From My Carolina Home

Quilting, cooking, reading books, gardening, crafting, sewing, photography and more


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Having Fun in Lexington, Kentucky

Last week, DH had to go to Lexington, Kentucky to do some work, so once again I packed a bag and tagged along.  I had a fun time shopping and sight seeing while he was working. Lexington says it is the horse capital of the world, with much in the town being about the horse. There are horse farms, a horse racing track, an entire park dedicated to horses and Man O’ War, and many of the streets are named for race winners or tracks.  I took over 300 pictures, and I promise I will not show them all to you, LOL!!  But today, come with me as I shop and eat, visit quilt shops and bookstores, and have fun in Lexington.

Chocolates

In some places in town, there are horse statues painted by local artists that were apparently part of an art project some time ago.   We do the same thing here with our bears every year. I only found four of these horses, but this one was the most compelling, did you see what was behind it in the picture above?

Painted Horse 10

Oh, yes, a Kentucky institution, Old Kentucky Bourbon Chocolates. Every last bit of this store was chocolate! The aroma of freshly worked chocolate hit you as you walked in, there was no way to leave without having some.

Ky Chocolates 2

A couple of free samples later, I decided on a large box of Bourbon Truffle Chocolates, and two little samplers. One of the samplers was Black Forest Truffles (bourbon, chocolate truffle with chopped cherries), and the other was Chocolate Covered Bourbon Cherries. I am carefully rationing these out, excuse me for a moment while I go nab one, my treat for today.

Chocolates bourbons

This horse was across the street from the chocolate shop. It was beautifully done, and I think was my favorite of the ones I found.

Painted Horse 11

Next on the west side route plan was this shop, Quilter’s Square.

Quilter's Square 1

Beautifully light inside, and huge! Owners Chana and Kayla were so friendly and helpful, I really enjoyed chatting with them.

Quilter's Square 4

They are doing the Row by Row too, and had a darling hot air balloon pattern. Although I can’t show it to you, you can see in these pictures how many projects they have going on, with samples above the fabric. Just stop by and get their kit if you are near the area.

Quilter's Square 3

They had fabric and more fabric!  So much choice!  I could have spent a lot longer just admiring all the displays and quilts.

Quilter's Square 2

While I was on the west side, I had to go to my favorite chain bookstore, Half Price Books. I was delighted to find two stores in Lexington, this was the smaller of the two.

Half Price Books Lexington 1

Yet it was stuffed as is usual for these stores.  The cookbook corner had the same amount of space as this one for crafting, sewing, quilting, gardening and more.  The clearance section was huge too, with lots of books at just $2.

Half Price Books Lexington 3

Dinner that night was at a local eatery called Saul Good, I had a flatbread pizza.

Saul Good pizza

DH had a tuna steak, and shared his asparagus with me.

Saul Good tuna

On the corner of the shopping center, this horse was standing watch.

Painted Horse 5

The next bit of shopping was on the east side, with Sew-A-Lot leading off the afternoon of fun.

Sew-A-Lot 1

I have to say, I had just as much fun chatting with Patti, Thomas and Kim. They were trying to get to their lunch but were willing to chat as long as I was there, and I just couldn’t leave, LOL!! Sorry for delaying your lunches, but I was just enjoying myself too much!!  There were a lot of goodies to see, patterns and fabric galore.

Sew-A-Lot 2

Their Row by Row pattern was inspired by one of their customers who uses a little red wagon to carry all her class supplies. It is a darling pattern, so stop over and get their kit if you are nearby this summer.

Sew-A-Lot 3

The east side’s Half Price Books was next on the list, and wow, what a pretty storefront with the arbor and flowers!!

Half Price Lexington flowers

This large store kept me entertained for over an hour as I perused the fiction for books on my to-get list, and then the non-fiction for what might be fun.

HalfPriceBooks 2

The last horse is the only one of the four with a plaque to show what it was all about, but it wasn’t dated. This one is in front of the TV station and is named Color Bars. It was bought at the art event and donated to the station.

Painted Horse 4

Dinner that evening was at Columbia Steak House. The original restaurant has been there since 1943. We went to one closer to the hotel that has been there for 17 years. It is locally owned, not a chain.

Columbia exterior

I usually look for one of a kind places like this when traveling. We have to resort to chain restaurants often enough on the road, so these are a treat. We started off with a shrimp appetizer as we were both hungry. I had skipped lunch to shop and sight-see.

Columbia shrimp

My dinner was a nicely grilled rib-eye with steamed broccoli.

Columbia steak

DH had a Kentucky staple, a Hot Brown. I was surprised to find out that this is not an open faced roast beef with brown gravy. Quite different!! It is sliced ham and turkey on a piece of bread, covered in a mornay-like sauce, topped with cheese and sliced tomato then broiled to melt and brown the cheese. Then it is topped with crispy bacon. Yum!!

Columbia hot brown

Inside the restaurant was again, all about the horse, with somewhat old fashioned decor and horse pictures on the stucco walls.  It was a bit dark, with stained wood beams on the ceiling and wood floors.

Columbia interior

They had several beautiful stained glass like art on the doors and windows.  Only by getting very close could you see that it was done with paint, still they were nicely done.

Columbia window

So, that was shopping and eating. In future posts, I’ll show you some of the other places I visited, including the Arboretum and Keeneland. We were not able to get to the Kentucky Horse Park where Man O’ War is memorialized as the greatest horse that ever raced. The tickets were $20 each plus $5 to park, and we just didn’t have the whole day to spend there to make that worthwhile. But, DH will have to go back later in the year, so we may try then.

Are you going to do a Row by Row quilt this year? Do you have patterns left over from last year like I do?

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Chocolate! A Tasting, Recipes and a Book Review

I’ll admit to being a card carrying chocoholic, I love the stuff.  Most of the time I go for the dark varieties, but I won’t turn down milk chocolate if it is offered.  I like it best in its pure form, just chocolate, unadulterated with any other flavor.  Chocolate French Silk Pie is my favorite pie, and I love Chocolate Pot de Creme.  Give me a Lindor Dark Chocolate Truffle first, but I won’t turn down a Milky Way Midnight bar if offered, or any one of a number of other chocolate treats.  So long as it doesn’t have nuts, coconut, or raspberry, I’ll happily accept, and probably have a silly grin in anticipation of the delicacy to be savored.  Today is National Chocolate Day, too, the perfect time to show the Chocolate Tasting we did for a dear friend’s special birthday, also a chocolate lover.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

We gathered six different brands of chocolate, all in the range of 72%  cacao, so the comparison would be more or less equal.  We had to go to different stores to find all these, amazingly enough the best selections were at chain drug stores, although the specialty grocery store here had several.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

We settled on just six trying to get a good mix of expensive to inexpensive for comparison.  Our choices were Hershey’s, Ghiradelli, Fresh Market Store Brand, Lindt, Godiva, and Green & Black.  I wanted to get Valrhona as well, but they no longer sell to retailers and the shipping was too expensive.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Using the gold chargers to serve, the pieces of chocolate were placed in paper cups with any logos or writing face down to preserve the anonymity of the chocolate maker. Each cup was numbered in the bottom.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

There is an art to doing a tasting, beginning with aroma.  Did you know that chocolate contains over 1200 compounds?  What you smell and taste is fully dependent on how it is processed. The chocolates were added to the cups, and water crackers are served as a palate cleanser.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Using the chart to help you describe the aroma, you’ll be amazed at the wide variety of flavors.

Fruit Notes – citrus, berry, tropical, cherry, apricot, peach, fig
Nutty – walnut, almond, hazelnut, peanut
Vegetative – grass, olive, tobacco, tea, hay
Spice – cinnamon, pepper, vanilla, licorice, coffee
Floral – rose, violet, lavender, jasmine
Earthy – musk, mushroom, truffle, soil
Silky – butter, honey, molasses, milk, butterscotch

Next, break a piece and evaluate the ‘snap’.  It is a crisp break or does it bend before breaking.  Higher quality chocolate has a crisp snap.  Look at the break to evaluate the overall texture of the chocolate, smooth to grainy.  Place a small bit on your tongue and let it melt on its own.  Rate the chocolate from bitter to sweet on a scale of 1-10, with very bitter at one, and too sweet at 10.  Now, concentrate on the flavors, what do you taste?  Use the scale above to help identify flavors.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Download a Chocolate Tasting tasting sheet for your party – Chocolate Tasting.  So which did I like? I picked the Lindt in the test, with Green & Black as a close second. Amazingly, the Hershey’s Special Dark scored well with guests, coming in third in my scoring.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

On this subject too, I highly recommend this book. The Emperor’s of Chocolate.  It is without a doubt the most interesting non-fiction book I have ever read! The amount of detail and interesting storylines that are the history of chocolate, chocolate makers and the titans of Hershey and Mars are amazing. It reads so well, it is hard to put down! I learned so much about the industry and the process of making chocolate. The family dynasties of Hershey and Mars started out as friends, with Hershey giving Mars the technology to make the candy coating for M&Ms. The ‘M’s stand for Mars, and the executive at Hershey named William Murrie. But later, they became such rivals that they tried to destroy each other. Secrecy abounds in this industry anyway, but paranoia is present too, so much so that parts of the manufacturing process are divided up, so no one person on the line knows how the whole candy is made. Read this fascinating book, and have some chocolate nearby, you’ll want some!

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

In the mood for a treat now?  How about making some Chocolate Covered Oreos?

Chocolate Covered Oreos 17

It’s summer here, so the strawberries are coming in.  Here’s the easy way to do chocolate dipped strawberries. Using the chocolate candy melts, microwave a handful in a glass container for one minute on medium-high setting, then stir until melted and smooth.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Dip the strawberries and lay on wax paper to harden.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Add a chunk of dark chocolate to the remaining melted chocolate and microwave about 30 seconds, then stir until melted.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Using a fork, drizzle the darker chocolate over the strawberries to make a pretty design. Quick and easy!

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

After a party, I had some whipped cream left over. Taking it out of the frig, I whipped it by hand a few times to get the soft peaks back. Then melting some candy melts in the microwave, stirring until smooth, I added a bit of the whipped cream to the chocolate to loosen it up.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Then, fold the chocolate into the rest of the whipped cream, and viola, instant chocolate mousse!

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Served in a parfait glass, an easy yet elegant dessert. Yes, whipped topping would work too.

Chocolate Tasting for National Chocolate Day at From My Carolina Home

Are you a chocolate fan?  Milk or dark?

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Three Good Books

Three recently read books have really caught my attention, two fiction with culinary themes, and a non-fiction cookbook.  After doing the sewing/quilting book review series last September, I had a couple of marginal reads to one truly bad read (reviews are on Goodreads) interspersed with quick cozy mystery reads. Then I picked up Delicious by Ruth Reichl, her first fiction novel. I have thoroughly enjoyed her non-fiction books, both her autobiographic accounts Tender at the Bone of her early years, and especially Garlic and Sapphires – a tale of her years as an undercover restaurant reviewer.  I still have Comfort Me With Apples on the To-Be-Read pile.

Delicious is the story of a young woman named Billie, who takes a job at a food magazine. She quickly demonstrates her commitment to the challenges, and folds into the magazine family, only to have the it suddenly shut down. She is offered a position to maintain the hotline for recipe inquiries and complaints wanting the money back guarantee, remaining as the only employee in a deserted mansion in downtown New York. Finding a mystery in the magazines archive, she discovers a hidden room, and the letters of a young girl, Lulu, writing to the legendary James Beard. Through those letters, and an arcane filing system of organizing them, Billie learns about history, the history and challenges of food during the war years. Lulu’s courage battling her own heartache inspires Billie to confront her own tragic past.

Good Books Reviews at From My Carolina Home

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a different kind of story, one of the few times I’ll give a novel five stars on Goodreads. Ruth Reichl’s writing is superb, engaging interest quickly and making it difficult to put the book down. Her characters are well rounded and real, with raw emotion just beneath the surface apparent when the source of her main character’s anxiety about cooking is revealed. This is a must read for any fan of Ms, Reichl, any foodie, or anyone looking for a wonderfully different story.

The next book with a culinary theme was suggested by my book reading buddy, Kelly. We meet every couple of months to discuss a book we both read. This time was her turn to choose, and she picked A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White. The story is told from three different viewpoints. It begins with Alice, a young black girl living in 1929 Emancipation Township, North Carolina, subject to the plight of poor people and the persecution of her race. She escapes to New York, becoming the chef at a restaurant called Cafe Andres. Later she writes a cookbook with recipes from her time in the south. The story picks up in the 1981 with Bobby, a young gay man, escaping from his own persecution. He comes to New York, and apprentices at Cafe Andres, after Alice has left. He finds a home with Sebastian, and lives through the horror of AIDS. The third story begins in 1989, with Amelia coming to the city in the aftermath of her husband’s affair and subsequent divorce. She leaves her wealthy comfortable Connecticut home, only to find a connection with Alice that redefines who she really is.

Good Books Reviews at From My Carolina Home

This is a beautifully written novel about three different people with very different backgrounds, escaping their troubled lives to New York City. Throughout the novel there are references to comfort foods and experiments with new culinary ideas. This novel is so well written, with rich imagery and detail in the lives of the characters. The well developed storyline is written in a convergent style, and a twist at the end that I did not see coming.

The non-fiction book is At Elizabeth David’s Table, Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom.  This is so much more than a cookbook. For the non-foodie reader, Elizabeth David is an icon in the culinary world.  Ms. David was a world traveler, living a bit of a wild life for her time in France, Italy and England, and one of the first food writers for magazines.  In 1950, her work A Book of Mediterranean Food was published, followed quickly by French Country Cooking in 1951.  Long before Gordon Ramsay, she became an superstar in England but was, and still is, virtually unknown in America.  At the time Julia Child was working on her book of French cooking in Paris, Elizabeth David had already published five works concentrating on the food of five different regions – the aforementioned Mediterranean and French volumes, along with a second book on French cooking concentrating on the Provincial region, English Summer cooking and an Italian cookbook from her time living in Italy in the early 1950s. Throughout her life, she continued to write for international magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and The Spectator, and published more cookbooks on English cookery.  She won many awards over her lifetime, including the Order of the British Empire, Commander of the Order of British Empire, and Fellow of the Royal Society of literature for her food writing.  All of her cookbooks remain in publication today.

Good Books Reviews at From My Carolina Home

At Elizabeth David’s Table is a collection of selected recipes from all of her published cookbooks, along with some of her writings, musings on food and her life in different countries as she lived.  Every course is included from starters and soups, eggs and pasta, rice and sides, meat, fish, poultry, sauces, sweets and bread.  Reading her articles transports the reader to rustic Italy, a summer day in Britain, the French countryside or the edge of the Mediterranean sea.  The forward to the volume was written by Ruth Reichl, a devotee of Elizabeth David.  It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that the revelations of Ms. David of the rationing and austerity of the war years was an inspiration for the Lulu letters of Delicious.

So, two new fiction books for you, dear readers, and one really special cookbook. If you are local, and would like to join the reading group, let me know. Kelly and I meet for lunch when we can, using the discussion guides online for questions. We would love to have at least two more in our little book club. We’ll take turns choosing books, hopefully to push us out of our normal reading genres.

What are you reading now?

 

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Designed for Drama – A Biltmore House Event

This week I went with friends to the Biltmore House for their Designed for Drama Event, a collection of costumes worn in movies based on George Vanderbilt’s favorite books.  This is the third time the Biltmore House has done a costume exhibit.  The first one, Dressing Downton Abby was spectacular!  This exhibit is a collection of more than 40 outstanding costumes from 14 recent movies based on books that were George Vanderbilt’s favorite reads.  The amount of handwork and details on the gowns are just amazing.  I took over 200 pictures, making up for lost time as up to now pictures were not allowed at Biltmore House.  They now allow non-flash photography, so I had a field day, and was very happy I took an extra battery for the camera! There is no way I can show you all the wonderful costumes, I just chose a few to highlight. First, this one is a gorgeous gold gown with period correct black sequins. It was worn by Nicole Kidman in “Portrait of a Lady”.  Note the detailed lace at the hem.

Dressed Drama Portrait Lady 9

Just look at the handwork and decorative stitching on the bodice, and the matching gloves.

Dressed Drama Portrait Lady 10

The library is my favorite room at the Biltmore House, and it is spectacular. Bookshelves line the room on all four sides, with a secret passage behind the upper level chimney behind the fireplace.  The ceiling is ornately painted, and the woodwork is awe inspiring.  This room held the simple costumes from “Pride and Prejudice”.

Dressed Drama Pride Prejudice 4

In all the exhibits, the actual volumes from the Vanderbilt library accompanies the exhibit, displayed in clear cases.

Dressed Drama plackard

Additional posters detail the costume’s origin, designer and who wore it. The “Golden Bowl” dress was one of the most spectacular, worn by Uma Thurman.

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 1

Look at the peacock headdress, the jeweled bodice and jeweled girdle around the hips.

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 3

The necklace was a golden collar with large emerald color stones.

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 2

This is the dress worn by Kate Beckinsale in the same movie. Lovely lacework on this gown!

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 7

This dress was a bit simpler, a day dress, but what a hat!

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 8

I’d wear this hat today, I love to wear hats! Of course, it would likely need to be the Kentucky derby to get away with it, LOL!

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 9

Two more costumes from “The Golden Bowl”. There were more costumes from this book than any other, and they were all wonderfully done. I need to read this book!

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 12

The dress features gathering and draping, expertly done, with lovely rose detail.

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 13

The shawl on this dress was made of gossamer fabric with exquisite embroidery in gold.

Dressed Drama Golden Bowl 16

While we were enjoying the costumes, the pipe organ was being played, with ragtime songs from the 1920s. The music could be heard over a large portion of the tour.

Biltmore Pipe Organ

These costumes from “House of Mirth” were arranged with mirrors so you could see the backs of both.  The room here is Mrs Vanderbilt’s bedroom, with gilded portrait frames and mirrors.

Dressed Drama House of Mirth 1

The next room showcased the simpler style of “Jane Eyre”, still beautifully sewn.

Dressed Drama Jane Eyre 1

This rich red gown from “Portrait of a Lady” is right at home with the burgundy papered walls of the bedroom.  Every room at Biltmore House is furnished beautifully, and appointed with sumptuous draperies and beautiful rugs.

Dressed Drama Portrait Lady 1

This lovely gown and dashing tuxedo are from “Sherlock Holmes”, set in the billards room in the Bachelor’s wing.

Dressed Drama Sherlock Holmes 3

Costumes from “Sleepy Hollow” worn by Johnny Depp and Michael Gambon.

Dressed Drama Sleepy Hollow 1

Even the gowns worn by the extras in the film “Sleepy Hollow” had attention to detail.

Dressed Drama Sleepy Hollow 8

Just look at the lace on the bodice, and this was worn by someone in the film’s background.

Dressed Drama Sleepy Hollow 5

Lastly, these two lovely gowns are from “Twelfth Night”.

Dressed Drama Twelfth Night 2

There was a lot more to see, including gowns from “Anna Karenina” and fanciful costumes from “Finding Neverland” and more.

From the Biltmore House website – “Once recognized as ‘one of the best read men in the country’ by New York media, [George] Vanderbilt amassed a library of more than 22,000 volumes at his North Carolina home. A reader from an early age, he began at the age of 12 keeping a record of the books he had read, including the title and author of each work. By his death in 1914, Vanderbilt had logged 3,159 books. He also counted leading authors of the era as personal friends, including Henry James, Paul Leicester Ford, and Edith Wharton—all of whom stayed at Biltmore House as guests of George and Edith Vanderbilt.”

You can read more about the creation of this exhibit in their Designed for Drama Press Release.  More pictures are on the Biltmore House website Photo Gallery.  If you are local, make plans to see this wonderful exhibit.  If you haven’t made your vacation plans for this year, come to Asheville/Hendersonville!  The event runs through July 4, 2017.

Did you enjoy the pictures?  Have you read these classics?

 

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Sewing Fiction Magic and Ghosts

Supernatural occurrences are abundant in these books with a sewing theme. My favorite of all the writers of ghostly themes is Barbara Michaels. In fact, it was the book Stitches in Time that hooked me on her writing many years ago. Who doesn’t love a good ghost story, especially with Halloween coming up?   The first is Ammie Come Home, originally published in 1968, but you don’t need to read it to follow the story in the second two books.  The author is good about catching you up, and this book is hard to find.  It introduces the house and the family, with Ruth and Patrick.  A  spirit takes over a vulnerable woman, trying to prevent history from repeating itself.  Another more malevolent spirit has other plans.  Shattered Silk is the second book and introduces us to Ruth’s niece Karen and her friend Cheryl, who come together to open a vintage clothing store.   There no ghosts in this story, refreshing in that it isn’t a murder mystery, but I was expecting some supernatural element – it is Barbara Michaels after all! But, the mystery is engaging, difficult to put down, and there are some twists that you won’t see coming. It is fun to read a book written before the internet or cell phones (1986), which would have changed the story in some ways, as characters would not be out of touch – unless there was the story device of a dead battery or out of tower range.  These are the second and third books in the Georgetown trilogy.

Sewing Fiction Barbara Michaels ~ From My Carolina Home

Stitches in Time picks up 10 years later, with both ladies married and dealing with a thriving vintage business.  Karen has changed her name to Kara, to exorcise the memory of her ex-husband.  When a stolen quilt is left at their door, strange things begin to happen to their part time worker Rachael, eerily like something that happened before.  Patrick remembers some of the ghostly incidents (from the first book), and tries to unwind the mystery, but the curse on the quilt isn’t easily set to rest.  The descriptions of the vintage quilt are marvelous, as are descriptions of some of the vintage clothing.  There is a good deal of information on preserving and cleaning old garments and quilts in the book too. I highly recommend this series.

Annette Blair writes a cozy mystery series with magic in the clothes.  First up, A Veiled Deception as Maddie returns home to Mystick Falls, Connecticut to attend her sister’s wedding.  Things go awry when the ex-girlfriend of the groom winds up dead and the bride is the main suspect.  When Maddie begins having visions coming from the wedding dress, things get interesting.  In the second book, Larceny and Lace, Maddie is busy with her vintage clothing store, called Vintage Magic, in a building formerly the morgue.  Again, she gets visions from the clothing that helps point her to clues.  I liked both these books, there is a bit more romance in these than usual, but I can handle a little.  I have the next three yet to read.

Blair books

I have yet another magic series on Mount TBR, the Magical Dressmaking Series by Melissa Bourbon.  Harlow Cassidy, descendant of Butch Cassidy, moves back to her home town in Texas to escape the big city and open a custom dressmaking shop.  Apparently all the women in the family have special gifts, but Harlow believes that she doesn’t have any gifts.  Her mother can make things grow, her grandmother can talk to goats, and her great grandmother Meemaw always got what she wanted.  Meemaw has passed on, but apparently not left the house she left to Harlow in her will.  Ghostly occurrences and communication helps Harlow unravel the mystery, as she discovers that her gift is in the sewing of dresses and clothing to help the wearer feel better, or pretty, or more confident.  All the books have sewing tips in the back. I think I am missing book 2, but will likely just skip it and read the rest of what I already own.

Bourbon Books

So many books, so little time!  What are you reading now?

 

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Sewing Fiction Stories About Life and Giveaway!

Continuing the series on sewing fiction,  I received an advance reader copy of Birds in the Air from the author.  I think Frances could tell by my blog that I am a quilter that reads, and asked if I would like to read her new book.  Of course, I said yes, as it was set around a quilt show in a small town in North Carolina.  Right up my alley.  Later I found out that not only is she a resident of NC, but she has been quilting for a number of years too!  I did not promise her a review, she sent it with no strings.  But guess what, it is a wonderful story.

Birds in Air

Birds In The Air by Frances O’Roark Dowell is named for a quilt block, and I had to look it up to see it.  Amazing, Tango has that basic shape in it.  The story involves a woman whose family moves to a small town in the mountains of NC.  Her husband and daughter settle in quickly with job and school, but Emma needs something to do.  Finding an old quilt in an attic trunk is the catalyst for searching out the local quilt shop.  She is not a quilter to start with, but that quickly changes.  Through a series of events, she ends up learning to quilt as well as becoming the publicist for the local guild’s quilt show.  That doesn’t sit well with some of the members who consider her an outsider.  Conflict with another guild member creates a disaster for the quilt show, and help comes from an unlikely source.  The story is interesting and told in an easy to read style, and I found it difficult to put down.  I also like that Emma is happily married, as many of these series begin with a divorce so the woman can find her own way.  I like that a married woman can also find her own way while having a family and a committed relationship.  I finished it in just a few days.  The book will be published on September 24th, and one lucky reader will get a copy from the author.  Just comment on this post. Giveaway is over.

Books with a Sewing Theme ~ From My Carolina Home

The second book to tell you about is The Florabama Ladies Auxilliary and Sewing Circle by Lois Battle. This book is also set in a small town, with a newly divorced woman moving there for a job. This book was another one where the title is misleading. There is a sewing bit in the last third of the book, but it isn’t explored as well as it could have been. The story follows the ladies as they are downsized out of jobs, and try to find their way in new situations, returning to school and finding work. The sewing circle becomes a way to make some money, but even that has a disaster that the central character should have seen coming, I sure did. It annoys me when a woman is portrayed as just being stupid, making idiotic choices. So, I cannot really recommend this one, there are better books to spend your time reading.

Sewing Fiction Series on From My Carolina Home

Then there is Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing, but I almost wall banged this book halfway through.  That is where the book is so bad you throw it against the wall to avoid wasting any more time on it.   The dialogue is stilted, (no one really talks this way), being bludgeoned with platitudes, overly perky ‘blog posts’, and has completely unrealistic plot with an even more unrealistic conclusion. It seems to be written by someone very young and idealistic, but the world doesn’t work this way. I’m sure I’ll be branded as a “negative nellie” as stated in the novel to be ignored as someone unhappy with their life, but I am very happy with my life thank you very much.  And if you cannot handle criticism, you will never grow.  This story had so much potential, a fresh point of view and story of achieving dreams with determination, but didn’t deliver. The characters never really captured my interest. It left the impression of being a Young Adult novel written by someone who hasn’t really had any similar experience, rather than being a novel of accomplishment through hard work. After all, how many 30-year-old protagonists with two years of grunt work experience (and two degrees, really?) get made CEO of a multi-national company? NOT!! Pass this one by unless you are in your 20s. There are much better books to read.

Vintage Affair2

One of those better books is A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff that I reviewed last year. The book jacket describes this story as centering around a woman, Phoebe, who opens a vintage clothing store. She likes to think about the woman that owned a garment before her, what her life might have been like. When she encounters an elderly French woman who wishes to sell some of her garments, Phoebe finds a new friend with a story of her own. What the jacket doesn’t say is that both women are trying to overcome a tragedy in their lives. There is a connection between the two women in that each blames herself for circumstances beyond her control. The revelation of these circumstances to each other helps each woman to come to terms with the past and give light to the future. This isn’t a sad story, it is a beautifully written journey with hope. The descriptions of the clothes will make a textile enthusiast drool with happiness. She describes 1950s prom dresses with bustier tops and frothy net petticoat skirts as cupcake dresses. There is lovely detail in the descriptions of Vivienne Westwood skirts, a Balenciaga dark blue silk evening gown, and a pleated evening gown by Madame Gres, along with other items. It makes the reader want to visit this store and feel the fabrics, admire the buttons and peruse the hats and jewelry.  I’d really enjoy spending an afternoon there.

I recently found another book to add to Mt TBR (Mount To-Be-Read), The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham set in 1950s.  It was made into a movie starring Kate Winslet last year, but I don’t remember seeing it in the theaters here.  It is set in Australia, and is categorized as Australian revenge comedy.  It was nominated for a number of Australian film awards and won several.

Are you reading any sewing fiction from this series of posts? Or any sewing fiction?  Comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Birds in the Air.  The drawing will be by random number, and will take place on Saturday morning, Eastern Daylight Time in US.  Drawing is open to readers anywhere in the world.  Drawing has been held.

If you missed the first three posts on Sewing and Quilting in Fiction, click on Quilting Fiction, Sewing Mysteries, and Sewing Fiction.

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Sewing Mysteries

I really enjoy the genre of cozy mysteries, nice easy to read stories without gore, overt violence, sex or foul language. Even the obligatory murder for a murder mystery happens “off camera”, and only the body is found. Arlene Sachitano writes such a series with a quilting theme. The books are written in an easy to read style, with lots of quilting thrown in. There are some tips here and there too. One tip I found particularly appropriate was that quilters usually do not have enough lights in their stash, so every time you buy fabric you should throw in a yard of a light to round out your stash. Good advice!

Sachitano

Books with a Sewing Theme ~ From My Carolina HomeThe first book, Quilt As Desired, starts out with the main character, Harriet Truman, coming back to Foggy Point so she can keep a business running while her Aunt Beth is on a cruise. Instead, she finds out after her aunt leaves that she has in fact retired and left Harriet the business and her house. When Aunt Beth’s best friend, Avanell, is murdered, and her own studio trashed, Harriet must figure out what is going on before the killer strikes again. Harriet is thrown into the investigation with Avanell’s son, Aiden, and he quickly becomes smitten with her. However, Harriet is having none of it. She is still reeling from being suddenly widowed five years earlier by a husband who didn’t tell her about his fatal illness. But the Loose Threads quilting group welcomes her and helps her to begin to heal that wound.

Books with a Sewing Theme ~ From My Carolina HomeIn the second book, Quilter’s Knot, Harriet and the Loose Threads go to a retreat. One of the members, Lauren, is attending a longer program in original design to stop the rumors of her copying other quilter’s work. However, Aunt Beth thinks she saw an identical quilt to Lauren’s work while she was in Europe. Lauren believes the school owner has in fact copied Lauren, and wants Harriet to prove it. But when the owner is killed, it is up to Harriet to prove Lauren is innocent, and she doesn’t even like Lauren.

The third installment, Quilt As You Go, has Harriet and the Loose Threads making quilts in Civil War reproductions to sell at the local reenactment and street fair. When one of the ‘soldiers’ doesn’t get up after the ‘battle’, Harriet is dismayed to find he is dead. Not only that, but he was married to one of the Loose Threads and was thought to have died 20 years ago. Of course there is a quilt involved, that appears without warning in Mavis’ house, a quilt she made for that husband years earlier and hadn’t seen since before he ‘died’. There is a lot to sort out here, including finding out about a stranger that appears to be interested in Carla, another Loose Threads member. The romance between Harriet and Aiden heats up a little too. The books are quick reads, and are printed in trade paperback size with print you can actually see. There are three more in the series, and I look forward to reading them as well.

Casey books

Elizabeth Lynn Casey’s series Southern Sewing Circle begins with Sew Deadly.  New to town, librarian Tori Sinclair becomes embroiled in a mystery, and she is a suspect.  She has the added problem of being a Yankee in South Carolina.  Joining a sewing circle to make friends, she has another problem as the former librarian is a member.  I found this book very engaging, with a wonderful easy style.  I’ve only read the first one in the series, and will get to the rest soon.

Button mysteries

Kylie Logan (one of several pen names for Constance Laux) writes a cozy series set in a button shop.   I really wanted to like this series, but the more I think about it, it just didn’t hit the bar of other cozy authors.  Josie Giancola is surprised to find burglars in her shop ransacking the place, right before she is to show a super star some button choices for the star’s wedding gown.   When the super star is later found dead in her shop, Josie has to do some digging concerning a strange button found with the body.  Josie is still attracted to her ex-husband, who is always in trouble with money and gambling, but his character gets a bit annoying.  I truly get aggravated by characters that cannot take a stand and stick with it, and Josie eventually gives in to his constant requests for money with unbelievable stories.  She calls it a payment for services, but we all know better.  She gets manipulated by a TV show host, Estelle, who wants her to be the Button Babe, a demeaning role that she eventually agrees to do.  I was also disappointed that there wasn’t more button lore in the book, there is only a website mention in the back.   I’ll read the next one just because I already have it, but if the characters don’t grow, I’ll likely not go any further.

Another cozy mystery series by Earlene Fowler called Benni Harper mysteries involves a widow who moves to a small town in California to be the new director of the Folk Art museum.  Her first exhibit is an antique quilt show.  Of course, the murder occurs there, and the police chief would rather she go back to quilting and stay out of his way.  Over the course of the first two novels, they end up together.  The fun thing is all these novels are named for quilt blocks, starting with Fool’s Puzzle, and continuing with Irish Chain and Kansas Troubles.  There are now eleven novels in the series.  I got bored with this series after book 3, and I have to say this was some time ago.  I haven’t read most of the series.

Lee books

Amanda Lee (pen name of Gail Trent) writes the Embroidery Mysteries series dealing with cross stitching.  Beginning with The Quick and the Thread, new shop owner Marcy finds the previous tenant dead in the store.  It is part of the formula, I think, that the first murder has the protagonist as a suspect, generally with the victim found in the new business, or in connection with it.  But, such are cozy mysteries!  Still, I enjoy reading them.  Next, in Stitch Me Deadly, and antique piece of needlework become the catalyst to solve the death of an older woman who collapses in the store.  I have several more to get to in this series as well.

Quilt Fiction

I have two more cozys on the To Be Read shelves, (pictured above) The Cat The Quilt and The Corpse by Leann Sweeney, and Plagued by Quilt by Molly MacRae.  I’ll get to these at some point.  Plus I just found another one at the library sale last weekend, a new series starting with Going Through the Notions by Cate Price.  Reader Barbara let me know of yet another cozy series that I haven’t seen yet – Mainely Needlepoint Series by Lea Wait.  The first book of that series is Twisted Threads, and looks really interesting as it ties the current day murder with the disappearance cold case of the protagonist’s own mother.

This is the third post in my series on sewing and quilting in fiction.  If you missed the first two, find them at Quilting Fiction and Celebrate National Sewing Month Fiction.  There will be two more posts with additional genres, and next time a giveaway!

Have you read any of today’s books?  Are you a cozy mystery fan?

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