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.

WIPocalypse October 2018 Check-In

I worked on a bunch of things this month as I've settled back into a 5-day rotation on my projects, which seems to be working pretty wel...