Thursday, March 31, 2016

Have a Day? Make a Quilt!

Quilters are always looking for fast and easy projects for gifting. We want patterns that are adaptable to different fabric choices, interesting yet simple, and with no-fail instructions.

In 24-Hour Quilting Projects Rita Weiss offers twenty quilts of all sizes that can be constructed in a day--or less! Most are pieced patterns based on traditional blocks including the Log Cabin, star variations, nine-patch, and pinwheels. She includes several quilts that combine appliqué and piecing. Each pattern tweaks the traditional block for an interesting twist.

Also included is a full page color photograph of the completed quilt, materials and yardage lists, step-by-step instructions for making blocks, borders, and completing the quilt, and a useful color picture layout of the competed quilt.

I especially was impressed with her general quilt making instructions with great information for beginning quilters. Her rotary cutting guide is detailed with lots of photographs and includes instructions for right and left handed persons, She also has guides for 'stitch and flip' methods, chain piecing, binding, fussy cutting, and appliqué.

Originally published in 2005 24-Hour Quilting Projects is now republished by Dover Publications. The fabric choices and colors in Weiss' projects reflect her preference for bright colors and the prints of 2005. For instance, her Angel Fantasy includes a print of angels which is no longer available, but today's quilter can choose one of the wonderful new prints available as a feature fabric.

I received and ARC through NetGalley for an unbiased review.

24-Hour Quilt Patterns
Rita Weiss
Dover Publications
Publication Date: March 12, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Shipwrecks and Rescues at Big Sable Point

We lived along Lake Michigan for seven years. Summer along the shore is lovely. The sand cliffs and beaches facing the blue lake are beautiful.
sand dunes south of Ludington, MI
Mears State Park beach at Pentwater, MI
Living along the lake all year round means enduring wicked winters. We had 130+ inches of snow our last year in Pentwater; 93 inches our first year in Montague was considered a light winter. The blowing wind and surf is a continual background noise. 

We tried going to the beach during a storm. The sand blew into our nostrils and mouth and down to the roots of our hair. Once was enough. See a YouTube video of waves at Ludington here and videos of lake storms here and here.
Lake Michigan near Pentwater during Hurricane Sandy, early October
Reading Storms & Sand: The Story of Shipwrecks and the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station by Stephen, Grace, and Joel Truman I remembered those few minutes we spent along a stormy coast and I pitied and admired the men who endured truly harsh storms.

Big Sable Point sits on a jut of land--actually sand dunes-- a two mile walk north of Ludington. Inland and behind is Hamlin Lake, a resort area. The lake was enlarged when lumber baron Charles Mears built a wood dam in 1856. His lumber mill stored the wood in the lake, which was then shunted downriver to Lake Michigan were it was loaded for shipping. When the dam broke, the life saving station men arrived to rebuild.

All along West Michigan the lumber barons cut down the old forest growth, the tall White Pines, and ships took the lumber south to build Chicago and north and through the lake to Buffalo. A hundred years ago the forests were pretty well lumbered out in the state.

But during the lumber boom the lake was teaming with ships. And with sand bars and bad weather, ice and snow, mechanical breakdowns, and captains trying for one more late season run, there was a desperate need for life saving stations along the Lake Michigan shore.

The Truman's book presents the history of the Big Sable life saving station and the men who served there with illustrative stories of their rescues. We follow the men's careers and get to know them.

Someone had to patrol the beaches day and night, in all weather. Someone had to look from the watch tower, peering into fog, rain or snow, looking for a light or flag signally distress. The men needed to bring boats to the water's edge when heavy ice and snow deeply buried the shore. In early days the men oared the boats out.

We read about distressed ships with men clinging to the mast rigging in brutal weather. For hours. In plain and subtle language, the stories reveal true heroes, men 'doing their duty' in dogged persistence, regardless of their own safety.

We learn how technology and improvements made the work quicker, but nothing could change the irresistible power of nature's fury.

The life saving stations were rolled into the Coast Guard. As ship technology changed there were fewer accidents and less need for the life saving stations and they were closed. Today the surviving stations and lighthouses have become tourist attractions, enjoyed for their scenic beauty. The Trumans have reminded us of the tragedies and triumphs of their forgotten history.

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

Storms & Sand: A Story of Shipwrecks and the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station
Stephen, Grace, and Joel Truman
Pine Woods Press
ISBN: 978-0-9854636-9-4

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The African American Experience in 1851

Two new books set in 1851 address the African American experience. Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan offers readers insight into the dangerous journey North made by escaped slaves; The Parker Sisters: A Border Kidnapping by Lucy Maddox explores how that safety was compromised by the Fugitive Slave Act.

The story of a runaway slave's grueling journey, Chasing the North Star is by Robert Morgan, the author of Gap Creek. Teenage Jonah is pampered and protected by his owner's wife and secretly allowed to learn to read and write. When his master discovers Jonah with a book he assumes it is stolen. Punishment is dealt and feeling the injustice of his position Jonah determines to run away. He is an innocent in the ways of the greater world. He meets Angel at a Jubilee, a 'fat girl' who serves as her master's mistress. Angela decides to follow Jonah. She knows he needs her, not only for her people savvy but also as a link to his people and his past. The road from North Carolina to freedom in Ithaca, NY is rife with danger and deprivation.

Inspired by Morgan family oral history, the novel is well drawn and the characters memorable. There is of course violence. Although Jonah and Angel were both house slaves and better provided for than field hands they suffered indignities and cruelty. Jonah was whipped unjustly and Angel fattened up to be her master's sex slave. They also suffer psychological violence and natural catastrophe. Everyone they met on their journey know they are escaped slaves, and that puts Jonah and Angel in their power.

Morgan is a good writer and readers will be swept into the book by both his characters and the story line.

The Parker Sisters: A Border Kidnapping by Lucy Maddox is a nonfiction exploration of the 1851 kidnapping of two free black sisters from Chester County, PA, which is just above the Pennsylvania-Maryland line. Quakers had settled the area before William Penn. Quakers as a group were not active abolitionists, and those who were had to work under cover. Slavery was illegal in Pennsylvania but residents obeyed the law concerning the Fugitive Slave Act  which made it mandatory to return escaped 'property' to their Southern owners. Abolitionists were detested as lawbreakers. Pennsylvanians also were incensed by the kidnapping of freemen to be sold as slaves in the South, another breaking of the law.

The life of a free person of color in rural Pennsylvania was one of isolation, working for European descent farmers for little pay.

Elizabeth Parker was kidnapped and sold to a New Orleans woman. She was sent on the streets to sell flowers and candy, slept on a feather bed, and was surrounded by others of her color. She was not unhappy in spite of her loss of freedom. When she was arrested for breaking the 8 pm curfew she played her trump card and confessed she was a free woman kidnapped into slavery. Her sister Rachel Parker was also kidnapped and her employer and other Chester County farmers followed to bring her back; the farmer she worked for was later found dead. After several exhumations it was determined that he was murdered.

Their kidnapper claimed they were the Crocus sisters who had escaped from their owners. The girls remained in prison for a year awaiting the trials that would settle their identity.. African Americans were legally bared from testifying in court for others of their color. Their identity had to be established by members of their home community, against the word of those who benefited from her sale.

Maddox uses trial records and primary sources to reconstruct the kidnapping of the Parker sisters. Their story brings to life the legal, political, and personal ramifications of the Fugitive Slave Act.

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

Chasing the North Star
by Robert Morgan
Algonquin Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
$25.95 hard cover
ISBN: 9781565126275

The Parker Sisters
by Lucy Maddox
Temple University Press
Publication Date: February 1, 2016
$28.50 hard cover

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

"I may be progressive, but I would never hire a pretty teacher." 

On the eve of WWI, with the death of her scholar father, Beatrice must find her way in the world and accepts a position as Latin teacher in Rye, England. Used to traveling across Europe and staying in top-notch hotels, she is reduced to three pair of gloves, a shabby room, and one hot bath weekly. To keep her position she must battle prejudice and ancient class snobbery. Beatrice is intelligent and highly educated. And vastly under valued and unappreciated. Her new world is peopled by two young men, cousins and best friends although opposites, grand dames who rule society, and powerful titled men willing to do anything to protect their "good name".

I was swept into the novel, in love with the Austenesque quips and nods. "A country living room holds no terrors for me," Beatrice remarks. Beatrice has much in common with Fanny in Mansfield Park in her worthiness and powerlessness. A proposal scene matches the ridiculous Mr. Collins or Rev. Elton. True love grows between friends who are perfect equals. It begins a novel of social manners, which I dearly love to read.

Then war breaks out. The horrors of war come to reside in their village. Men are pressured to enlist by white feather-bearing girlfriends, fathers, and career mentors. Grand houses are prepared for hospitals, but only to house convalescents of the best quality. The city provides for Belgium refugees including a professor and his beautiful daughter Celeste, who are much lionized. While Beatrice is socially alienated, Celeste is smothered with dresses and invitations.

The final indignation comes when the publisher refuses to allow Beatrice to write the book about her father's work and gives her manuscript to a male writer. She had hoped to earn a little income from the book and begin a career as a writer.

Although very entertaining, the plot develops slowly as Beatrice endeavors to make it on her own. In the middle the plot leveled off and was not progressing, but part four was a roller coaster ride. The role of women, class prejudice, and the ill conceived idealization of war are addressed. Additionally, darker aspects of life 100 years ago appear when Celeste's victimization in war makes her a social pariah and the deep bound between two college chums brings forced separation, with tragic results.

The world of 1914 is presented in detail and will delight historical fiction fans. Set 100 years after Jane Austen, and 100 before the present day, one can note that class and gender issues have advanced more in the last 100 years than in the previous century. The Great War altered the world irrevocably, for better and worse.

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

Advance praise:
Annie Barrows (The Truth About Us and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) : "At once haunting and lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset."
Paula McClain (The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun) :"...[a] radiant follow-up to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand..vividly a Jane Austen for our day and age, she is that good..."

The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
Random House
Publication: March 22, 2016
$28.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9780812993103

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What Books Changed MY Life?

While I read the essays in The Books that Changed My Life I thought about what books had changed my life. I concluded that what I read as a child set the direction of my adult reading life. And the books I heard read out loud by my teachers at Phillip Sheridan Elementary School in Tonawanda, NY. Each classroom had a small library and I would find the book my teacher had read and brought it home. The school was new and the books were new too. Now they are classics.

Charlotte's Web taught me the value of friendship and to never stereotype. Templeton the rat and Charlotte the spider are creatures we are taught to fear and avoid, but in E. B. White's book they become beloved friends. Charlotte also loves words! I don't think any book made me more aware of the meaning of friendship than Charlotte's Web.

Mr. Popper's Penguins is about a man who dreams of going to the South Pole and ends up with penguins to care for. He returns the penguins to Antarctica.

It led to The Great White South about Robert Falcon Scott's fatal journey to the South Pole, which led to I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination by Francis Spufford which led to White Eskimo about Knud Rasmussen. Polar exploration has always fascinated me. Plus, it is about restoring animals to their rightful place.

Caddie WoodlawnBen and Me, and Johnny Tremain led to an interest in American history. That led to reading David McCullough, Doris Kearn Goodwin, Nathaniel Philbrick, Steven Ambrose, Joseph Ellis, Timothy Eagen, Robert Caro, and a slew of Presidential and First Ladies biographies.

Star Girl was a lovely tale about children caring for a space alien accidentally left on earth. It's how we should treat all refugees. It led to joining the Sci-Fi Book Club and reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Ray Bradbury.

Homer Price made a big enough impact that I named an imaginary friend after him--Home the Ghost who went to school with me each day.

I wanted to grow up to BE Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I imagined my hair in a white bun and being surrounded by the neighborhood children.

Before the Disney movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was a huge favorite of mine. What adventures! It led to fantasy books like Terry Pratchett.

Follow My Leader about a boy and his guide dog led to enjoying books about resilient people and the love of a good dog story. (See Rags, the WWI Hero!)

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson gave me a love of poetry. (My son loved Windy Nights and recited it to himself as a toddler.)

A Child's Garden of Verses led to discovering One Hundred and One Famous Poems on my grandfather's bookshelf, along with the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe-- which lead to Robert Hillyer, Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, and Ranier Marie Rilke.

A biography of Stevenson from my classroom library was my first biography! That led to reading about Clara Barton, Jane Addams, Joan of Arc in junior high. And I still enjoy a good biography to this day.

Books read out of school as a girl left their mark, too.

Starting with the books Mom brought home from the A&P--The Little Golden Books. They also gave me a real love of art with illustrators like Mary Blair, J. P Miller, Garth Stein, Eloise Wilkens, Gustaf Tenggren, Leonard Weisgard, Feodor Rojankovsky, and Alice and Martin Provensen! I loved the story of Pantaloon and also Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather.

Mom brought home another grocery store series of chapter books that included Grimm's Fairy Tales, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, The Black Arrow, Treasure Island, and others.
My first trip to the public library I brought home The D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I had several Fairy Tale books which led to Carl Jung and Bruno Bettleheim.

I came across a fake memoir that I loved as a girl, The Cradle of the Deep by Joan Lowell. It told about a girl's life growing up on a trading ship in the South Seas. I never thought about if it was fiction or memoir. All I knew was it was fascinating and made me want to go to sea in a sailing ship. It led to an interest in Capitan Hornblower and sea shanties and Master and Commander.

In Sixth Grade I was in Junior Great Books. A Christmas Carol and The Happy Prince were my favorites. The school library was antique. I found the Oz books, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and all the children's classics I had not read.

The Classics Illustrated Comic Books I loved as a girl impelled me to tackle reading the classics in junior high including The Count of Monte Cristo, Jules Verne's sci-fi, Lord Jim, Pudd'nhead Wilson, Les Miserables, and Jane Eyre.

I have never forgotten those early books. It was wonderful to revisit them with our son. I can only believe that our son's love of reading dates back to the books read to him when he was growing up.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Books that Changed My Life: 100 Remarkable People Write About Books

I am immensely interested in how books impact people. At age nine I decided I wanted to be an author because books were powerful and could change lives. Being a good person affected a few. Put your life into words and suddenly you could reach a greater audience--forever. After all, James Barrie wrote "Death will be an awfully great adventure," and over half a century later Peter Pan set an example for the eleven-year-old me on how to face every stage of life.

When I saw Bethanne Patrick's The Books That Changed My Life on NetGalley I didn't think twice about requesting it. 100 icons talk about the books that made them who they are today, a diverse selection from Susan Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend), Margaret Atwood (The Heart Goes Last), Tim Gunn of Project Runway, Gillian Flynn (The Girl on the Train), Gregory Maguire (Wicked), Al Roker, Carl Hiaasen, to Tommy Hilfiger.

The books they write about are also diverse: childhood books like Green Eggs and Ham (Gail McGovern), Grimm's Fairy Tales (Margaret Atwood), and Little House on the Prairie (Rosanne Cash) to The Sound and the Fury (Susan Orlean), David McCullough's John Adams (Beverly Johnson), and Fedrico Garcia Lorca (Juan Felipe Herrera). Alan Cheuse wrote on Ulysses by James Joyce and Peter Coyote on The Odyssey by Homer. There were books I loved, books I was familiar with, and books I had never heard of before.

It was great to know I was not alone in compulsively reading everything, even cereal packages (Fay Weldon), or that one book leads to another (Thomas Wolfe to Dostoevsky to Joyce to Proust for Peter Straub). Louis Bayard was impressed that Dickens was so powerful he could make a reader 'a kind of slave'--and loved the Classics Illustrated comics too.

I enjoyed every essay.

826National receives a portion of the book's proceeds to provide students ages 6-18 with opportunities to "explore their creativity and improve their writing skills." So along with delving into the inner lives of the famous you can support a cause, too.

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

The Books That Changed My Life
Bethanne Patrick
Regan Arts, Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March, 2016
$24.95 hard cover
ISBN: 9781941393659

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dance! At the Detroit Institute of Arts

Today I was able to tour the new exhibit at the DIA which opens tomorrow. Dance! American Art 1830-1960. The selections were wonderful and diverse. Screens show movies on dance styles in several rooms.
The art portrays dance in art from Native American to the Jitterbug to contemporary ballet and includes paintings and sculpture and even costumes.
detail from The Mandan Bull Dance by George Caitlin
detail from The Jolly Flatboatmen by Bingham, 1846
detail The Jolly Flatboatmen
detail The Sidewalk Dance by John George Brown, 1894
detail The Sidewalk Dance
detail The Sidewalk Dance
detail from The Charleston by Frank Myers
Groovin' High by Faith Ringgold!Paint on fabric
detail Groovin' High 
detail Groovin' High

Patchwork Dress by John Pratt

detail of A Summer Night by Winslow Homer
I also was able to see the Shakespeare First Folio on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Museum

Friday, March 18, 2016

Bunny Quilts & More

The Blair Public Library has bunny & chick quilts for spring!


Two quilts are not spring related but lovely.

My friend Marilyn has a wonderful stash of heirloom laces, buttons, and trims. She was inspired by my collages and made this lovely quilt.

Just for fun...

When Kamikaze steals Suki's preferred corner spot...
 Seen in the parking lot of the community center:

Have a great day!