Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Hot-Button Topics: Freedom to Marry, Immigrants, and Walls

Wild Mountain is set in the mountains of Vermont, a place of uncivilized natural beauty, where generations have come to commune with nature and the gods (and goddesses). The town of Wild Mountain is comprised of folk with deep roots and newcomers attracted to living simply in a beautiful place.

It is the story of Mona Duval's several battles which encompass her personal growth. She must let go of the past and her abusive ex-husband to embrace the future and the possibility of love. She stands loyal to old friends besieged by prejudice.

Mona's story is well developed with enough tension and conflict to keep readers of romance and women's fiction interested. The political issues the town struggles with, including the rebuilding of a historical covered bridge and the Freedom to Marry bill, highlights the division in the town, as well as in our world.

I was disappointed that the expected climax of the town meeting and voting on these issues takes place off camera. The issues drop out of center stage. Instead, the story line sifts focus to a (previously) minor character's death. The ending consists of an idealized gathering around an ancient stone circle on the solstice, with Wiccan and Christians celebrating together.

Learn more about the background of the book at

Wild Mountain
by Nancy Hayes Kilgore
Green Mountain Press
Publication Oct. 1, 2017

"The end of the world can be cozy at times."

After hearing so much about Exit West by Moshin Hamid I borrowed it from the library and fit it into my heavy reading schedule. It is a wonderful book, fiction about the refugee/immigrant experience.

Nadia and Saeed have just met and would, perhaps, fall in love and marry and have a normal life. Except militant radicals take over their unnamed city. They turn to each other in the crisis. When all normalcy is ended, they seek the 'doors' that have popped up allowing escape to other places.

"... that is the way of thing, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind."

As they travel through doors to other places they encounter all the immigrant experiences, from refugee camps to nativist mobs. The stress pulls the couple apart. 

"and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same house our whole lives, because we can't help it. We are all migrants through time."

The magical realism of the doors allows an exploration of the totality of why people leave their homeland and the experience of being a stranger in strange lands. It is a sad but tale, beautifully told.

Find a Reading Guide at

Hardcover | $26.00
Published by Riverhead Books
ISBN 9780735212176

In future days when America is divided into walled enclaves, those inside the walls are addicted to tablets and enjoy a sheltered life, while those outside live in a world of deadly ticks. Between the two is the Salt Line, a burnt out wasteland and immense garbage dump. Thrill seekers risk their lives to see the natural beauty on the other side of the walls.

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones follows a tour group of the rich and the famous going over the Salt Line. They think they are on a three week experience of sights few inside the walls ever see. Yes, there are those gruesome ticks and the horrible death they carry. Protective suits offer some comfort, and there are tools to kill the ticks through extraction and burning eggs out of the tissue, leaving circular battle scars.

The tour group is taken hostage by an outer-zone insurgency group based in Ruby City, a functioning village populated mostly by people of Cherokee descent. The community is without fear of the ticks, thanks to The Salt. The hostages create alliances and discover what the out-zoners want from them.

I was hooked by the time the tour group reached the Salt Line. I enjoyed the characters with their various backgrounds and relationships: a gangster businessman with political ambitions and his wife who will do anything for their sons, a scrappy nobody with a big heart, and a entrepreneur looking for meaning.

Ruby City is peopled with characters who seem both admirable and well meaning, but are also willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves.

There is a touch of mystery, intriguing motivations, and riveting action. And the whole issue of the Wall, who gets to be on the inside and who is left outside to fend for themselves in a lawless wilderness, can invite thoughtful consideration of the many walls being built today.

The ending is a bit weak, but only because it is obviously a set-up for a second volume. I along with many others will look forward to following these characters on their journeys.

I received a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Visitng the 2017 Quilters Showcase

The 2017 Quilters Showcase held at the Birch Run Expo Center in Birch Run, just west of Frankenmuth, MI, is in its fifth year but this was the first time I attended.

The Stitching Well quilt shop of Bay City, MI organizes the showcase, bringing together local quilt shops and quilt vendors in conjunction with a show including over 200 quilts by Mid-Michigan artists.

Here are some of the quilts that caught my eye.

Carnivale by Jeannie St. John is paper pieced

Rockin' Round Robin was made by Jeannie St. John and five other persons. 

Detail of Rocking Round Robin

Carolyn Pickard's Ewe-niquely Yours was her first wool applique!
The Back Street Quilt Shop of Bad Axe, MI offered this as a block of the month.

detail Ewe-niquely Yours
 The wool applique is 3-D. The detail is amazing.
Detail Ewe-niquely Yours

Star Bright by Bobbi Essex is a cheerful Modern take on a traditional pattern

Carol's Revenge by Valerie Stephens was a BOM quilt, full of fancy machine embroidery stitching.

Detail of Carol's Revenge

Hearts & Hands by Jeanne Robinson is a reproduction of a quilt from the
York County Heritage Trust collection, York, PA

Detail Hearts & Hands
Ladybugs for Kyler by Bonnie Gabriel and Garden Rows by Elaine Camp
I ran into a number of quilters I know from my weekly group and the local quilt guild, including Chuck Blanchard who had several quilts on exhibit, including Las Cruces.
Las Cruces by Chuck Blanchard

Detail of Las Cruces.  Constructed with machine applique and trapunto.
The Raven, a pattern from Blackbird Designs caught our eye. I may need to buy this pattern book! Each block was inspired by a line from the poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.

Sue Matlock's verision of Blackbird Designs pattern The Raven
included borders with 'Quoth the Raven, Nevermore'
There were so many great vendors with a huge variety of wares. I loved the Michigan inspired patterns and hand dyed fabrics at Windberry Studios of Milford, MI.
Windberry Studios patterns

Windberry encourages creativity

Windberry Studios preprinted fabrics and patterns
There were vintage quilts included in the show. Below is an embroidered Bird Life by Ruby McKim.

A 1988 Log Cabin made by Georgette Windler brought back memories of quilt fabrics and stitch-in-the-ditch quilting days.
This Depression era Wedding Quilt was made by Dora Begley for John and Margaret Gerlach's weeding.
The show had something for everyone. There was ample parking and easy access, no stairs, and all on one level in one huge room.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles

In July, 1964 my husband and his family took a vacation out West. He never forgot the "road that went into the lake" at Yellowstone National Park.  In 1959 there had been an earthquake that caused a massive landslide into a lake. The lake rose 22 feet, so that the roads that once went to the Cabin Creek Campground ended at the lake, and new roads had to be made.

The dirt road going into the lake is blocked off by pylons. The new road goes up the hill.
Yellowstone, 1964, photo by Herman L. Bekofske
Here he was, camping with his family in an area that had been hit by a killer earthquake in his time. It was memorable.
"Earthquake Lake," 1964. Photo by Herman L. Bekofske
Across the road was the canyon wall that caused the country's largest landslide ; it had buried nineteen people.
The mountain face that collapsed into the lake.
Yellowstone, 1964, photo by Herman L. Bekofske
The first chapter of Quakeland recounts the story of a family, just like my husband's, who had gone camping in Yellowstone. The author takes us through their day, searching for the 'right' camping spot, setting up camp, and getting ready for bed. And then we are taken through the horrendous experience the campers endured when the earthquake collapsed the mountain side, sloshed the lake back and forth, creating winds so strong it ripped the clothing off campers, and then deluged the area with a wall of water that drove a stick into a camper's knee socket. Afterwards the lake was 22 feet higher.
The mountain face that collapsed into the lake.
Yellowstone, 1964. Photo by Herman L. Bekofske
It's enough to make me grateful my folks never took me out West camping.

Quakeland is full of stories that will send shivers up your spine. Not only because naturally occurring fault lines that transverse our country cause quakes, which in our ignorance we have built upon--cities like Memphis and Salt Lake City--but also because of human activity that causes earthquakes: dams and mines and fracking and even building tall buildings.

I used to be pretty smug about my home state being 'safe'. We can be hit by tornadoes, but no hurricanes. We aren't known for earthquakes. Yet, Michigan has had its earthquakes and likely will again. There are fault lines in the Upper Peninsula, through the center of the state, and on the Lake Huron side in the "thumb." The state can be shaken by quakes from the New Madrid fault.

When our son was growing up we went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to camp. We took day trips, apparently all along fault lines! One day we toured the Quincy Mine. This copper mine was effectively closed in 1946. We were almost the only ones there that day. The tour took us to the 7th level of the mine. In 1914 the miners working at the Quincy mine caused a rock burst. Any time we redistribute pressure the earth will respond. Mining is a human-created cause of earthquakes, and the Keweenaw mining area has a history of quakes.
The closed Quincy copper mine
The biggest earthquake in Michigan history, magnitude 4.6, occurred in 1947 near Coldwater, MI, a flat, agricultural area in Southern Michigan just above the state line. In 1994 the state was hit by a magnitude 3.4 quake centered near Potterville, just west of Lansing. And in 2015 a magnitude 4.2 quake was centered in Galesburg  just south of Kalamazoo. We have lived in Lansing, and a half-hour down the road from Coldwater and Kalamazoo. Four months ago a 2.2 quake occurred in Grosse Point, just east of Detroit.

So much for being 'safe' from earthquakes.

Miles style was entertaining and the information very accessible. Readers who enjoy learning about the natural world, disasters or potential disasters, and the implications of the energy industry's impact on our natural world will enjoy this book. Just be warned: this book may keep you awake at night.

I received a free book from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway.

Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake
by Kathryn Miles
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 978-0-525-95518-4

I also recently reviewed The Great Quake by Henry Fountain about the 1964 Alaska earthquake, mentioned in Quakeland several times. Read my review at:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout

"I wonder if we are all condemned to live outside the grace of God." Reverent Tyler Caskey in Abide with Me.
I have long wanted to read Elizabeth Strout's second novel Abide with Me , ever since I first heard about it. Strout has been one of my favorite authors since Olive Kitteridge was being passed around a group of reading church friends ten years ago. I was lucky to review galleys of My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible. 

Abide by Me drew me in particular because it is about a minister in crisis whose congregation turns on him when he is most vulnerable. It tests the faith of Reverend Tyler Caskey and that of his church in West Annett, MA.

My husband is a retired clergyman and I saw close up the parsonage experience and the blessings and burdens congregations can be to their spiritual leaders. Strout has a wise understanding of human nature, and it is evident in this book.

Set in the late 1950s, the novel begins with Tyler deep in depression two years after his wife died of cancer, caring for his equally depressed oldest daughter while his mother has taken over his youngest daughter to raise.

"Life, he would think. How mysterious and magnificent, such abundance!" 

Tyler's wife Lauren had lit the room with joy. He marveled how he had been so lucky to be loved by this woman. They married while he was at seminary. And if she was no stereotype of a pastor's wife, Tyler accepted her for who she was. In fact she was the direct opposite of what people expect a pastor's wife to be: Lauren was fashionable and pretty; she loved to gossip and shop and hated the "grim politeness" of the church women; and she had no interest in prayers or even religion. She said, "my God," and dressed wrong, and could not understand why the country roads had no road signs so people could find their way around. (I felt the same way about the lack of road signs when we were at small town church!)

The church had inherited a shabby farm house and sold the more valuable town parsonage, leaving the isolated and decrepit house for their pastor. I shuddered, how cold a thing to do, and yet how typical. It was 'good enough' for the pastor; after all he got free housing, he should be grateful. I know those 'good enough', hand-me-down, low grade, cheap fulfillment of obligations, always with the excuse that the church has no money, even when the parishioners live far better. A man of God and his wife ought to be humble and unworldly!

When Lauren sees the parsonage she cries. Oh, boy, I got that. I once cried too, seeing a run down, small, badly placed house we were to live in after enjoying nine years in a beautiful, well maintained parsonage in one of the best neighborhoods.

Relegated to the smelly and depressing house, Lauren asks to paint the living room and dining room pink. Then the children came, and she loved them dearly, but she hated the lack of money and ran up big credit bills. She missed television and girl friends and having fun, and became petulant and distant towards Tyler.

Hints are dropped about Lauren's past, how she hated her father who used to bathe her and her friends, and how her mother commented that Lauren was wild and unpredictable and they were happy to see her married. Lauren tells her one confidant that she had many beaus before Tyler.

Lauren did not accept cancer and the inevitable early death, but was angry and lashed out. She never liked the church-funded housekeeper, Connie, and banned her from the house.

Tyler liked Connie's quiet demeanor. After Lauren' death, Connie becomes important to Tyler, who depends on her to keep the house going. He has lost his joy and is just going through the motions. He fails his daughter Katheryn, who stops talking and acts out in school, her hair always knotted and unbrushed. Her teacher actually hates the child. Meanwhile, Tyler's mother is pushing a woman upon him and holds his youngest daughter hostage.

Tyler is humble and determined to be meek and always above personal feelings and bias. Women in the church turn against Tyler, feeling slighted by his lack of attention and safe distance from church politics. Connie turns up missing, accused of theft, and the rumor network starts buzzing that Tyler and Connie were involved. The people turn vicious. And I have experienced what it is like when congregants talk about the pastor behind closed doors, and stare coldly at him in public, feeling righteous, judging and unaware of their own sin in judging.

When Tyler finds Connie, she confesses acts which she has done out of love but which are considered heinous by social and moral law. Tyler has also been struggling with guilt. He forgives Connie. Can he forgive himself?

"They need to go after someone, especially when they sniff weakness under what's supposed to be strong," Tyler is told.

When Tyler reaches the end of his rope and can no longer pretend he is in control, grace comes in unexpected ways.

In the Notes, Strout says she was interested in story, not theology: how does on live life? Does it matter how one lives?  "I can only hope that readers will not only be entertained by the stories I tell, but be moved to reckon with their own sense of mystery and awe," Strout ends. "Through the telling of stories and the reading of stories, we have a chance to see something about ourselves and others that maybe we knew, but didn't know we knew. We can wonder for a moment, if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all."

And that I what I adore about reading Strout, that connection that she offers with love and sensitivity, the universal human experience of wounded people discovering how to live.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Quilty News Update

Bev Olson's wool applique Tree of Life
This month my friend Bev Olson's work has filled the display case at the Blair Memorial Library in Clawson! I wrote about Bev here. Her Pennies from Heaven wool penny quilt is the main attraction. Each 'penny' is ornated with detailed embroidery.

Examples of her work are shown with the tools she uses and books that imspired her.

Bev's work is just outstanding!

I also want to share some quilty ephemera that Theresa Nielson shared a few weeks back. She has been going through the collection of a quilter and has found wonderful things.
Theresa with the French Basket quilt
Including Marie Webster's original templates for her French Basket quilt!
Marie Webster templates for French Basket

Marie Webster French Basket templates

Marie Webster tamplates

Marie Webster tissue placement pattern for corner
Marie Webster tissue placement patterns

Marie Webster tissue placement pattern
There were also templates made by the quilter. The 1920s and 1930s were a frugal time. To make their templates, quilters used cardboard from all kinds of sources, including something printed with Shirley Temple's photograph!

 Of course, Sunbonnet Sue was in a pamphlet of designs to order.

It was wonderful to see this pamphlet, Wurzburg Heirloom Quilts for Applique For Patchwork. Wurzburg was a Grand Rapids business. The granddaughter of the store has some of their quilt and embroidery patterns are available at Sentimental Stitches.

 There was a notebook filled with The Detroit News quilt patterns!

 One of my early quilts was Moon Over the Mountain. I love this 'star over the mountain' version!

 Gee, a lousy pic of me with my eyes closed, but I did finish my latest applique quilt top.
Last of all, I want to share a pillowcase that Linda Pearce found. It has the most beautiful decoration made with rick rack and embroider.