Month: January 2023

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Debut Novel

Book Cover of Remarkably Bright Creatures depicting giant octopus and elderly ladyShelby Van Pelt’s Remarkably Bright Creatures is remarkably good. Set in the Pacific Northwest, the heartwarming story has generational appeal. Quirky characters represent the populations of small towns across the United States of America, and most likely the world. Relatable and engaging, the reader might be reading about friends and neighbors.

Characters

Tova Sullivan is a widow in her early seventies. She still lives in the house she grew up in built decades ago by her father. Bereft of family due to her only child’s strange disappearance just after his high school graduation, she still meets with a group of friends on a weekly basis. But their numbers are dwindling.

Tova is the epitome of work ethic. She believes in working through one’s troubles. So, she is still working nightly as a janitor of a sea aquarium.

Cameron Cassmore, just turned thirty, is homeless, down on his luck, and searching for answers. Left with an aunt by his addict mother he is determined to find his father. A man who might not even know of his existence. His motive is money. Work is something that he just doesn’t want to…work at. He finds it impossible to hold down a job-of course at no fault of his own.

Marcellus is the third main character. And the hero. The opening chapter, rife with anthropomorphism captures the heart-Marcellus is at the end of his lifespan. But as one of Earth’s remarkably bright creatures, he has one final task to complete.

Remarkably Bright Creatures-Multiple Plots and an Overarching Theme

Books can be driven by characters or by a captivating plot. Remarkable Bright Creatures is most definitely character driven. But the theme and the various plots move the story along. At the heart of the book is family and generations. Yet, the main characters face a future without familial links. In the case of Tova-no descendants. Cameron mourns his loss of parents and grandparents. Perhaps his inability to keep a job and put down roots is an outcome. He certainly blames his circumstances- not himself. The need for family drives the story. Even Marcellus comments on procreation. Not what one would expect from a creature facing imminent death.

Van Pelt does an excellent job of creating small town life and telling of the importance of both family and friends. And yes, community can be built in cities. However, this connection is so much easier to spot in a small town where everyone knows everything. About everybody. Which is also maddening.

Furthermore, the author is wonderful at tying the multiple plots together. Not only does she remind one life spans don’t change, but Van Pelt is also excellent in conveying the importance of work, resilience and personal ethics. Thus, she makes a point of leaving a mark on this world we live in. Not necessarily attaining fame and fortune-just a positive impact on our surroundings and the people we interact with on a daily basis.

Recommendation for Remarkably Bright Creatures

Remarkably Bright Creatures is a warm hearted and uplifting story. The novel is a reflection of today’s world. It is a reminder that tragedy can strike at any time yet the living must continue to lead productive lives. Certainly, that is easier said than done.

Shelby Van Pelt successfully addresses so many modern concerns and still leaves the reader in a positive frame of mind. Buy this book soon and keep it for one of those days when your spirits are low. Remarkably Bright Creatures is the needed antidote. This debut novel is a keeper.

The Escape Artist Book Review

Highly Recommended

A relative recommended The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland in the latter months of 2022. Now I recommend it too. The book is part historical account and part biography. Throw in action in the prologue followed by flowing prose and pertinent questions, then you have a publication well worth reading.

The Escape Artist

Walter Rosenberg later known as Rudolf Vrba is the subject of The Escape Artist. He and fellow Slovakian Alfred Wetzler became the first Jewish escapees of Auschwitz/Birkenau. Their story has been told more than once. Yet, this iteration should not be missed.

First of all, Freedland has been meticulous in his research and writing. He includes maps, personal photos and documentation from no less than Sir Winston Churchill himself. And his political observations woven throughout are sound and reflective.

The account set forth will be hard to read for some. However, The Escape Artist needs to be read. Especially by younger generations. Those too young to have personally met and/or witnessed the tattoos of the survivors of the Nazi termination camps. And more importantly, by those who have forgotten their history lessons.

Rudi Vrba is the Escape Artist

Freedland addresses the man known at his death as Rudolf Vrba by his given name at birth, Walter Rosenberg, throughout the account until the man was given a new identity following his escape from Auschwitz/Birkenau. Unlike his follow escapee, Fred Wetzler, Vrba kept his new name after the war.

Much of the book is focused on the account of Vrba. However, Freedland varies in key chapters such as in London has been Informed. The differentiation gives great credibility to the account. As do the shared documents.

Vrba’s life story goes beyond survival. He truly believed his escape would save lives-if people only knew what awaited them once the cattle cars arrived at the camps. Unfortunately, he was only partially correct.

His anger extended beyond the Nazi’s. And the anger was well placed. Much, much more could have and should have been done both during and after World War II. And the lessons are still applicable today.

Jonathan Freedland

British Journalist Freedland has written both fiction and non-fiction. The latter are published in his own name while most of the former can be found under the name Sam Bourne. Additionally, he appears on BBC and contributes regularly to several publications including The Guardian. He has obviously been busy researching, writing and promoting The Escape Artist since as of today January 23, 2023, his website needs updating.

The focus on Vrba’s story is commendable. Freedland’s journalist background bodes well. He asks the right questions. Readers need to provide the conclusions. And determine future actions lest ethnic cleansing continues to succeed; on different soil and against other ethnicities. If stories such as Vrba’s are forgotten, history will repeat.

 

 

Time to Plan the Garden

January Snow

A back patio with wall and furniture covered with about 8 inches of snow and small flakes falling.When the January snow blows it is time to plan the garden. This is always a favorite indoor task for this time of year. And a wet snow encourages both High Plains farmers and gardeners. So, after looking at the forecast showing three chances of snow in one week, I visited the library. Multiple books were checked out including three related to gardening.

The Backyard Gardener by Kelly Orzel, Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart and an Eyewitness Garden of Pruning & Training edited and published by DK Publishing provided additional reading material. So, the time to plan the garden is nigh.

Winter Chores

Before the arrival of snow, temperatures soared into the low sixties (Fahrenheit.) It is quite normal in this part of the world to have a warm-up before a front moves in. Year round we have temperature fluctuations of forty degrees or more on a daily basis. On the High Plains, population is sparse as are trees. This adds to cooling at night without concrete to trap the warmth. Click here for an interesting article from Time discussing concrete and heat.

Therefore, warm afternoons allow one to work in the garden for a few hours. These past two weeks ushered in a clean-up of early crop beds by cutting back the asparagus stalks and cleaning out the bed for the brassicas. After last year’s wind storm wiped out my garlic crop, I’ve become a dirty/lazy gardener leaving stalks in the ground to catch the snow and keep the soil anchored.

An alternative would be to grow a winter cover crop. Something I am considering. Although it seems to be a waste of seed, plowing under rye first thing in the spring.

Time to Plan the Garden: Seed Catalogs

The seed catalogues began arriving just after Christmas. Most are from companies I have ordered from in the past. Although a few are new to me. Perhaps sister companies-much preferable thought to that of my buying habits marketed to others.

Inflation has hit the garden supply industry. Supports such as tomato cages and trellises seem to have doubled in price. Since I do not keep catalogs from year to year this may be inaccurate. But the prices are higher. Planning will be critical and I may upcycle even more in the 2023 garden.

Some seeds were harvested from my own garden last year, including herbs such as dill, parsley and basil. The rosemary will need to be replaced. A necessary cost. The chives, sage and thyme can be divided. A wonderful savings. All indications point to higher costs. Thus, planning will be more important than ever. It certainly is time to plan the garden.

Time to Plan the Garden- Reviewing Notes

Spring 2023 notes aided by earlier year plannersBy reviewing the notes from my calendars, I know what items to re-order. And which ones to skip. For example, last years eggplants grew larger than the year before, but the vines became diseased. Not ideal for a home garden.

Copious notes help keep track of results. Additionally, the notations include rainfall and freeze dates. We started off with a dry spring, had a slightly wetter early summer and then dried out again. A tough environment.

In my opinion, the average frost dates are meaningless. In the last five years we have had spring freezes as late as Memorial Day and as early as mid-April. The same is true with the fall. Including the threat of a Labor Day freeze in 2020. So, material to protect crops is needed- as is patience. And the ability to adjust to a unpredictable growing season.

Book Reviews

Two of the above books will be reviewed in the coming weeks. To read the review of Deerproofing Your Garden click here. For those in warmer climates, spring is just around the corner. It really is time to plan the garden for 2023.

The Creative Process

Adapting Patterns

Artists, writers, crafters, architects and designers are alike in that each employ the creative process in their work. Many books have been written on left brain/right brain thinking processes. And most attribute the right brain to creativity. Thus, the left brain is relegated to the “boring” stuff. Like math.

However, as a quilter, I know you need both sides of the brain. Especially if creating a new design or adapting an existing pattern created by someone else. Such is the case with my current quilt project.

Recently, I found a quilt that looks perfect for the newest baby in the family. The discovery occurred while searching through my quilt books and old magazines. The little guy is almost six months old and still trying to catch up…preemies take a bit longer to develop. Since he is finally doing a bit more than eating, sleeping, and well you know-he needs a quilt to play on.

But the quilt in the magazine is bigger than desired and the companion infant quilt is not what I want. So, alterations need to be made. Cue left brain action!

Math and Quilting

Long ago when learning fractions, someone in class asked why? What is important about partial numbers? I don’t remember the exact answer, yet I am sure quilt design was not included. It should have been.

Quilters normally use quarter inches as seam allowances as opposed to the 5/8ths used by clothes designers and seamstresses. Of course, the quarter inch applies to all sides. So, blocks are actually a half inch bigger at the cutting stage.

Things get quite complicated at times. Such is the case with my adaptation of Family Tradition from McCall’s Quilting Vintage Quilts Spring 2014 edition. (In turn, the pattern was originally published as Easy Breezy in their Fall 2001 release.)

The finished size as published is 71” by 77 ¼” which is much bigger than I want. Therefore, mathematical adjustments need to be made before the creative process can take over. Cutting the size down by half would make the resulting quilt smaller than I want.

Since I like baby quilts to equal the width of standard fabric, I need a width at or below 44 inches. So, reducing the size by a third was also out of the question. Complicating things further, the original squares called for 3 5/8” (the laptop doesn’t even recognize this fraction!)

Creative Process-More Than Art

The creative process includes thinking outside the box. Therefore, I counted the squares on the top border and divided the number into the desired finished width. A slight adjustment was made, dropping the measurement to the next lowest eighth of an inch. Then, the seam allowances were added back in.

Next, I adjusted the width of the inner borders and made multiple calculations. I decreased the 6 ¾” (with allowances) to 4 ¼” and recalculated the length based on the nine patch squares. As you can see in the photo, the measurements were spot on.

The hardest equation involved the right-angle triangles in the corners. Basic algebra and a scientific calculator helped. I hope my math will be correct when I reach that point. The hypotenuse is known and the base and perpendicular sides are equal, so I divided the hypotenuse by the square root of 2. Tweaking will need to be done since again the number is not a nice fraction. And the seam allowances can’t be forgotten.

Design with Color and Direction

The magazine depicts the quilt with a lot of pastels. The little guy will receive a version with earth tones sparked with vibrant teals and greens. My inspiration is more of ocean meeting land and rugged rocks. The nine patches in the middle have the same brown. Since the brown has directional lines of gold, red and teal, placement was intentional. My creative process requires a certain structure in the design. I like a top and bottom and consistent direction when possible.

Two additional fabrics complete the center square. Although both feature greens, they differ in tone and style. One is a child print, a traditional green plaid background with sail boats, fire trucks and the like. The other is a pebbly abstract in various shades of teal. Both complement the brown.

My last decision will involve whether or not to include a top and bottom single row border as designed. Or I can leave the quilt as a square within a square. So many decisions in the creative process!

Quilt in browns and teals with four nine patches in center, solid inner border and pieced block outer border.
Quilt in Progress

Elevator Pitch Book Review

A “New to Me” Author

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay is a library check-out and one I encourage you to find. The book was released in 2019 and is the first novel of Barclay’s I have read. The story captures interest from the start-I could hardly put it down! The writing flows as the plot thickens with twists and turns only partially foreshadowed.

Barclay falls into the category of prolific author. More than that, the title provides a glimpse of intelligence and wit. There are multiple meanings layered in “Elevator Pitch.”  Here is proof that the world has many, many talented authors and time is limited. Too limited to read them all. But if you haven’t yet read any of his work, he is worth discovering. So, I can’t believe I missed his dozens of books and am glad he is now on my radar.

Setting of Elevator Pitch

New York City is the setting of Elevator Pitch. The focus is on the many skyscrapers. Right from the opening pages the reader grasps the significance of the vertical landscape. How necessary is it for elevators to work smoothly if you live more than ten floors up? Twenty? Eighty? And the significance grows with respect to age.

But this is not a story of electrical failure as if the power grid were attacked as discussed in Ted Koppel’s non-fiction Lights Out. Instead, Elevator Pitch focuses on isolated events of domestic terrorism and personal vendettas. Furthermore, Barclay provides plenty of suspense against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.

A Plethora of Characters

Barbara Matheson is a career NYC print reporter. She covers local politics. Her nemesis is Mayor Richard Wilson Headley. And not much love is lost between them. But things are complicated. Headley has political aspirations beyond the local level and his son thinks Matheson is the perfect person to serve as a ghostwriter. After all, she has that experience as well.

Matheson has a grown daughter. Since the fatherless child was raised by Matheson’s parents, the relationship between the two is fraught with guilt and blame. Arla Silbert (she uses Matheson’s maiden name) catches the eye of the mayor’s son, Glover, on her first day at work for the city. Thus, Barclay has many layers of intrigue. These characters are just the tip of the iceberg.

Other keys to the mystery of malfunctioning elevators include mayoral aides, police detectives, Russian operatives and right-wing domestic terrorists. The plot contains foreshadowing and plenty of misdirection. Everything the author needs to keep the readers turning the pages.

Elevator Pitch Plot

The plot of the novel is basic. And the writing is filled with nuances. For example, the opening scene depicts a screenwriter as a stalker determined to pitch his work. He “succeeds” by cornering the agent in a high-rise elevator on her way to the office. His efforts fail-because the elevator fails and falls. This is just the first of three failures before the mayor shuts everything down. Then even more chaos ensues. A no-win situation for the mayor.

Sub-plots are rampant in the novel. Barclay is a master of connecting the multiple threads and tying them together. The quick tempo of the writing matches the pace of the plotting. Kudos to Linwood Barclay for providing an entertaining evening of reading. Elevator Pitch earns high praise. Read it soon.

This suspenseful novel may have you taking the stairs…whenever possible.