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.