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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst and Other Mutterings

I've finally begun reading S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.

I ordered it a couple of weeks ago and have been saving it. I started it Sunday night and could have read an entire book in the time it took to get through 45-50 pages!  Why?  And why am I still fascinated?  And how long will it take me to finish? 

Brief Description:  "One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace and desire
A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown."

I'm not certain how I came across the article in The New Yorker, but once I did, there was no point in trying to avoid purchasing it.  And I really don't like to pay for books--I read too many, and between the library and NetGalley, I manage to get most of my books for free.  This book, however, I knew I'd want to own.  

via N.Y.T. article
Not everyone likes marginalia, but my lit crit books are full of them from when I was teaching and wanted to make connections between novels and poems with the same themes, symbols, image, or archetypes.  I've always marked up my non-fiction whether they were about literary criticism, sociology, gardening, history, or yoga.  I don't mark my fiction for some reason, although I have used post-it notes for references-- even that is rare.

So...A conversation between two people studying the same mysterious book intrigued me, but I admit it took me an hour or so to decide how to read it.  Some people say they read the marginalia first, even depending on the color of ink.  First, the blue and black comments, then later, those in purple, red, and gold.  Some read the printed text of the novel first, then the marginalia.  There are all these strands going on:  the novel, the comments about the novel, the personal comments, the footnotes, and all of the inclusions of newspaper articles, postcards, telegrams, and other ephemera.

It's fun, but reading and keeping things straight requires concentration.  

Snail mail posts continue on my other blog.  I'm behind right now and have several letters to answer.  My plan is to get to them tonight.  

Lately, I've been making fabric postcards.  I did this years ago and participated in a couple of exchanges.  They take a while to make, and I can't just stick them in the mail box--they have to go to the P.O. to be hand cancelled.   The backs are cardstock, and I stitch the little quilt to the postcard back, write my note, add stamps, and then go to the P.O.  They are fun, but maybe a little too time-consuming.

Today, Suzie is coming over, and we will make something.  Don't know what yet, but there will also be wine and tabouli.  She is up from New Orleans and will be here for another few days so we will have time to get all of the updating done, all the discussions about the state of the world, family re-caps, etc.  

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Two Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes and the Tangled Skein by David Stuart Davies is another Sherlock pastiche.  Some of these are great; some not so much.  This one falls somewhere in between. 

I simply couldn't resist the Dracula element.  Holmes vs Dracula drew me in, and Davies does a decent job with it.

A quick and enjoyable read, but not my favorite in the realm of Holmes and Watson.  

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Mystery/Supernatural.  2007; 2016.  Print length:  192 pages.

Prime Evil by Maynard Sims is the second in a series featuring DCI Jack Callum and set in the 1950's, although I haven't read the first one.  Jack Callum is a likable protagonist, a devoted husband and father, and an honest and dedicated policeman.

Perhaps most interesting (aside from the murder mystery) is the insight into the 1950's: the advent of television, the treatment of women (who stepped up during the war years and who are once again relegated to subordinate roles), the changes in families and in traditions.  In a world that cannot imagine being without modern technology, cell phones, internet, and global television opportunities, the post-war years would be difficult to imagine.

Jack Callum resists some of the changes and approves others.  

Maynard Sims is the name adopted by Len Maynard and Mick Sims.  They met when they were eleven and later established a writing career together.  The two men cover a wide variety of genres:  crime fiction, thrillers, supernatural crime (Department 18 series), supernatural novels, and erotic romance (under a pseudonym)!  The Department 18 series might be good for the RIP Challenge.

NetGalley/Joffrey Books

Crime/Police Procedural.  March 2016.  Print length:  232 pages.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Rook and Once Upon a Time

I've joined Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge again.  This is my first book in The Journey: "This is really as simple as the name implies. It means you are participating, but not committing yourself to any specific number of books."  There are several ways to participate, so if you are interested, click on Carl's link and check it out.

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley is the first in the Cheque Files series, a kind of British Ghost Busters.     

From the description:     "The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

It was that description on the book jacket that made me slip the novel into my library bag.  

What I liked:  From the first page, the book captivated me, and I admit that it was a page turner extraordinaire; I truly had difficulty putting it aside to take care of all the mundane elements of life.  So...good thing my husband was satisfied with sandwiches.

A secret government organization battles supernatural threats in the UK, and Myfanwy Thomas is a high-ranking member of the agency, although mostly concerned with administration and finance as she is very shy, not particularly courageous, and reluctant to use or develop her powers.  Members of the Chequy have titles associated with chess; there are bishops, rooks, chevaliers, and pawns.  Myfanwy's opposite rook takes care of the action while she brilliantly handles the paperwork. 

I liked that the original Myfanwy was a dedicated, but introverted character so that when she discovers the nature of the threat against her (her memories will be expunged--definitely a kind of death), she must battle her natural inclinations in order to prepare the way for the next Myfanwy.  I also liked that the second Myfanwy (who awakes to the startling realization that she has no personal history that she is aware of) must depend on the letters the original Myfanwy wrote to clue her in and keep her safe.

The second Myfanwy learns that in order to keep herself and the agency secure from the predations of an enemy organization, she must discover the traitor within.  Someone wanted Myfanwy out of the way.  What had Myfanwy stumbled on that revealed a traitor and a threat to the organization?  

The second Myfanywy is forced to try to fulfill her "new" role by using the letters and information left by the first.  She attempts to uncover the conspiracy and to decide which of her colleagues wanted her out of the way.  Her personality is different, picking up on the latent courage of the first.  The second Myfanwy is more outgoing, more daring, and much more inclined to use her powers.  

What I liked less:  I really think the author was having too much fun with his story and that the editor must have picked up on it and refused to cut more extensively.  This is a personal feeling, and I think it is wonderful that the author loves what he is writing.  However, while I was captivated by the mystery and the suspense, I was less interested in a couple of the battles--they were too long.  Here is where I think the author was indulging himself a bit with too lengthy descriptions of these weird, supernatural battles.  But hey, for others that might be the highlight of the book.  For me, they slowed down the action I was really interested in and believe that a little excision would have helped the pace.  

:)  Some parts are just ridiculous (the duck), some parts suspenseful--overall a fun fantasy ride!

The next installment is Stiletto.  Hope my library gets a copy.  It is due out in June.

Library copy.

Supernatural Fantasy.  2012.  504 pages.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and The Grave Tattoo

I went to the library Thursday afternoon and picked up several books.  I forgot my list--so annoying because I couldn't remember any of the "new to me" authors I had jotted down over the last couple of weeks.  Nevertheless, I came home with several books.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore was one that had been on my list for a long time.  It was raining, so I settled in with it first.  At first I was delighted.  I liked Clay's initial descriptions of his situation and his roommates, and of course, the description of his finding a job at Mr. Penumbra's bookstore. The mystery charmed me.  Initially.  I read straight through, becoming less enchanted about half way through.  

Although the characters had wonderful potential, they became stock characters to advance the plot.  The plot...well, not even the plot really engaged me.

I wonder if there is a tipping point with books....  I know one reason I delayed reading this after putting it on my list several years ago had something to do with "too many" five star reviews.  Sometimes, if I see a book with dozens of glowing reviews, I'm afraid I'll be disappointed.

Enough time had passed, however, that I thought I could give it a fair shake.  And it started off so well!  I even like Robin Sloan because of his descriptions of Clay's friends Matt and Neel.  Those descriptions feel so genuine, as if he really knows these people--a testament of friendship--which is, I think, one of the themes of the book.  After the first chapters, though, the friends are sublimated to a plot that didn't work well for me.  

Maybe I was just not in the mood for this one.  It has been so loved by so many readers that I was sorry not to belong to the group of admirers.  It certainly won plenty of honors.

A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPRLos Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle

Library copy.

Fantasy.  2013.  288 pages.

On to the next in my library bag.

The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid.  I've enjoyed so many of McDermid's books that I felt this stand-alone would make up for my disappointment with Mr. Penumbra.  Alas.

The premise was interesting.  I love books about lost manuscripts, love Wordsworth, and have always found The Bounty mutiny fascinating.

I plodded through the entire thing, wondering why I didn't just add it to the DNF pile.  But it was Val McDermid!    

To save time, I'm going to direct you to Sam's review.  He gives an excellent synopsis of the plot.  

McDermid's books have never before failed to engage me.  This one has plenty of murders, and yet is not as dark as most of McDermid's books.  Looking at Goodread reviews, I notice that many that have not read McDermid's books before liked the novel much more than those who have followed her books over the years.  Interesting. 

Two books in two days that failed me.  That doesn't mean that either book will fail you!  Both books have as many or more positive reviews than negative ones.

I've enjoyed a couple of McDermid's Karen Pirie series, but my favorite is the Wire in the Blood series.  McDermid also has a couple of series that I haven't read.  Here is a list of her books, both series and stand alones.  Has anyone read any of the Kate Brannigan or Lindsay Gordon books?

Library copy.

Crime/Mystery.  2007.  400 pages.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

W.R. Gingell and Fairy Tale Reimaginings

Recently Intasar Khanani  recommended Masque by W.R. Gingell, and for .99, I decided to try it.  Ha!  I zipped through it top speed with a grin on my face.

Right now, I am in desperate need of fairy tales and magic.  The recent flooding that has left half our state underwater is a bit too much reality to face.  My usual therapy for difficult situations is to escape into books, and a little fantasy and magic--spiced by wit and humor--was exactly the right recipe.

Masque, besides the lovely cover, provided a delightful respite.  

A reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast tale, Masque has a remarkable freshness and a unique approach.  It is light and funny with charming characters -- in spite of the rather dreadful murders that occur.

Lady Isabella Farrah is the daughter of Civet's Ambassador to Glause and a very independent minded, happily unmarried spinster in her late twenties.  Attending the Annual Ambassadorial Ball, Isabella finds herself besieged by the much younger Lord Topher, who seems determined to fall in love with her.  Isabella has no intentions of letting his budding interest go further, but wants to let him down gently.

In the meantime, Lord Pecus does catch her interest.  Known as the Beast Lord, Lord Pecus is under a curse and always wears a masque.  Her friend Dylesia has done her best to dislodge the masque, quite unsuccessfully.  This piques Isabella's curiosity.

Then events at the ball go haywire when an old and trusted friend is murdered and suspected of espionage.  And away we go.

Isabella is a daunting investigator. Gathering allies who are dedicated and a little in awe of her, she proceeds at will to tackle the twists that occur.  Even when she ends up as a hostage, Isabella manages to untangle many of the threads to the mystery.

I loved the dialogue.  Isabella is never at a loss for just the right words for the occasion.  Gingell has created amusing, articulate characters who romp through the pages, enjoying themselves immensely.

A light, clever, and engaging fairy tale retelling that manages to be fresh and original.

I had 3 minor quibbles.  I won't mention them here, but don't think that they put me off the book.  It was great fun!

Kindle purchase.  :)  for .99 and well worth it!

Fairy Tale/Fantasy.  2015.  print version:  335 pages.

When I finished, I decided to try something else by Gingell.  I decided on Wolfskin.

First, I need to mention that the Masque and Wolfskin are distinctly different in style.  Both are retellings of familiar tales, but the approach is  completely different.  Wolfskin has a more traditional feel to it, and yet it, too, veers drastically from the original tale of Red Riding Hood.  

Truthfully, Gingell's reimagining takes little more than the idea of a young girl and a dangerous wolf and develops an entirely new tale that draws on more than one fairy tale theme.

At seven, Rose decided she would be a bloodthirsty pirate with the name Cutlass Rose.  At fourteen, Rose is a feisty tomboy who, in spite of living in a loving family, has dreams of adventure.  She finds domestic duties cumbersome and boring and longs for daring exploits.  

When her mother finally agrees to apprentice her to the local forest witch Akiva, Rose is delighted, hoping for magic and excitement.  Initially, Rose is disappointed not to sense the magic she expected.  Discovering that hard work in the garden is one of her chores, she despairs of her dreams of adventure.

And then she meets the wolf in the forest and steps off the path....

I liked Wolfskin even better than Masque and plan to read much more of W.R. Gingell!

Kindle Unlimited.

Fairy Tale/Fantasy.  2015.  print version:  300 pages.

I'm also excited about Intasar Khanani's sequel to Sunbolt.  I've pre-ordered Memories of Ash.  You can check her cover reveal and give-away here.

Oh, yes, I'm in a fairy tale mood right now!  :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

More Crime--from Sweden, to Ireland, to Glacier National Park

Killer Deal       

This is the third in the Emma Skold series, and I haven't read the previous ones.  Actually, I can't find that they have been translated yet.

I have to take issue with the cover statement: "The New Queen of Scandinavian Crime."  The book held my interest, but I wasn't that impressed with it.  I don't see Sarenbrant edging out Asa Larsson, Karin Fossum, Anna Jansson, or Camilla Lackberg any time soon.  

Emma Skold is a police inspector in Stockholm, Sweden. In the early stages of pregnancy, Emma is determined not to let her pregnancy interfere with her job performance.  Since I have not read the previous novels in the series, I can't say for sure how much the earlier books focused on Emma--but in this one, her role is not the main focus.  

While not equally divided, the plot can be separated into three strands:  Emma, Cornelia, Josefin.  The narrative alternates between the killer's first person POV and a third person, present tense POV that relates events as they occur.

Cornelia is eager to sell their house as she plans to leave her husband Hans, taking their six-year-old daughter Astrid with her. Determined to escape the physical and mental abuse she has suffered over the years, as much for her daughter's sake as for her own, Cornelia can't help but wonder if the house itself will reveal the abuse to prospective buyers.

After a showing, she and her daughter go to bed.  Her drunken husband stumbles in late and sleeps in the guest room.  The next morning, Astrid discovers her father's body.

The murder of Hans is only one thread in this novel that touches on domestic abuse, infidelity, and a couple of story arcs carried over from previous novels.  Strangely, I was not much involved with any of the characters; not even young Astrid evoked much emotion.  I felt sorry for Cornelia, sympathized with Josefin, but found Emma  a little irritating.  

This was an ARC that arrived in the mail.

Scandinavian Crime.  May 10, 2016.  433 pages.  

The Lost by Claire McGowan is the first in the Paula Maguire series.  

Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire has built a reputation for finding missing persons...and for not always following the directions of her superiors.  Seconded from London to the Irish home town to which she never intended to return, Paula's brief is to help the new Missing Persons Unit make headway in the disappearances of two teenage girls.

A little slow at first, but then the plot take off rapidly.  Paula has difficulty re-acclimatizing to Ballyterrin and has to work to fit in with the Missing Persons group which has an innovative mixture of Catholic and Protestant team members from both sides of the border.  

Is there any connection to the two girls missing in the present and to cold cases of missing girls in 1985?  

The novel addresses dark elements connected with both The Troubles and with the  Magdalene Laundries.  Paula must also face her own personal history that led to her leaving Ireland with no plans to return. 

Definitely a series I intend to pursue.  Thanks, Rita, for recommending this series.


Crime/Mystery.  2013.  Print version:  305 pages.

Last year, I read Christine Carbo's The Wild Inside (also set in Glacier National Park) and enjoyed it.  Glacier National Park is a "1,583-sq.-mi. wilderness area in Montana's Rocky Mountains"  and that is an awful lot of wilderness.  Carbo obviously loves the area deeply, but it is just as obvious that she acknowledges and respects all the dangers it represents.

Mortal Fall follows the investigation of Glacier National Park police officer Monty Harris, who is tasked with determining the cause of the fall that led to the death of wildlife biologist Paul "Wolfie" Sedgewick.  Sedgewick was an experienced climber, intimately familiar with the terrain and its dangers, and many are finding it difficult to believe he fell to his death.

Anyone, however, can have an accident or misstep, and the fall could have been an accident.  Sedgewick was well-liked and well-respected, but his study of the endangered wolverine population was not popular with some locals, especially poachers.  Monty feels responsible for finding the truth--an accident, suicide, heart attack, or push.

When another body is found beneath the cliff, Monty's investigation leads to other possibilities, including one that might involve his estranged brother and the questionable academy for troubled teens that his brother attended years ago.  

Monty Harris was a secondary character in The Wild Inside, but carries this novel.  Other minor characters return, giving the novel a familiar feeling, and Carbo makes the most of both characters and setting.  The park itself becomes a kind of amorphous character in its own right.  

Carbo does a fine job of presenting flawed, but intriguing individuals who struggle with their own pasts.  I look forward to more from Christine Carbo.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Police Procedural/Mystery.  May 31, 2016.  print version:  416 pages.

My Snail Adventures continue on my other blog.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Two Fantasies

The Wolf in the Attic 

There are going to be plenty of people who love this one, and I have to admit that I loved the writing, at least the way the author frequently created such visual imagery.  It felt, however, as if there were two different books, and the inclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in cameo roles seemed like name-dropping rather than having a genuine connection (yes, yes--fantasy, both pagan and Christian mythology, language of trees--but still...), and the horned god vs the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone) seemed more confused than clarifying.

The fact is that when I finished, I was asking, "What was the purpose?  What was it all about?"  I kind of liked it.  There were parts I definitely liked, but the puzzle pieces which seem to fit perfectly--were too loose or too tight.  Almost.  Not quite.

For me, The Wolf in the Attic was one of those books that kept my attention, but when I finished, the questions were more important than the content.  The conclusion seemed a bit open-ended, so there may be a sequel.  I liked Anna and Luca, so if there is a follow-up, I might read it and see if I feel differently. 


Fantasy.  May 10, 2016.  Print version:  320 pages.

The Queen's Poisoner  (The Kingfountain Series, Bk. 1)

I enjoyed the first two in Wheeler's Whispers from Mirrowen series, but never got around to the third.  

This new series feels different, but in a good way.  An alternate history mixed with fantasy and magic, The Queen's Poisoner follows eight-year-old Owen when he is taken from his home as hostage to the king.  King Severn is an alternate version of Richard III, who has survived his version of Bosworth Field, whose brother (like Richard's) was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, whose two nephews' deaths have been laid at his door.  

Oh, the similarities are all over the place--and connect with both Shakespeare's version of Richard and with Josephine Tey's revisionist version.  (Sorry, Will, I'm with Josephine on this as far as the real Richard goes).  

In addition to the alternate history plot, there is a similarity to Robin Hobb's The Assassin's Apprentice, one of my all-time favorite fantasies.  I noted it, but it did not keep me from enjoying this fantasy.  

As I mentioned, I liked the first two books in the Whispers from Mirrowen series, but The Queen's Poisoner seems to flow better and the characters have more punch, more complexity, more vitality.  I'm not really sure how I feel about the alternate history aspect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series.  

Kindle First choice

Fantasy/Alternate History.   April 1, 2016.  Print version:  336 pages.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris

I zoomed through the 3 St. Cyr books that I checked out last week.  

When Maidens Mourn   (Sebastian St. Cyr #7)

OK, I wanted to love this one, but strangely all the "Lady of Shalott," Arthurian legends, and fictional Tennyson's felt forced.  

Not bad, but not my favorite in the series.

Library copy.

Historical Mystery.  2012.  356 pages.
What Darkness Brings   (#8)

Brief Description:  Regency England, September 1812: After a long night spent dealing with the tragic death of a former military comrade, a heart-sick Sebastian learns of a new calamity: Russell Yates, the dashing, one-time privateer who married Kat a year ago, has been found standing over the corpse of Benjamin Eisler, a wealthy gem dealer. Yates insists he is innocent, but he will surely hang unless Sebastian can unmask the real killer.

A truly creepy, villainous blackmailer who believes in the supernatural, some Napoleonic espionage, the Hope diamond, and the growth of the relationship between Sebastian and Hero all factor into this installment.

The inclusion of actual details or events from the time period is one of the pleasures historical novels provide.   The Napoleonic Wars have played a role in this series from the beginning and continue to do so in each novel.  What Darkness Brings, set in 1812, also includes a lot of information about the Hope Diamond--a bit of its history as part of Le Bleu de France,  its theft and disappearance during the French Revolution, and a mention of its re-appearance in the possession of the Hope banking family in 1812.  Of course, the plot line alters things a bit, but Harris explains the facts in the Author's Note at the end.  After I Googled them myself.  Next time, I go to the Author's Notes first.

Library copy.

Historical Mystery.  2013.  349 pages.

Who Buries the Dead (#10)

Brief description:  The vicious decapitation of Stanley Preston, a wealthy, socially ambitious plantation owner, at Bloody Bridge draws Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, into a macabre and increasingly perilous investigation. The discovery near the body of an aged lead coffin strap bearing the inscription King Charles, 1648 suggests a link between this killing and the beheading of the deposed seventeenth-century Stuart monarch. Equally troubling, the victim’s kinship to the current Home Secretary draws the notice of Sebastian’s powerful father-in-law, Lord Jarvis, who will exploit any means to pursue his own clandestine ends.

Ha!  I just read some reviews on Goodreads, and I have to agree with some of the reviewers that Hero is, in many ways, the more interesting character--and she doesn't get enough time.  The inclusion of Jane Austen as a minor character felt as forced as the literary references in When Maidens Mourn -- coulda worked, but didn't.  Sometimes I truly love the inclusion of real people as secondary characters in a novel, and if it had just been the amusing scene in which Sebastian's aunt is totally engrossed in reading Pride and Prejudice by an anonymous author, I'd have love the allusion.  A Jane character, however, felt awkward.

Once again, Harris includes some fascinating glimpses of historical oddities:  the discovery in 1813 of a burial vault that housed the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and surprisingly, that of Charles I; the discovery of Edward IV's remains in 1789 and the snatching of relics from the body (ugh); and other strange occurrences with the heads of Oliver Cromwell and Henri IV.  A heady brew of stolen heads!

Library copy.

Historical Mystery.  2015.  352 pages.
A while back Rita wrote an interesting post about book binges: Should You Binge on a Beloved Author.  I couldn't help but think of it when I finished the third book.  Maybe I should not have read these 3 back to back, especially since I'd just finished the newest one in the series--When Falcons Fall.  

It isn't that I wasn't entertained, because I was.  Harris pulls me in each time, but I noticed too much.  Certain phrases that occurred with frequency, certain patterns of plot development, the too familiar manner of introducing characters from previous novels. Things you might not notice if there is at least a year between books (Harris puts out a new one every year), but when you read the books back to back, those details stand out.  

I really liked When Falcons Fall (#10), and I look forward to #11, but will appreciate it more for the wait.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Snail Mail Challenge Concluded

February has been full of mail, both incoming and outgoing.    
I want to share the mail from the last few days of the challenge.  

Outgoing Mail:

Incoming Mail:

A gator in the swamp.  :)
From Penne M.
I love the stamps she included!
I took them out of the tiny envelope
to show you.

Gorgeous hummingbird from Rift

 I sent a Birthday postcard to Papa Visione
for his 88th birthday,
and daughter Gina Visione
sent this to me!

 This cinderella stamp was on the back!

She had hoped for 88 birthday cards,
but received 103 to give her dad for his 88th birthday!

I can't believe she is replying to everyone of us--
Such good mail, too!

And I showed you Jack & Ginger's invitation
to the Critter Dinner yesterday.

 Best parts of this challenge:

I made some new friends,
corresponded with blog friends
(from this blog and those at Bayou Quilts),
and reconnected with an old friend!