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Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Master Quilter...Review

About the book:
The Master Quilter opens with the sound of wedding bells ringing in the ears of the Elm Creek Quilters. The close-knit group can hardly believe that their own Sylvia Compson planned her holiday wedding to sweetheart Andrew in complete secrecy, without the help of even one of her friends. Eager to honor the newlyweds, the Elm Creek Quilters hasten to stitch a bridal quilt for their favorite Master Quilter. Until the time comes to unveil the surprise gift, they reason, Sylvia will be the one in the dark.

Such little white lies seem harmless enough, especially in the service of future happiness. Yet Elm Creek Manor, and the quilting retreat established there by the Elm Creek Quilters, thrives on the strength of women sharing their creativity, their challenges, and their dreams. Somehow, in the race to commemorate in Sylvia's bridal quilt all that they hold dear about her wisdom, skill, and devotion, they forget to give honesty its pride of place.

As the quilt blocks accumulate, the Elm Creek Quilters celebrate the joy of new beginnings and the ongoing success of their business until forces conspire to threaten their happiness and prosperity. Two among them falter in their personal relationships, yet they are too proud to share their pain. The financial problems of another leave the quilt project vulnerable to a malicious act that may prevent its completion. And as two others weigh the comfort of the present against dreams of a future far from Elm Creek Manor, closely guarded secrets strain the bonds of friendship with those who may be left behind.

Like the other Elm Quilt books, this one is heartwarming and easy to read. The same characters entertain you in this book, just as they do in the previous ones. At the end of the book, two quilters will go their separate ways, but their leaving is a natural progression to the ongoing saga and the personalities of the women.

The story is the same throughout the book, but each chapter is the same basic story told from the viewpoint of different people. At the end, it all comes together well, as you'd expect. Jennifer Chiaverini has a fantastic ability to capture the true essence of relationships, especially those of mother/daughter and friends. Predictable, but heartwarming all the same.

Read 12/07

Friday, December 28, 2007

Daughter of Venice...Review

About the book:
In 1592, Donata is a noble girl living in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Girls of her class receive no education and rarely leave the palazzo. In a noble family, only one daughter and one son will be allowed to marry; Donata, like all younger daughters, will be sent to a convent.

It was ok. It's definitely a teen book, but I was more fascinated by the history. The author made a great attempt at historical accuracy, and it was interesting to see Venice through the eyes of a 14 year old girl in 1592, especially the class differences. Nobles vs. citizens and the poor: girls weren't educated, only one girl in a family normally married, only one son in a family married, the father's absolute ability to decide the fate of his children. I'm glad the heroine was defiant enough to try and do what she wanted and become educated.

I absolutely loved visiting Venice and Murano and Burano some years ago, so it was fun to read about how they might have been in the 16th century. Entertaining.

Read 12/07

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Quilter's Legacy...Review

About the book:
Readers of Jennifer Chiaverini's popular and engaging Elm Creek Quilts series are treated in each successive volume to storytelling that expertly weaves the joys and intricacies of history, quilting, and family ties. In The Quilter's Legacy, a daughter's search for her mother's treasured heirlooms illuminates life in Manhattan and rural Pennsylvania at the turn of the last century.

When precious heirloom quilts hand-stitched by her mother turn up missing from the attic of Elm Creek Manor, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson resolves to find them. From scant resources -- journal entries, receipts, and her own fading memories -- she pieces together clues, then queries quilting friends from around the world. When dozens of leads arrive via the Internet, Sylvia and her fiancé, Andrew, embark on a nationwide investigation of antiques shops and quilt museums.

Sylvia's quest leads her to unexpected places, where offers of assistance are not always what they seem. As the search continues, revelations surface about her mother, Eleanor Lockwood, who died in 1930, when Sylvia was only a child. Burdened with poor health and distant parents, Eleanor Lockwood defied her family by marrying for love. Far from her Manhattan home, she embraced her new life among the Bergstroms -- but although warmth and affection surrounded Eleanor at last, the Bergstroms could not escape the tragedies of their times.

As Sylvia recovers some of the missing quilts and accepts others as lost forever, she reflects on the woman her mother was and mourns the woman she never knew. For every daughter who has yearned to know the untold story of her mother's life, and for every mother who has longed to be heard, The Quilter's Legacy will resonate with heartfelt honesty as it reveals what tenuous connections bind the generations and celebrates the love that sustains them.

I liked it. The book continues the story of Sylvia, this time as she tries to locate her mother's quilts. As the quilts were sold off by her sister, this involves internet research and travel.

Her mother's story is interspersed with Sylvia's quest, which is nice, but the reader learns Eleanor's story, Sylvia doesn't. I wish the author had worked it so that Sylvia learned her mother's history, because that knowledge is something she craves.

Overall, I enjoyed it: not quite as much as the others, but it was still good.

Read 12/07

Monday, December 24, 2007

2007 Winter Reading Challenge

Karlene is hosting the 2007 Winter Reading Challenge on her blog. Marcia told me about it and I figured I'd play along! You can check out Karlene's blog for the details.

The books I'm going to read are listed on the sidebar. My Goodreads file is always current and up to date as well. Those lists are also on the sidebar.

Each book I read will then be reviewed here. It's what I would do anyway, but a challenge is always fun, especially if there are prizes involved. But, this is also a chance to meet new people and find other good books to read. Who's going to join me?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Runaway Quilt...Review

About the book:
In her first novel, The Quilter's Apprentice, Jennifer Chiaverini wove quilting lore with tales from the World War II home front. Now, following Round Robin and The Cross-Country Quilters, Chiaverini revisits the legends of Elm Creek Manor, as Sylvia Compson discovers evidence of her ancestors' courageous involvement in the Underground Railroad.

Alerted to the possibility that her family had ties to the slaveholding South, Sylvia scours her attic and finds three quilts and a memoir written by Gerda, the spinster sister of clan patriarch Hans Bergstrom. The memoir describes the founding of Elm Creek Manor and how, using quilts as markers, Hans, his wife, Anneke, and Gerda came to beckon fugitive slaves to safety within its walls. When a runaway named Joanna arrives from a South Carolina plantation pregnant with her master's child, the Bergstroms shelter her through a long, dangerous winter — imagining neither the impact of her presence nor the betrayal that awaits them.

The memoir raises new questions for every one it answers, leading Sylvia ever deeper into the tangle of the Bergstrom legacy. Aided by the Elm Creek Quilters, as well as by descendants of others named in Gerda's tale, Sylvia dares to face the demons of her family's past and at the same time reaffirm her own moral center. A spellbinding fugue on the mysteries of heritage,
The Runaway Quilt unfolds with all the drama and suspense of a classic in the making.

Like all the other Elm Quilt books, I enjoyed this one too. I didn't like it as much as the others I've read though. It was a bit of a slower read, but the history of how quilts were used during the Underground Railroad is fascinating. I have read other books that talk about the use of quilts during the Underground Railroad, and while there is a lot of discussion as to whether or not this is true, the author is very clear that this book is her interpretation of how quilts could have been used to assist runaway slaves. It's very believable.

I liked the aspect of how Sylvia reads her ancestor's journal to find out what happened in her family. The way the journal is intercut with Sylvia's daily life is interesting. A good read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow!

Read 12/07

Thursday, December 20, 2007


About the book:
Isabella Swan's move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella's life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife -- between desire and danger.

Deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful, Twilight captures the struggle between defying our instincts and satisfying our desires. This is a love story with bite.

Well, I read it. I needed a break from all the quilting novels that seemed to come my way, and I love a good vampire story. The reviews called it "gripping" and "suspenseful." I'd call it over-rated. I liked it, although I didn't LOVE it and I'm not jumping on the I-love-Edward-bandwagon any time soon. (My favorite vampire is, and always will be, Angel. I have all 5 seasons on DVD, most of the books, and a life-size cardboard cutout of David Boreanaz as Angel, in my home office. It used to be in my professional office, but I couldn't get rid of him when I quit working, so my husband humors me. But, I digress...)

I thought this book was a slow starter. The first 150 pages were awkward. It was as if Meyer was trying too hard: the dialogue was awkward and clunky at first. The editor of this book really needs to go back to school. It's as if they looked at the draft and said, "Oh look. Sexy vampire. Leave it as it is!" It needs a really good edit. I read this book over a couple of days, rather than in one sitting, and honestly, I almost didn't finish it. I was well into it before it finally captured my attention. Her character development improved greatly by the end of the book.

I really have a hard time seeing what Edward would see in someone like Bella, who is stupid instead of being strong. How someone like Edward could even look twice at her is beyond me. Well, we know why he looked twice: he couldn't read her, so he was fascinated. But there is no substance to her at all. It's all "poor me, I love a vampire and he won't make me be like him, sob, sob. I can't go on without him, sob, sob." She's annoying and I can't find any reason to like her, let alone have any sympathy for her. And the whole, "I can't be intimate with you because I'll hurt you thing" has the potential to get old really fast.

Meyer's take on the vampire genre and mythology was interesting. I liked the "family" aspect and how most of them accepted Edward's love for Bella and tried to protect her. I'll read the rest of the series when it comes in at the library, I probably wouldn't purchase them on my own. Although, I will admit that the potential is there for this series to grow on me. We'll see what happens. I'm hoping that like The Devil Wears Prada, the movie adaptation is better than the book!

I think that this book would have been better if it weren't written in first person. Bella is so shallow that you don't get the character development from the other characters. In this story, especially, there would have been so much more depth if it was told in third person, where we actually get Edward's reaction to Bella, rather than simply Bella's confusion.

Updated: Summer has a great post on her blog about the Edward/Bella story. She says it better than I can. There are spoilers for the other books.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 12/07

* *
2/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Cross-Country Quilters...Review

About the book:
Julia, Megan, Donna, Grace, and Vinnie are cross-country friends who are about to begin work on a challenge quilt. A piece of fabric is divided among the women, with the understanding that the following year they will all meet at the Elm Creek Quilt Camp to sew the sections together into a single quilt. But the friends have set themselves a special challenge: no one can start working on her block until she has taken steps to solve her problems and achieve her personal goals.

Although they share a common creative objective, the Cross-Country Quilters find their friendship tested by the demands of everyday life. Yet despite differences in age, race, and background, the women's love of quilting and affection for one another unite them. The quilt they create becomes a symbol of the threads that hold their lives together-a glorious patchwork of caring and loyalty that brings home an enduring truth: Friends may be separated by great distance, but the strength of their bond can transcend any obstacle.

I liked it. It's the third in the Elm Creek Quilt series. This one was about 5 different women, instead of the original Elm Creek Quilters, but it's still originates and ends at quilt camp. These 5 women agree to complete a challenge quilt together, but before they can start their own patches, they need to resolve the personal issues that plague them.

Entertaining and heartwarming. An easy read.

Chiaverini is a great storyteller and completely captures the essence of relationships. A definite must-read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 12/07

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Family Nobody Wanted...Review

About the book:
The remarkable and inspiring true story of a couple who adopted twelve children, ten of them considered "unadoptable" because of mixed racial parentage.

I loved it. It was heartwarming, funny and inspirational. Helen and Carl Doss are truly wonderful people who adopt 12 children, most of whom are of mixed race, and they do this in the 40s and 50s when it was unheard of for white people to adopt children of different races.

Helen writes about how they came to adopt each child and shares funny anecdotes about the children that are simply delightful. The love that this couple has for these children who truly do become their own is beautiful. The love that these children had for each other is even more heartwarming.

I hadn't seen this book before and it is a definite winner. This version has a new epilogue from the author that shares what happened to each child later in life.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 12/07

Friday, December 14, 2007

Round Robin...Review

About the book:
The sequel to her acclaimed debut novel, Jennifer Chiaverini's Round Robin is a poignant tale of friendship and loyalty.

The Elm Creek Quilters have begun a Round Robin quilt, created by sewing concentric patchwork borders to a central block, as a gift for their beloved fellow quilter Sylvia Compson. But even as the quilt is passed from friend to friend, its eloquent beauty increasing with every stitch, the threads of their happiness begin to unravel. As each woman confronts a personal crisis, a painful truth, or a life-changing choice, the quilt serves as a symbol of the complex and enduring bonds between mothers and daughters, sisters and friends.

This is the second in the Elm Creek Quilters series and it was delightful. I love how the author has pieced these women's lives together the same way a quilt is pieced and created. This particular book explores the relationships between mothers and daughters in a very real, very thought-provoking way. It is as engaging and intricate as the quilt patterns it imitates.

I've been on a quilting kick lately, I suppose! And, I've reserved the remaining books in this series at the library. I can't wait to read them all.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 12/07

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Gazebo...Review

About the book:
Smalltown reporter Abby Reston is hungry for a good story when elderly, but still hale and handsome, Martin Rayfiel walks into her office. Martin tells the young newspaperwoman of his lifelong romance with Claire Swift, and how they have faithfully reunited once every year at the gazebo in the town square. When Abby goes to the gazebo to witness the annual meeting, she finds a briefcase filled with photographs, letters, tape recordings, and mementos. It is a poignant and haunting chronicle of love and devotion that will profoundly affect the life of Abby Reston and touch the heart of everyone who experiences it.

I liked it. It was a sweet, yet predictable novel. I'm a sucker for a love story and this one was sweet. It's not a stand-out novel and its storyline is familiar, but it was entertaining and a light, easy read.

The story spans 50 years and America, Italy Paris, and England.

Any story that includes Michelangelo's David is always interesting to me!

Read 12/07

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Quilter's Apprentice...Review

About the book:
"Tangled, anxious thoughts relaxed when she felt the fabric beneath her fingers and remembered that she was creating something beautiful enough to delight the eyes as well as the heart, something strong enough to defeat the cold of a Pennsylvania winter night. She could do these things. She, Sarah, had the power to do these things."

From debut novelist Jennifer Chiaverini comes
The Quilter's Apprentice, a delightful, timeless story of loyalty and friendship.

When Sarah McClure and her husband, Matt, move to the small town of Waterford, Pennsylvania, to get a fresh start, Sarah struggles to find a fulfilling job. Disheartened by failed interviews, she reluctantly accepts a temporary position at Elm Creek Manor helping seventy-five-year-old Sylvia Compson prepare her family estate for sale after the recent death of Sylvia's estranged sister. As part of her compensation, Sarah is taught how to quilt by this reclusive, cantankerous master quilter.

During their lessons, Mrs. Compson slowly opens up to Sarah, sharing powerful, devastating stories of her life as a young woman on the World War II home front. Hearing tales of how Mrs. Compson's family was torn apart by tragedy, jealousy, and betrayal, Sarah is forced to confront uncomfortable truths about her own family — truths that she has denied for far too long. As the friendship between the two women deepens, Mrs. Compson confides that although she would love to remain at her beloved family estate, Elm Creek Manor exists as a constant, unbearable reminder of her role in her family's misfortune. For Sarah, there can be no greater reward than teaching Mrs. Compson to forgive herself for her past mistakes,restoring life and joy to her cherished home.

Heartfelt and inspiring,
The Quilter's Apprentice teaches deep lessons about family, friendship, and sisterhood — and about creating a life as you would a quilt: with time, love, and patience, piecing the miscellaneous and mismatched scraps into a harmonious, beautiful whole.

I loved this book. It was an easy read: only a couple of hours. I loved the quilting aspect and how the lives of these two women became so intertwined.

The author is a terrific storyteller and she shares a delightful tale of friendship, family life and secrets and forgiveness.

The women in this story weave their lives together, much as a quilt is brought together in pieces. It's a terrific book.

Thanks to my library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 12/07

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Alice's Tulips...Review

About the book:
Alice Bullock is a young newlywed whose husband, Charlie, has just joined the Union Army, leaving her on his Iowa farm with only his formidable mother for company. Alice writes lively letters to her sister filled with accounts of local quilting bees, the rigors of farm life, and the customs of small-town America. But no town is too small for intrigue and treachery, and when Alice finds herself accused of murder, she discovers her own hidden strengths. Rich in details of quilting, Civil War-era America, and the realities of a woman's life in the nineteenth century, Alice's Tulips is Sandra Dallas at her best.

I enjoyed it. Sandra Dallas does a great job of capturing the feeling of family relationships. It's written in the form of letters from one sister to another, during the Civil War.

The insights into the lives of those left behind when soldiers went to war was fascinating. But, what I loved most was the details about quilting and the history of some quilt patterns. A good, easy read.

Read 12/07

* * *
3/5 Stars

Saturday, December 8, 2007

When the Emperor was Divine...Review

About the book:
Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.

I really enjoyed this. It's an easy book to read. The story is about a Japanese/American family sent to an internment camp in Utah during World War II. Each chapter is written from a different viewpoint: the mother, as she prepares to leave; the daughter; the son; and the father after he returns.

The author's style is very soft, very simple, but yet, very deceptive as she describes a difficult time in beautiful, almost artistic prose. A good, thought-provoking novel.

Read 12/07

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Water for Elephants...Review

About the book:
"Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell." Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I loved it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a wonderful book. I read it in an evening, mostly because I could not put it down.

The author truly is a storyteller. You can smell and feel the atmosphere of the circus; you sympathize with the characters and cheer when things go right and shed a tear when they go wrong. This is one of those books you want to read again and again.

A compelling and beautifully written novel.

Thanks to my library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 12/07

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, December 3, 2007

Girl with a Pearl Earring...Review

About the book:
History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of sixteen-year-old Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with genius ... even as she herself is immortalized in canvas and oil.

A terrific novel. The detail is fine and the reader is drawn into the story so completely as to be absorbed as paint is on a canvas. I found the novel every bit as captivating as the painting itself.

I knew nothing about the time or the place of Delft, and the author explains the social order, the religious conflict and the relationships between master and servant beautifully. Poignantly.

It's beautifully written.

Read 12/07

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter...Review

About the book:
"On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. So begins this story that unfolds over a quarter of a century - in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night. Norah henry, who knows only that her daughter died at birth, remains inconsolable; her grief weighs heavily on their marriage. And Paul, their son, raises himself as best he can, in a house grown cold with mourning. Meanwhile, Phoebe, the lost daughter, grows from a sunny child to a vibrant young woman whose mother loves her as fiercely as if she were her own." The Memory Keeper's Daughter articulates a silent fear close to the heart of every mother: What would happen if you lost your child, and she grew up without you?

An incredibly compelling novel. I couldn't put it down. There is a ring of truth to the story: it reads as almost as a memoir, rather than a fictional novel.

It's a story of the far-reaching consequences of one spontaneous decision, made in a traumatic moment of bittersweet joy. A decision, while originally made with the pure intentions of protecting someone, nearly destroys a family. The author's understanding of family intimacies is incredible. It's an incredibly well-written novel, and one I heartily recommend.

Read 12/07