Saturday, June 12, 2021

Home Library Design

I used to have a huge library wall system that was 8 feet long and spanned an entire wall in my home.  I had eight bookcases filled with fiction, cooking and baking, poetry, interior design, art, writing and reference books.  I downsized the library 
five years ago from 2,300 books to 150 during a move to a smaller home.  I have since purchased more books but am concentrating on acquiring art books only.  Yes, I repurchased some of those lost books on Ebay.  

I miss that library and am keen on creating another one when I move into a larger space than I currently have. One of the new (to me) types of art books that I am interested in concern medieval manuscripts. Of course, I would love to have a few facsimile editions of illuminated manuscripts but they are expensive.  I am still interested in learning more about them and have several books on my amazon wishlist that will help me learn more about medieval manuscripts.  A recent Coursera course on the medieval manuscripts of Western Europe has fueled this interest.

The design that I prefer for my library is to have all of the bookcases next to each other in one long row.  This is not always possible depending on your home layout but I have been lucky so far in the homes that I have lived in. This design creates a stunning look.  

What does your home library look like? Do you place all of the bookcases next to each other or split them up throughout your home?  What is your ideal library?  Let me know in the comments.  

Friday, June 11, 2021

America's First Daughter

America's First Daughter is a well researched historical novel on the life of Thomas Jefferson's daughter Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph. Patsy has to deal with the knowledge that her father loves his country more than he loves his family.  When her mother dies, she rises to the challenge and becomes Jefferson's constant companion and helper.  She even travels with him to France when he is appointed as America's minister to France.  While they are in Paris, Patsy first learns about her father's affair with a slave named Sally Hemings who is the same age as Patsy. Both are fifteen-years-old. She loves appearing at French royal court functions where the dresses, food and atmosphere captivate her.  Here, Patsy falls in love with one of her father's assistants, William Short. Short is an ardent abolitionist and has high ambitions for his political career. Patsy has a dilemma to resolve. Should she follow her heart and marry Short or continue as a devoted assistant to her father? Patsy chooses her father in this impressive historical biography and marries an American instead.

A french royal court setting is always going to be alluring for me. I just love reading descriptions of the food and dresses that the ladies wore. Post-revolution America is not as enticing but the author has written into the plot several controversial topics of the time, some of which I never heard of before and they were quite interesting. The women in the novel had to exert their power indirectly as the men had the real power in the nation and in their homes.  While I know that this just reflected the times, I hate reading about women having to live this way. 

I knew nothing about Jefferson's daughter before reading this book.  She certainly was a plucky character. Patsy's life story included running from the British during the Revolutionary War, handling many of her father's business affairs, helping him run the White House while he was president and, of course, giving birth to eleven kids after her marriage to her American cousin. I imagine that many women of this era had similar life stories to tell and I wish that I could find these stories.  Alas, they were not written down unless they were members of famous families.

The authors also wrote a historical biography of Alexander Hamilton's wife Eliza.  I loved that novel too and hope that this writing duo continues to write about the ladies of our American revolution.  5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Botany For The Artist

Botany for the Artist is a guide to drawing plants. I found this book at my local public library and thought that it would help me in my botanical colored pencil drawings.  It definitely has helped me, mainly to see and observe the structures of the plants that I am drawing.

The book is divided into sections based on the parts of plants. There are chapters on drawing roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruit.  As is usual with these types of guide books the author has three introductory chapters on materials an artist can use, color theory, drawing from life and from photographs and the basic forms from which plants can be drawn. While there are color plates of completed drawings, there are more black and white drawings and they show the structures in more detail. Much seems to be lost when an artist uses color. Each chapter has a drawing class and a master class that the reader can follow to help them create more authentic drawings. 

I had never given much thought before to the roots of plants. Seeing how they work, develop and spread only enhances the rest of the plants look in a drawing. How the root spreads changes what the rest of the plant looks like.  At the end of the roots chapter there is a drawing class section that shows the artist how to use the negative space and create volume.

I have always thought that the stems and leaves in my drawings were pretty good. However, seeing microscopic photos of them shows that there are underlying colors present in them.  I never noticed this before and I should probably be doing more layering of color to produce an accurate rendition of the plants. There are many forms of leaves shown in black and white drawings that I was not aware of and adding these to my drawings will enhance the diversity of my plant subjects.  Seeing these drawings brings out my creativity and I want to get out my pencils and start drawing. 

Botany For The Artist is a fantastic guide for the botanical artist. 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Can't Wait Wednesday #6


I have always loved medical mysteries. One of my favorite authors of this mystery sub-genre is the late Michael Palmer. His son Daniel has published several books but he started out with a medical mystery just like his father. However, he has been branching out in the mystery genre and writing other types of novels. I have a standing search on Amazon for books written by Daniel Palmer but have not come up with anything for awhile. Palmer's newest book, The Perfect Daughter, has just been published but under the name D. J. Palmer. I don't know the reason for the name change but can't wait to get a copy of the book. 

The new book is a thriller about a teenager, Penny Francone, with multiple personality disorder. Penny has murdered another teenaged girl. 
The book explores the truth or lies about the girl's disorder through her trial on the murder charges. There is no doubt that Penny did the crime and the jury only has to decide whether she will live the rest of her life in a state mental hospital or in a maximum security prison. Penny's mother Grace resolves to determine why her daughter committed the crime and this reveals a shocking secret pertinent to the crime. 

This thriller has received many good reviews and I am looking forward to getting a copy of it.

Friday, June 4, 2021


Hawking is a graphic biography of U. K. physicist Stephen Hawking.  The biography covers his life from his birth to his death.  As most people are aware, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative neuromuscular disease while he was in his early 20s.  While the disease weakened his muscles and limited his ability to move and speak, it did not limit his mind. Hawking is known for his groundbreaking research in cosmology and physics and lived to reach his 60s. Though he used a wheelchair, he traveled all over the world to summer schools, conferences and sabbaticals.

As a person with a disability, I was quite surprised to read about all the traveling that he did.  It is well known in the disability community that airlines lose most of the wheelchairs that are checked by passengers.  It was surprising to read that he never lost his.  It is also surprising that he was allowed to fly at all while he was beginning his career.  Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, wheelchair users were not permitted on airplanes. While Hawking was flying to and from the U. K., he would have had to transfer to American planes for some of his trips. It is pretty amazing to me that as his disabilities got worse, he always found a way to continue working and that Cambridge University, his employer, never tried to prevent him from working. If he was an American, this would not have happened.  Hawking received many accommodations for his disabilities.  Not everyone received this assistance, particularly before the year 2000. Hawking was lucky.

The book gives plenty of details about his research and how he arrived at his conclusions.  Mathematical equations fill the pages.  They went right over my head but I was amazed at how the comic book format made them look simple. The book has been written and illustrated in comic book panels with bright colors illustrating the drawings. At 290 pages, Hawking's life has been presented in full and I don't see that the graphic novel format affected the completeness of this biography. 

I am anxious to re-read the book but before I get started I am rating it at 5 out of 5 stars. This is a must read.

Beneath an Indian Sky

Beneath an Indian Sky is a historical fiction novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter.  The plots alternate between 1928 India, when Sita marries a crown prince and 2000, when her granddaughter Priya gets divorced from her husband of 11 years. 

The publisher's summary:

1928:  In British-ruled India, headstrong Sita longs to choose her own path, but her only destiny is a good marriage. After a chance meeting with a Crown Prince leads to a match, her family's status seems secured and she moves into the palace, where peacocks fill the gardens and tapestries adorn the walls.  But royal life is far from simple, and her failure to provide an heir makes her position fragile. Soon Sita is on the brink of losing everything, and the only way to save herself could mean betraying her oldest friend.

2000:  When Priya's marriage ends in heartbreak, she flees home to India and the palace where her grandmother, Sita, once reigned as Queen.  But as grandmother and granddaughter grow closer, Priya has questions.  Why is Sita so reluctant to accept her royal status ended with independence?  And who is the mysterious woman who waits patiently at the palace gates day after day?  Soon Priya uncovers a secret Sita has kept for years - and will change the shape of her life forever.
I have always loved India as a setting for books. It's tea scented air seems enchanting to me and the landscaping is beautiful. The nice hot weather is appealing to someone, such as myself, who has to deal with -20 degree weather every winter. In this novel much of the setting is the royal palace with its opulent rooms and furniture. Each room that Sita moves through is more exotic than the first. The palace even has its own zoo and Sita particularly loves the cheetahs. 

The characters are captivating and the reader gets to see Sita living the good life and her old friend Mary has to deal with many adversities.  While this is technically a book with alternating plots from Sita and Priya's point of view, it really has 3 alternating plots. The third plot is Mary's story, however, most of this book is about Sita and she is the most interesting character of the three.  Sita is unusual as she is both the main character and the villain. Mary is a supporting character but is also a foil for Sita's character.  In the end, Mary turns out to be the heroine of the novel. How the two of them change over the years and why is the basis for this sensational plot. Also, there is a shocking twist toward the end that genuinely surprised me. 

Beneath an Indian Sky is a must read for historical fiction fans.  I rate it 5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

My Dear Hamilton

My Dear Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton's wife Eliza Hamilton, from her coming of age to the end of her life.  Eliza, known as Betsy by her family, grew up in Revolutionary New York as the daughter of an army general, Philip
Schuyler.  She is a champion of independence and when she meets George Washington's aide, Alexander Hamilton, she is captivated by his charisma and brilliant intellect. They soon fall in love and marry, despite Hamilton's bastard birth and the uncertainties of the war.  Their marriage and the new American nation are far from perfect. The Hamiltons are at the center of the glittery inaugural balls and the bloody street riots as well as the nation's first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness. When her husband dies in a duel, Eliza fights her husband's enemies in order to preserve his legacy. However, long buried secrets threaten everything that Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy.  She tries to understand the flawed man that she married and the imperfect union he never could have created without her.

I loved this novel. I did not know much about Alexander Hamilton before reading this book and learned a substantial amount of information about him.  While I always thought myself to be an expert on the founding of the U. S., I also learned a considerable number of facts about the founding of it's government.  Hamilton and how the emerging nation was formed go hand in hand.  We simply could not have done it without him.

The writing here is fluid, making this a fast read. The "characters" were all people in real-life and I don't think that any author could have created such characters on their own.  The strengths and flaws of each person probably would not have been combined in a made up character as they do not seem to go well together.  However, in this novel the author did not have to worry about that.  In addition, we don't usually see how our first 5 presidents interacted with one another during both the Revolutionary War and its aftermath.  This was fascinating to me.  I have never read anything like this before.  Another interesting fact was that Mrs. Hamilton kew Congressman Abe Lincoln.  I never considered Lincoln to be a contemporary of our founding fathers and mothers but as their careers were ending, Lincoln's was beginning.

My Dear Hamilton is a fantastic historical novel and I cannot recommend it more highly.  5 out of 5 stars.

Idle Days

Idle Days is the story of Jerome Beauvais, a deserter from the Canadian Forces during WWII. After his defection his mother sends him to live with his grandfather in a remote house in the woods. Jerome is helping his grandfather renovate the house. After learning that the prior owner killed herself and set fire to the place, Jerome sets out to learn all that he can about the history of the home.  While Jerome works on the house, he feels more and more isolated. He has to remain hidden from the neighbors lest he be discovered. There are posters around town offering a cash reward for turning in deserters. Listening to the radio daily with his grandfather, Jerome's ghosts from combat appear and haunt his thoughts. 

Idle Days is an engaging story.  The reader can feel Jerome's pain but I could not help but dislike him. Because he was serving in WWII, a war much more important than Vietnam, Korea and some others, I did not like that he deserted his post. WWII was a war over the continuation of life as we knew it. No one should have declined to serve. Including women. That said, this is a well told story. Many of the comic book panels did not have dialogue and it was easy to "read" what was the meaning contained in them. The dialogue itself presented Jerome's inner thoughts ably. Although Jerome's conversation with his grandfather was stilted, I thought that the combination of their dialogue with the illustrations was executed skillfully.

The artwork was drawn in comic book panels and colored in deep dark oranges, reds and browns. I presume that  illustrator Simon Leclerc used this pallette to enhance the sense of isolation that Jerome was feeling. Even when Jerome was walking in the open forest, he felt the confinement of the darkness in the forest during the rare evenings when he left the cabin.  
Idle Days is a fantastic graphic novel.  I highly recommend it to comic book fans. 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Amsterdam Sketchbook

I have had a difficult time locating this book. After a year of searching various websites I finally found one that had a copy to sell. Artist Graham Byfield has published several other watercolor sketchbooks since Amsterdam was published, with Menorca coming out earlier this year. Byfield's style is loose. He is somewhat detailed in his watercolor paintings but not as detailed as France's Fabrice Moireau. I prefer lots of detail but that is not to say that I don't enjoy Graham Byfield.  

Amsterdam contains paintings of several neighborhoods.  Byfield created drawings in the Oude Zijde, Nieuwe Zijde, Leidsestraat, Rosengracht, Amstel and Vondelpark.  A handwritten font is used to describe each painting which adds a personal touch to the sketchbook.  I think that this sketchbook has more information for each subject than other sketchbooks by both Byfield and other watercolor artist sketchbooks.  I enjoyed reading about the buildings and parks that Byfeild drew.  There are 4 or 5 full page paintings but most pages contain 2 paintings.  The publisher, EDM, always publishes their watercolor sketchbooks on actual watercolor paper so that the paintings are shown in the best format.  

This is a first rate artist's book that inspires me to get busy on my own artwork.  I highly recommend it to artists of all mediums.  It makes a great coffee table book too.  5 out of 5 stars.

Empire of Pain

Empire of Pain details the Sackler family's pharmaceutical businesses. The Sacklers have given us librium, valium, oxycontin as well as the antiseptic betadine and the laxative senotkot.  From the language that the author has used, it is obvious that this book was intended not just to ruin the family name (which they did a good job of themselves) but to show that the opioid epidemic in the U. S. was directly caused by the use of oxycontin. However, "gaps" in the meticulously researched expose speak loudly.  

The Sackler brothers Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer were the children of American immigrants Isaac and Sophie Sackler. As first generation kids, their parents instilled in them the desire to make a name for the family. Sophie wanted all of her sons to be doctors and they all became one. Arthur, being the oldest, led his brothers to inherit all of his jobs and businesses when he went to college, whether that be a paper route or a vice president in one of his many corporations that he started while still in high school. When it came time to start a new corporation for the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma, Arthur's push to succeed caused him to shelter the family under 30 shadow companies. This business structure remained over the decades. These umbrella corporations handled things that would be a conflict of interest for Purdue Pharma, such as medical advertising and medical trials. The main company did the research and development, the drug trials and the advertising of the drug. Arthur made a ton of money for the family and succeeding generations merely followed his business plan.

Another one of Arthur's ideas was to take a product and advertise it as not just being for the main purpose it was created for but also to broaden its functions so that more people would want to buy the product. Arthur was a master advertiser. He was taking over the advertising for companies when he was still in high school. With the Sacklers being involved in pharmaceuticals, they were steering people toward drugs that were created for patients with severe pain even though their pain might be considered slight or moderate. These company strategies were later determined to be criminal and resulted in the company's downfall.

The author performed meticulous research. He read every document in every lawsuit of which the family was a part. The author's premise that oxycontin was the sole cause of the opioid epidemic does not hold water. He shows how those people prone to addiction and those who were already addicted to other drugs became addicted to oxycontin. However, he does not cite any data that shows that all people with chronic pain became addicted.  This was the family's defense. Many patients with chronic pain from identifiable conditions shown on x-rays and MRIs could not be shown to be addicted. Given that the author researched every single document on Purdue Pharma it is suspicious to me that there was no study showing this to be true. The author always refers to specific documents to prove his point. However, he sidetracked on this point and I can only surmise that is because there is no evidence to the contrary. 

A big part why family members behaved the way they did was due to their overwhelming wealth. The second and third generations grew up with no boundaries and no real concern for how well they performed in school or how well they performed their jobs in the company. If a problem arose concerning reports of addiction from oxycontin use, they simply ignored it because it was not in their interest.

Empire of Pain is a great resource for readers who want to learn the details about the oxycontin problem.  I highly recommend it.  5 out of 5 stars.