read.

Yesterday I finished FOR SUCH A TIME by Kate Breslin.  A WWII novel, FOR SUCH A TIME has
been on many recommended Christian sights for several years.  A retelling of the Bible story of Esther, the book finds Stella ( a Jewish woman with forged papers) is "rescued" by a high ranking
Nazi.  Not sure what he wants with her, Stella lives in fear as he takes her to Theresienstadt concentration camp which he has taken command of.  Stella soon learns that Aric (the Nazi) wants her to serve as his secretary, but he also makes clear that he is strongly attracted to Stella.  As I said earlier this book follows the Esther story, so like Esther, Stella takes on a rescue of her people. I will
leave all details to be discovered by the reader.  Her uncle, like Esther's, becomes an important part of the story, as does a romance between Stella and Aric.  It is that romance that I did not easily accept, and I have found other reviewers that felt likewise. That said, Breslin is a talented writer.  I thought she created some well-crafted secondary characters which added depth to the story, as did the overall description of Theresienstadt.  It is not, however, a book that added to my understanding of World War II and the people who endured the atrocities of the Nazis.

What should I read next?  Time to see what I have on my library pile upstairs.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hunting Camping 52 by John Marvin Hanson

Image result for hunting camp 52   First read for 2017!!  Hunting Camp 52 caught my eye earlier this fall and we purchased a copy for our son's birthday.  Figured an avid hunter like Clint would enjoy this look at a North Woods deer camp that lasted more than 50 years and included 3 generations of hunters from the same families.  While we gave him the book, I was also interested in the story so I borrowed an e-copy from WPLC (Wisconsin Public Library Consortium).  Author John Marvin Hanson's father was a founding member of the Blue Heaven hunt camp in the Sawyer county forest outside Hayward.
Back in the 1950's counties would let people build hunting shacks in county forests for an annual fee.
The buildings could not have permanent foundations but could the simple constructions (no indoor plumbing or electricity) could remain year after year if the annual fees were paid.  Outhouses/privies were built near the cabins and some structures were setup with generators for power.

The men of Blue Heaven (aka Camp 52) were well organized and basically created a club with by-laws, dues to cover expenses, and a strict responsibility list.  Equipped with 9 bunks ( 3 sets of triple bunks), the simple cabin was the spot that all gathered for the 9 day gun deer season each year.
Thousands of card games were played at night, as were superb meals shared -- from fresh vension steaks, to a secret spaghetti recipe, to the much anticipated prime rib roast with camp baked potatoes, all prepared on a huge wood cookstove.  Logs of successful hunts were kept, and the traditions grew, even including music and skits.  Being Wisconsin, there were some "adult beverages" that made their way to the cabin, but don't let that overshadow the true story here -- the story of friendships and family bounding that spanned decades.

Since author John Marvin Hanson was just a kid (or maybe not even born yet) when the camp was built, he was too young to hunt or to accompany his father.  We experience his anticipation and joy when he makes his first trips there, and then we see him take his place as one of the adult camp members.  Sadly we also experience the aging of the original hunters, but at the same time we see the next generation, John's own two sons, take their place on the bunks, in the hunting stands, and at the card table.  Many of the chapters include recipes for their stand-by meals. 

Hanson shared that the camp itself was in an area not really conducive for summer use -- too wet, too many mosquitoes, and too many ticks.  That meant that the cabin was truly just used for hunting, and maybe for a few spring outings with the wives.  Interpretations of the land use laws changed and by the early 2000's Sawyer County was the only one still allowing people to maintain hunting shacks on public lands.  When the decision was made to discontinue the 100 permits, Hanson and the Blue Heaven members had just a few years to find a new place for their shack.  They made the decision that they wanted to hunt on the same public lands and searched for a bit of nearby land they could use as home base.  The book ends as the remaining members (second and third generation hunters) dismantle the shack, selvage what they can, and rebuild
 on purchased land.

Having never shot a deer, I still enjoyed this book.  Husband hunted for thirty plus years on our own land and introduced both sons to the traditions of the hunt.  We often hosted my cousin's husband and sons for opening weekend, and like so many Wisconsin hunters, traditions of camp breakfasts, chili for the thermoses, and night time stories of the one that got away.  Now we have moved and no longer have the hunting woods and our sons are making new traditions with extended family and friends, Russ no longer hunts, but we still keep our ears open for tales of the hunt and the times at "hunt camp."  If you are a hunter or have experienced the life from a distance like me, you may enjoy this book.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of year reading tally

I end this year with 103 books on my Books Read List.  I did not blog about all of them, as I keep
the blog mainly for inspirational and gentle reads.  I am sure that I forgot to put a couple books on the completed list, but I am quite sure I recorded most.  There have been years when I've read more, but I am quite satisfied with this year's totals and books.

What will 2017 be like?  I have a multitude of e-books on my wish list through WPLC (Wisconsin Public Library Consortium)/Overdrive, plus an even longer wish list on the Winnefox Library System catalog, and enough pending holds to last the whole year.  I think that means I will chose to be less active on Litfuse, Netgalley, and Revell Reads.  Of course, I thought that in 2016, too, and then I was always being attracted to new-to-be released titles and they took up much of my reading time.  Balance, balance, balance -- a goal for the new year.

I also hope there will be new reads from favorite authors such Jane Kirkpatrick and Marie Bostwick.
Also want to read more inspirational memoirs and historical books.  I find encouragement from them and also learn a lot. 

If you run across any reading challenge lists for 2017, send them my way.  I may not undertake the challenge, but love seeing what makes the lists. Maybe I will create my own personal challenge list. Happy New Year to all!


Friday, December 30, 2016

A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner and The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

I thought I had finished my book review for 2016 but the after-Christmas reading bug bit me, so I may as well share my thoughts on them.  First, Fannie Flagg's new book THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING shows again that she is a queen bee at creating a sense of setting.  Her creation of Elmwood Springs, MO is so delightful that I kept thinking I should check on GOOGLEMAPS to see how far it was from Branson! LOL  Then her storylines, brief little connecting stories from every decade from the town founding in 1889 until 2020 (that's right the book dips into the future), manage to capture the essence of what was happening historically, socially, and culturally.  Always told with a mix of wit, humor, and heart, Flagg's stories kept me wanting to both stop and soak in the time period, while at the same time wanting to rush ahead and see who/what would appear next.  When the author introduced the readers to Still Meadows, the lovely cemetery on the hills and its every growing community of residents, I felt like I was reading a newer version of OUR TOWN. I see from the book's cover blurb that others have been making the same comparison.  While the book sounds all nostalgic and cuddly, I must set things straight.  Like every real village and town, there are misfits, villains, and people who have just plain messed up their lives. And true fans of Fannie Flagg know she is always going to have some quirkiness to her tales or should I say something outlandish? Can't and won't share, except to say it IS a surprise ending!! Maybe the biggest surprise ending I encountered in a very, very long time!!

american_coverFinishing THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING in a day and a half was a major read-fest, so I could have easily skipped reading yesterday.  But with not much of interest on television last night, I started A FRIEND LIKE HENRY by Nuala Gardner, a book my daughter gave me several months ago.  This book documents Gardner's autistic son's childhood through the 1990's and early 2000's in Scotland.  Fearing that their son Dale will never communicate or connect with them, Nuala and her husband decide to buy a golden retriever puppy after seeing that Dale responded a tiny bit to playing fetch with a cousin's dog.  How the puppy Henry begins to positively affect Dale's life and how the family uses the dog as a conduit to making Dale's world bigger is a wonderful story.  I was a mix of joy over their accomplishments and deep sorrow over the labels, red tape, and educational challenges his diagnosis brought.  Add in Nuala's struggle to have a second child, and this true life memoir is densely packed with emotional highs and lows.  To think that every parent of an autistic child faces similar day by day struggles and I realize that my parenting was really just a vacation with kids.   I highly recommend this book.  While we remain a petless couple since our children have grown, this books joins several others I have recently read that reminds that pets can be lifesavers in so many ways.  Here is a link to http://nualagardnerautism.com/
so you can learn more about the author, her family, and autism.