BLUE SUMMER: A NOVEL by Jim Nichols; Islandport Press, 2020; 271 pages, $17.95. 

BLUE SUMMER: A NOVEL

Cal Shaw is a 40-year-old jazz musician, now a convicted felon sitting in a cell at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Maine. He thinks about the tortured path he started on as a happy kid in Baxter, Maine, only to end up in a jail cell years later. And it’s not a pretty story.

“Blue Summer” is Warren author Jim Nichols’ third novel, a grim story about a man who feels guilty as much for the sins he did commit as for the one he didn’t. Nichols is a very talented, award-winning writer, earning the Maine Literary Award for Fiction in 2016 for his novel “Closer All the Time” and again in 2021 for “Blue Summer.”

Consequences for one’s actions, the resulting guilt and acceptance are themes that anchor this tale, as Cal finally understands what’s driven him all those years. He tells his story in first-person narrative, moving back and forth through three periods in his life.

Cal grew up in a loving family in Baxter with parents and a sister and brother. His father’s sudden death derails his life, however, especially when his new stepfather is an abusive bully. The family crumbles and then collapses completely when Cal’s sister, Julie, dies. Cal is a skilled musician, playing the trumpet in a jazz band, with a new tune composing in his head — a tribute perhaps to his father and sister?

Years roll by as Cal drifts to Florida, struggles as a jazz musician, and spends more time in jail. An unexpected phone call summons him home to Baxter, a place he doesn’t want to see “because I know there’ll be ghosts.” The pain of old memories returns and he discovers the truth of his personal reality, with drastic outcome.  He’s not such a loser after all.

MAINE QUILTS: 250 YEARS OF COMFORT AND COMMUNITY by Laureen A. LaBar; Down East Books, 2021; 242 pages, $50.

MAINE QUILTS: 250 YEARS OF COMFORT AND COMMUNITY

In colonial days, making quilts was very much a necessary chore providing useful, durable and warm bed covers for Maine winters. Over the years, however, quilting has become as much a social activity as an expression of fine art. A pundit said “Quilting is cheaper than therapy” — and probably a lot more fun.

“Maine Quilts” offers a photographic and narrative history of quilting in Maine from the early colonial era through the Industrial Revolution and Civil War, to the 20th century and today. Author Laureen LaBar is a textile curator at the Maine State Museum, and this book is part of the museum’s preparation for its quilting exhibition scheduled for 2023. She lives in Dresden, and is the award-winning author of two other books on textiles.

LaBar describes quilting as folk art, the product of solitary or group effort, using 150 beautiful color photographs to illustrate how quilts display creative craftsmanship for practical use as bed covers (even clothing), as well as for decorative wall-art and charitable fund-raising through auctions and competitions.

She weaves Maine history with quilting through the years, revealing how quilts are made (hand-stitched, tedious, labor-intensive), their many uses and technological innovations of fabrics, dyes, textile manufacturing, chemical coloring, stenciling, block and intaglio printing, along with intricate, imaginative designs. LaBar says many quilts contain images (messages) of love, friendship, piety, romance, remembrance, celebration, nature, work, places and a sense of community, even protest.

The chapter “That’s Just Crazy” details the popularity of the “crazy quilt,” an aesthetic art movement introduced at the Centennial Expo in Philadelphia in 1876, using extreme decorations in “a bewildering sense of oversaturation.”  They may appear to be just a mish-mash of color and pattern, but really reflect the quilt-maker’s purposeful deliberation.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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