Experience AQS QuiltWeek in Paducah, Kentucky

a huge quilt-themed welcome sign

AQS, thanks to generous sponsors, hosts QuiltWeek

More than 30,000 visitors attend AQS QuiltWeek annually. Hosted in Paducah, Kentucky, the home of the National Quilt Museum, the event ran from April 26 to 29, 2017. This international show featured more than 400 quilts by artists representing 40 states and 14 countries. I’m not a quilter, but even I stood in awe of the winners. My hands-down favorite is Celtic Fox by Kathy McNeil, which won its division in wall quilts.

A log-cabin quilt

Digging in the Dirt, by my sister, Patricia Heinrich Hechler. The tulip design is incorporated with that artist’s permission. I’m standing next to it. Photo credit: Patricia Heinrich Hechler

My sister Patti’s own quilt, “Digging in the Dirt,” made the rigorous judging to be a semifinalist in the “First Time Quilters” division, competing against some forty others. Check out her website if you need a talented longarmer to match the beauty and skill of your quilt. Unlike a sewing machine, where the seamstress pushes the fabric beneath the stationary machine, the long-arm glides along a range, moved by the seamstress. Upon completing that section, the longarmer rolls up the quilt to expose a new section of the quilt.

QuiltWeek offers hundreds of vendors across the fabric arts, from fabrics to threads to sewing machines to longarm machines to yarns to Swarovski crystals to whatever your heart’s after. In

Celtic Fox by Kathy McNeil won its division at AQS QuiltWeek 2017

addition, dozens of experts teach techniques or offer projects—I came home with fabric art I made in one such class, with silk the instructor hand dyes. The show’s so huge that it fills the Expo center plus a “bubble” tent set up across the way. The National Quilt museum, a popular attraction with its ever-rotating stock of quilts, hosts extended hours. If you’re the show’s grand prize winner, the best quilt of all the quilts, you receive the highest sum if you release your quilt forever into the keeping of the National Quilt Museum.

Trolly car pulled by horses

Quilting icon Eleanor Burns, Quilt in a Day, sponsored the trolly

The city of Paducah takes fantastic care of you, providing transportation across the venues. The owners of the businesses, their workers, everyone I’ve met seems to go out of their way to welcome you to their city. And with 30,000 extra folks, that means long hours (and extra cups of coffee that the manager of Shandies restaurant bought for his morning crew).  My sister and I loved to start our day at Kirchoff’s, the historic German bakery going back five generations. The year of the great flood in 1937, one of the Kirchoff descendants baked for three days straight, knowing food would be scarce. He then delivered his loaves, via canoe, through second-storey windows. After the floodwaters receded, grateful residents inundated his doorstep with flowers. If you want baklava, pastries that flake in your mouth, brownies and other “bars” build on a foundation of butter and sugar and fresh ingredients, drop by

A bike rack shaped like a pedal and gears is the foreground of a floodwall mural

The floodwall stands ready to protect the city

any day but Sunday. And if you’re there late enough on a Saturday, you might stumble upon their “buy a loaf, get loaf” special.

For exceptional coffee, visit Etcetera Coffeehouse. Smooth coffees and a host of inventive combinations offered up by the barristas. Our favorite became the Israel, a salted caramel coffee, delicious hot on the cold day, and iced on the hot day.

red brick building with arched windows

One of the many buildings in the historic downtown

You’ve got to be fast on your reservations, or call after the Various “Quilt Week” deadlines pass.  My sister and I love to stay at Auburn Place, a few miles out from the downtown. Pride in ownership means carpet that looks brand new, lemon water waiting for you downstairs, a selection of fresh fruit available all day, and coffee always available.

I hope you’ll visit Paducah, hiding in western Kentucky, whether during

quilting in feathery swirls echoing around each other in 3 to 5 layers

My sister Patricia Heinrich Hechler doodled on an Innova at the Accomplish Quilting booth

QuiltWeek (the next one is September 13-16, 2017) or any other time. A city whose roots go back to water trade, and a textile town because of it, the historic downtown offers shops to pull you in and make you stay a spell, those eateries, and a mural along the floodwall.

 This was my third visit to Paducah, and it won’t be my last.

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Book Review: Dark Alchemy

Dark Alchemy (Dark Alchemy trilogy), Laura Bickle (HarperCollins, Voyager Impulse, 2015)

Cover of Dark Alchemy, HarperCollins, Voyager Impulse

  • Book one the Dark Alchemy trilogy, 371 pp. At the time of this review (4/30/17), it holds a 4.2-star review on Amazon.
  • Contemporary Fantasy
  • Book Obtained By: Purchased at Westerville Public Library Fantasy Panel, Spring 2016, where the author spoke.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4 Ghiradelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the jacket

“Some secrets are better left buried…

“Geologist Petra Dee arrives in Wyoming seeking clues to her father’s disappearance years ago. What she finds instead is Temperance, a dying western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present. But under the dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When bodies start turning up—desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can’t scientifically explain—her investigations land her in the middle of a covert war between the town’s most powerful interests. Petra’s father wasn’t the only one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking are now ready to kill. Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of antique guns, and a relic she doesn’t understand, the only thing Petra knows for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast—or die next.”

Review

Dark Alchemy (HarperCollins, Voyager Impulse, 2015) is book 1 of Laura Bickle’s Dark Alchemy trilogy.

Bickle tells this tale in third person, alternating point of view (POV) primarily between Petra and one of Sal Rutherford’s ranch hands, Gabe; then a peripheral character, Cal, and one of the power brokers in Temperance, Stroud. Since I read this over the period of a few weeks, I may have forgotten a lesser-used POV. Bickle didn’t head-hop—bouncing around fast in POVs. I appreciate authors who stick in a point of view and give clear breaks (like a section break or chapter break) before shifting the POV. The story line rocks, pun fully intended, for this geologist set to discover what happened to her father some twenty years ago.

If you enjoy mystery and discovery in your urban fantasy (or contemporary fantasy, as this was named), join Petra as she tries to unearth the clues about her father’s disappearance. Temperance holds more mysteries than the denizens let on. Then there’s Petra’s own backstory, which Bickle weaves in as part of a subplot—why she chosen now to search for her missing father, some nineteen years (I think it was) after the fact. Loss haunts Petra.

Bickle builds Petra as a character capable of taking care of herself, so Petra’s actions make sense as Bickle raises the stakes with incidents growing in violence and danger. The subplot (around why now) dovetails nicely with these incidents. As a scientist, Petra’s analytical way of looking at problems means she’s not prone to jumping to conclusions or accepting anything at face value. This gives Bickle loads of room for Petra to engineer solutions for study while she waits for her geological tools to arrive. Then, when she unboxes the first shipment, her arsenal grows. Likewise, when the danger grows, Bickle keeps Petra in character. If science can’t get her out of it, then her strong will might.

One of the more interesting sets of characters in here, Maria Yellowrose and her alcoholic uncle Frankie, wind through the book, keeping Petra from being stuck in her head too much; add a hint of the shaman in Frankie, and you’ve got more mysteries and clues. If Petra’s to fit into Temperance, then she needs connected friends, and maybe an occult connection might tip the scales towards her. And a coyote familiar. She definitely needs a coyote familiar to lend her a paw now and then.

Another of Bickle’s strengths, natural imagery, grounds you in the Yellowstone Park region. When the alchemical dimension builds, prepare to be wowed by those descriptions. Bickle weaves her research into the book so that I’m not overwhelmed with knowledge. It fits the character, the town, the history. Piece by piece, the reader puts the puzzle together along with Petra.

Part of the reason I dithered between rating it 3.5 and 4 is one of those filtering tendencies I’ve tried so hard to work out of my own writing—and maybe it wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t one of my bugaboos. Filtering words or phrases push me out of a narrative because they break my willing suspension of disbelief. While I can’t say that every page had these breaks, some pages had multiple occurrences, even repeating the filtering word. Take these examples:

  • Pages 302, when we’re in Cal’s POV: “Cal noticed that Stroud never used drugs,” then on page 303, “Cal noticed that the mercury was bubbling.”
  • 321, now from Petra’s point of view, “She felt hands upon her,” then “she saw him grab a steak knife.”

If you’re looking for your next urban fantasy, why not take a look at this cousin, contemporary fantasy? Bickle paints a believable western town, population probably something like two hundred, and plops Petra in the middle of a centuries old mystery that well exceeds her hunt for her father. If you enjoy this book, you might like Bickle’s additional books in this trilogy about Petra Dee.

Nine of Stars, book one of the Wildlands series, continues the adventures of geologist Petra Dee as she explores Temperance’s alchemical roots, now braving winter.

Or, look up her young adult books, under her pen name Alayna Williams.

Learn more about Laura Bickle:

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Book Review: No Comfort for the Lost

No Comfort for the Lost (A Mystery of Old San Francisco), Nancy Herriman (Obsidian, August, 2015)

Picture of streetcar pulled by a horse; a woman in 19th century near hoop skirt, and a gas lamp

Cover designed by Daniela Medina; Cover art by Juliana Kolesova

Book one of the in the Mystery of Old San Francisco series, 360 pp. At the time of this review (4/10/17), it holds a 4.6-star review on Barnes & Noble.

Historical Fiction, Mystery

Book Obtained By: Purchased at Westerville Public Library’s Author Fair, 2016

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 3.5 Reese’s Peanut-Butter Eggs, Hearts, or Trees

From the jacket

“In this atmospheric historical mystery series debut, a courageous nurse and a war-scarred police detective in 1860s San Francisco champion the downtrodden and fight for injustice….

“After serving as a nurse in the Crimea, British-born Celia Davies left her privileged family for an impulsive marriage to a handsome Irishman. Patrick brough her to San Francisco’s bustling shores, but then disappeared and is now presumed dead. Determined to carry on, Celia partnered with her half-Chinese cousin, Barbara, and her opinionated housekeeper, Addie, to open a free medical clinic for women who have nowhere else to turn. But Celia’s carefully constructed peace crumbles when one of her Chinese patients is found brutally murdered…and Celia’s hotheaded brother-in-law stands accused of the crime.

“A veteran of America’s Civil War, Detective Nicholas Greaves is intent on discovering the killer of the girl, whose ethnicity and gender render her as powerless in death as they did in life. Nick’s efforts are complicated by Celia, who has a knack for walking into dangerous situations that might lead to answers…or get them both killed. For as their inquiries take the from Chinatown’s squalid back alleys, to the Barbary Coast’s violent shipping docks, and to the city’s gilded parlors, Celia and Nick begin to suspect that someone very close to them holds the key to a murderous conspiracy….”

Review

No Comfort for the Lost (Obsidian, August, 2015) is book 1 of Nancy Herriman’s Mysteries of Old San Francisco.

Herriman tells this tale in third person, alternating POVS between detective Nick and nurse Celia, typically several shifts per chapter as Herriman tells the story in parallel—since Celia and Nick are both invested in unraveling the truth of the murder. Celia’s motivation stems from her work with the Chinese prostitutes; Nick’s, as he atones for a past loss—even though his captain makes no bones about the low worth of the Chinese, with a prostitute absolutely at the bottom of the barrel. Herriman paints the racial tension throughout the book, bringing it close to home with Celia’s half-Chinese younger cousin for whom she is the Custodian. How eerily familiar this tension became when I considered Donald Trump’s harsh language during the campaign, and after, against Mexicans and Muslims. Language always matters. Hats off to Herriman for making me feel anxious for the Chinese laborers and prostitutes, and anyone (like Nick and Celia) who tried to help them. That pervasive atmosphere added to the tension throughout.

Rich details of the era build the setting, from the Ladies Society of Christian Aid to the Anti-Coolie Association; from the saloons and brothels to medicines like “laudanum” and visits to the local apothecary or the astrologer and descriptions of outfits, like when Celia wears “her garibaldi and Holland skirt… (p. 141). Dialogue, too, hearkened back to an earlier era enough to lock me into an 1860’s town, such as “Change the dressing every day. … This is quinine. She must be given a grain every three to four hours.” (p. 5). I had no doubts that the author had read clips from San Francisco history, whether it was books or old newspapers.

For a mystery, Herriman wove in plenty of red-herrings, leaving me changing my mind every other chapter as to who committed the murder.  Mixed in among this quest to solve the mystery, the everyday life, making me a part of Celia’s small family. From house-keeper Addie to orphan Owen, to Celia working with patients, to Celia trying to also solve the mystery of whether her husband has abandoned her, or whether he’s dead, the secondary cast round out that slice of life.

Part of the reason I’ve likely given this a “3” rating is that I can’t say I’ve read historical fiction since reading works authored in the late 1800s; my last was more an alternative historical fiction with a paranormal element (Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers). Another is the number of times the third person pushed me out, what are called filtering words. Take these sentences (bold my own): “The wound began to bleed again, which she took as a good sign.”  Then, a few paragraphs later, “Celia stared at the empty doorway, saw a drunk laborer shuffle past and down the hallway, heard the call of prostitutes.” (page 5) In a tight third-person, the first sentence shortens to “The wound began to bleed again, a good sign.” The second, “A drunk laborer shuffled past the empty doorway. Down the hallway, prostitutes called out promises.”

A teacher could easily assign this book as part of a historical unit–no sex (outside of the line I quoted above, the only other reference is that there are prostitutes), violence in limited doses (and nothing gratuitous), and the first blush of romance between Celia and Nick makes me say this is historical mystery, not historical romance. References to drugs, from the ones apothecaries used to opium, would help students frame a dialogue about drugs of the past and drug issues in our day.

A woman wearing a cape and a full skirt looks out at the hills

Book Cover of the second book in the “A Mystery of Old San Francisco” series

If historical mysteries are your thing, why not take a look? Then, if you enjoy this book, you might like Herriman’s next book in the series, No Pity for the Dead.

Learn more about Nancy Herriman:

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