Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 2018 WIPocalypse Check-In Post

March was a busy month for me - and while I did get some stitching done, I didn't get as much done as I would have liked.  (I think this is a recurring theme for many of us!)

March 1 thru 5: I worked on my Mill Hill, Buttons and Beads piece - Believe.  Here's the current progress.


I put in a lot more of the cross-stitches, and I also added a few beads to his cloak/coat in the red underskirt.  This is a deceptively dense stitch - basically full coverage, albeit not a huge full coverage piece.

March 6-10 and 16-20: I worked on my Six of Swords project from Heaven and Earth Designs.  Artwork by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.  (I'll also be working on this for the next couple of days left in March too).  Still not quite at a page finish and I don't think I'll probably be able to get that accomplished this month, but at least there's some progress on this one. I worked on this for the Air Quarterly Elements SAL in the Full Coverage Fanatics Facebook group.


March 11-15: I worked on my Desert Mandala Chatelaine.  This go-round found me working on the Deco interior border as well as the border for the top-most landscape image.


This go-round found me working on the Deco interior border as well as the border for the top-most landscape image.  I started the first of the feather motifs as well. Fabric is 28-count Lugana from Picture This Plus in Calypso with the called for DMC and various silk threads and beads.  My plan is to work on this top section until it's completely finished.

March 21-26: I worked on Tempting Tangles' design - Key To My Heart.


I am stitching this on Briar Rose from Fabrics by Stephanie, with Black Currant floss from Colour and Cotton.  This is the first page and a bit more finished up.

And... the Question of the Month:  What newer designers and product creators out there have you discovered and recommend?  I highly recommend any of Angela's hand-dyed floss or fabrics over at Colour and Cotton.  I'm a member of both her monthly clubs and they never disappoint! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 12

Three books finished to update my list - and kind of a mixed bag.

Flow Down Like Silver by Ki Longfellow for week #12's theme of a book set in Africa of South America.


Summary: From the dawn of history, countless women have marked their times in extraordinary ways. Women have been warriors, Pharaohs, popes, queens and kings, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, composers, painters, writers, revolutionaries and "witches."

But there was only one HYPATIA.

Brilliant, beautiful, accomplished and free, Hypatia of Alexandria was the last of the great Pagan teachers. Her brutal death at the hands of a Christian mob foretold the death of reason, of questioning, of reverence for nature, of the Goddess herself.

My Rating/Review:  3 out of 5 stars.  I loved the concept and focus of this book but I was hoping for a whole lot more.  The book opens well with the chaos of the burning of the library at Alexandria.  It went downhill from here for me.  Hypatia of Alexandria was an amazing women - she would have been amazing in any era, but certainly for 400 AD she was beyond 99.9% of the women of her time.  I didn't enjoy the writing in this book.  It felt stilted with odd lapses into a weird stream-of-consciousness kind of thing in all of the characters.  I slogged through it, hoping I would grow to love it, but that never happened.  

Next up, Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls for week #16, a narrative nonfiction.



Summary:  Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, in Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town -- riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It will transfix readers everywhere.

My Rating/Review:  4-1/2 out of 5 stars.  You'll note this technically was supposed to be a nonfiction book, but this one is written based extensively on the author's mother's remembrances of her mother (the main character), so I'm making it count here.  Lily Casey Smith was a force of nature.  I absolutely loved this book - from the opening sentence, you immediately KNOW who Lily is.  She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother, a spunky, no-nonsense kind of woman who could work a 20-hour day without blinking, was resourceful and capable, and a larger-than-life personality.  I especially loved the fact I know most of the places where Lily grew up and was an adult (since they are here in the Southwest).  An engaging portrait of a remarkable woman.  Highly recommended read. 

Finally, Silver Birch, Blood Moon, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, which I read for week #51 - an award-winning short-story collection.
 


Summary:  The four previous volumes in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's anthology series of fairly tales retold with a distinctively modern edge have been hailded by reviewers as "brilliant," "provocative," and "disturbing." In this triumphant new collection of original fiction, twenty-one of today's leading writers spin the cherished fables of childhood into glittering gold--offering magical tales for adults, as seductive as they are sophisticated.A jealous prince plots the destruction of his hated brother's wedding by inventing a "magic" suit of clothing visible only to the pure at heart...
A young girl's strange fairy tale obsession results in a brutal murder...
An embittered mother cares for her dying son who is trapped in a thicket that guards a sleeping beauty...
In a bleak and desolate industrial wasteland, a group of violent outcasts lays the tattered myths of one Millenium to rest, and gives terrifying birth to those of the next.

Erotic, compelling, witty, and altogether extraordinary, these stories lay bare our innermost demons and desires--imaginatively transforming our youthful fantasies into things darker, slyer, and more delightfully subversive.
 

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this updated collection of fairy tales - definitely not for kids!  Contributors to the collection include Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman and Robin McKinley to name a few of the fantasy greats.  I loved the creative and imaginative twists on old classics.  Some were updated to the contemporary setting while others still retained a Medieval kind of feel, but all of the updated tales reflect a much more Grimm portrait of the stories.  Another highly recommend read. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 10

This week I've finished up 2 books.  First up, The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman, for week 28's topic - one of the 4 elements (water).


Summary:  Iris Greenfeder, ABD (All But Dissertation), feels the “buts” are taking over her life: all but published, all but a professor, all but married. Yet the sudden impulse to write a story about her mother, Katherine Morrissey, leads to a shot at literary success. The piece recounts an eerie Irish fairy tale her mother used to tell her at bedtime—and nestled inside it is the sad story of her death. It captures the attention of her mother’s former literary agent, who is convinced that Katherine wrote one final manuscript before her strange, untimely end in a fire thirty years ago. So Iris goes back to the remote Hotel Equinox in the Catskills, the place where she grew up, to write her mother’s biography and search for the missing manuscript—and there she unravels a haunting mystery, one that holds more secrets than she ever expected. . . .

My Rating/Review:  4/5 stars.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  I loved the tie-in between the fairy tale Iris's mother has written and the back story that slowly unfolds about who her mother really was.   A sort of hybrid historical fiction and historical mystery, but one with lots of little details that kept me engaged.  I think I had mostly figured out the details of the whodunit by the end, but I liked how the story was wrapped up and it wasn't too easy to figure out.  Recommended for mystery lovers.  (It's not a cozy mystery, but not much violence or suspense either.)

I then picked up The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser at the recommendation of my new friend, Lance for week #23's topic - a medical or legal thriller. 


Summary:  One museum, two thieves, and the Boston underworld—the story behind the lost Gardner masterpieces and the art detective who swore to get them back.  Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5-million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth a total of $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and one of the nation's most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.  

Art detective Harold Smith worked on the theft for years, and after his death, reporter Ulrich Boser inherited his case files. Traveling deep into the art underworld, Boser explores Smith's unfinished leads and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including the brilliant rock 'n' roll art thief; the golden-boy gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse; the deadly mobster James "Whitey" Bulger; and the Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner, who stipulated in her will that nothing should ever be changed in her museum, a provision followed so closely that the empty frames of the stolen works still hang on the walls. Boser eventually cracks one of the biggest mysteries of the case and uncovers the identities of the men who robbed the museum nearly two decades ago. A tale of art and greed, of obsession and loss, The Gardner Heist is as compelling as the stolen masterpieces themselves.

My Rating/Review: 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.  I read a fiction book (The Art Forger) last year about the Gardner Heist so when Lance recommended this as a good read, I decided to grab it for week #23.  An interesting, in-depth look at the possible suspects and motives behind the theft of priceless artwork from the Gardner Museum in Boston.  Still unsolved, the author cites numerous primary sources and lays out some theories culled from many years of research into the theft about who was behind the original heist and where the artwork might be now.  How the thieves managed to keep the theft a secret and the myriad of possibilities where the artwork might be make for a compelling read - that almost sounds like fiction, except it's true.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 9

More book finished up over the last couple of weeks.

For week 7's topic, A Gothic Novel, I read Carlos Ruiz Zafron's The Prince of Mist.


Summary: In 1943, Max Carver's father - a watchmaker and inventor - decides to move his family to a small town on the coast, to an abandoned house that holds many secrets and stories of its own. Behind the house Max discovers an overgrown garden surrounded by a metal fence topped with a six-pointed star. In the centre is a large statue of a clown set in another six-pointed star.

As the family settles in they grow increasingly uneasy: Max’s sister Alicia has disturbing dreams while his other sister, Irina, hears voices whispering to her from an old wardrobe. With his new friend Roland, Max also discovers the wreck of a boat that sank many years ago in a terrible storm. Everyone on board perished except for one man - an engineer who built the lighthouse at the end of the beach.

As they learn more about the wreck, the chilling story of a legendary figure called the Prince of Mist begins to emerge.

My Rating/Review:  3-1/2 out of 5 stars.  Good but not as good as The Shadow of the Wind, which I read last year.  Similar themes, but this felt more like a YA book to me.  A mix of fantasy, magic and some historical fiction centering around a young boy whose family has left the city due to the war (WWII) and moved to the coast. Lots of creepiness in the house they are renting, including a cat who isn't what he seems, and a mystery known only to the local lighthousekeeper.  A quick, fun read - but fairly lite reading at that. 

Next, I read It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini for week 8, an "Own Voices" book.



Summary: Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job—Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That's when things start to get crazy. At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids; he's just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away.

My Rating/Review:  3 out of 5 stars. The author of this book, Ned Vizzini, also spent a week in a NYC hospital being treated for depression in his teens - just like the main character.  While not an autobiography, the author drew heavily on his experiences both in and out of the psychiatric ward to write this book.  (And wound up committing suicide in his 20s after this book was published.)  Here's what I've come to realize about my personal reading tastes.  I don't actually like reading first-person or first-person inspired therapy sessions.  I can sympathize with how awful mental illness is, and the struggle folks have to just get out of bed in the morning and try to live their life without dragging around the added difficulty of depression (or other psychiatric illnesses) with them.  I just don't necessarily find reading about that particularly interesting to me.  So.. just 3/5 stars for this one - it was just an okay read. 

Finally, I finished The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson for week 10's topic - an author's debut book.


Summary:  The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide — for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life — and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete — and her time on earth will be finished.

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars.  I'm not even sure where to begin to try to describe this book. It's got some fantasy and magic components, some historical fiction, some fairy tale, some magic realism, some... other.....  The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred to the point it's hard to tell what you, the reader, believe, and what the narrator himself believes.  Things I liked: The past stories Marianne tells the narrator, the magic that encircles all things she touches, and many lyrical passages in the text.  Things I didn't like: There's a lot more gratuitous description of things than I felt the book needed - I got it - the narrator is a horrible person who has to be at rock bottom in order to move through the narrative to a redemptive status.  I also thought there were some points of disconnect, almost as if the author had written a chapter ahead of time, and then wrote other chapters to string events together but doesn't follow up on certain points crucial to the plot.  I felt like I was missing pages or something occasionally.  

This is a really tough one to review.  I'm not even sure why I liked it as much as I did - it certainly doesn't fit neatly into a genre I normally would say I liked.  The main character is very hard to like, but he's intriguing nonetheless, which perhaps is what kept me as interested in the book as I was.   Recommended with reservations (and definitely not a YA type of book.)




Thursday, March 1, 2018

February 2018 WIPocalypse Round Up

Technically a day late since it's the 1st of March, but having finally succumbed to the cold/flu/virus/plague thing making its way around the country, I'm feeling like only a day behind is an achievement right now.

I was surprisingly productive in February with 1 new start, 2 finishes and a page finish on a full coverage piece.

First up, I started and finished Simply Autumn by The Drawn Thread.



I stitched this 1 over 2 on 32-count Dirty Linen and substituted all the called-for Gentle Arts threads with Colour and Cotton hand-dyed floss.  I also omitted the sampler alphabet - I loved the little white farmhouse and wanted this to be another small for my fall display.  I need to fully finish this, but I'll do that this weekend.

I also finished up the Shepherd's Bush Every Heart pincushion. 


This was stitched 1 over 2 using the kit-supplied flosses (a mix of cottons and silks) on the kit fabric, a 32-count linen. Stitched as charted, and I did get this one fully finished and ready to display. 

I also managed a page finish on A Stitching Shelf.  This is page 1 of a gazillion. 


Otherwise, I continued to work on my Desert Mandala by Chatelaine.  The first interior border is finished (the cacti), and I started work on the speciality stitch deco-style border which I'll focus on again when it comes out for its 5-day rotation this month.


Finally, my plans for March include another 5-day rotation on my Chatelaine, two 5-day rotations on Six of Swords, and a few other random choices slotted in as I go.

Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge - Week 8

This week, I read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann for week 15, A Book with A Unique Format/Writing Structure.


Summary: In the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.” Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars.  Okay - I'm going to be honest here.  I had a bit of trouble keeping all the characters straight in this book.  The book starts out with 3 main story lines and then begins to join them together, but the storylines aren't told in chronological order, so I had to keep reminding myself who the daughter and who the mother of so-and-so were to make sense out of the narrative.  That said... I did really enjoy this book.  The only part I had trouble engaging with was the New York 1998 story of Sen. George Mitchell.  The author has interwoven real events and real persons with fictional characters who relate to these original 3 chapters and those peoples' stories.  I was particularly impressed with how nicely the author (who is male) handled what are essentially woman-character-driven stories.  No caricatures here, but rather, full-drawn portraits of women who had ups and downs throughout their lives, sometimes more down than up.  I found the last chapter heart-wrenching and difficult to read but worth it for the story it told.  No magic or fairy tales here, but this one definitely hit the historian buttons for me.  Worth a read if you enjoy historical fiction. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 7 (and playing some catch-up)

I am VERY overdue for a book update, so I'm just going to jump right in since I've been reading a lot since I last posted!  I thought I'd do a slightly shortened version of reviews on these since there are so many but I'll get back to my usual posting method for subsequent posts.

For week 6 topic - A Book Originally Written in a Language Other than English - I read Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. 


SummaryShe thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love.  She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories--a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land.  And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime...

It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice....

My Rating/Review:  3 out of 5 stars.  There are plenty of reviews on Goodreads which hit the proverbial nail on the head with this book.  The beginning third is strong and the ending third is strong.  The middle meanders around the North Sea for reasons I couldn't fathom at all.  I got completely bogged down in the center third of this book.  I also found the ending very unsatisfactory - it sort of ended without ending.  The main character is reminds me a bit of Lisbeth Salander in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  She is definitely a flawed individual but I could cheer for her - this book just didn't let me do that.  I should also mention that it is very dark and brooding.  If that sort of writing isn't your thing, I suspect you won't find anything of merit here.

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Next, for week 27 - A Book about Surviving a Hardship - I read In Praise of the Bees by Kristin Gleeson.



Summary: A woman is found by a track, nearly dead from appalling wounds and remembers nothing. Her terror and her injuries are so great that she is given sanctuary in Mother Gobnait's unusual community of nuns, while all around her a war is being waged in which she is a pawn. The women name her Aine. 

Disturbing fragments of Áine’s memory begin to surface, and in desperation she asks to remain in the safety of the community, but is it really safe for her anywhere? 

It is only after events take another terrible turn that Áine is forced to discover who she really is and make life-changing choices – but will they prove to be her undoing? 

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars.  I loved this quiet little book.  While the main story thread is about the young woman known as Aine coming back to life as she heals from her injuries, the book deftly weaves the story of the abbey and the abbess who runs it where she is recovering together with a nicely developed picture of Ireland in the late 6th century.  The author obviously has done extensive research and the abbess is based on an actual person who obviously was a force of her time in terms of both social and religious barrier breaking. Interwoven with the story is a chronicle of the agricultural seasons, and specifically the bees the abbess lovingly cares for and who provide the abbey with an important food stuff for their table, as well as for trade.  The mystery surrounding Aine drives the story but I wouldn't consider this book a true historical mystery.  The mystery storyline takes a back seat to the beautifully painted picture of life in this time and a portrait of women and their lives in Ireland during this era.  A nicely written, recommended book for historical fiction fans. 

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Then I tackled The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden for week 3's topic - A Book from the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards.



Summary:  At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Rating/Review:  5 out of 5 stars.  If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a huge fan of fairy tale re-tellings.  This book actually lived up to the award - it was well-written, entertaining, engaging and I loved it.  I probably should mention I read it in basically 2 sittings because I could NOT put it down.  The main character is a girl I can get behind - she's different, outspoken and headstrong.  The author interwove Russian culture in the time of the czars with several Russian fairy tales, and then tossed in some history with the spread of Christianity  and the power of the orthodox church in Russia. The characters were strongly developed and I was happy to cheer for Vasilisa as she grew up and grew into a strong young woman, more than able to take on The Bear.  I won't spoil who the Nightingale is in the book, but I loved that reveal towards the end of the novel and it makes me want to read the other installments in this series!  A highly recommended read for those who like magic, strong heroines and a good story.

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Last for this update, I read Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden for week #22 - A Book You Have High Expectations or Hopes For.

Summary: The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives. 

In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters' lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.

From the town's founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.

At the center of everyone's life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.

My Rating/Review: 4-1/2 of 5 stars.  I'll start by saying I'm an Alice Hoffman fan.  In general, I'll read anything with her name on it.  This lovely collection of stories interwines the lives of generations living in Blackwell, a small town in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts.  Hoffman weaves the stories together around the center of town where one of the founding wives has planted a garden.  The gardn makes everything grown in it turn red - a mystery that remains through the centuries.  I also loved that Hoffman tied in bears with the stories - they pop up frequently throughout, wandering in and out of the storyline as talismans for the characters.  Lovely sweet stories about people who you'd want to be in your own family tree, this was an entertaining read with just a sprinkling of magic in the lives of those people. 

Whew! I think that's it for this installment.  I just finished up another book last night, but I'll save that for a different post since I think this one is plenty long already! 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 2018 WIPocalypse Check-In

I was pretty pleased with my progress on things this month: One finish (actually an FFO), and good progress on 3 other projects as well.

I finished the February Word Play WIP.  Design by Brenda Gervais.  I stitched this 1 over 2 on a 32-count R&R Reproductions linen in Creme Brulee'.  I used most of the called-for GAST threads but substituted a Classic Colorworks (Cherry Cobbler) for the red that I didn't have and Colour and Cotton's Heirloom Gold for the palest yellow that I was missing.


A fun, cute small-ish stitch and a nice balance to the seemingly never-ending list of BAPs I keep starting.  I finished this off with a red/natural cotton ticking backing and I have it out on a table in the living room near the door.

I managed a page finish on my Winter's Encounter.  Charted by Heaven and Earth Designs with artwork by Laura Prindle.  I'm stitching this 1 over 1 full-crosses on a 25-count Easy Guide Lugana with DMC.


I made some good progress on my Desert Mandala. Design by Martina Rosenberg/Chatelaine.  Mostly the called-for floss with a couple of minor substitutions and I'm stitching this 2 over 2 on a 28-count Lugana from Picture This Plus in Calypso.  This month's rotation I managed to finish half of the cacti around the interior border.  Next month, I'll move the fabric down and work on the top half.


Finally, I put in 5 days' of stitching on my Six of Swords from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's Tarot series.  Charted by Heaven and Earth Designs and worked in the called-for DMC.  I'll be putting in another 5 days on this at least this month as I'd like to meet my page finish goal on it. 


The January Question of The Month is: What SALs are you participating in this year, and if you are participating in the Olympic Stitching Challenge, what challenge are you accepting?

I'm really only doing this WIPocalypse SAL and the Full Coverage Fanatic group themed SALs.  I may pop in and do a few of the Stitch Maynia ones as the year progresses, but I am so swamped at work for the next 3 months, I don't really have bandwidth for the Olympic challenge, unfortunately, but maybe for the summer Olympics when they roll around again!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Spinning Friday: January 26, 2018

I finished up my first official spin of 2018.



Fiber: 100% superwash merino wool.
Dyer: Oceanwind Knits, from the 2017 Oh Canada fiber club.
Colorway: Lake Louise.
Specs: 230 yards/4 oz of DK-weight 2-ply.

I loved spinning up this soft, bouncy fiber.  It was an easy spin which I spun fractally, splitting one half of the braid into 8ths and one half into 3rds. No specific project earmarked for this, although it's a guy-friendly enough colorway I might use it for a hat or other accessory for the Mittens for Akkol group.

Currently on the wheel is a set of 1-oz colorways from a 4-color Potions Pack, dyed by Two If By Hand.  Colorways include: Luna Lovegood, My Little Pony, Shimmer and Fairy Wings.  I'll be spinning these up into little mini skeins and then will use them (and possibly also the other 2 packs' worth I've got) for striped socks or mittens.


I've got the first oz spun up, and I've started on the singles of the second.  Probably won't get much work done on these this weekend while I'm visiting with family, but will get back to them next week.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stitching Update: January 23, 2018

Last week, I had 5 days slated to work on my Desert Mandala from Chatelaine.   Here's my stopping point after those 5 days' worth of time with it:



I've finished about half of the cacti motifs around the center panel.  These are almost all worked in silks (so pretty! so soft!) with the exception of the little orange blossoms and the pale yellow on the sagebrush. I'm stitching this on a 28-count Lugana in the Calypso colorway from Picture This Plus fabrics. I'm at the point where it's time to roll the fabric up so I can work on the top portion, which is what I will do next go-round and try to finish up the remaining cacti motifs.

I think my plan once those are done will be to work just on the top half until that is finished and then move the fabric again to work on the bottom half.  (I say this like I'll be zipping through that, but this is a BIG project with lots of detail, so it'll be a while).  The next sections to be worked on this will be a speciality stitch octagon-shaped border around the cacti, and then the exterior landscape motifs and the feathers that go between them.  

Once I had finished work for this rotation on my Chatelaine, I moved over to work on another full coverage piece.  This is Six of Swords from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's Tarot collection, charted by Heaven and Earth Designs.  I'm stitching this on 25-count Easy Guide fabric.  I had the first 800 stitches put in to this already, and I'll be working on this through the end of the month of January (albeit a bit hit and miss since I've got some travel coming up).


I'll see how far I get on this one, but I'd like to try for a page finish by the end of February, if I can, to keep up with my personal Year of WIPs/WIPocalypse goals of a page finish on each of my full-coverage pieces in 2018.  (For those of you keeping score, there will be 6 full-coverage pieces on the go this year.)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 4

I finished In the Belly of the Elephant by Susan Corbett this week.  This was for the week 5 topic - a book about or inspired by real events.


Book Summary:  Everybody needs to run away from home at least once. Susan Corbett told people she was out to save the world, but really she was running--running from her home as much as to anywhere. Like many women, she was searching for meaning to her life or for a good man to share it with. In Africa, she hoped to find both. 

Compelling and compassionate, In the Belly of the Elephant is Susan's transformative story of what happens when you decide to try to achieve world peace while searching for a good man. More than a fish-out-of-water story, it's a surprising and heart-rending account of her time in Africa trying to change the world as she battles heat, sandstorms, drought, riots, intestinal bugs, burnout, love affairs and more than one meeting with death. Against a backdrop of vivid beauty and culture, in a narrative interwoven with a rich tapestry of African myths and fables, Susan learns the true simplicity of life, and discovers people full of kindness, wisdom and resilience, and shares with us lessons we, too, can learn from her experiences.


My Rating/Review:  3/5 stars.  What I liked:  This was a fascinating personal story about one woman's desire to find a place for herself in the world.  Raised in a conservative (Catholic and Mormon) family in rural Idaho, the author decided to join the Peace Corps and worked overseas in Africa.  This book covers the course of 2 of those years overseas.  During her time as a relief worker, she comes to know (and love like family) the people in the small town she is  based in.  Her descriptions of her fellow aid workers, the villagers, the landscape that is her part of Africa were wonderful, and I appreciated that she pulled in more of the unrest and war that was happening in Africa in the mid-90s (especially in Somalia) without bashing you over the head with it.  What I didn't like: All very well and good that she was "looking for a good man", but there was a bit more navel gazing about this topic than I really needed to hear.  For me, it kept being an interruption of the rest of the storyline, which I very much wanted to read more about, and by the end of the book, I found it disruptive enough I skimmed over those parts to get back to hearing about her trip to Kenya, and whether or not the local weaver's guild was able to repay their thread loans at the end of the year.  

I am glad I picked up this book and read it.  It's outside my normal go-to kind of reading, which, for me, is all about why I do this yearly reading challenge.  It's not one I would put on a permanent bookshelf and go back and read again, but I am glad I read it, which I suppose is a recommendation to some extent in and of itself. I also really enjoyed how the author interwove traditional African folklore with her own personal journey (the title refers to one of these tales) - a nice addition to her own personal tale of growth and personal development. 


March 2018 WIPocalypse Check-In Post

March was a busy month for me - and while I did get some stitching done, I didn't get as much done as I would have liked.  (I think this...