Monthly Archives: April 2015

Book Review Sons of Sparta – A Mystery Steeped in Good & Bad Traditions

Sons of Sparta

Sons of Sparta

By Jeffrey Siger

241 pages

Special Crimes Division detective Yianni Kouros has been called from Athens by his uncle for what could mean his family is in trouble. Returning to the region of his family on the tip of Peloponnese Island, Kouros reminisces about the time he spent with his family in Mani.

Unfortunately, his uncle isn’t a squeaky clean citizen. Kouros’ father was sent to Athens while Uncle stayed at the family home barely making ends meet.  Life was not easy for his family, but the tide turned when he began to reap the benefits of a side business consisting of “piracy and banditry”. Uncle claims to be retired from that life and Kouros would like to believe him. Unfortunately, his uncle and cousins are embedded in the old world culture of revenge and even murder when the family has been wronged.

His uncle has gathered his children and Kouros to tell them he has decided to sell of part of the family property to a developer. A golf course, hotel and air strip will replace the land used by the family for many generations. Uncle feels this will be better for his children after he is gone, as the money it brings in will give them all a comfortable life. But before the paperwork can be signed with the hotel developer, Uncle dies in a car accident.

Kouros is suspicious, so he quietly starts to investigate the death and finds there are more questions than answers. Calling in a favor from a co-worker, he finds his suspicions are warranted when the evidence shows Uncle was murdered.

Trying to keep the crime quiet and investigate it at the same time is not easy. When his cousins find out, they are literally gunning for the person that killed their father.

The case isn’t as simple as that. It involves illicit affairs, double crossing crooks and long lost love. As hard is Kouros tried to keep his investigation quiet, his boss Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis catches wind of the problems and becomes part of the investigation. The two men work feverously to find the killer before anyone else dies.

This is the sixth book in Siger’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery series. The plot was solid, twisting and turning to the end while leaving little breadcrumbs of clues throughout to lead the reader to the killer. There were believable surprises and an interesting love triangle.

I hesitate to say this reads well as a stand-alone novel. It was a good story, with good characters, but a bit confusing. There is a very fine line between adding too much back story and not enough. For me there wasn’t enough. I kept going back to the beginning chapters to figure out the characters until I was about half way through the book, part of that could be the Greek names were difficult for me to remember with so many characters being introduced.

Sadly I am not well read when it comes to Greek Mythology, so most of the references were lost on me. That is certainly not the author’s fault. Siger painted a picture of a beautiful region of Greece. It was a perfect setting for the juxtaposition of the warring clans with vendettas and the bucolic countryside filled with Greek traditions.

Siger is a gifted writer, he allows the reader to step out of their life and travel to Greece. I would suggest starting with the first book in his series, and then read all of them up to Sons of Sparta. If you want to jump in feet first into a good mystery with interesting characters go ahead and start with Sons of Sparta.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under Book Review, Greek Islands, history, Mani, Mystery, mythology, series

WIP Wednesday – In the Pink!

This week’s projects just might tickle someone pink. The pink baby blanket is finished and hopefully keeping little Shannon warm these cold spring nights.

pink blanket 2015 #3_2

I really love the pattern, You can find it here: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/cp4.html It is called Shell’s Baby Afghan by Beverly A. Qualheim. It is especially cute in pink. Maybe that is because I have three sons so there wasn’t any pink in our laundry basket. 🙂

pink blanket 2015 #3_3

The color in this picture is more true than the first picture.


After finishing the afghan, I made a couple of pink polar bear hats for the NICU unit at Central DuPage Hospital. I think they turned out really cute. This is a pattern that I’ve used before, it works up quickly and is really cute.

NICU spring challenge Pink Polar Bear 4.26.15

The only adjustment I made was on the second hat I didn’t knit the entire suggested length of 14 inches, because I didn’t want it to be as large as the pattern calls for. Here is the pattern link, and I highly suggest using the Bernat pipsqueak yarn that is as soft as a cloud and works up beautifully, http://www.yarnspirations.com/li-l-polar-bear-hat.html

NICU spring challenge Pink Polar Bear 4.29.15

Since it is late, I suspect I will take some white Bernat yarn to work tomorrow to work on another baby hat. This weekend I may start a new project. I am itching to make a lace shawl for cool summer nights, but just can’t find a pattern that is what I want. I could finish the second sock – but that can probably wait until our summer trip to see our son and daughter-in-law. The drive is about 10 hours, so it is a good time to work on socks.

I have the sweater started last year calling to be finished, but still am not happy with the sleeves the pattern calls for, and have torn them out twice already. It won’t take long to finish once I sit down and get busy figuring it out, but don’t know if this weekend will allow the time.

I guess the WIP next week will be a surprise for all of us – me included! 🙂

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Filed under baby hats, blanket, Charity, Crafts, Crocheting, Knitting, WIP Wednesday

WIP Wednesday – Yup, on time this week :)

Happy Wednesday everyone.

My only needlework this week has been the pink blanket, started last week to replace the blue and yellow blanket after the baby was a girl instead of a boy as planned. I’m about 2/3 of the way finished, hopefully it will be done by the weekend.

pink blanket 2015 #3

Then I’ll be working on the NICU hats for the Spring NICU challenge. They work up fast, so I hope to do several next week unless my plans are disrupted, which happens more often than not.

I’m getting an itch to start a shawl for myself out of one of the great fingering or lace yarns in my stash. I’ve been looking at a patterns, but nothing is really catching my eye. I don’t want on that is very complicated since I usually knit and talk to my friends at break and lunch.

Do any of you have a favorite shawl pattern you would suggest I use? Let me know!

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Filed under baby hats, blanket, Crocheting, shawl, WIP Wednesday

Book Review: Swing by Philip Beard – A Grand Slam Must Read!

Swing    Swing

By Philip Beard

317 pages

Eleven- year-old Henry Graham has a lot to learn about life. What he knows for sure is his father moved out, his mom was unhappy and the 1971 Pirates are heading for a pennant race. What he doesn’t know is how long his father will be gone, how his family will cope with the hole left in their lives  or if his beloved Pirates will win or lose the series.

Determined not to lose everything that makes his live normal, Henry decides to skip school to go to a Pirates’ game alone.  He takes the tickets that his father left behind, hops a bus and meets John Kostka. John will affect Henry’s life for years to come.

John is a man with many problems of his own, but that doesn’t stop him from reaching out to a child who seems adrift. Henry’s mother tries her best to make things as normal for Henry and his sisters Sam and Ruthie after her husband “… had gone to start a new life with one of his students”.

Sam has grown from a promiscuous teen to a bitter adult. Ruthie is failing physically but has reconciled her past and enjoys her future, no matter what it brings. Henry has demons and is at a crossroad in his life that will either enable him to go forward or slip into his family history of past mistakes.

Now married with children, Henry is working as a professor like his father did many years ago.  His life is good, but not perfect. He is up for review and may lose his job and his wife Maggie battled breast cancer and is still fighting the demons it left behind. His children have issues that they may or may not grow out of, only time will tell.

At first, I thought Beard named his book Swing because it is about baseball. Then I thought it was because John has no legs and instead of walking, he swings his torso after putting his hands on the ground to move. Then I thought maybe Swing was named for the way life is going along and all of the sudden decisions pop up that make you go back and forth like a pendulum hoping to choose the right thing to do. Or maybe it is about how your life can Swing out of control in an instant and you can go with it or fight the force of nature. Swing is all of these and more.

Beard uses every word to drive the reader toward the crossroads in his character’s lives that everyone experiences in some shape or form. On the surface this book is one of a legless man becoming a father figure to a little boy who desperately needs one, but doesn’t realize it.  The impact on young Henry and his family is pivotal. Grown-up Henry has a less than perfect life, just like most of us, yet he has learned from John that life goes on even when you think you’ve lost everything. It will be different, but can be just as rich and full.

Subtle nuances woven in tell as much about the story as the main plot. Franny the dog is so real, I see her in my aging Labrador. I held my breath when she had trouble walking, praying that on the next page Franny would slowing rise and lumber home with Henry.

Swing is one of the most compelling novels I have ever read. Beard masterfully pulls the reader into the life of Henry, both as a child and man. The depth of his characters gave them life from the very first page.  I could not put this book down. I took it to work to read on lunch and break, putting my headphones in so people would think I was listening to music so they wouldn’t interrupt me. I cooked dinner with it in one hand and read late into the night.

I like a lot of books for a lot of different reasons. I loved Swing because it was so real I felt I knew Henry and his family by the end of the book. I rejoiced in their victories, felt pain in their sadness and identified with the fact that during your life bad things happen. It is how you cope that matters. Swing deals with heavy issues but is easy to read. After reading it, I realized all of the subtle nuances that affected the story that another author may not have used with the mastery of this one. This allows the reader to think about Swing long after finishing the book.

This is Beard’s third book, and I already have the other two in my queue to read. I suggest you visit your bookstore, download or go to your library to get Swing and read it right now – or at least this summer. Beard has a note at the end “In memory of both the service and daily bravery of Sgt. Kenneth Kocher”. Take time to search out Sgt. Kocher’s Facebook page, to read about the person the character of John is based upon.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under baseball, Book Review, family, Philip Beard, Pirates

WIP Wednesday: The Baby Blanket Saga

Welcome to WIP Wednesday – which has apparently slipped to Thursday again this week. The reason (excuse) is Wednesday was my middle son’s birthday and went out to dinner to celebrate. By the time I got home, I vegged in the chair without even opening my computer. Maybe it was the delicious Chinese food we had for dinner or maybe not, but whatever the reason, here I am now.
This week I completed my first sock and promptly sealed it in a ziploc bag with the yarn, instructions/notes and needles so I can pick it up the next time I travel. Which I hope is soon. But mostly for the travel, not the sock, which won’t be needed until fall when it gets cold enough to wear my boots again.
Eden Silk Sock #1
The good news is I got about 1/2 to 2/3 done on the baby afghan for the gal at work. The bad news is she told me on Monday that her friend had a girl, not a boy like she anticipated. Hum, before ordering a blue and yellow blanket would you make sure said child is going to be a boy or  get a more gender neutral color ordered? She suggested just “adding a few rows of pink”. Nope, can’t have anyone think that was MY choice.
 blanket 2014 _2
So over to Hobby Lobby with the hubby Tuesday night to get a wonderful baby pink color. I’ve just discovered “I Love This Yarn” that comes in a 7 oz skein of acrylic worsted weight for only $3.99 each. It is really nice yarn, soft, yet sturdy enough to show the stitches nicely. It isn’t as soft as Brava from Knit Picks, but is almost 1/2 the price and I don’t have to wait a week for delivery. Acrylic is my choice for baby afghans because machine wash and dry is a must for baby items. And I don’t have to worry about wool allergies since I rarely know the recipients.
 blanket 2014 _3
I’m only a few rows in, because break yesterday was nonexistent due to a meeting (what the heck?) and I only got to work on it during lunch. But I think it is cute and very girly. I almost wrote that I should have it done by next week, but we have out of town guests coming in on Friday night, an anniversary party on Saturday and a BBQ on Sunday. Soooooo, not much time to crochet. I’ll be conservative and predict I’ll be 1/3 – 1/2 done by next Wednesday and hopefully be further along.
Regarding the blue and yellow blanket. I am not tearing it out, because I think it is really cute and I am already about 6 hours in. I’ll finish it after the pink one and save it for the next baby boy that arrives.
So this week the only project I am going to concentrate on is the pink blanket. I’ll let you know how that works out next Wednesday. Or Thursday. LOL And maybe get one of the bear hats going….

 

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Filed under baby hats, blanket, Crocheting, Knitting, socks, Uncategorized, WIP Wednesday

WIP Wednesday on Thursday

As you can see this is being posted on Thursday. Things have been hectic, but interesting to say the least. I’ve had an odd combo of crafting projects this week, but I’ll start with the socks I talked about last week. I am almost down to my toes, I figure about 4 rows and I’ll begin the decreases for the toe shaping. If I find an hour to work on them before the weekend, I will be ready to cast on the second sock, but honestly think it will be completed over the weekend instead of before. Here is a pic of the yarn I am using, it is heavier than the usual sock yarn I use, but wanted this weight for next fall to wear inside a pair of short boots that I absolutely love 🙂

DSC_0079


gray sock April 15 2

I also worked on fusing two tablecloths together. Sounds like an odd task, but let me explain. Back in the 80’s I was a stay at home Mom with 3 little boys. I used to read the magazines I received in the mail from cover to cover soaking in advise, tips and recipes. I read about starting a family tradition of signing a white table cloth on each holiday, then stitching the names to create a family heirloom of sorts. It seemed like a great idea until the stitching took longer than anticipated. I stitched some, my grandma stitched some, my aunt stitched some – and we still couldn’t keep up! So we switched to fabric paint. This was a good idea – or so we thought, until it started to flake off in the washing process (we actually eat with it on the table at all holidays) so we had to go to plan “C”. Now I purchase colorful Sharpie markers so that problem has been solved. Until….the younger generation started lobbying for a new tablecloth. All of the ex-girlfriends and a couple of ex-husbands were a point of contention. I was not willing to retire the tablecloth with the signatures of loved ones that are no longer with us. My grandma, mom, aunt and mother-in-law to name a few as well as the adorable signatures of the kids as they learned to print then write. So my plan was formed to make everyone as happy as I could. I purchased a second tablecloth, fused them together and will (hopefully before the next holiday) stitch a border on to even up the edges and secure the new side with the old side. Here is the pick I sent all the “youngsters” in the family to show them I was listening 🙂 They all seemed happy with the compromise.

tablecloth

The last thing I worked on this week was SOAP! I have been lusting after all of the beautiful soaps on Pinterest. My board Suds and Scrubs has tons of pins, I am obsessed. My friend Leslie got me the supplies I needed to make a simple batch of lemon soap for my birthday last week and I was dying to try it.

soap mold

The first thing that needed to be done was dry shredded lemon peels. I now have 4 naked lemons in my fridge, but the peels were fabulously fragrant after drying in the sun.

lemon for soap

The recipe was amazingly easy, soap base, essential oil, lemon peel and food coloring (note to self – one teeny speck of food coloring is more than enough). This was a super way to begin as it was easy and pretty fool proof . I made it in 2 batches, one with food coloring, one without.

setting soap

And the finished product that I am very pleased with for my first soap adventure. I am thinking soap for everyone at Christmas!!! LOL

finished soap

Now for the irons I have in the fire. The second sock is a given. I signed up for the Spring NICU challenge, so I have  newborn size baby hats to make. Read more about it here: http://www.sunsetfamilyliving.com/spring-2015-nicu-challenge-join/  I am not too concerned about getting them done, since I’ve already donated the 20 bunny hats this month, but want to complete at least 10 more. The nurse I know that works in the NICU I donate to said everyone fights over the bear hats, so I think I will focus on them.

Lastly, the gal at work that I just finished the baby afghan for in February needs another one.  I swear everyone she knows must be pregnant – with boys!!! I don’t know how happy she is going to be that I have to charge her more than I have been. I have been only a few dollars over the cost of the yarn, and honestly need to have a bit for all the hours involved.

Have a wonderful week – mine looks to be busy 🙂

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Filed under baby hats, blanket, Crafts, Crocheting, family, Knitting, NICU, Soap Making, socks

WIP Wednesday Socks!

Wednesday came quick this week. Last Friday I went straight from work to the airport. We flew to Austin to meet up with friends. I took socks that were started a the night before because they are a great take-along project.

I picked a new pattern that is really cute. Coral Reef Socks by Julie Walker. I chose Eden Silk in a grayish black color. It is 75% Merino Wool, 25% silk #3 weight. It is soft and working up nice. The only problem I had was I was too distracted to do the lace. The weather was nice, our friends and their daughter and son-in-law are great fun. We laughed and talked and I could not keep count to save my soul. Maybe it had something to do with the great wine served with dinner? Anyway, I decided I better stick with plain ribbing and just use the seed stitch heel from the pattern. I’m just about ready to turn the heel.

socks_rowen

As you can see I didn’t get very far, but as you can also see, the sunset was magnificent so life is good all around.

Sunset 3.29.15

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Filed under Austin, Knitting, socks, WIP Wednesday