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The Painted Veil – Book Review

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Painted VeilHis lips moved. He did not look at her. His eyes stared unseeing at the whitewashed wall. She leaned over him so that she might hear. But he spoke quite clearly. “The dog it was that died.” - from The Painted Veil -

Kitty Garstin, a spoiled young debutante living in 1920′s England, makes the choice to marry Walter Fane so that she is not left without a husband. Walter is smitten with Kitty, in fact, loves her fiercely. But Walter’s work as a bacteriologist and his quiet demeanor leave Kitty indifferent. The couple move to Hong Kong where within weeks, Kitty meets the much older and charming Charlie Townsend. The fact that both Kitty and Charlie are married, does not dampen their attraction to each other…and very quickly they begin a passionate affair. When Walter discovers the affair, he confronts Kitty and threatens to divorce her (something which would leave Kitty disgraced) unless she agrees to travel with him to the cholera-ridden town of Mei-tan-fu.

British author W. Somerset Maugham published this novel in 1925, but it was first serialized in Cosmopolitan beginning in November 1924. The novel was adapted for the screen in 1937, 1954 and 2006.

Maugham attempted to demonstrate personal growth in the character of Kitty – from a frivolous and shallow young woman to someone with an awakened conscience and a more open heart. I’m not quite sure that was accomplished. Kitty is not a terribly likeable character and I turned the final page wondering how much she had truly changed. Although life in Mei-tan-fu forces her to grow up, she remained a character who was rather self-centered.

I read this book for a book club, and the group was split as to whether or not Kitty ends up being a changed person. You will have to read the book yourself to decide!

Maugham captures the flavor of Hong Kong in the mid-1920s. As with many classic works, the women in the book are not presented in a very positive way. Kitty is flighty and looks to men to solve all her problems and Dorothy Townsend seems to be just fine with her husband cavorting with younger women as long as he never leaves her. The only female character in the book who I felt portrayed inner strength, was the Mother Superior at the convent.

The Painted Veil gives readers a look at the prejudices of the time – Kitty sees the Chinese children as “hardly human” and is shocked when she learns that one of the gentleman in the settlement lives with a Manchu woman.

Somerset Maugham achieved great popular success, ultimately penning numerous plays and novels, along with several short stories. He is perhaps best known for his novel Of Human Bondage (first published in 1915).

Despite my criticisms of the characters in The Painted Veil, I did appreciate this novel as a piece of classic literature. It is a short work (less than 250 pages) which I read in just a few days. Readers who enjoy classic books will want to give this one a try.


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More Pillows…

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*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view

I think I am going to have to christen 2014 as the year of the pillow!

I’ve been stitching along in the Pillow Pop group over at Threadbias and enjoying it immensely. I’ve also decided that a pillow is the exact perfect thing to use up scraps (of which I have more than enough, thank you very much).

I am also in a bee group where members take turns being the Queen Bee and the other members sew them a block of their choosing. In June, my sister (Paula) was Queen and she chose a terrific flying goose block (I’ve posted a tutorial on how to make the block here). Well, that block generates some good size scraps and I could not resist making Paula a coordinating pillow to go with her future quilt.


This pillow uses fabrics from the 2wenty thr3e Collection by Eric and Julie Comstock of Cosmo Cricket for Moda, along with some coordinating fabrics from my stash and some low volume grays.

Three23Pillow.Side0001 Three23Pillow.FrontOnSwing0001

I pieced the back and put in a hidden zipper.


This was a super fun and easy pillow to make simply using some half square triangle blocks. The pillow measures 18″ X 18″ square.

One of the July pillows for the Pillow Pop group is called Union Jack. This pillow utilizes very, very small pieces to create miniature Union Jack flags. There are 15 pieces in each 3″ X 5″ union jack block!


The nice thing about this pillow is it uses very tiny scraps of fabric to make the flag blocks so you do not have to go out and buy a bunch of fabric. I chose some minty greens, yellows and pinks, along with some low volume grays to give this pillow a more subtle style.

PillowPop.UnionJack.Side010001 PillowPop.UnionJack.CloseUp0001

Again, I chose to piece the back and put in a hidden zipper. This pillow measures 20″ X 20″ square.


Making pillows is definitely addicting! Have you tried one yet?

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Byrd – Book Review

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ByrdDear Byrd, This is how I told your father. We climbed up on his roof. We could see the ocean, wrinkles of light in the distance. I was wearing a billowy cotton skirt. I wanted to look soft, unthreatening, unselfconsciously pretty. I wanted your father to love me. My legs were pale, not used to sun in winter. I had painted my toenails lavender. I wanted him to be a little sorry he hadn’t love me all along. – from Byrd -

Addie Lockwood meets Roland Rhodes when they are young and impressionable. Growing up in a small Southern town in the 1970s, they connect briefly and then go their separate ways, only to re-connect in Venice Beach, California years later. Roland is a wannabe musician and Addy is a bookstore clerk. When Addy becomes pregnant, it is clear that Roland does not love her nor want to be a father. So when a botched abortion results in Addy giving birth to a son, she decides to surrender him for adoption without telling Roland.

Written in spare prose that packs an emotional punch, Byrd is about regret and motherhood and finding happiness in the small spaces. Kim Church has written poetry and short stories before publishing this debut novel, and her beautiful prose is a testament to finding just the right words to reel the reader into a story.

Addie writes letters to her child, who she named Byrd because she wanted a “name no one else would ever call you.” Her letters fill in the gaps in her life, and reveal a deep love for a son whom she has never known. Addie is a woman searching for meaning and love, grasping at small moments where she thinks happiness may be found. Roland is unreachable, a puzzle, an emotional void for Addie. But the reader learns more about him as Church peels back the layers of a sensitive and emotionally vulnerable man.

Byrd is one of those books that resonate when the reader turns the final page. There is an ache of loneliness, the sting of regret…and finally a burst of hope that makes the journey through Addie’s life well worth it. Church’s insight into the human psyche, her understanding of the struggle to make sense of past mistakes and difficult choices, is deeply provocative.

Readers who love spare, literary fiction which is riveting in its exploration of the human heart, will want to pick up a copy of this amazing novel.

Highly recommended.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.


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The Invention of Wings – Book Review

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Invention of WingsThose skinny ones stuck out from my back like nubs. She patted them and said, “This all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get ‘em back.” – from The Invention of Wings, page 1 -

Sarah Grimke and her sister,  Angelina, grew up in a privileged family in South Carolina during the 1800′s. They were two of the first female abolition activists, who later became feminist speakers and advocates. Despite their courage and impact on social advancement, they are not well known in our historical record.

Sue Monk Kidd has brought these two sisters to life in the pages of her remarkable novel, The Invention of Wings. The book focuses on Sarah, the older of the two sisters, and opens in 1803 when Sarah receives the gift of a slave girl for her eleventh birthday. Hetty “Handful” is ten years old, the daughter of an outspoken slave named Charlotte who works as the seamstress for the family. Narrated in the alternating voices of both Handful and Sarah, the story unfolds over nearly four decades.

Thematically, the novel explores the idea of freedom (or the lack thereof) both from the perspective of slavery and that of women’s rights. For Sarah, her dreams of doing something exceptional are squashed because she is a woman. For Handful, her life is limited by the fact that she is viewed as less than a person, someone who lives only to serve the needs of her “owners.” Both woman find a voice in Kidd’s novel, giving the reader a glimpse back in history to a time when women and blacks had no rights.

For me, Handful’s story was the more powerful. Her relationship with her mother, Charlotte, is well developed and tugs at the heartstrings. I especially appreciated the narrative thread about quilts and quilting. The rich history of quilting has been said to play an important role in the cause of abolition. In their book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard explore the idea of a slave code which contained secret messages that helped direct slaves to freedom. The book has become controversial and many people have debunked its theory, but others are convinced of its truth (the book was based on oral testimony). Kidd uses this history in her book – Charlotte and Handful hide items by sewing them between the fabric of their quilts – and also explores the history of “story quilts” – a form of quilting whereby the quilter tells a story.

The Invention of Wings is a rich novel that reminds us of the often painful road to freedom for blacks and women. There are many historical characters included in the book, as well as fictional (Handful is a fictional character but is symbolic of the countless number of slaves who sought freedom in the 1800s). Kidd develops her characters well and her decision to use alternating points of view is a good one which gives the reader an in depth understanding of both Sarah and Handful.

Bittersweet, emotional, and eloquently crafted, The Invention of Wings will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially that which is based in the South during the early part of the nineteenth century.



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Pillow Pop Round-Up: June

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BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop group is a really fun sew along over on Threadbias. We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

To learn more about the group, visit this post.

We’d love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it is free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose Photogenic (easy) and Sunburst (challenging) as the pillows for June…and here are the wonderful finishes with links back to each sewist’s project page. I hope you will click through to see the entire projects as the backs and quilting on each pillow are also fabulous.

Photogenic: A pillow which showcases a special fabric or embroidered design – the corner triangles evoke the feel of a photograph.


A palette of navy and peach softens this lovely pillow by Karen.


Marsha made a pair of coordinating pillows that are bold and beautiful.


I chose some vintage Heather Bailey fabric with large scale prints to make a summery pillow.


Cathie’s pillow highlights some amazing Aboriginal fabric that will really brighten up a room.

Sunburst: The traditional Dresden Plate design of this pillow can become contemporary or old-fashioned depending on the fabrics chosen.


Mary’s pillow has loads of “pop” with black and white fabrics and a punch of turquoise.


Margaret used darker hues to create her “moonburst” pillow.


Karen put an entirely different spin on her pillow by using Dresden Fans to make her pillow shine.


Carol’s Sunburst Pillow includes a sweet embroidered message.


Sue’s pillow has a vintage feel with a scrappy selection of 1930′s reproduction prints.

I hope you’ll think about joining us for July!


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Whiskey Beach – Book Review

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whiskeybeachThrough the chilly curtain of sleet, in the intermittent wash of the great light on the jutting cliff to the south, the massive silhouette of Bluff House loomed over Whiskey Beach. It faced the cold turbulent Atlantic like a challenge. I will last as long as you. - from Whiskey Beach, page 1 -

Bluff House has stood for more than three hundred years overlooking Whiskey Beach. Its secrets are well hidden. But now Eli Landon has come home to find refuge behind its walls. Accused of murdering his wife, he is free due to a lack of evidence, but his reputation is shattered and his career as a Boston attorney is over. Eli’s beloved grandmother has been hospitalized after a nasty fall down the stairs of the home, and Eli has agreed to watch over the place until she can return. But once back in the home of his youth, Eli becomes distracted by Abra Walsh, a feisty woman who keeps house for Eli’s grandmother, teaches yoga, works as a massage therapist and makes jewelry. Almost immediately there is tension between Abra and Eli…and a growing attraction. But if Eli thought he could escape his past and start over again at Bluff House, he couldn’t be more wrong. When Abra is attacked and other strange things begin to happen, Eli once again becomes the focus of a murder investigation and Bluff House’s dark past must be unraveled to give Eli back his life.

Whiskey Beach is a bit of a chunkster at over 450 pages, but Nora Roberts reels in the reader with her signature romance, suspense and captivating characters. As Abra and Eli give into their passions and then become a team trying to solve a centuries old mystery, the novel picks up pace. At times the plot felt a bit contrived to me, and some of the “twists” were a little predictable…but what makes the novel work is Roberts’ skill at connecting her characters and creating chemistry and sizzle on the page.

I don’t tend to read a ton of Nora Roberts, but when I do, I always enjoy this guilty pleasure. Whiskey Beach is a terrific summer read – not overly heavy, but with plenty to keep the reader glued to the pages.

Readers who enjoy suspense-romance novels will not be disappointed in Whiskey Beach.


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Pillow Pop Round-Up: May

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BlogButtonThe Pillow Pop group is a really fun sew along over on Threadbias. We’re making pillows from the fabulous book Pillow Pop all year long.

To learn more about the group, visit this post.

We’d love to have you join us. If you’re not already a member at Threadbias, why not join – it’s free, and it is a great community of sewists.

We chose Don’t Be Square (easy) and Fresh Bloom (challenging) as the pillows for May…and here are the wonderful finishes with links back to each sewist’s project page. I hope you will click through to see the entire projects as the backs and quilting on each pillow are also fabulous.

Don’t Be Square: A crisp, solid background allows small pops of color to shine.

DontBeSquare.Terry DontBeSquare.Margaret

Both Terry and Margaret used cream backgrounds, but Terry chose an array of grays and yellows, while Margaret introduced blues and taupes to make their squares pop.


Belinda’s pillow became a high school graduation gift with the school’s mascot appliqued in the center.


Marsha had some fun with all that negative space and did some intricate quilting to make her pillow shine.


I couldn’t resist using some Scrumptious fabric by Bonni and Camille, and then tried out a new type of quilting to fill the negative space.

 Fresh Bloom: Raw edge applique and a variety of scraps give this pillow a one-of-a-kind signature.


Carol’s selection of raspberry and pink with some hints of green, gives definition and beauty to this pillow.


Mary also chose a pink palette, but then added some half moons and smaller circles to give her pillow a one-of-a-kind appeal.


Cathie selected a medium gray background and then added in shades of gold to create her blossom.


I selected golds, oranges and dark grays against an ash background to create a bloom of color.

I hope you will visit each pillow’s dedicated project page to learn more about the quilters’ choices and see the lovely backs on each pillow.

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Dresden Baby Quilt with Prairie Points

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AltheasQuilt.Front.010001*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view.

My husband’s cousin and her husband just had their first child (a girl) in mid-May. Lena, the baby’s mom, is a bit traditional, but she is also in her early 20s so I wanted to give her a traditional baby quilt with a modern “pop.” The baby’s room is green and yellow, so those colors became my inspiration for the color palette for this quilt.

I thought a Dredsen quilt was the perfect choice and found some really sweet fabrics in my stash – flowers and dots in green, yellow, blue, and red. I chose a red with white dot fabric from the Delilah collection by Tanya Whelan  for Free Spirit (also in my stash) for the centers of the Dresdens and for the cornerstones.

AltheasQuilt.Front.Detail0001The solids in this quilt are from Cotton Couture: Candlelight (yellow) and Bright White. The green border is a print from True Colors by Heather Bailey.

I used Fig Tree’s easy piecing method for Dresden Plate blocks (which comes from their Little Lollies pattern which you can find here). This is a super simple way to make this block. I straight-line, top stitched the dresdens and centers to the background fabric about an 1/8th” from the edges.

AltheasQuilt.OnRail0001I decided I really wanted to make Prairie Points for this quilt – something I have never done! And it seemed destined I do so when I saw that the Fat Quarter Shop’s notion of the month was the Quick Point Rulers. I chose the 2″ X 4″ ruler for my quilt…and watched the video on how to use the ruler before cutting. I am here to tell you, this is THE simplest way to make Prairie Points…accurate, fast, and easy. I decided on two fabrics – both from the Delilah Collection by Tanya Whelan: the red with white dot and the white with red dot.

AltheasQuilt.BackReveal0001 AltheasQuilt.PrairiePoints0001

Here is what the Prairie Point strips look like before being added to the quilt:

AltheasQuilt.PrairiePointsBefore applying0001The back is a soft yellow Minky dimple dot – just like butter and perfect for a baby!


I quilted this one very simply with echo quilting and straight lines, which is best seen from the back.


The quilt measures 44″ X 44″


I was very, very happy to be able to gift this on in person during our trip across the country…


Are you ready for cute baby photos??!?

AltheasQuilt.DeliveredwithMe010001 AltheasQuilt.DeliveredwithMe020001



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Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals – Book Review

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KnowledPhysicalTherapyAnimalsge is power. Animals deserve all we can give them. – from the Introduction -

Physical Therapist Susan E. Davis spent more than thirty years using her skills to treat human patients, and then decided to funnel her love for animals into her career. She trained at the University of Tennessee’s Veterinary School and opened a canine and small animal practice in 2008. Her book – Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals – focuses on physical therapy for canines, although she does talk a bit about other species.

I was particularly interested in reading this book as I am also a licensed physical therapist, having worked twenty-five years in the field, mostly in geriatrics, neurological disability and with adults with developmental delay. Anyone who comes to my blog also knows how much I love animals, especially dogs. When I was training my dog, Caribou, for search and rescue I found myself in the unique position to offer her some physical therapy. After all, despite differences in anatomy, much of what I have learned treating humans can be used to treat our four legged friends. Caribou suffered from elbow dysplasia (an Ununited Anconeal Process) and underwent surgery for this condition. Following the surgery, I provided ultra sound treatment, massage and range of motion exercises and used my knowledge as a physical therapist to gradually increase her exercise under the guidance of the surgeon and my veterinarian. Caribou went on to become a certified search and rescue dog in three disciplines and worked until she was nine years old going on multiple searches in and around California.

Susan Davis is doing pet owners, and also those with working dogs, a great service in sharing her knowledge of the field of physical therapy for animals. Although I provided PT for Caribou, I was not specifically trained in working with animals…and I would encourage pet owners to seek the skills of someone who has gone through that specialty training and received the appropriate certification. At the time I was working my dog, there were very few practitioners in this field…but that is changing now.

Davis’s book is written so that anyone can understand it. There are helpful chapter divisions including how the field has emerged and developed, how to choose a therapist (and what to expect), various forms of treatment, use of therapeutic exercise, use of equipment, explanation of various orthopedic and neurological conditions and how to treat them, rehabilitation of medical conditions and a special section on performance enhancement for show, agility, sport, and working dogs. Davis spends some time educating the pet owner on expectations of therapy and provides an appendix of helpful resources.

I found the book well organized, well written and a great resource for my library on care for my dog. Pet owners, as well as those who have working or agility/sport dogs, will find Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals an essential reference book.

Highly recommended.


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Saving Fish From Drowning – Book Review

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SavingFish“Just saying we should be aware of the consequences. You can’t have intentions without consequences. The question is, who pays for the consequences? Saving fish from drowning. Same thing. Who’s saved? Who’s not?” - from Saving Fish From Drowning, page 163 -

Bibi Chen is a well-known patron of the arts in San Francisco when she is found dead. Her death might be murder, but who knows? Even Bibi herself, who remains on earth in spirit form, is unsure of how she died. Before her death, Bibi had planned a journey of the senses for her friends – a trip to China and then along the Burma Road…and she intends to still go with them to see how they do without her.

Narrated in the omniscient voice of Bibi, Saving Fish From Drowning takes the reader on a journey to the East, into a country rife with political drama where anything can happen…and does. Tan intentionally blurs fact and fiction, and explores the consequences (intended or not) of our choices and intentions. Almost from the start, Bibi’s friends change their itinerary and wander astray, deliciously ignorant of the differences in culture, religion and political atmosphere from their home in the United States vs. that in Burma and China.

She had heard that many Americans, especially those who travel to China, love Buddhism. She did not realize that the Buddhism the Americans before her loved was Zen-like, a for of not-thinking, not-moving, and not-eating anything living, like buffaloes. This blank-minded Buddhism was practiced by well-to-do people in San Francisco and Marin County, who bought organic-buckwheat pillows for sitting on the floor, who paid experts to teach them to empty their minds of the noise of life. This was quite different from the buffalo-torture and bad-karma Buddhism found in China. - from Saving Fish From Drowning, page 77 -

The characters in the novel are lovingly imagined, idiosyncratic and deeply complex. Tan writes with a sardonic humor to explore her themes of morality, consequences, and the connections between people of different cultures and socioeconomic means. There are surprising twists, and insights into the characters and their situations.

Amy Tan is the consummate storyteller. She spins a fantastic yarn in this novel, and in the process delights and entertains the reader.

Highly recommended.


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