Friday, July 31, 2015

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster

by Scott Wilbanks

I adored this book.  Absolutely loved it.  It was magical and fun and I found myself wanting to do nothing else but immerse myself in its story.  It made me happy.

Mind you, I started off wanting to like the book because of the title and the cover - mailbox, epistolary novel maybe, but soon found myself perplexed and annoyed.  The characters seemed unreal and there were several things going on that I felt I had to keep track off.  The characters are unreal but appropriate for this story and I really didn't to need to keep track of anything because eventually it all fell into place.  I persevered and it wasn't long before I was swept up in the story and loving the characters.

The secret is to loosen your grip on reality.  You don't have to give up totally on reality, just let it slide.  This is a fantasy.  Not one with elves, gnomes, fairies, etc.  This fantasy has time-travel and a secret door, romance and mystery, good guys and really bad guys, magic, friends and family, and yes, it even had letters and a mailbox.

I didn't know very much about this book when I started reading and I think that allowed me to keep a fresh out-look.  So I'll only share what I knew going in.  Annie Aster buys a red door that somehow connects her to an old lady in 1895 Kansas that she can write and receive letters through a mailbox that appears on the boundary of her house and a Kansas wheat field.  Annie and her new 'neighbor' must solve a mystery before one of them is convicted for murder.

Has anyone else read this book?  What are your thoughts?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Red Skies

by Kay Bratt

I have been having the best luck with my latest selections of books.  This one was no exception.  Red Skies is book four in Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters series but it read like a stand alone.  I have not read the first three books and don't feel like that detracted at all from the wholeness this book offered.

The setting is present day China where Mari struggles to earn money selling pictures of tourists sitting on her camel by the Great Wall.  It used to be a business she and her husband did together but he was thrown from the camel and is laid up at home. So Mari struggles alone to make the business work and pay the bills.

On her route home at night she meets a young girl who is forced to beg on the streets.  Mari has only seen her twice but can't forget about her or get her out of her dreams.  From the one time Mari talked with the girl she found out her name was An Ni.  After repeated attempts to find An Ni again, Mari decides she must have been traded to another gang or sold.

Throw into this mix an American who is trying to check of items on a bucket list.  The obvious is that these three people will some how be brought together as the story unfolds, what's not so obvious is how that happens.  And that's what makes this a captivating tale.

This was a very satisfying read and I would highly recommend Red Skies.  In fact, my friend posted on facebook yesterday asking for book recommendations and I'm going to tell her about Red Skies.  I noticed that all Bratt's books have a 4.5 rating on

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George

I liked this book mostly for the beautiful writing.  The main character, Jean Perdu, was an interesting man and very likeable but I didn't understand why he held on so tightly to a lost love for over 20 years and wouldn't allow himself to live a fruitful life because he lost her.

Perdu had a knack for suggesting the perfect book for the reader. That ability didn't ring true to me because the man wasn't honest with himself about his own feelings.  He wouldn't allow himself to experience his buried emotions so how could he know and understand the feelings and needs of his customers so completely?

This book is about the journey Perdu takes as he finally decides to deal with his past loss.  It is a long journey that involves some idiosyncratic characters, some beautiful places, and many beautiful literary passages.

The wound is opened with an unread letter left by his lover 2 decades before.  Perdu has not had the courage to open it until the letter is discovered by a neighbor.  The letter is not what he expected but it forces him to come to terms with the past.

I think the author is much more of a romantic than I am.  That being said I still enjoyed the book immensely.  I wanted to shake Perdu at times and advise him to just get on with his life.  Go ahead and grieve but then get on with living your life.  It's not that I haven't experienced the loss of a love and I have felt that loss and still do in some ways, but I did get on with the life that was before me.  I realize that when and if I face the loss of my partner and lover of the last 42 years I may not be so anxious to get on with my life.  I hope I never have to but I also hope he doesn't have to.  My plan is to go in our sleep on the same night.

There's a map at the beginning of the book which is always a plus in my opinion. At the end there are recipes - another big plus.  Throughout the book Perdu jotted ideas into his Great Encyclopedia of Small Emotions: A Guide for Booksellers, Lovers and Other Literary Pharmacist.  The last paragraph of the books is an entry under K:  "Kitchen Solace -- the feeling that a delicious meal is simmering on the kitchen stove, misting up the windows, and that at any moment your lover will sit down to dinner with you and, between mouthfuls, gaze happily into your eyes.  (Also known as living.)"  At the end of the book, after the recipes, is Jean Perdu's Emergency Literary Pharmacy.  This listing includes "fast-acting medicines for minds and hearts affected by monor or moderate emotional turmoil.  To be taken in easily digestible doses . . . and if possible, with warm feet and/or a cat on your lap."

If I was to rate this book I think I'd go with a 4.5 because of the beautiful thoughts and passages that are sprinkled in good measure throughout the book.  One that will stay with for a long time is this one: "Some thresholds are too wide to be taken in one stride."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Eat Beautiful

by Megan Stevens

I have so much to learn about gluten-free & sugar-free eating.  This book is a great place to start.  At my age I'm beginning to accept the fact that I'll never be filthy rich so I can hire a daily chef who will create beautiful servings of nourishing, life-giving dishes.  It's time I look this 'face-on' and do it myself.

What I like about Eat Beautiful:
1. Megan provides easy to follow steps for doing things that are 'new-to-me', such as making carrot flour from the pulp that is left over when making carrot juice.  Also, how to use soaked beans, seeds, and nuts in recipes.  And how to cook a Kobacha squash.  I grew some several years ago and then didn't know what to do with the fruit.  I tried cutting them in half like I would an Acorn but Kobachas have very tough skin.
2. I like that there is a wide range of recipes - everything from carrot cake pancakes to cakes, cookies, pies, to beverages and breads.  I have to say that everything that was pictured looked delicious.  The waffles are the first recipes in the book: Carrot Cake Waffles and Chocolate Chia Seed Waffles,  Oh my!  Speaking of Carrot Cake, wait until you see the picture of the carrot cake.  It looks so decadent.
3. Several of the recipes contain Stevia which I've never used but these recipes will build my knowledge base as well as my confidence.  I think I'll start out with the Zucchini Bread recipe which not only uses Stevia but soaked cashews or walnuts and chia seed.
4. I like that Megan shares the name of her & her sisters cute little cafe in Eugene, Oregon.  It's called Vanilla Jill's Scoops and Soups.  I love the Northwest so I'll be stopping in on my next trip through Eugene.
5.  Megan includes a chapter entitled Feeding Kids.  Lots of good ideas there.
6. There's a chapter about foods not to eat and why.
7.  And there's a chapter describing the ingredients she includes in her recipes.

What I didn't like about Eat Beautiful:
I wanted more pictures!  The pictures that are included are scrumptious-looking, but I would like more.  I realize that would make the price of the cookbook prohibitive so maybe there's a happy medium that I need to accept.

I would highly recommend this cookbook to anyone looking for healthier recipes, anyone who loves to read cookbooks (as I do), and those who must change their cooking for health reasons.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making

This helpful and informative book includes 10 different workshops about quilt making from 10 talented women.  I finished the 1st chapter on The Principles of Color and turned right around and read it a second time.  I am in between quilts and have been looking at paint chip samples online to provide inspiration for my next quilt.  The chapter on color was very helpful for me.

The next chapter is Working with Solids.  I know that's a BIG trend right now and especially with modern quilts but I don't really like working with solid colors and I've only seen a few quilts in solids that I would actually like to make.   However, Alyssa Haight makes a good case for using solids along with prints.  They provide polish and calm to your design by giving your eye a resting place.  I usually use tone-on-tones for that reason but I am going to push myself to include some solids along with my prints.

There are chapters or workshops on Working with Prints, Improvisational Patchwork, the Alternate Grid, Circles & Curves, Paper Piecing, Large-Scale Piecing, Modern Machine Quilting, and A Study of Modern Quilts.

I have tried some improvisational patchwork to push out of my comfort zone and had a lot of fun.  For a person who isn't very creative I felt empowered.  I haven't taken to paper-piecing because the idea of picking and tearing the paper off the back of the pattern doesn't sound like my kind of fun but, since reading that chapter, I think I will use it occasionally and sparingly to make perfect points and unusual designs.

The workshop on Large-Scale Piecing intrigued me a lot.  The idea is to make over sized blocks or even make one block into an entire quilt top.  I have yet to try this but I'm ready to give it a go.  I think an large scale block would look great as part of the back of a quilt.

My favorite chapter was the one on Modern Machine Quilting as that is something I've been focusing on over the past couple of years.  Angela Walter provided some tips for sewing pebbles that are helping me improve the look of my pebbles.  It will take hours more practice before I will dare to use them on an actual quilt.  And I really liked her classic ribbon candy and the idea of echoing.

One thing I really liked about the book is the helpful hints at the end of the chapters and the inclusion of patterns.  The last chapter shows modern quilts and each quilt is discussed as to what makes it a modern quilt.  Very helpful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

by Rachel Joyce

If you read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry you must read this book. I wouldn't call it Part Two but rather a Companion to Harold's story.  If you haven't read The Pilgrimage, don't let that hold you back from reading Queenie.  It's a book that can stand on its own quite easily.

I didn't absolutely love The Pilgrimage, though I liked it well enough, but I did love Queenie's Love Song.  It answers so many of the questions I was left with when Harold's pilgrimage ended.

Queenie has cancer and is in a hospice when she learns that Harold Fry is walking from his home in southwest England to see her in northeast England.  A nurse encourages Queenie to write him letters to help fill the time and to tell him why she left 20 years ago.

Queenie's descriptions of Harold and what it was about him that caused her to fall in love with such an ordinary man are reaffirming to me of my love for the ordinary people in my own life and helped me appreciate how extraordinary those people really are.

I liked Queenie's description of her boss at the brewery:  "It's a shame short men don't wear heels; it would save the world a lot of trouble."  And the boss's secretary:  "She was a slight person, quietly spoken, but her breasts were so disproportionately gigantic that no matter how much one tried to appreciate something else about her, her rather ordinary mouth, for instance, or her thin curtain of hair, your eyes kept forgetting about thos bits and landing slap bang back on her bosom.  It was the same for everyone.  The men had full-on conversations with them."

When I read a book, I like to highlight passages so I can go back later and reread them.  It helps to recall to mind other parts of the book and its general movement.  Sometimes I mark just a few, or none at all.  I marked quite a few in this book and I've already enjoyed reading through them a couple of times.  I marvel at Joyce's writing - straight forward yet beautiful.  I look forward to reading more of her work.  I'm even considering a reread of The Unlikely Pilgrimage.  I think I'll enjoy it much more now than I did the first time.

I highly recommend The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.  Loved it!

Closing note:  I just love that Queenie's full name has 3 "double letters" in it.  Include the 'Miss' and there are four.

* I received a copy of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy  from NetGalley and Random House in exchange for my review.  No other compensation was received.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Hand-Stitched Home

by Susan Beal

This is a beautiful book featuring household items made using Pendleton wools.  I thoroughly enjoy reading the history of Pendleton Woolen Mills as I was fortunate to visit the mill and store located in Pendleton, Oregon several years ago.
I wasn't into quilting then, or any sewing for that matter, or I would have bought some yardage.

If you're not familiar with Pendleton wools they are usually woven into plaids or Native American designs.  My first introduction to them were as men's shirts.  They were beautiful and highly desired and quite costly, but they lasted forever.

The projects in this book range from pillows to plant hangers, bags, backpacks, and blankets. There's a gorgeous winter cape.  And even instructions for a belt.

I have never sewn with wool before so I was happy that Beal includes a thorough 'how-to' section.  If you are interested in sewing with and creating beautiful wool items, this is the book for you.  I think I'm going to start off simple with one of the scarf patterns and work my way up to a pillow and then a tote.

* I received a copy of Hand-Stitched Home  from NetGalley and Tauntan Press in exchange for my review.  No other compensation was received.