Friday, March 25, 2011

Reading Journal: "The Outside Boy"

Young Christopher Hurley is a Traveller, an Irish Pavee gypsy who roams with his father, Grandda, Granny, Uncle Finty, Auntie Brigid, and his cousins Martin, John Paul, and baby Maureen. They roam from town to town, carrying all their worldly possessions in their wagons.
Christy is haunted by the story of his mother living only 7 minutes after he was born. But when his grandfather dies, the discovery of an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried secret from his mother's past change his life forever.
I love good stories that are told in a child's voice. This was a lovely one, almost comparable to "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle".
I was sorry for it to end. Perhaps the author will write a sequel so we can see how the things Christy uncovered about his identity influenced and impacted the rest of his life.
Although I rarely do it, I painted the background specially for this review, using "Morning Blue", "Powder Green", "Celery Green", and "French Vanilla". For the title, I used a Pilot Parallel Pen which has a broad-edge calligraphy nib. It was filled with a green ink cartridge that wrote beautiful, very crisp letters. I was thrilled, because it can be problematic writing over acrylic paint. Unfortunately, as the ink dried, it bled terribly. I tried to salvage it a bit by adding thin black lettering over the top, but it still looks pretty sad.

Reading Journal: "The Third Angel"

For this review, I decided to do something similar to the one I did for "Hadrian's Wall" way back in 2004, where I focused on the characters. The ones in this story were very interwoven, although it was not immediately apparent because the plot skipped around in different time periods. The story was definitely not written in chronological order.

I used a variety of media. The title was written with a Prismacolor pencil; the author with a ballpoint pen. The names of the characters were written with a white Sharpie Poster-Paint pen. The woman on the right side was cut from a magazine and the shine reduced with matte medium. The angel was printed off the internet. The woman on the left was also a magazine photo which I painted over with acrylic paints and enhanced her face and clothing wrinkles with Prismacolor pencils. She is glued over a circle of sheet music that was colored with soft pastels.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reading Journal: The Lady Elizabeth

I really liked this fictionalized biography of Elizabeth I. It was an unabridged edition on 16 CDs--20 1/2 hours long.
The reader was very good, and I think hearing the story in her beautiful British accent added much to my enjoyment.
The story begins with Elizabeth a mere toddler, although a very precocious one, and continues through her childhood and her precarious teens. It ends soon after she ascends to the throne.
Even though I knew that she didn't end her days in the Tower of London or on the executioner's block as so many before her, the author still managed to convey a great sense of peril and suspense.
This is one of the very few times where I have purposely painted a background for a specific book. As longtime readers of this blog may remember, I generally paint backgrounds way ahead and then match a book to them. But in this case, none of the prepainted pages seemed to work for the images I wanted to use. I decided her portrait would look best on a dark, rich background, so I made a mixture of Americana's "Black Green" and Anita's "Wine." While this was still damp, I overbrushed it with Golden's fluid acrylic "Quinacridone Magenta" for added depth.
I wanted to use an image of King Henry, but not have him be an equal focal point with her; so I made him smaller, had him bleed off the page, and brushed him with watered-down gesso so he looks kind of ghostly.
Since the picture I had of Elizabeth was cut off just below the knees, I had to figure out how to keep that from looking unfinished. I decided to write the title and author on a kind of banner that would extend from the bottom of the dress. I had a small rubber stamp of a banner which wasn't nearly big enough for what I needed. So I scanned and enlarged it that way. I aged it by applying Tim Holtz's Distress Ink "Old Paper" with a holey sponge. To darken the folds, I picked up some of the ink with a waterbrush filled with blender fluid.
Continuing the theme of richness, I wrote the text out with Dr. Martin's Spectralite Gold and a pointed nib.

Reading Journal: Bloodstream

Marty Hopkins is a sheriff's deputy in a small Indiana town. She also has a 10-year-old daughter and a troubled marriage.
As this book opens, she is investigating the disappearance of a local 14-yr-old boy. He had been hanging around a group of teenagers from Arizona who were spending the summer in a church camp excavating a utopian religious community from pioneer days.
Before long, his mutilated body is found in the flood-swollen river, and then the same thing happens to a second boy.
There are reports of a mysterious naked man who dances by the river at night while garbed in a bull's mask, a hairy shoulder mantle and a set of horns. Marty finds this hard to believe until she comes face to face with him in a labyrinth of vines.
I liked that the author created characters who were multilayered instead of stereotypes. Although the story has a sensational revelation at the end, she shows people doing their best to deal with temptations, biases, and severe traumas. Even the perpetrator, though deeply flawed, was a sympathetic character.

For the base colors, I used Anita's Lime and Morning Blue, and then created texture by sponging through drywall tape. The title and author was written with a Marvy calligraphy marker, and the text with a .05 Prismacolor pen. The vines enclosing the text were cut from a magazine ad

Reading Journal: Dreamers of the Day

I'm extremely disappointed with the writing that I did on the title for this spread. I was trying to come up with something that looked faintly Arabic, but this is truly horrible looking. However, I did enjoy this book by Mary Doria Russell and wanted to preserve my memories of it. Here's what I said about it, beginning with a quote from the main character:
"My little story has become your history. You won't really understand your times until you understand mine."
Thus this warning from Agnes Shanklin, a 40-year-old spinster schoolteacher who narrates from the afterlife, sets the stage for her adventures during the Cairo Peace Conference in 1921.
After her entire family perished from influenza in the aftermath of WWI, Agnes received an inheritance which allowed her to indulge in the trip of a lifetime. Soon after arriving in Egypt, she meets Lawrence of Arabia who had known her sister, and through him she becomes acquainted with Winston Churchill, Lady Gertrude Bell, and a host of other characters both real and fictitious.
She is courted by German-Jewish Karl Weilbacher, who encourages her friendships with the British in hopes of learning more of their plans. Agnes, both plain-faced and plain-spoken, has no illusions about his designs, but welcomes his attentions as her only hope for romance. He squires her around while world-altering events swirl about them.
This was an intriguing story that relieved some of my ignorance about the forces and permutations that made the Middle East what it is today. We do indeed reap what we sow.

Reading Journal: Friend of the Devil

This book triangulates with two other novels by Peter Robinson..."Aftermath" and "Caedmon's Song." The former one also featured Inspector Banks, but the latter did not. I recalled "Aftermath" very quickly, but "Caedmon's Song" only came back gradually and in pieces. It's strange that the first reference to it that I found familiar was the name of a minor character--an Australian named Keith McLaren.
This book features two separate crimes that take place a few hours and a few miles apart. Banks is investigating the rape/strangulation of a girl in Eastvale, while Annie Cabbot tries to determine the identity of the mysterious woman in black who slit the throat of a completely paralyzed and mute woman. At some point, it is discovered that this quadriplegic had been deeply involved with the crimes that occurred in "Aftermath." Toward the end, it is revealed that her murderer was the victim, as well as a revenge killer, in Caedmon's Song."
When a policeman on Bank's team ends up getting his throat slit too, the separate investigations become inextricably intertwined.
Peter Robinson's books never disappoint me.
I decided to write the titles as I did to illustrate how each one references back to the others. They were written with a white Prismacolor pencil and I wrote the authors name with a pencil. It's surprising how well it shows up on the flat black paint. I'll try to remember that since it's hard to find tools that work easily and well on dark paint.

Reading Journal: Death of a Butterfly

After reading all the Deborah Knott mysteries by Margaret Maron, I started in on the Sigrid Harald series. She actually developed the Sigrid character before Deborah, and this is the second book featuring her. I'm not reading them in order...just taking them as I can find them.
Julie Redmond has her head bashed in one day while sitting in her kitchen. As Sigrid tries to find out who killed her, she discovers that the beautiful young woman had been cold, self-centered, and demanding. There are several who might have had motives...the elderly neighbors across the hall who adore her little boy and cringe at her cruelty to him; or the ex-husband who has been shut out of his son's life; maybe Julie's ex-con brother with whom she frequently fought; or perhaps the former boss that she blackmailed.
This book is the one that introduces Dr. Jill Gill, an entomologist who give Sigrid the caterpillars that ultimately give her the clue to the murderer's identity.
Background painted with "Crocus" and "Morning Blue." Title written with a Pitt brush pen.

Reading Journal: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms"

This book is written in spare prose, much like Japanese poetry, conveying deep emotions with few words.
Gail Tsukiyama begins her story in 1939, showing the gentle, honorable side of ordinary Japanese people. Hiroshi and Kenji are two brothers being raised by loving grandparents. I was drawn into this intimate world by her quiet description of how they climbed a watchtower each evening to listen to a neighbor girl practice her cello. As war news raged around them, the grandfather buffered it by cautioning them..."Everyday of your lives, you must always be sure what you're fighting for."
The brothers are extremely different in personality, physique and interests. Hiroshi is consumed with the desire to become a sumo champion, while Kenji is fascinated with creating masks for Noh actors. This advice always lingers in the backs of their minds and helps them correct their courses as they struggle to find their way in a world trying to reconcile tradition and change. It is also the heartbreaking story of the women who love them.
Background paint was "Melted Butter" and "Lavender." Used a Pitt F pen and a Pitt brush pen for the title.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reading Journal "Playing With Fire"

In this book, a series of fires occur so near in time that Banks and Cabbot fear a serial arsonist may be to blame, but also realize that someone may be trying to make murder look like arson. The first fire takes place on two barges moored together and kills an artist on one and a young girl on the other. The second fire destroys a trailer along with the man inside. At first, they suspect the girl's boyfriend, but he has an alibi, and he accuses her stepfather whom he said had sexually abused her and got her hooked on drugs.

Eventually, their investigation shows that the artist and the second man killed had known each other at college, and they believe that an unknown third man was involved with them in passing off counterfeit paintings as the real thing. Annie Cabbot becomes romantically involved with Philip Keane, an art researcher who offers to assist them with the case. Banks is suspicious (although Annie accuses him of jealousy) and has Keane checked out, but can't really prove anything against him.
The pages had been initially painted with gray and a touch of purple, without any idea of what they would eventually be used for. Then when I was going through my Reading Journal looking for a background to use as the basis for this book review, I realized that it resembled ashes. So I overpainted with “Christmas Red” and “Tangerine” (Anita’s brand paints from Hobby Lobby), being sure to let some of the grayish background show through. When it was good and dry, I wrote the title with a black Pitt brush pen, extending the descenders on the Y & G, as well as pulling the crossbar of the T, and adding one to the final E. I was trying to create the feel of leaping flames, and to enhance that even more, I added extra strokes around the letters with orange and crimson Prismacolor pencils. 

This book is a mystery, and I wanted to reveal “whodunit” for myself to remember later, but not to spoil the ending for anyone looking at the journal. So I covered up where I had written the ending by tipping in some “flames”. I made these by painting a piece of manila cardstock with the orange and red paint, and cutting the top in jagged points. Then I applied a strip of transfer tape to the left side and pressed it into the gutter. The flames can be lifted back to read what is underneath.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Journal: "Bootlegger's Daughter"

With this book, I discovered a new-to-me author who writes the kind of mysteries I like best. It's where they create an on-going character in a series whose real life is developed and revealed bit by bit along with each mystery that is solved. My favorite authors who write like this are Elizabeth George, John Harvey, Peter Robinson, and Nevada Barr. I've read every book they've ever written, so I was delighted when I happened upon Margaret Maron.

This first title that features Deborah Knott was published in 1992 and she has written 13 more since then, so this series should last me awhile.

The setting is North Carolina in an area that is transitioning from tobacco farms to suburbs. Deborah is a lawyer who's running for judge. She comes from a huge family where she's the youngest, and the only daughter after 11 boys.

As a teenager, she was a babysitter for the Whiteheads. 18 years ago, Janie was found dead in an old mill with her screaming 3-month-old beside her. Now Gayle is about to graduate, and she begs Deborah to try to find out why her mother was killed. Even after two separate investigations, the murder remains unsolved and continues to haunt Gayle. She's even suspicious of her own father.

Deborah is reluctant to take on this task, but feels that it can't hurt to ask a few questions to maybe pacify Gayle. She quickly realizes that the murderer is feeling threatened when the potter who lived next to the mill is shot dead.

The background for this spread looks much better in person than in the photo. I painted with Periwinkle and Wedgewood Green, and when dry, gave it a light wash with Melted Butter. The title was written with a Pitt brush pen and shadowed with a black micron pen.

Reading Journal: "With No One as Witness"

When one of my best friends died, I couldn't talk to acquaintances about it. I felt as though I would somehow trivialize it by discussing it with people who hadn't known her. I knew they would express sympathy, but not really feel the anguish I was feeling.
 As Seneca said, "Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb."

Not that it's anywhere near the same, but I've also felt blocked in trying to review this book. Elizabeth George is one of my all-time favorite authors. Although she's written a couple of books that didn't live up to what I'd come to expect from her ("I, Richard" and "A Place of Hiding"), overall I love her plots and her characterizations. More than anything, the interplay between the half dozen main characters is what keeps me coming back. So when she killed one of them off, it was hard to take. I wonder at the direction the series will go now. This will have to have a major impact!

In a nutshell, the plot centered on trying to find a serial killer of young teenage boys. The first three victims had been black or mixed race, and neither the police nor the press expressed much interest until a white youth was murdered and left draped across a tomb. Amid accusations of institutional racism, the case is handed to Lynley, Havers, and Winston Nkata.
Since one of the main characters was pregnant, I felt the illustration was apropros. It was made by cutting a stencil  from a magazine photo and filling in with a dark blue soft pastel. It is so dark in the solid stick that it appears to be black. I sprayed with Fixatif so that the pastel wouldn't transfer to the opposite page when the journal is closed. The title was written with a 3.5mm calligraphy marker and a Pitt brush pen.

Reading Journal: "The Water and the Blood"

I loved Nancy E. Turner's first two books, so I was eagerly looking forward to this one, especially since it was largely set in East Texas where I grew up, and takes place during World War II.

I found quite a few things that bothered me. Her style was very different this time. It just didn't hang together--didn't flow well. She jumped around from Frosty's being in high school to episodes that happened to her as a child. I don't mean flashbacks, or that she was recalling an incident. Instead the narratives were just jumpy and disorienting.

And there were other irregularities. I guess it's picky, but it always irks me when a character used the word "y'all" when speaking to an individual. I've lived my entire life in Texas, and never once have I heard a real Texan use it that way. It's a contraction of "you all" and thus we only use it when speaking to more than one person.

As Frosty traveled, the author got some Texas towns out of sequence. In California, she said that she and Garnelle split the $25 monthly rent and each had nearly $100 left for food and savings; yet at one point she talked about being between paychecks and resenting having to share her meager lunch with Gordon, who was a Native-American soldier.

Inconsistencies like this may be a result of poor editing, but they took away from my reading enjoyment.

Reading Journal: "Black and Blue"

The New York Times described this book by Anna Quindlen as a low-key thriller about domestic violence and a woman's need for self-esteem. I have to agree with that assessment...NOT the blurb that called it a heart-stopping, spellbinding story.

I do give her points for not portraying Fran (Beth) as a helpless victim, and when she remarries (a gentle caring man this time) it's shown realistically and not as her soulmate riding to the rescue.

Even though they have a baby girl together, the ending is bittersweet, because her son Robert was taken by his father and it's been 4 years since she's seen him. She clings to the hope that when he's old enough to be independent that he'll contact her.

I made the background for this spread many months ago while just playing with various techniques. The blue was sponged with red and yellow, and when I decided to use it for this review, I added some very blackish-green in a nod to bruises.

Reading Journal: "Jury of One"

This courtroom drama by David Ellis kept me guessing right to the end. It used a writing technique that I don't ever remember seeing before. The prologue and one of the last chapters were virtually identical-word for word- except that in the latter the characters now had names and 1 1/2 extra pages revealed what I had been waiting the whole book to find out.

Shelly's client is a 17-year-old accused of killing a policeman, and she suspects that he may have been involved in an undercover operation to entrap dirty cops. In flashbacks, we learn that Shelly had been raped when she was 16, and in a shocking revelation, she learns that Alex is her son. Shelly has no experience in criminal court, but he refuses to have any other lawyer.

As she delves deeper into the case, she begins to fear that he is lying to her to protect his best friend, but he is adamant that Ronnie had nothing to do with what happened. In open court, and under oath, Ronnie makes an accusation that literally causes Shelly to faint.

Even after this bombshell which caught me completely by surprise, that latter chapter was necessary to clear up all the questions. This was a well-crafted, thoroughly satisfying novel, where I cared about the characters and found myself silently pleading with the author to make it turn out well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Winter Study"

I was getting very worried that something had happened to Nevada Barr since she had published a book featuring Anna Pigeon every year from 1993 through 2005. Then nothing in 2006 or 2007. It turned out that Hurricane Katrina was the problem. She lives in New Orleans and had 30" of flood water in her home.

I was so tickled when I found out about this book and immediately requested it from the library. At first, I didn't think that it was going to live up to my expectations, but it got more exciting as it went along, although it isn't my favorite. (Those would be "Firestorm" and "Hard Truth".

It is set on Isle Royale as was "A Superior Death", but this time it's January with sub-zero temps. Anna has gone there to learn about managing wolves in a national park, as a part of the famous 50-year-old wolf/moose study. When giant wolfprints are found and scat with DNA alien to the island's packs, the team fears that a hybrid animal has been brought in. Before long, a young woman researcher is found dead...apparently the victim of a wolf attack. Anna, knowing wild wolves are generally timid around humans, fears that there is a murderer on the team. Of course, that proves to be the case, and Anna has several near-death encounters before the truth comes out.

Those of you who've read my blog's archives may remember that I always paint my pages ahead, and just look for a spread that matches the mood of the story when I get ready to journal about a book. This time I couldn't find any pages that suited me just as they were, so I toned down the "Periwinkle Blue" and "Wedgewood Green" that I had previously painted by brushing with a thin whitewash. Then I lightly sponged on full-strength white paint to create the effect of snow, concentrating it more heavily at the bottom. The words were written with a blue Uniball Vision Elite pen, with the title done in the Art Deco style.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Keith's Birthday Card

I used another one of my little watercolor collages to make my brother's birthday card. The three kids sitting on a washtub eating watermelon are me, Keith, and our sister Carolyn (who died of breast cancer in 2001.)

Keith is looking forward to the birth of his first grandson in June. He already has two little granddaughters that he's crazy about. He even volunteered to stay home from some car race to babysit Claire.


This is one of the little watercolor collages that I made in a class with Sherri Kiesel when she came to Houston the first weekend in March. I absolutely loved this class. I would take from her again in a minute.

"Trail of Secrets" by Eileen Goudge

The background for this spread was red and blue acrylic paints washed with Vintage White. The title was written with a dark gray Pitt brush pen and the text with a Pilot P-700. The magazine illustration was adhered with a xyron.

This book kept me up until the wee hours, as I couldn't turn out the light until I saw how it ended. If one is willing to suspend belief in coincidences, it's a romantic, satisfying love story.

Ellie was a teenage unwed mother whose baby was stolen from her. 22 years later, she's a successful psychologist, but her heart had been broken when she lost Bethanne, and never having been able to have another child, she is desperate to adopt. Two girls have promised her their babies, but changed their minds at the last minute.

Enter Skyler, a young equestrienne whose adoptive parents dote on her, but are unhappy with her decision to give up her baby. The pregnancy was the result of an "afternoon delight" with Tony, a NYC mounted policeman. They are drawn to each other like metal to a magnet, but coming from completely different backgrounds, believe that marriage is out of the question.

It's no mystery to the reader that Skyler is the missing Bethanne. The book revealed that fact in the first chapter. However, neither Ellie nor Skyler is aware of this, and so papers are signed when the baby is born and Ellie blissfully takes her home.

What kept me turning the pages was wanting to know how and when the book's characters would be let in on the secret, what would be their reactions, and how would they resolve the issue of custody after Skyler predictably and inevitably wants her infant back.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reading Journal: "North River"

I loved this book. Pete Hamill is a master of his craft. His stories evoke such a realistic feeling of bygone eras that you feel like you're there, but he always slips in a bit of magic, too, in letting you into the minds of his characters.

This book is set in the New York of 1934 in the depths of the Depression. Dr. Delaney tends his patients as best he can while wondering whether his vanished wife is alive or dead. He is shocked one day to find his 3-year-old grandson Carlito on his doorstep. He hires Rose, a tough young Sicilian immigrant to cook and tend the child. Slowly, as these three lonely people form a household, the numbness around Delaney's heart starts to melt.

As in"Snow in August," the decent people have to cope with criminal elements that are a constant menace. But, thankfully, this story had a happy ending. One of the most beautiful scenes was in the next to last chapter when they go dancing.

"The lights were muted. The band was playing 'You Made Me Love You.' He put his right hand on her waist and took her right hand in his left, and they began to move. A fox trot. He could feel her tension, her fear of clumsiness. Then as she relaxed, she pressed against him. Here for a few hours, they could believe that they would be together forever. And so they danced and danced."

The paints I used for the background were Apple Barrel's "Wild Berry", "Denim Blue" and Anita's "Sand." I wrote the title and author with a Hunt 22 nib and Best Bottle ink. The ink did not work as well on the acrylic painted background as gouache. It tended to blob, as you can see in the dot over the "i" and in the loops of the "b" and "l". The text was written with a Pilot P-700.

I brushed the magazine photo with matte medium to reduce the shine, adhered it with double-stick tape, and dabbed the torn edges with Colorbox ink.