Sunday, October 28, 2018

Death in St. Petersburg

Death in St. Petersburg is the first book by Tasha Alexander that I have read. However, it is her 13th historical mystery novel and Death in St. Petersburg is the 12th installment of the author's Lady Emily Mystery Series.

Prima ballerina Irina Semenova Nemetseva is found dead outside the Mariinski Theatre midway through a performance. Her friend and understudy Ekaterina Petrovna Solokova, takes over her top role in the ballet and finishes the performance for the evening.  Ekaterina ultimately is appointed the principal dancer position in the ballet company and becomes a suspect. Lady Emily and her husband Colin, appointed by Queen Victoria to oversee events at the Russian Court for her, investigate the murder at the request of a friend of the victim.

The plot moved rather slowly in this mystery and I was bored from the beginning. The main characters did not impress me.  I felt they were boring too. The story of the ballerinas was exciting but there wasn't enough of that in the book to keep me interested. The ballet dancers as characters were much more interesting than protagonist Lady Emily and her husband, a regular series character.

I wonder if this book is a cozy mystery. That may explain my dissatisfaction with the book as there are very few cozy authors that I read any more.  I used to love the genre but it no longer satisfies me. The writing style of Death in St. Petersburg seemed like a cozy which means I should not fault it for being a genre that I do not like. Regardless, I could not wait for the book to end.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Nick Drnaso 's second graphic novel Sabrina follows his successful 2016 graphic novel Beverly. Sabrina has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the first graphic novel to be considered for this award. It was published in May, 2018 by Drawn and Quarterly.

Teddy's girlfriend Sabrina has gone missing putting him in a severely depressed state. He moves to Colorado to stay with an old friend, Calvin Wrobel, who is in the air force. Sabrina's sister Sandra calls Teddy a few times but he rebuffs her, not even attending her funeral. Teddy lays in bed all day in his underwear, listening to a shock jock radio host and only eats when Wrobel leaves food outside his bedroom door.

When a video of Sabrina's murder surfaces and goes viral, the media and the public goes into overdrive and conspiracy theories begin to point fingers at the victim's friends and family even though the killer is identified in the video. Sandra, Teddy and Wrobel all get threatening messages as the public begins to believe the video is fake and that one of them is the actual killer.

Sound familiar? This is what is happening in society today with our 24/7 news coverage of murders across the country. No one believes the truth anymore and our minds imagine new truths to fit what we hear on cable TV programs that talk about true crimes.  Sabrina is an indictment of our conspiracy theory society.

Sabrina is brilliantly  plotted with compelling characters. Some of the plot movements you only see from drawings with no dialogue. The emotions of the characters pop off of the page. The artwork consists of simple line drawings which are colorful, but the colors are all muted.

5 out of 5 stars!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

2019 Creativity Reading Challenge

I am going to rejoin this reading challenge again next year.  While I expected to read more books for this challenge in 2018 than I have, I think I can do better next year by concentrating more on the art and crafts that I do the most: spinning fiber into yarn and colored pencil drawings. I still may post a review of a typography book and a cookbook next month but I am pretty much done with this challenge for 2018.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Introduction to Tesselations

I first saw this book in my public library and after reading it knew that I would be buying it for my personal library.  However, it was out of print so I found it on eBay and purchased it.  It was written by Dale Seymour and Jill Britton and was published in 1989  by Dale Seymour Publications.  A tessellation is a geometric pattern.  M. C. Escher was the expert on them.  Not being a very scientific person, I am always coming back to this book when I am trying to create a new drawing or quilt because the basics of these designs are hard for me to remember.  The results are always exquisite though.

There is another book on tessellations by a famous quilt artist, Jinny Beyer, that is extremely technical and I have never been able to get anything out of her book.  This book, however, is visual oriented and easier for  me to understand.  The book is not only written for the layperson but also for students in the 12 to 14 year old age range.  It contains hundreds of detailed graphic illustrations from the simplest to the most intricate.  Most of the illustrations are in black and white.  A few have red included in them but it would have been helpful to have more colorful illustrations to show the reader some shading ideas.  The properties of tessellating polygons are discussed as well as Islamic art, Escher type tessellations and tessellating letters.  Graphic paper and dot pages are included in the back of the book for the reader's experimentation.  I photocopied them for personal use.

As I mentioned earlier, the mathematics of these designs go way over my head.  I mainly use the hundreds of illustrations to play with when trying to create a design pattern.  I trace them onto paper and then color in different color patterns with different color palettes to see what I can come up with.

This is a great instructional book for quilters, colored pencil artists and people who love to create zentangles.  The illustrations inside will offer hours of experimentation and play.  

The Art and Craft of Poetry

Michael Bugeja's book on poetry has always inspired me to keep writing. While there are other books that get more into the technique of writing poetry, Bugeja offers a writing plan based on idea generation.

One of his idea generation ideas is to make a list of the high points, low points and turning points of your life.  Then, for each point, think about specific incidents that occurred and pick one to use. For each incident there should either be an epiphany or peak experience associated with it.  Your poem is the high or low point, the incident and the epiphany! He uses a system of writing a paragraph about the poem, sketching key elements of the poem, hold back the urge to write right away, think about the poem and then compose the poem.

The author has a separate chapter discussing the different aspects of love poems, nature and environmental poems,  extranatural poems, war poems, political poems and occasion poems.  For example, a love poem could be a complaint, love tribute, a proposal, love concept, an obstacle, absent love, love moment, a reconciliation, love token, illicit love or future love.  Each of the other category of poems have their own subcategories.  Then at the end of each chapter are Level One, Level Two and Level Three idea generation programs that would help you generate 10 poem ideas for each level.  The reader would go through the entire book using the Level One programs before going back and using Level Two, then Level Three.  The reader should keep all of these ideas in a notebook, journal, etc... before beginning to write.  You can see how inspirational all of these ideas are for the reader and how much material you would have to write with by the time you began to write.

The author has some information on technique.  He covers voice, the line, the stanza, the title, meter and rhyme in separate chapters.  Again, at the end of each chapter are Level One, Level Two and Level Three exercises where you go to your Idea File and begin drafting poems.

The third and final part of the book is about poem formats.  He discusses the narrative poem, the lyric poem, the dramatic poem, free verse, the sonnet, form poems, the sequence and the total poem in separate chapters.  Again, at the end of the chapters are Level One, Level Two and Level Three exercises where you work on your earlier poem drafts and revise them in the above formats. Mini anthologies of these formats are included for the reader's reference.

The Art and Craft of Poetry gets you into writing immediately.  It is the most practical poetry writing instruction book that I have ever seen.  Instead of just reading about how to write poetry, you learn how to write poetry by writing poetry itself.

10 out of 5 stars!

The Ultimate Guide to Colored Pencil

Gary Greene is my favorite colored pencil author/teacher.  I have most of his books and all of his instructional dvds.  In this Ultimate Guide to Colored Pencil he gives over 35 step-by-step demonstrations for both traditional and watercolor pencils.  A dvd is included with the book that shows how to create a colored pencil painting of a rose using traditional colored pencils.

While Gary Greene has written many books for beginning colored pencil artists, this guidebook could also be used by beginners.  However, I think it is more suited for the intermediate to advanced artist. The book contains information on the materials and tools that every colored pencil artist uses as well as how to use a reference photograph.  One feature that I have never seen in any other colored pencil instructional book are his comparison charts of the pencil colors of 9 different colored pencil manufacturers.  Concerning the reference photos, an intermediate or advanced colored pencil artist will find information on photographic anomalies and blunders and errors artists make when putting two or more photos together in a composite photo.

The technique chapter addresses all the techniques you would find in a beginner guidebook but these techniques are for artists who have done a few drawings already and have come across some problems.  Greene is very detailed when talking about the use of solvents with colored pencil and has a chart showing how 5 different solvents work with both wax based pencils and with oil based pencils.  He then has a chart showing how to mix colors with the solvents.  Burnishing techniques are discussed in extensive detail.  It is covered in 36 pages!  No other colored pencil author has given burnishing this much detailed information.  Part of the information covered includes demonstrations. Likewise, underpainting is covered extensively in 37 pages.  This is incredible and you won't find this information in any other colored pencil book.  I would know because I have them all.  The remainder of the book is demonstrations of techniques and combination of techniques that the reader should work on independently.

This Ultimate Guide really is an ultimate guide.  There is information in its pages that you won't find in any other colored pencil instructional guidebook.  For colored pencil artists like myself, practicing his techniques will only us better artists.  The demonstrations at the back of the book that the reader is supposed to work on independently will stretch not only my repertoire of skills but also my subject matter.  I am pretty much stuck on drawing birds and butterflies. However, I can now see myself drawing a landscape scene which has always seemed a little scary for me.

If you are a colored pencil artist, this is one book that you must have!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Memoir Reading Challenge 2019

I am going to join the Memoir Reading Challenge next year to broaden my reading horizons a little bit.  I don't think I have read a memoir that was not in graphic novel form since the 1980s. There are 30 categories to choose from on the challenge page. Of course the graphic novel memoir interests me but also the food, political and travel memoirs. The challenge post also has a link to Goodreads' lists of types of memoirs and I found another interesting category: missionary memoirs.  I used to read them all the time when I was young.

I am signing up to read 5 memoirs only as I am not sure how interested I am in this genre. I know that I am going to have to read Julia Child and Jacques Pepin's memoirs on how they became chefs. About 3 missionary memoirs interest me as well as David McCullough's book on John Adams, my favorite president. There is a music memoir category that interests me but I will have to keep searching to find a book that fits in the caregory.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Painter's Apprentice

This is the first book of Laura Morelli's that I have read and I was quite impressed. The story was rich with the arts and forbidden love in 1510 Venice when it was fighting a big battle with the bubonic plague. It is the author's second novel in her Venetian Artisans series.

19 year old Maria Bartolini has been sent away from her father's gilding workshop to work as an apprentice under famous painter Master Trevisan for 18 months in exchange for learning how to use pigments. She prefers to work with gold leaves but works hard to learn how to paint with pigment all while pining for her home, family and her lover, a Saracen working in her father's shop as a gold beater. When she discovers that she is pregnant Maria tries to get in touch with her family but is blocked by barricades set up to stop the spread of the pestilence, the bubonic plague. The Trevisan family maid figures out Maria's secret and together with the family's boatman exhorts money from her to keep the secret from Master Trevisan. Other artisans have been jailed and then exiled for the same offense so Maria pays them until she can figure out how to handle her situation.

I love art, using gold leaves too, so the artistic backstory was fascinating for me. I also love the Renaissance period. The pairing of these two made for a great story. Add in a forbidden love story between an interracial couple and a plague and you have a plot that is hard to beat.

As an artist I loved reading all the details about the gilding process. I was amused when artists from other areas of Europe were brought into the story who talked about using a new background for their art - canvas. It was deemed revolutionary to those who were doing traditional paintings on wood. The use of oil paints as a new medium was also discussed but the guild the Venetians belonged to still mixed pigment from natural resources. I thought this was hilarious but truth be told it was during this era that the art world began to change.

Another major part of the story was the bubonic plague. It affected commerce, how the artisans were able to obtain supplies and maintain customers as the city fell victim to the plague block by block. Neighborhoods were boarded up so no one could enter or leave which meant food could not be delivered to those in quarantine. When someone got sick they were forced by the police to sail to a nearby island where most of them died and were buried without notice to their families.

The characters were awesome.  All of them. From Maria to her father, aunt, cousin, lover, boss, the maid, the boatman and the boss's wife, they all played their parts well.  The maid and boatman provided the story with the evil characters while Master Trevisan's wife was the typical rich and gossipy wife. Maria had an aunt who was a nun who did her best to get her to enter the convent.

The author used contemporary English with the exception of the character and place names which helped to make the book a quick read.  I enjoyed The Painter's Apprentice immensely and rate it 5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

2019 Historical Fiction Challenge Sign-Up

It's hard to believe that reading challenges are already being announced for next year. The Historical Fiction Challenge is one of my favorites so I will be rejoining the challenge in 2019. However, I will be reducing the number of books that I will be reading to 10, the Renaissance Reader level. I signed up to read 25 historical fiction books this year and I am struggling with my interest in reading in general so I am not sure if I will meet my mark. With 10 as a goal I know that I can more than meet the challenge.


Jason Lutes' historical graphic novel Berlin is a masterpiece. It tells the story of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party during the years 1928 through 1933. It was originally serialized in 22 issues over 2 decades but it was published in one volume by Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly in September, 2018.

The story opens with Marthe Muller arriving in Berlin on a train where she has met Berlin journalist Kurt Severing. Muller has come to Berlin to take art classes and is mourning the loss of her brother in World War 1. Many of the scenes in the book show both of them throughout their days with the people they meet and live with. The Braun family is also prominent. They are a working class family struggling to make ends meet. Another family prominent in the book is a Jewish family adapting to the political environment.

The city of Berlin is actually the protagonist of the story. Both its luxuriousness and poverty are shown. The author has scenes depicting lavish salons, severely disabled homeless veterans, automobiles for the rich, crumbling buildings, and elaborate train stations. He also uses characters to show that it was a city of intellectualism with a loose sexual culture before it fell into decline.

While the main characters are interesting, there are many secondary characters that tell a major part of the city's story. Some of them you may only see in one scene but they reflect the views of people in a changing society who don't really care for change whether it be political or technological. Other secondary characters are members of political groups fighting for change.

The artwork consists of intricately detailed black and white drawings set in a traditional comic book page spread. Every couple of pages there is a full page drawing so detailed that I think it could be colored in with watercolors in the same way that urban sketchers work. Even the drawings without dialogue say a lot because the faces within them are so expressive.

Berlin is truly a masterpiece. It is an epic historical novel in 575 pages. I highly recommend it.