Monday, January 30, 2017

Reading my way through a Wisconsin winter

It's been a few days since I reviewed or posted anything -- too busy reading, quilting, and spending time with family. We spent a couple days in Green Bay using a  motel gift certificate; daughter and granddaughter joined us for some pool/hot tub time.  It was a just right get away.  Last Monday we met up in Richland Center for lunch with Russ's two sisters, a sister-in-law, and our friends the Crucksons.  As always, there was lots of talk and laughing.  On Friday, we made a last minute trip to Sun Prairie to meet up with my brother and sister in law and to see a movie. Today we attended a funeral visitation for my cousin's son -- a young dad who died way too soon.

Even with all this traveling, there have been many wintery days spent near the pellet stove or in the sewing corner.  Two jig saw puzzles have been completed (my new pastime), a baby quilt is just about done, and my January book total is up to 12.

Here are some thoughts about the last four books read

WILD GOOSE CHASE CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Allee is a sweet little romance and definitely a fast, predictable read.  Izzy has been bequeathed an antique quilt by her grandmother.  Izzy had never known of the quilt's existence and has no idea its value or true story, which makes the news that her grandmother had also promised the quilt to Max Logan, curator of the local museum, a total shock.  When Izzy's brother and her mother, who both seem to value money and prestige over family, she feels she must hold tight to the quilt.  This book was left over from my Christmas reading pile.

WHEN TREETOPS GLISTEN by Tricia Groyer, Sarah Sundin, and Cara Putnam contains three WWII novellas, each featuring a different member of the Turner family.  An average Indiana family, the Turners have made sacrifices and life changes because of the war.  This book is among a handful of historical fiction books I've read in recent years that show what it was like to be on the home front.
At the same time I was reading this book, I was also watching season one of HOME FIRES on Amazon -- this PBS series features England's Women's Institute and how they helped rural Britain support the war effort.  The book and the television series seemed to mesh nicely (although the book's three stories are certainly lighter). My mom always told me that she and her sister and their new husbands (they had a double wedding) pooled their gas rations so they could travel on a short honeymoon.  Without doing that, neither couple would have been able to travel away from home.
 Memories of that story seemed so real as I read WHEN TREETOPS GLISTEN.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie was our book club's choice to start the New Year.  Christie's writing career celebrated a 100th anniversary in 2016 and for many she is the queen of the mystery.  Last Thursday was our meeting and we shared our opinions about the book,  and the two movies that some members watched.  I did not watch one of the movies, but plan to do that soon.  As for the book, I enjoyed it but felt it was a bit dated.  The best part of the discussion was finding out what mystery series other members read on a regular basis -- from that I found a few new authors to try.

Last on my reading was a book that I think every Green Bay Packer fan should read.  GUNSLINGER( a biography of former quarterback Brett Favre) by Jeff Pearlman does not attempt to hide anyone's flaws and that includes the many, many flaws of the famous Favre, his Green Bay coaches, or his father and family.  Anyone living in Wisconsin in the 90's and early 2000's heard about the state's hero on the field and we also learned about his painkiller addiction, but we certainly tried to ignore the rumors about his wild ways.  Well, Pearlman interviewed almost 600 people for this book, and he tells Favre's story from every angle -- former teammates, teachers, coaches, newspaper reporters, sportscasters, and family.  While neither Deanna nor Brett contributed to the book, Brett's brother, sister, and mother did.  Reading the book certainly made me angry at the young, immature Brett, and it was devastating to see that immaturity follow throughout the majority of his career. In the end, I think I will be like the author, not a superfan, but someone who respects Favre's physical skill and endurance.  Plus I hold to the hope that his life now is one that is enough.  While I was destressed over Favrie's back story, I was even more shocked to see inside story of football itself -- the constant stress, bickering, egos, and the women, beer and drugs. I don't think I will ever be able to watch a football game or celebrate a team's winning season without wondering what the real story is!!  And in many ways, I don't want to know that "real story."

February, a short month, approaches.  What will I read?  The stack of books is high.  What will I get done? I have lots of quilts ideas "pinned" and my mind swims with possibilities.  Will I get anything done before spring pokes through the snow and gardens call my name?





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 Camp 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.