Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana De Rosnay: A Family Drama Unfolds In Flooding Paris

"Why did "just the four of us" sound both so cozy and ominous?" from The Rain Watcher by Tatiana De Rosnay.

On the surface, it was a celebratory family gathering. The patriarch of the Malegarde family, Paul, was turning seventy; he and his wife Lauren had achieved 40 years of marriage. Their children Linden and Tilia were joining them in Paris, France.

Except...heavy continual rains had the Seine rising to a record flood stage. Paul, a world famous arborist, suffers a stroke while his wife falls ill. Their daughter Tilia still struggles with PTSD from a horrendous accident that killed her best friends and left her with a limp after reconstructive surgery. She is in a failed marriage to a drunk. Her daughter Mistral is her one bright happiness. And Linden, a world famous photographer, left home at age sixteen and can't tell his father he is engaged to another man.

Each character has their secret pain which they must face during this devastating reunion, and which is revealed to each other by the end of the story, showing their growth and resilience.

Linden has to keep the family afloat, visiting his father in the hospital while Tilia tends to their mother. He explores the flooded streets with his professional peer Oriel, camera in hand. As he revisits places from his past, all the pain and regret returns to overwhelm him in a flood of memories. The apartment were he lived with his beloved aunt. Places where he spent happy hours with his first lover before they were brutally torn apart.

Nature's destructive force is a constant presence in the novel, the rain and cold,  people fleeing Paris and those who stay in cold and lightless apartments, all impotent to stop the advancing water.

And yet it was also nature, in the form of a lime tree, that saved the child Paul, informing all his choices and activities throughout his life, and giving his children their names.

The novel is a love song to Paris, and for those who know the city will feel agony as the floods overwhelm. The city has faced recent flooding, the worse in fifty years.

For all the emotional and natural chaos going on in the novel, I felt distant, the events not affecting me as strongly as I would have thought. I realized that the narrator tells readers what is happening when I would have liked scenes played out in action and dialogue. Readers are being told a story, a quite good story, much of which takes place in the internal lives of the characters. I liked the characters very much.

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

The author's previous books include the bestselling Sarah's Key and an excellent biography on Daphne Du Maurier, Manderley Forever.

The Rain Watcher
by Tatiana De Rosnay
St. Martin's Press
Publication October 23, 2018
ISBN 9781250200013
PRICE $27.99 (USD)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry: Finding Happiness in One's Golden Years

What could be better than combing Dave Barry's humor and the love of a dog? Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog was a perfect read to refresh my mental health and adjust my attitude. I laughed out loud and I felt warm and squishy inside. 

Barry admits he's always been a 'dog person,' as have I. My childhood mutt Pepper and I loved each other. She followed me to school, sometimes even got into the school to show up at my classroom door. I would lay on the floor to color and Pepper would place her chin on the small of my back. I loved to stroke her long, soft, floppy ears.  For Barry, his childhood dog surpassed Lassie in heroism, for Mistral would eat the Brussels Sprouts Barry slipped to him during dinner!

Barry shares his dog stories and stories from his family life to illustrate the lessons Lucy has taught him about how to live.

I cracked up over so many things. He takes on Facebook and electronic devices, the horror of shellfish as "Phlegms of the Sea," white lies, hurricane preparation, teenage angst over appearance, and the difference between dogs and cats. Dogs feel guilt, even if they haven't done anything wrong; cats "have the morals of Hannibal Lecter."

The seven lessons are not profound or unexpected, but essential and wise. Barry even scores himself on how he has been progressing in trying to put the lessons into practice!

It's worth a try. I sure envy the happiness of old dogs. Our Shibas in their golden years impressed me with the smiles on their faces just enjoying the comfort of a thick foam bed.

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

Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog
by Dave Barry
Simon & Schuster
Pub Date 23 Oct 2018 
PRICE $26.00 (USD)
ISBN 9781501161155

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Vintage WWI Sheet Music: America to the Rescue

Many WWI songs roused American pride to rally support for the war. 

Liberty Bell It's Time to Ring Again by Joe Goodwin and Halsey K. Mohr, 1917, with illustration by Barbelle, was a call to arms. Listen to Arthur Field's recording here, which reached No. 5 in the hit song charts.

You have rested, Lib-er-ty Bell, for a hundred years and more,
End your slum-ber Lib-er-ty Bell, ring as you did before,
It's time to wake 'em up, it's time to shake 'em up,
It's a cause worth ringing for:

Lib-er-ty Bell, it's time to ring again,
Lib-er-ty Bell, it's time to swing again,
We're in the same sort of fix, we were in seventy-six,
And we are ready to mix and rally 'round you like we did before, oh!
Lib-er-ty Bell, your voice is needed now,
Lib-er-ty Bell, we'll hear your call, one and all,
Though you're old and there's a crack in you
Don't forget Old Glor-y's back-in' you,
Oh! Lib-er-ty Bell, it's time to ring again.

Once you rang out, Lib-er-ty Bell, as we watched Old Glory wave,
You have made us, Lib-er-ty Bell, Land of the Free and Brave,
It's time to sing again, it's time to ring again,
For the cause you've got to save:
When Yankee Doodle Marches Through Berlin There'll Be a Hot Time in the U.S.A. by Andrew B. Sterling and Arthur Lange, 1917, illustrated by Stammer, is another example of American surety of victory. 

The whole population of the big French nation 
Were lined up on the street one day. 
Ev’ry flag was flying, ev’ry heart was sighing, 
For the Yankee boys were coming down that way. 
When suddenly a Yankee voice cried out. 
They could tell it was a Yankee when they heard the shout. 

Refrain: Here they come, here they come, 
And the drums are beating there’ll be no retreating 
They’ll be there, they’ll be there. 
For there’s a victr’y in the air. 
And they’ll win, yes they’ll win. 
Then they’ll flash the news to old Broadway, 
And when Yankee Doodle marches thro’ Berlin 
There’ll be a hot time in the U.S.A. 

Just picture them dashing, 
when the news comes flashing, 
“We’ve hauled the Kaisers ‘Black Flag’ down.”
To set bonfires burning for the boy returning 
From the trenches to his little old hometown. 
“Just take a look,” they heard that Yankee cry, 
“Then go tell the Kaiser he can kiss himself goodbye.”

Just Like Washington Crossed the Delaware General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine by Howard Johnson and Geo. W. Meyer, 1917, contends that America will "tell the world it simply has to be" that they will preserve Democracy. Listen to a recording here.

Looking backward through the ages, 
We can read on hist’ry’s pages, 
Deeds that famous men have done, 
We are told of great commanders 
Wellington and Alexanders, 
And the battles they have won. 

Take our own great Revolution 
That began our evolution, 
Washington then won his fame, 
Today across the sea, 
They’re making history, 
The Yankee spirit still remains the same. 

Just like Washington crossed the Delaware, 
So will Pershing cross the Rhine, 
As they followed after George, 
At dear old Valley Forge, 
Our boys will break that line. 
It’s for your land and my land 
And the sake of Auld Lang Syne, 
Just like Washington crossed the Delaware, 
Gen’ral Pershing will cross the Rhine. 

There upon the roll of honor, 
Ev’ry one the soul of honor, 
We find heroes of the past, 
Like the ones who’ve gone before them 
To our native land that bore them, 
They were faithful to the last. 
As they fought for Independence,
You and I and our descendants
Must preserve Democracy,
In God above we'll trust.
Our sword shall never rust,
We'll tell the world it simply has to be.
Not all the songs were rallies and calls to arms. A real heartbreaker, War Babies by Ballard McDonald, Edward Madden, and James F. Hanley, 1916 has a cover photograph of children in front of a destroyed village. Al Jolson sang it at the Winter Garden. It amounts to an anti-war song.
Forsaken, alone, amid tumbled down stone, ‎
In the dust of what once was a home, ‎
Two little tots lay, as the close of the day ‎
Cast its shadow o'er Heaven's blue dome, ‎
From afar in the gloom came the cannon's dull boom, ‎
The roar of its shells filled the air, ‎
And it lulled them to rest tightly held ‎
to the breast of the mother who died for them there 

Little war babies, our hearts ache for you,‎
Where will you go to, and what will you do?‎
Into a world full of sorrow you came,‎
Homeless and helpless, no one knows your name.‎
Gone is the mother love tender and true,‎
Gone is your dead daddy, too;‎
But you’ll share in the joys
Of our own girls and boys,‎
War babies, we’ll take care of you

While sitting some night by your fireside bright, ‎
With the children you love and adore, ‎
Just let your thoughts roam to that tumbled down home ‎
That once stood in the pathway of war, ‎
As the vision appears, you can see thru your tears ‎
The two little tots all alone, ‎
Will you wait till they plead for the things that they need? ‎
Just suppose those two babes were your own 

Little war babies, our hearts ache for you,‎
Where will you go to, and what will you do?‎
Into a world full of sorrow you came,‎
Homeless and helpless, no one knows your name.‎
Gone is the mother love tender and true,‎
Gone is your dead daddy, too;‎
But you’ll share in the joys
Of our own girls and boys,‎
War babies, we’ll take care of you

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Fabric Challenge!

My weekly quilt group held a fabric challenge. Two of us choose a challenging fabric at a local quilt shop. People had to use the fabric in any kind of project. The variety of projects will amaze you!
Bev O saw rock houses in the design and embroidered faces and doors on the fabric

When our member Joanne proposed the fabric challenge the group was willing to give it a try. Joanne and I went to a local quilt shop to select a fabric. We worked with the shop owner to find a fabric with lots of color and something most would not have chosen. When the group saw the fabric many were perplexed about what to do with it! But as you will see, they figured it out!

Shirley W. made multiple projects including a purse, a candle mat, a rug mug
Shirley W. used every bit of her fabric in these projects!

Lucy L. made a placemat 

Shirley L. made a color wheel

Linda W. made a pillow case

Linda P. made notebook covers

Karen C. made a baby quilt

Joanne B. made an original applique design. Note the use of the doily!

Sue S. made a sewing machine organizer; it goes under the machine and had pockets for tools

Theresa N. made a small quilt

Theresa N. also made a table runner

Verna's table runner

Madeline made a steering wheel cover for her car!

Cheryl's purse

Betty C. saw gumdrops in the fabric and found this Gumdrop quilt pattern

Sharon made a mug rug to match her favorite mug

Jan used the fabric in a Christmas ornament

Lucy made several projects including this fabric pin

Shirley K's wreath shows how the fabric against white becomes light and airy

Shirley K. transformed a Christmas wreath pattern into a spring-like wreath
Ladies saw turtles, houses,or gumdrops in the print; I saw mushrooms. I searched for vintage illustrations of wee folk painting mushrooms for my design.
I made an applique based on the illustration. I used fusible and hand applique, machine quilting, and also used colored pencil.
Quilt by Nancy Bekofske
The ladies look forward to doing this again! What will be next year's fabric challenge?
Almost everyone in the group participated!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Beautiful Place to Die by Sam Bigglesworth

Sam Bigglesworth's collection A Beautiful Place to Die demonstrates his ability to capture a character's pivotal moment. I often found myself invested in the characters to the point I wished their story continued.

The fourteen stories are quite diverse. Some are open-ended, some have a surprise or shock ending. Characters have a moment of life-altering clarity, lessons are learned, frailties uncovered, alliances made or severed. Shocking conclusions come in several of the stories.

The Watcher Woman is set in a dystopia where starving women living in urban decay encounter a callous, well-fed man.

The Soldier of Luxury is about a competitive, self-satisfied man trusting in the wrong things.

In The Wizard of the Forest a son watches his idolized father wield 'tree magic' but soon learns the limits of influence. A father teaches a life lesson to his daughter in The Coral Tailed Waffle Bird.

A dementia patient challenges her care workers in Where's Amit. A Beautiful Place to Die tells the heartbreaking story of a dying woman endeavoring to control her last days, cast out by a cold world.

The protagonist in The Dog Whisperer needs a purpose in life and adopts a rescue dog. The story recalled my own experience of adopting a troubled but lovable puppy mill rescue dog.

The writing is very descriptive and engages all the senses. Each story is illustrated with quality black and white art.

The stories are set in and around Manchester, England, where Bigglesworth lives.

I asked Bigglesworth to talk about his writing.

My writing career started in 2014 with a blog; in 2015, I decided to commit to writing fiction long term. 

Towards the end of the year, after a few online courses and a great deal of time writing, I self-published my first novella, a character based comedy about one man’s love affair with nature, entitled ‘The Woods, The Jungle, The Sea’. It was inspired by experiences I had visiting remote parts of Patagonia, Bolivia, and Colombia. It has sold one-hundred copies and received generally positive reviews. 

From that experience, I decided to wait longer and take each project through more edits before self-publishing it. I wanted to try writing in different voices, from a variety of characters' perspectives, and develop my writing style, so I began writing this short story collection.

I wrote this collection because I love stories which humanise people and show their flaws. Many people who appear unremarkable from the outside have remarkable stories to tell. Pain and growth are common to all our lives. 

It began as 23 stories, then I picked the very best fourteen stories of those and polished and re-wrote them until I was proud of them. Add a set of illustrations from Henry Boon and editing advice from a professional editor and we have something really special that I am very proud to show the world.

Some of the stories are literal, but most of them have a hidden deeper meaning which take a little thought to understand. I really hope you enjoy them and I would love to hear what you thought and how you interpreted the stories!

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

Find A Beautiful Place to Die at Amazon for $2.99.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Whimsical Wool Applique by Kim Schaefer

Many of my friends LOVE wool applique. When I saw the cover for Kim Schaefer's Whimsical Wool Applique I loved the cheerful and bright flowers and knew my friends would, too.

Whimsical Wool Applique cover
Kim offers seven quilt projects and 50 blocks, all with complete instructions and color photos of each block. Along with her whimsical flowers there are blocks for birds and butterflies, bugs and bees, a snail and caterpillar.

Whimsical flower by Kim Schaefer
On the lower left side of the cover photo is pictured Garden Whimsey, a 32 1/2" x 40 1/2" quilt made with 6" x 6" flower blocks.

Her second project is Sweet Tweets, a wall quilt 36 1/2" x 12 1/2" with a line of six birds, including the one pictured below.

Bird from Sweet Tweets by Kim Schaefer
Snug as a Bug, a 22 1/2" x 32 1/2" wall hanging, features garden denizens with a caterpillar and butterfly, dragonfly, bee, ladybug, and snail, all too cute to resist. Schaefer captures a 70s Mid-Century vibe in her designs.

Bloomin' Beauties, 28 1/2" x 22 1/2", has six floral blocks and a vine leaf border.

Enchanted Garden, below, is 33 1/2" square and includes nine floral blocks with a traditional vibe.
Enchanted Garden by Kim Schaefer
A small one-block project that measures 12 1/2" square is Ring Around the Bluebell, a nice size for beginners. Another good beginner project is the Flower Power Pillow, 14 1/2" square, with nine daisies.

Every one of the fifty blocks has its own page with the pattern and close-up details of the embroidery used to finish the block. The blocks are fusible applique and the embroidery makes them really pop. My wool applique friends enjoy the embroidery part of their projects.

Visit Schaefer at Little Quilt Company and see her other books and patterns at

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

WHIMSICAL WOOL APPLIQUÉ: 50 Blocks, 7 Quilt Projects
Kim Schaefer
C&T Publishing
Book ($24.95) eBook ($19.9
ISBN: 978-1-61745-655-8
UPC: 734817-113010
(eISBN: 978-1-61745-656-5)

About Kim from the publisher's website: 

Kim Schaefer began sewing at an early age and was quilting seriously by the late 1980s. Her early quilting career included designing and producing small quilts for craft shows and shops across the country.

In 1986, Kim founded Little Quilt Company, a pattern company focused on designing a variety of small, fun-to-make projects.

In addition to designing quilt patterns, Kim is a best-selling author for C&T Publishing. Kim also designs fabric for Andover/Makower and works with Leo Licensing, which licenses her designs for nonfabric products.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Marlena by Julie Buntin

As a girl, I'd had a friend who died. We were close. I didn't talk about it. When you grow up, who you were as a teenager either takes on a mythical importance or its completely laughable. I wanted to be the kind of person who wipes those years way; instead, I feared, they defined me. from Marlena by Julie Buntin

After reading Ohio by Stephen Markley and Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell, books about Midwest small towns, drugs, abuse, and growing up, I decided it was the right time to read Julie Buntin's Marlena. The novel focuses on Marlena, a teenage girl in Northern Michigan caught in a web of poverty and drugs, and the lasting impact Marlena had on the narrator, Cat.

Buntin's novel caught so many things for me. The painful nostalgia for a moment in time, the haunting loss of a loved one, how in youth our naivety blinds us to darker realities.

I want to go home--a phrase that's stuck on a loop, that I hear before falling asleep, waiting in line for my coffee, tapping at the elevator button and rising through the sky to my apartment, worrying the words like a lucky stone, and yet my desire is not attached to a particular places--not to Silver Lake, not to Marlena, not to Mom or Dad or Jimmy. I want to go home, I want to go home, but what I mean, what I'm grasping for, is not a place, it's a feeling. I want to go back. But back where? from Marlena by Julie Buntin

The narrator, Cat, is living in New York City with a good job and a loving husband. She is an alcoholic. Cat tells the story of being the new girl in a small Up North town, looking for a new best friend. She develops a girl crush on a charismatic and beautiful older teen who lives next door. Cat, fifteen, wants to be like Marlena--cool, daring, exciting, experienced.

After her dad left them, Cat's mom moved the family from Pontiac to her childhood vacation spot, Silver Lake. Silver Lake is a half hour away from the school and Walmart and the nearest mall is ninety miles downstate. It is also down the road from the mansions along Lake Michigan where the 1% come to play, and a historic, elite Methodist enclave. Cat's mom has a drinking problem and with no job skills is lucky to get a job cleaning a summer estate.

Catherine had been on scholarship at a private school, a good student, college-bound, a bookish loner. Her older brother walked away from a college scholarship to help take care of his mom. Moving is a chance to reinvent herself as Cat, an edgier and more risk-taking girl.

Marlena's mom disappeared years back and her addict dad has a meth lab in the woods. Marlena cares for her younger brother as best she can, but he is often alone with no food in the house. Already at seventeen Marlena is an alcoholic, she trades sexual favors to obtain drugs, and although smart she skips school.

For eight brief months, Cat became a part of Marlena and her world-- the 'best days ever'-- with a group of friends who accepted her, her life with filled danger and excitement.

By July we, like twenty percent of Michigan's population--Mom loved that statistic--were on food stamps. from Marlena by Julie Buntin

Michigan ranks 4th in the country for drug problems, with heroin and cocaine in Detroit and opioids everywhere else. An estimated 20% of Michigan adults drink to excess and 24% of young men are binge drinkers. Beer is everywhere; the state ranks number 10 in the number of IPA breweries in the country.
The Pere Marquette River in Baldwin, Lakes County, the poorest county in Michigan
Michigan has its urban centers mired in job loss and poverty, the racist legacy of redlining and 'urban renewal' with its wholesale destruction of African American neighborhoods. Pontiac, Cat's hometown before they move to Silver Lake, has a poverty rate of 34%.

But the rural Up North communities also are impoverished. I just returned from a trip to Lake, Roscommon, and Ogemaw Counties with poverty rates over 28%, higher than the state average of 24%. Michigan ranks as one of the worst six states in the nation for the number of children living in poverty--one in five.

There are also pockets of great wealth located in Oakland County where I live, including Bloomfield Hills, one of the top 20 richest cities in the country.
Meadowbrook Hall, the second largest private home in America, built in Oakland Co, MI by the heir to the Dodge fortune
The city where my grandparents lived in the 1960s is now one of the ten wealthiest cities in the state, where I grew up is number 15, and my current city is number 30. These suburbs were built to house workers in the auto industry, from the top brass to the union workers like my dad. Their playground became the small 'Up North' towns--modest cabins for the middle class, posh resort homes and yachts in a marina for the 1%.
My dad's cabin
These remote villages and towns became dependant on tourism, the hunters and fishers and snowmobilers and skiers and family vacationers. So that side by side, for a few weeks each year, the very wealthy live amongst the local poor. And then the economy plummeted, and the working and middle classes could not afford the cabins and vacations Up North.

Summertime transformed northern Michigan. Kewaunee swelled to twice its normal size. from Marlena by Julie Buntin
Pentwater Lake
We spent two years in a resort community on Lake Michigan. Between July 1 and the end of August the town was filled with campers at the state park and the Methodist campground, cottagers, bed and breakfast tourists, and people living on their sailboats in the marina. At summer's end, everything closed. Anyone who had enough money left town for their winter homes in Texas or Arizona or Florida or even Metro Detroit. Several bars were open, and the bank and post office. The one grocery store that catered to the marina kept half the store open for basics. In winter 193 inches of snow fell.

Years before we lived there, we used to go to the Methodist family camp. We were impressed by the beauty of the lake and marina, the channel feeding into Lake Michigan with its gorgeous sand beaches.
The beach at Pentwater
One day when I was in town checking out the tourist shops and ice cream parlors I remarked to a teenager that it must be a beautiful place to live. He scowled in answer. It wasn't until we lived there that I realized how isolated and boring a place it had to be to grow up in. Graduation class sizes were in the teens, the entire K-12 school system had about 260 students.
Lake Michigan at Pentwater
When we left Philadelphia when our son was two I thought a small town would be a wonderful place to raise our son. It turns out that Mayberry doesn't exist. Maybe it never did exist.

As I read Marlena I wondered how much I had missed, all the different places we had moved and stayed a few years, never really understanding the community that deeply. I worked with teens but what did I know about their lives? One boy in the inner city of Philadelphia told me I did not understand real life. Pacifism did not work on the streets where one didn't get mad, one got even. In a small rural town, our son would ask why classmates could not read, had no telephones or books at home, or why their dads were in jail.

I remembered 'my' Marlena, a gregarious and confident girl from a well-to-do family who took the 14-year-old me under her wing--I was the new girl in school--and encouraged me to be outgoing, lose weight, have fun. She dropped me, age 15, and a year later I saw her going through the school hallway, her books held close against her chest, eyes straight ahead, slightly leaning forward in a fast walk. She put purple chalk on her eyelids in the restroom before school. She had changed. Years later I stopped by her home. Her brother told me she had married three times and lived in an Up North small town; her mother didn't remember which one, but it started with an M.

Cat is filled with nostalgia for that moment in time when she first felt alive and a part of something. And she is filled with survivor's guilt and regret. She struggles with alcoholism which might destroy the life she has built. What she experienced was horrendous; she saw the destruction of a smart and beautiful and courageous girl, a girl she wanted to be.

Just one girl, one fictional girl.

How many thousands across Michigan are we losing today? To human trafficking. To opioid addiction, meth, heroin, alcohol. To poverty, sexual abuse... How many across the country, the world?

What impressed me about Marlena was the story and the voice and the Michigan places and the heartbreaking REALNESS of it all. I am glad I finally read it.