Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jingle Bell Jack Comes to My House

A few weeks ago I picked up a vintage Ding Dong School book, Jingle Bell Jack. I was nostalgic for a toy I never had.

This past weekend I went to the Royal Oak Flea Market and right off came across a vintage Jingle Bell Jack yo-yo doll. He came home with me.

My doll has a children's sock head with an embroidered face. The yo-yos are all midcentury.

 He is only missing the bell on his hat.

When I saw this kitten fabric I sure wished to see more of the original!

 I think there is a hint of bunny ears and nose on this fabric!
 It may  be sixty years late, but I now have my own yo-yo doll.
Read about the book Jingle Bell Jack at

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

The Italian Teacher is destined to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

Tom Rachman's character Pinch is the son of a philandering, larger-than-life artist, Bear Bavinsky. Bear is charming and unreliable.

Pinch spends his entire life trying to get his dad's attention and approval. He imitates his dad, smoking a pipe early. In a one day lesson Bear teachers Pinch the fundamentals of painting and Pinch dreams of following in his father's footsteps.

Bear abandons Pinch and his mother, once his model, for the next model to pose for him; he leaves a string of women behind him and seventeen neglected children.

Bear routinely destroys any canvas he deems subpar. And he decides to stop selling or showing his art, a plan to drive up the values of his canvases. He becomes a legend, a tantalizing mystery in the art world.

Pinch feels a failure, unable to get what he needs from Bear. He flounders through his life, searching for an achievement that would finally elicit real love and approval from his father. His dissertation is on Caravaggio because his father once praised him; his dad doesn't remember doing so. Pinch ends up teaching Italian and foreign languages in London.

Not only is he unable to settle on a career, he loses his college girlfriend when she agrees to pose nude for Bear, which drives Pinch crazy: he knows his dad too well. He later marries a woman and again is too possessive and loses her. He finally moves in with a coworker, sharing a house.

His college friend Marsden comes in and out of his life, but is always reliable and can be counted on.

Too late, Bear corrects Pinch: he never said Pinch was a bad artist, just that he didn't have the personality and selfishness to BE an artist.

Pinch's life is sad, miserable, and heartbreaking. So, you ask me, why would you ever want to read this book about a loser? The story has an unexpected turn and a truly comedic ending

Of all his children, Bear chooses Pinch to be his confidence man, even leaving his estate and paintings to him. He believes Pinch understands and supports his intention.

 Pinch hatches a scheme that is the greatest scam of all time, a joke on the whole world of art, a way to keep his seventeen half-siblings happy, and still keep his promise to his dad.

And then...another reversal gives Pinch a place in the art world he so desperately desired. The novel left me laughing. It is a brilliant reversal.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Italian Teacher
by Tom Rachman
Publication Date: March 20. 2018
ISBN: 9780735222694
Hardcover $27.00

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Solving Life's Mysteries: theMystery.doc and My Dead Parents

Matthew McIntosh's novel theMystery.doc is not for every reader. It is unconventional and on the surface without form. But in the end, I found the experience strangely moving and haunting.

Writers today are pushing the limits of the Novel form, as they were a century ago with James Joyce and The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot. More recently, non-traditional, award-winning novels like Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton are often confusing or off-putting to the general reader.

I was caught by theMystery.doc, enjoying its crazy ride and trusting it would offer me something to grasp onto at the end.

In a series of story clips, we learn about the death of a father who was a pastor, and that of a newborn child. There is a man who has lost his memory, a writer with an unfinished book of eleven years toil, who is captured as a spy. There is a man trying to determine if a customer service helper on the phone is human or computer generated. There is a young couple at a lake. There are photograph clips from old movies. A phone discussion with someone trapped in a burning building on 9-11. The impressions build upon each other.

What I got out of the novel is this: The artist is a spy, observing other's lives, and turning what he sees into words, making symbols that--hopefully-- say something useful about life. The biggest mystery is death and if our lives have any meaning or are part of any higher order.

Kindle told me it would take me 9 hours to read this book, but there are so many photos, lines without words, and dead space that it the book read a lot faster.

I received a free book from the publisher through a direct email regarding a contest.

Read an excerpt of the novel at

Read reviews at
Anya Yurchyshyn's book My Dead Parents takes us on her journey from a child's view of her parents, and after their deaths, discovering their secret history of love and loss.

The author begins with telling us her experience growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her parents were brilliant, yet her father was judgemental and often angry, and her mother was often distant and disapproving. She was a teenager when her father moved abroad to start businesses in the Ukraine, land of his birth, and her mother's drinking became more obvious.

The latter part of the book describes the author's journey in search of her parents, reading their love letters and interviewing friends and family to learn their past history. This is an experience we all must go through--the acceptance of our parents are flawed human beings, and that we don't know the experiences that created the people we remember.

The most intriguing part of the book is when the author travels to the Ukraine to untangle the mystery of her father's death in a car accident. Conflicting reports leave open the possibility that her father's death was not accidental.

Learning about post-Soviet Ukrainian history was very interesting to me. As a family history researcher, I also found the author's journey interesting.

I received a free ebook from First to Read.

My Dead Parents
by Anya Yurchyshyn
$27 hardcover
ISBN 978-0-553-44704-0
Publication Date: March 27, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Last of the Old-Fashioned Heroes

One hundred years ago the world was reeling from WWI. Every value and belief once the foundation of civilization was called into question by the war.

But before the 'War to End All Wars' didn't end war, men were going on quests to conquer the unknown regions of ice. They faced gruesome suffering--loss of body parts that had frozen, physical exertion in extreme conditions, starvation, threats of crevasses that appeared out of nowhere and thin ice over frigid water.

For what? For glory.

The polar regions offered no gold or marketable flora or fauna, no open land for civilization to claim, no sunny beaches for tourism.

The men who raced to the poles or up the tallest mountains did it for fame and pride and for God and Country. They had something to prove and overwhelming ambition.

To The Edges of the Earth 1909, The Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration recounts the explorers of 1909: Peary's expedition to reach the North Pole, Shackleton's expedition to reach the South Magnetic Pole, and the Duke of Abruzzo's reach for the 'Third Pole' in the Himalayas-- the dangerous K2.

I have loved exciting, thrilling, and horrifying adventure narratives since girlhood. One of my first heroes was Robert Falcon Scott after I read The Great White South about his failed expedition to the South Pole. I have also read books about mountain climbing and K2. I haven't a thread of adventure myself, preferring a comfy chair and a cup of tea while reading about someone else risking their life.

Edward J. Larson's account strips away myths about these men. Peary especially, who may have falsely claimed to have reached the North Pole and whose treatment of Inuit, including his teenage concubine, was by our standards appalling and predatory. And the poor Inuit dogs that Peary 'borrowed,' worked to death, then fed to the other dogs (or his men, as needed.)

Shackleton was better, but there was grumbling over his leadership skills, and he did decide to take ponies to the South Pole as well as an early gasoline engine car, both quite useless.

The rich, handsome Italian Duke seems to come off the best, with few negative stories about him, and his later siding with the Allied forces during WWII.

The explorers needed to raise money to fund the trips. Money was given by rich Gilded Age barons and in exchange, they could have landmarks named after them. Their stories were sold to newspapers and magazines and printed in books. They went on the Lyceum lecture circuit with magic lantern photographs.

Peary brought back Inuit for scientific study; when they died their bones were put on display! And he stole three, huge meteorites which the natives used for iron making.

Oh, the frozen toes! The shards of frozen snow that sliced through good English Gabardine! The suffering described is horrifying. (And to think, I don't read horror stories, or at least that is what I had thought. Turns out--I do!)

Shackleton failed to reach the pole, but he was knighted anyway. Scott was already planning his expedition to the South Pole, as was Admunson, and in 1911 Scott perished while Amundsen reached the pole. Shackleton was old news but still returned in 1914-16 on the Endurance. By then WWI had consumed the world and no one had interest in men fooling around in icy realms. Shackleton died of a heart attack on his way to try one more time to reach the pole.

No one really knows if it was Cook or Peary, or Peary's companion Henson, who reached the North Pole. Or if either reached it. With no solid land, the ice over open water offered huge challenges. There were ongoing battles over their claims and bad feelings which sullied Peary's reputation.

"The time was when the search for the North Pole stood for the very acme of uncommercialized heroism," wrote Dean Shailer Mathews of the University of Chicago divinity school. Those were the days, indeed. Today, the opening of the Arctic waters brings dreams of drilling for oil and dollar signs.
The Icebergs by Frederick Church
The 19th c saw the rise of the romanticizing of the Arctic-- the barren, uncharted expanses of ice captivating the imagination. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein retreats to the North Pole, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins wrote the play The Frozen Deep, Frederick Church painted icebergs and Albert Bierstadt glaciers.

Could anyone then have imagined the aqua lung enabling men to view the ocean's bottom or an Endeavor that went into space? Or that the Arctic glaciers would be melting, the Arctic Ocean open and iceless?

I received a free e-book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

To the Edges of the Earth
by Edward J. Larson
William Morrow
$29.99 hardcover
ISBN: 9780062564474

For more books on Polar expeditions:

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition

Marooned in the Arctic: Ada Blackwell's Extraordinary Life

White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic

The Great White South by Herbert Ponting

Fiction about the Arctic and Antarctica:

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

To the Bright Edge of the World

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Thursday, March 15, 2018

High Noon in Hollywood by Warren Adler

Once in a while, I like to read something completely outside of my usual choices.

Which explains why I fell for a call for book reviewers for a book described as, "A clever look into the machinations of Hollywood from the bestselling author of the blockbuster hit The War of the Roses," in which "Hollywood producer Zane Galvin’s failed movie leaves him with a $5 million debt and thirty days to pay it off." Zane "goes to unpredictable extremes to raise the money. Joining in on his scheme are Zane’s girlfriend, his gardener, the film’s writer, and the director. The plan quickly turns into a wicked game of switching sides, blackmail, betrayal, and greed."

It sounded wacky and fun and completely opposite of what I had been reading.

I was at first disoriented, the Hollywoodese talk like a foreign language, the nasty and rude comments, demeaning view of women, and sex talk a turn-off. This is no idealization of Tinseltown. This is Harvey Weinstein world. A place where money rules,  sex is a commodity, and alliances are tenuous and dependant on what you can offer. It is no place for art for art's sake.

"I wanted the audience to feel the contagiousness of evil...How happily ever after is a myth" from High Noon in Hollywood ARC

Zane Galvin, named for his father's favorite writer Zane Grey, and his writer and director had imaged a film that spoke the truth. The film's ending was not marketable, killing off a dog, for goodness sake. He can't pay his debt, or his writer or director. And, his girl's career was dependent on that film. Even his illegal immigrant gardener is being stiffed his meager salary.

Together they hatch a ridiculous plan. What they have on their side is the artistic vision and imagination to turn their bad luck around.

The dialogue and story are studded with film references. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Errol Flynn in Robin Hood, "all for one and one for all," Cagney's voice saying "You dirty double-crossing skirt," Murphy's Law, "I never promised you a rose garden," Macbeth, El Norte, "this one for the Gipper," "somebody up there likes us" recalling the Story of Rocky Graziano.

Stereotypes abound. A taxi driver comments, "who's got time for that shit" about the movies. And no one in Hollywood reads. Actresses forgo love for men who can get them roles. And stereotypes are broken; the illegal Mexican gardener  Oneismo ends us being the man knows how to get things done, while the producer and writer and director do the grunt work and are mistaken for Mexican illegals.

I did enjoy the story. It made me laugh (and flinch) and the plot twists were fun.  I can see it as a movie.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Available now $5.99 on Kindle, $11 paperback

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Oh, Scrap! Fabulous Quilts That Make the Most of Your Stash

Seen on the cover is Izzy Squared, a Granny Square block that I just love
If there is one thing quilters abound in, it is scraps, fabrics left over from projects and set aside as too precious to toss, hopefully to be utilized in a project. Someday.

Well, that day has come!

Lissa Alexander's new book Oh, Scrap! has a dozen of the yummiest projects utilizing scraps. 
Awesome Land, 701.2" x 93", is made up of 6" blocks. It even has a scrappy binding.
Premier quilt historian Barbara Brackman offers a preface, Musings on the History of Scrap Quilting, which is well worth reading. Lissa addresses her background as a quilter and marketing director for Moda Fabrics before offering basics of color theory as it relates to scrap quilting.
This gorgeous Burgoyne Surrounded finishes at 75 1/2" x 93 1/2"'
"It's all about the value", Lissa says.
Lissa suggests pulling out all your favorite scraps and making a swatch card to envision how the colors go together. Or, you can use precuts.
Sherbert Stars is so beautiful. The 81 3/4" x 82 3/4" quilt is easier than it looks.
How do you store your scraps? Lissa has suggestions. I have two towers meant to store shoes, filled with my fat quarters and folded scraps, stored by color. I cut smaller scraps into various squares and store them in baggies by size. Lissa uses refrigerator bins.

Each Bock in Splendid Scraps is made of four Starting Point blocks, her contribution to
Pat Sloan's Splendid Sampler project.
These quilts will inspire you. I love the bright, clear pastels and medium colors she used.
Kismet is a Courthouse Steps version created by Melissa Corry

Indian Blanket is all about light and dark value contrast. It is constructed
with half-square triangles.
The instructions are excellent, with great color photos and drawings and alternative colorways and sizes.
Fireworks was constructed with Cake Mix triangle papers and 10" Layer Cake squares.
Are you inspired to get our your scraps? I am!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead follows the relationship between mothers and daughters, told in vignettes against the changing times between 1980 and 1995. It is a comedy of manners novel with loads of laugh out loud moments.

Laura comes from a wealthy New York City family descended from a Robber Baron whose inherited wealth supports her. She has a degree in English and a job through the family. She envies self-made people.

Laura has never been in love. Her mother's favorite saying is that it doesn't matter who you marry--you will end up thinking, "Anything would be better than this!"

The book begins with Laura pondering that a husband would be nice to have around the apartment if the window were swollen or the fire detector battery needed replacing. She wouldn't have to wait until morning to call the super.

She dresses in Fry boots and a flowered Laura Ashley skirt and turtleneck sweater--a uniform she wears all of her life. (I had those fry boots and made a Ralph Lauren full skirt. Unlike Laura, they went to the Goodwill long before the 1980s were over!) She has no intention of having children, no interest in marrying. She is concerned about the environment. She has The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Moosewood cookbooks but rarely cooks.

In 1980 while her parents are away, she stays at their home for a week. She is surprised that a man is also staying there. She assumes he is a friend of her brothers, and he does tell her stories of their time together in boarding school. Before the week is out, he charms her into bed with him. The next day he is gone.

He was not a friend of her brother's but a house-crashing burglar. The one-night stand leaves her pregnant. Laura makes up a story of artificial insemination with donated Swedish sperm. Emma is born, and Laura does her best as a mother, hoping to give Emma a life different from hers, apart from artificial high society values. She finds an apartment on the border of Harlem--but on the 'right side' of the street.

I laughed out loud so many times. Laura goes on a date and notices the man has earrings. She decides they aren't meant to be, but the earrings turn out to be his daughter's stickers.

Laura's friend Margaret explains she has joined "the club", seeing a "shrink." After years of marriage, she sometimes looks at her sleeping husband, whose snoring keeps her awake, and thinks that it is a good thing she didn't have a gun in her bedside table.

Don't worry, things turn out fine for the marriage. But what a clever scene to talk about the idea that "it doesn't matter who you marry, one day you'll be sitting across the table from him, thinking, Anything would be better than this." I'm pretty sure husbands think the same thing about wives. I'll ask mine the next time I am wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt to keep warm--my Oompa Loompa look according to him.

The book was promoted in terms of, "if you liked Ladybird or Gilmore Girls." Gilmore Girls included a single mom at odds with her wealthy parents, and Ladybird showed a teenager wanting the freedom to find her own way. The themes are similar.

We learn about Laura by her actions and passivity. She is the least self-aware character imaginable. Her inner conflicts are hinted at without an overt authorial voice. We make connections about Laura by implication.

Emma, on the other hand, is sharp as a tack. As a preschooler she asks Laura why they don't live "in their neighborhood," that is where their friends and stores are.

I know readers who do not like this book because 1) it is episodic, without a strong linear plot; 2) it is character-driven without a lot of inner dialogue; and, 3) it is open-ended.

But I enjoyed it. I love a good comedy of manners. Laura's inability to deal with adult intimate relationships, Emma's zeroing in on the inconsistencies of their lives, and the gaps between mothers and daughters all feel real.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Laura & Emma
by Kate Greathead
Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
$25 hardcover
ISBN: 9781501182402