Friday, December 31, 2010

You know it's one of those days....

when you open two different bottle of champagne and both are fairly flat.  I've just decided that 2010 decided to go out with a whimper so that 2011 can come in with a bang.  But really?  Bad champagne?!  For anyone that knows me, this is a tragedy of a high degree.  Sigh.   Here's to 2011, flat champagne or not!

Making wine from grapes...

That's my take on the whole making lemonade from lemons saying.  New Year's Eve has NOT gone at all to plan...we were to travel this afternoon to Minneapolis for a friend's wedding this evening.  However, the weather seemed to decide otherwise for us, and ice and snow combined to make us stay home instead.  So with that extra time, I decided to take advantage of this unplanned day at home and wrap up some unfinished projects that had been laying around the craft room for a while.

First I worked on a curtain for our basement didn't turn out quite as "finished" looking as I'd hoped using the serger on the ends, but that's easy enough to fix another day.

After that, I finished up a baby gift - a Hawkeye blanket - that has been sitting around for MONTHS.  It's embarrassing how long this one has been pinned together and waiting for me to finish it.  This was just a comedy of errors today, and while it's not perfect, it's done and will definitely work for the little one who is going to receive it. 

It even got the "Harley Sue" stamp of approval.

Now that those are done, I'm going to sip on some wine (and later champagne), make us dinner, and perhaps do some quilt cutting and crocheting.  While I feel horrible about missing out on the wedding, it is a relief not to have to deal with slippery roads.  And even if we hadn't decided to go, apparently our house decided for us as our garage door appears to have broken and we can't open it to get the cars out!  Hopefully we can get that repaired here soon.

With that, I wish you all a safe and Happy New Year!  Cheers to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

This Week in Books (December 30)

A Big Fat ZERO to end the year!  I didn't read a single book over the holiday (unless you count lots and lots of children's books, read to my adorable niece).  I started a few though, including our massive January book club read - The Hemingses of Monticello...which is not going nearly as quickly as I'd hoped.  Ah well.  Here's to 2011 though, and all the books it brings :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Layer Cake Quilt Along - Block 3

I'm still running about two blocks behind on the Layer Cake Quilt Along and still have hopes of getting caught up here soon.  The 5th block was posted yesterday, I finished block 3 today, sigh.

The basket block was fun!  It took more time to cut I think than to put together, but all was done pretty easily and in less than two hours.  I took a picture of it with the other two I have completed as well, although the color isn't really good in either of these pictures.

Blocks 4 and 5 look challenging, maybe it was good to get an easier one in here to build me up some confidence!

Pink Squirrels - Part Deux

After getting as far as I did with last night's test squirrel, I decided to go for it this afternoon.  The girl in question wanted "pink" and "girly", so I made my fabric choices accordingly.

From there, learning from yesterday's mistakes, I cut and stitched and stuffed and sewed and ended up with a pretty good stuffed squirrel!  It's not perfect, but it's way closer to perfect than the sample one was.  I'm now brave enough to think about tacking other fact I bought a pattern today on sale for dogs and cats.

This here is the only part I really didn't like how it turned out.  It's not horrible, but not nearly as nice looking as I would have liked it to be.  I've been told that the friend it's for thinks it's fine, but I'm still thinking I may do another (and by the way, I LOVE the flying squirrel shot above, ha!)  Definitely a learning experience for me, but a fun one, and I'm thinking more of these stuffed creatures are in my future.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pink Squirrels

I've been slacking on sewing projects lately, so I as excited today when a friend asked me if I could make her soon-to-be stepdaughter a pink stuffed squirrel.  Apparently it was the ONE THING on the Christmas list she really wanted that could not be found.  (sidenote - thinking about pink squirrels for some reason makes me think of that odd part in Dumbo where they get into the fun juice a bit...but I digress :)

So pattern in hand, I set out to make a tester...I've definitely picked up a few things to alter for the one I'll do tomorrow (like reinforcing all seams), but for a work in progress, and my first stuffed animal, I don't think I'm doing too badly!  This one here needs to be stuffed and eyes added, but here it is, my first stuffed squirrel!

Review: Wedding of the Season - Laura Lee Guhrke

I had the pleasure of the opportunity to get an early read of the first two books in Laura Lee Guhrke's New Series: Abandoned at the Alter.  The first is Wedding of the Season.

Wedding of the Season is the story of Lady Beatrix Danbury and the Duke of Sunderland, Will Mallory.  Will and Trix have known each other their whole lives and the story begins as we learn that their wedding is called off a week before the big event and that Will has taken off for Egypt.  An archaeologist at heart, Egypt has always been Will's dream.  Trix, on the other hand, is left back in England to deal with the broken engagement, society, and moving on with life.

The story picks up again six years later as Will returns to England...and as Trix is about to get married to the Duke of Trathen.  The story follows the next few months, focusing on the relationships between Will, Trix,  Trathen, and Trix's cousin, Julia.  Even as Will and Trix realize they still have feelings for each other, the real issues between what each other want out of life remain the problem, with Will planning to return to Egypt and Trix wanting to remain in England. 

There's something about Guhrke's writing style that I just really, really enjoy.  It feels real, like reading conversations that you think you might actually have or overhear.  Now, maybe that means that things are necessarily historically accurate and the characters talk a bit too modern, but that I can't say.  I can say that it makes for a very enjoyable read!  I also love that the series itself it set in a slightly later time than many of the others in this genre that I read.  I think that helps with the dialogue, but it's also great to see a more "modern" time period, with cars and women starting to be much more independent.  Overall, I really enjoyed the book and the story.

Looking back on it, a few parts bother me here and there.  I feel like the background on Trix's parents was glossed over, and the more I think about it the more I'm left a bit unsatisfied with the ending.  I'm hoping some of those questions and points of concern will be taken care of in some of the other books of the series.  All in all, it's a very fun, very enjoyable read.  Guhrke's characters are believable and enticing, and I was definitely left wanting more and looking forward to the next in the series - Scandal of the Year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: To Have and To Kill - Mary Jane Clark

This was the first of Mary Jane Clark's books I'd read, and it was a quick and enjoyable read.  There was something about the writing style though that just didn't flow well for me, and I haven't quite been able to put my finger on what it was.  I couldn't decide if it was somewhat jumpy, or if we were getting almost too much internal narrative.  After stepping back a bit from it, I'm leaning toward the latter.

Our heroine in To Have and To Kill is Piper Donovan, a down on her luck actress, who on the eve of the holiday season is preparing to move in with her parents in New Jersey since living in New York City is a bit more than the unemployed can afford.  Her mother runs a bakery, and as we go through the book, we learn her mother is struggling with her own issues.  Piper's dad is a *bit* on the "let's be prepared for the end of the world" side and that comes up a lot at various points in the book.  (side note, this was a bit much).

Piper's friend and former co-worker on a popular soap opera is about to be remarried and it appears as though someone might be trying to kill her and prevent the wedding.  There's a host of possible culprits, from the soap opera producer upset that she's not making the move to the west coast, an ex-husband, unhappy soon-to-be-in-laws...and I will say that Clark does a good job of keeping you guessing as you go through the story.  I did figure out the eventual baddie before it was revealed, but that was probably just a bit of lucky guessing on my part.

As Piper does some amateur sleuthing, that brings in the romance aspect of the story.  We meet Piper's friend Jack early on...they are very good friends and Piper's afraid to take things to the next level for fear of ruining their friendship.  Jack however, doesn't have those same fears.  As Jack is an FBI agent in NYC,  this plays in well as we see Piper trying to work through the horrible things happening to her friends and former coworkers (and at various times, not actually trying to do any detecting, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time).

This is the first in a series, and while I wasn't overly enthralled by the book, I found it to be a light, enjoyable read.  I am interested in the later books in the series now, because I want to see what happens with Piper and Jack, what Piper ends up doing career-wise, and how things work out for her Mom.  I think that's a good sign when you can make someone care enough about the characters to read the later books, even if I wasn't quite as sold on some of the writing style itself.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

This Week in Books (December 23)

Books Completed the Week Ending December 23
  • Death's Excellent Vacation - edited by Charlaine Harris 
  • Trial By Desire - Courtney Milan
  • Holiday Affair - Lisa Plumley
  • A Highlander Christmas - Janet Chapman
  • Storming the Castle - Eloisa James

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Joy Arrives in the Mail!

I've been remiss in not posting this earlier, but last week I got a package of Christmas joy in the mail!  Melody from Fingers and Prose sent me a fabulous looking package as part of the Holiday Swap...I've been very good to this part because it was so nicely wrapped that I felt like I HAD to wait until Christmas :)  But I have been able to enjoy the awesome book mark that includes a quilted cow (doubly awesome with my interests in quilting AND the fact I practice agricultural law) and a perfect purse-sized notebook and pen. 

Melody has a great blog, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her reviews.  I don't know if they planned it this way or it was coincidence, but she's also interested in quilting, so we have that in common (as well as a love of books!).  Check out Fingers and Prose if you get a chance!

I'm so anxious to tear into the packages, but I'm making myself wait until at least tomorrow.  So thank you, Melody, for sending me some Christmas joy, and I'm so excited to see what you have sent!

UPDATE: I was a good girl, and waited until we got home from our Christmas celebrations with the family to open my book swap packages.  And inside were two books I'm so excited to read: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  Thank you, Melody!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Quilt Along

I'd love to join this Quilt Along as well, but since I'm not even able to keep up with my every other week one, I can't fathom doing one that is two blocks per week!  I'm excited to see ones that people post though, should be fun! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: The Christmas Brides - Linda Lael Miller

Linda Lael Miller's Christmas Brides is two novels in one, set in the rugged Western U.S. in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  My understanding was that these two novels involve character from two long running book series that Miller writes.  It wasn't a problem though, not having read any of Miller's other books, to follow the stories, all that was lacking was perhaps some background on some of the other characters.

A McKettrick Christmas
The first story begins with Lizzie McKettrick on a train, headed home for the holidays, with plans to stay and teach after the first of the year.  She's spent the last few years at finishing and teaching school, and is ready to be home.  With her is her beau, a city boy, who she is taking to meet the family and from whom there is high hopes of a proposal.

However, the train is hit by an avalanche, killing the conductor and stranding the train in the midst of a blizzard.  Lizzie is sure her family will set out to find them when they don't arrive, but the weather is an impediment.  There are a handful of other passengers on the train as well, including Dr. Morgan Shane.  Dr. Shane and Lizzie work together to keep the passengers fed, trying to keep them warm and alive.  Lizzie's beau is no help, turning into a spoiled brat.  While he later redeems himself, it's clear there's no real hope for him and Lizzie.  instead, there's a connection between Lizzie and the good doctor.

One of the train passengers is a Mr. Christian - or as the children on the train take to calling him, Mr. Christmas.  He turns out to be the Christmas angel of the group, in more ways than one.  As they are eventually rescued by Lizzie's family, we see Lizzie come to a decision about her suitors and then a bit about her story after the rescue.

A Creed Country Christmas
Talk about a whirlwind romance.  This was the epitome of the times and marrying for necessity.  Juliana is stranded with four young Indian children after the Indian School she taught at was shut down, She can't bring herself to abandon the two youngest, and the two oldest have family who want them back.  Her brother in Denver refuses to provide Juliana with any of the money she inherited to help the children.

A the moment the Grinch-like shop keeper is about to kick them out, Lincoln Creed enters and ends of taking Juliana and the kids back to his ranch when he finds out they have no where to go.  It's just a few days before Christmas, and Juliana and the kids settle in at the ranch, where Lincoln's daughter, Gracie, is ecstatic to have them there (especially when she learns that Juliana is a teacher).

Within a matter of days, the two are married, the evil Indian affairs man is dealt with, and the issues with all four children are settled.  The story in between of how it all gets settled, Lincoln dealing with issues surrounding his deceased wife, Juliana coming to terms with her family, is heartwarming and makes the marriage of necessity so much more. 

A nice, feel-good set of stories, it's light-hearted feel-good book perfect for the Christmas season.  I don't typically read this type of book, but for a holiday read, it was perfect.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Enter the World of Jane Austen

Today is Jane Austen's 235th Birthday - Happy Birthday!  In honor of her birthday, Sourcebooks is offering special ebook editions of her classics today for FREE!  Yes, that's right FREE.  They are available for any number of different e-readers and formats, so check it out here.  The picture included here is their cover of Pride and Prejudice, isn't it fabulous?!)

In addition, Sourcebooks is apparently the number one publisher of Jane Austen sequels, and they are offering a number of them for free today as well.  I just loaded up my Kindle for the holidays with all sorts of fun reading!

(Hat tip to Book Soulmates for their post this morning tipping me off to the fun to be had!)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Week in Books (December 16)

Books completed the week ending December 16
  • Scandalous - Candace Camp (ebook)
  • Kiss At Midnight - Eloisa James
  • The Christmas Brides - Linda Lael Miller (ebook)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spreading Holiday Cheer - Holiday Swap!

I participated in the 2010 Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year and had the fun of sending a box of cheer to Katie at Book Love.  She posted today about her package, and I'm so glad she enjoyed it!  I love the holidays and this was a great way to share in the holiday fun and make new blog friends.  I'm already looking forward to participating next year :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Layer Cake Quilt Along - Block 2

Don't you just love the holiday season?  It's a great excuse for falling behind in things like the Layer Cake Quilt Along.  Today here in Iowa, the weather is just miserable...which means it's a good day to do some sewing and crafting.  Working like a busy little bee this afternoon, I managed to get Block Two finished today...and it was both deceptively easy and difficult!  The pieces were fairly easy to cut and put together...however squaring up was a pain!  It's a skill I definitely need to work on.  All in all though, it turned out nice and I'm excited to get a start on the Basket Block tomorrow!  I'm hoping to be close to being caught up before Block 4 is released on Tuesday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Week in Books (December 9)

Books completed the week ending December 9
  • When Harry Met Molly - Kieran Kramer
  • A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
  • Once Bitten - Clare Willis
  • Enchanting the Lady - Kathryne Kennedy
  • Love Me If You Dare - Carly Phillips
  • Impulse - Candace Camp
  • To Have and To Kill - Mary Jane Clark

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This Week in Books (December 2)

Books completed the two weeks ending December 2 (a double list since I didn't post with the Thanksgiving Holiday!)
  • Unveiled - Courtney Milan (ebook)
  • Scandal of the Season - Christie Kelley (ebook)
  • A Chesapeake Shores Christmas - Sherryl Woods (ebook)
  • Mistress by Midnight - Nicola Cornick (ebook)
  • How to Wed A Baron - Kasey Michaels (ebook)
  • The  Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie - Jennifer Ashley
  • A Season of Seduction - Jennifer Haymore

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review: How to Wed A Baron - Kasey Michaels

How to Wed A Baron - Kasey Michaels 

Justin Wilde is a man happy to be back in his beloved England after many years of exile due to a duel gone wrong.  However, the price of his return has damaged his sould, and left him at the mercy of the Prince Regent.  Alina is traveling to England for the first time, the land of her mother, to meet the man to whom her King has arranged for her to marry.  Her plans to find her mother's family and to take the country by storm are disrupted though when she meets her betrothed.  Little does she know, that in addition to a potential marriage on her horizon, she also must deal with unknown dangers and politics that have made both Alina and Justin targets.

I absolutely adored the first three books in this series and was excited for Justin's story, an intriguing character we'd met in previous books. We start with Justin being called before the Prince and being told he was to be married.  Being at the mercy of the Crown is part of Justin's pennace and the bargain struck for being pardoned and allowed to return to England.  This is after he made himself "useful" to the Crown during the war.  There's a lot of backstory interspersed with the current story as Justin travels to meet his new bride, some of it tragic, but all of it playing a part in developing the man Justin has become.

I loved Alina when we first met her, and that continued throughout the rest of the book.  In fact, I loved all the characters, and enjoyed seeing the main characters from the prior books being involved in Justin and Alina's tale.  The story of Justin and Alina is interesting, yet I can't decide if it's because things move so fast or are a bit jumpy, that I wasn't totally absorbed.  Justin's feelings of being unworthy are well developed and play a key part in the story, yet I think the story of Luca, Alina's "Secretary"/Guard should have been more of a factor.  I liked the fact that Justin's "work" is dealt with matter of factly.  It is what it is, he is who he is, and the story is really his coming to terms with that and being able to form a relationship with Alina.
I think perhaps part of the reason I wasn't as absorbed into the characters, despite liking them, this book was that while we'd met Justin in the others, it wasn't like the first three in the series which focused on one family.  Because all three were about one family, we saw all of them in a variety of ways and learned a bit more about each as time went on.  That's true to some extent with Justin, but there wasn't the same sense of attachment to Justin and Alina as with the others.

I enjoyed the story, but this book didn't grab me quite the way the first three did.  All of that aside, it's a lovely story of two wonderfully independent and unique characters meeting their match in each other. While not my favorite of the four books in the series, it was enjoyable and I look forward to seeing more from Kasey Michaels.