Monday, October 16, 2017

My Top Ten Portraits

I'd bet the farm that you don't know that art history was one of my favorite classes in college. See? I'm beginning to understand that one of the bonuses of compiling and posting these top ten lists is the fact that you're getting to know me a bit better.

Yes, I loved art history, but that didn't come as a complete shock. It was an elective class; therefore, studying it was my choice. My mother, who was raising me on a widow's pension and a variety of part-time jobs (including village librarian), spent some of her hard-earned cash to subscribe to five or six series published by Time-Life Books when I was a tween. Two of my favorite series were about museums of the world and about art. They were filled with full-page, luscious color photographs, and I would sit and slowly turn the pages, trying to soak up as much beauty as possible. So that art history class was a natural for me.

What wasn't natural was the sort of test the professor devised. Those exams were brutal. I would always finish among the very first in every other class I took, but in this class, we all stayed after the bell, scrambling to finish and still be able to make it to our next classes in time. A major part of her exams were slides of paintings we'd never seen before. We had to look closely at each one, state which artist we thought had painted it and give three reasons to support our decisions. Brutal! But the things I learned in that class are still with me.

Fortunately, this isn't one of those exams. All you have to do is take a look at some paintings that are among my favorite portraits. There's something about a well-done portrait, don't you think? It should always say more about the subject than the subject realizes. My choices are listed in alphabetical order by the artist's last name, and I've also provided links to each artist in the captions beneath each painting. I hope you enjoy!

"My Daughter Elizabeth" by Frank Benson

"Portrait of Madame Juillardin Red" by Giovanni Boldini

"Santa Fe Sun" by Steve Hanks

"Arthur Atherley, M.P." by Sir Thomas Lawrence

"Lady Helen Vincent" by John Singer Sargent

"A Talking Robe" by Howard Terpning

"Charles I in Three Positions" by Sir Anthony van Dyck

"Girl With a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer 

"Self Portrait in a Straw Hat" by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

"Redhead" by William Whitaker

Now for a few words about some of my choices.

Steve Hanks works with watercolors, and I think his art is amazing. Until I saw his work, I never thought you could get so much detail using watercolors.

Lawrence's "Arthur Atherley, M.P." looks like a rich, spoiled hellraiser, doesn't he?

John Singer Sargent is my favorite portraitist, and I chose one of his charcoal sketches to show how fabulous he is, regardless of medium.

Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring" is probably my favorite portrait of all time. Those eyes!

I first saw a portrait painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun at the Phoenix Art Museum in the 1980s when a huge traveling exhibit of Impressionist paintings was touring the country. That exhibit blew me away and made me momentarily wonder if I could smuggle that water lily painting by Monet out of the building without being caught. I walked into another room in the museum to calm down a bit before going back for another walk-through when I saw this face smiling down at me from the opposite wall. It was one of Vigée Le Brun's portraits, and it outshone everything else in the room. It didn't take me long to find a biography written about her that included color plates of some of her work.

I know that Art isn't everyone's "thing," but I do hope you enjoyed wandering through my little exhibition!

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Care & Feeding of Shelves Weekly Link Round-Up

It's been a quiet week here. I ran an errand or two. I've almost made up my mind to do some housecleaning. I'm still making a list of places we can take our niece Daisy to when she's here next spring. There's no hot topic I'm wanting to discuss. But rather than cut immediately to the chase, I thought I'd share a mediocre photo of the large bookcase that's here in our office.

Yes, you can click on it to see it in its original size. (You're like me...wanting to see titles on spines!) I inherited this bookcase from a dear friend when he moved in 1989 or thereabouts, and it's been in here since this room became The Office. 

I thought the top three shelves would be of the most interest to you, since they house (1) my physical advance reading copies on the top left, and (2) many of my most recent acquisitions on the other two shelves-- those books I'm wanting to read before the ones on my to-be-read shelves out in the living room. 

Hmm...I'd forgotten about that book on Fabergé hidden at the back of the third shelf, but if I pull it out to put it elsewhere, I'll end up paging through it. And I've been wondering where that candle went! (Methinks my housecleaning shouldn't wait much longer!)

But I do have one more thing to do first: head on out to the corral to get all those links ready for you. Head 'em up! Moooooooooove 'em out!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • A wild bison was spotted in Germany for the first time in two hundred years. You'll never guess what happened next. 
  • Four incredible facts about sea otters.
  • Witness a real-life Wild West buffalo roundup.
  • Watch a seal get up close and personal with a diver. 
  • Cheetahs 101.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • The most interesting man in the world might just be Thomas Lannon, New York City Public Library archivist. 
  • The true story behind Billie Jean King's victorious "Battle of the Sexes."
  • Louisa May Alcott, a difficult woman who got things done.
  • Meet Stagecoach Mary, the daring black pioneer who protected Wild West stagecoaches.

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thugs and Kisses by Sue Ann Jaffarian

First Line: "Why am I not surprised?"

Paralegal Odelia Grey doesn't know which way to jump. Not only was the class bully murdered at her thirtieth high school reunion, her boss has also gone missing. Fortunately, someone else makes the decision for her as to which case to concentrate on. Now if they could only "decide away" the tangled connections, buyer's remorse, and contract killers that she discovers. Oh well, at least this helps Odelia keep her mind off her foundering relationship with Greg.

If you like fun, suspenseful mysteries with realistic, well-drawn characters, and a wonderful sense of humor, I bid you welcome to the world of Odelia Grey. This paralegal does not fit the Los Angeles area's size 0 body criteria, but she more than makes up for it with her warm heart, her sense of humor, and her sharp detecting skills. 

Odelia's relationship with Greg has hit a snag. He's called an end to it because he doesn't like the way her amateur investigations put her in danger. But if she had her way, she wouldn't lift a finger to help police find Donny Oliver's killer; the class bully was beyond cruel. Moreover, if her law firm wasn't paying her to find her annoying boss, Michael Steele, she wouldn't bother with him either-- she's enjoying the peace and quiet.

Thugs and Kisses contains a good, solid mystery with plenty of tension at the end. It also reveals what happened to Odelia at her high school senior prom, and it's guaranteed to make anyone shrivel up in sympathy. Jaffarian skillfully combines a wide range of emotions with her tight plotting and nuanced characterizations to make a series that's so much fun to read. Odelia walks roughshod over clichés and worn-out expectations and right into your kitchen to share a chat over a cup of coffee. I've come to rely on my fictional best friend Odelia to deliver a dose of smarts, heart, and humor.

Thugs and Kisses by Sue Ann Jaffarian
ISBN: 9780738710891
Midnight Ink © 2008
Paperback, 336 pages

Cozy Mystery, #3 Odelia Grey mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Have Harlan Coben Covered!

I found an article that talks about some of the differences in book covers between the US and UK. I'm including it in a future link round-up, but since I'm doing one of my US vs. UK Cover-Offs this week, I thought I'd share the link now for any of you who'd like to take a look.

The article has some very interesting things to say about how US covers have to appeal to the lowest common denominator since US audiences vary so greatly from one part of the country to another. It also mentions the fact that UK cover design has generally been thought to be twenty years ahead of US cover design...but that is changing. A lot of you have proven to me that you take a keen interest in this topic, so read the article when you get a chance. But before you do, take a look at the US and UK covers of Harlan Coben's latest book, Don't Let Go!

Have you ever noticed that, when publishers think men are going to make a large percentage of the readers of a book, you normally don't see many males plastered on the cover? Alternatively, when publishers believe a book is going to be read primarily by women, they plaster women's body parts and/or clothes all over the thing? Now that I've said that, you're going to tell me, but look at the rather large man on the UK cover of Coben's book! To my credit, I did say "you normally don't see"....

Even though I prefer the colors of the UK edition, it's the design of the US cover that I prefer. Harlan Coben is a big name; you really don't need more than an eye-catching color and his name in huge type across the front. Yes, there's a silhouette of a man on there to add a little bit of visual interest, and they have to tell us that he's a #1 New York Times bestselling author, but the color, author name and book title are really the be-all and end-all of this cover. And that's all it needs.

The UK cover almost looks too busy in comparison. Some sort of street scene at night. A man running toward us but looking over his shoulder. "Small town. Big secrets." And this is "The Global Number One Bestseller." Global? It just came out and they're calling it a #1 bestseller, but Coben himself says that his book won't debut at #1 on the bestseller list because...Stephen and Owen King's Sleeping Beauties was released on the same day. I might as well stray closer to the topic while I've still got a chance. They really have to worry about the placement of the title and author name on the UK cover so those won't obscure the graphics, but the red used in Coben's name looks muddy when it should be crisp and bright.

No...I do prefer the US cover this time around. Simple, bright, and it catches my eye. When you're a writer who's made the big time, you really don't need pretty pictures to draw readers in. But that's just me. Which cover do you prefer? US? UK? Too close to call? Neither one? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Weycombe by G.M. Malliet

First Line: I remember Anna clearly.

American ex-pat Jillian White has it all: a titled English husband and a comfortable life in the wealthy village of Weycombe. When a local estate agent (and friend) is murdered, Jillian becomes worried about there being a killer on the loose, and she begins conducting her own investigation. As she goes from neighbor to neighbor, asking her nosy questions and observing everything she possibly can, she notices how many different versions of the truth she's getting...and her suspicions grow.

The first thing I should probably say about Weycombe is this: if you've read other books by G.M. Malliet (as I have), do not read this one expecting more of the same. This is not a cozy mystery. It's a diabolical little treat told in the first person by the very snarky Jillian White.

Jillian is highly intelligent, highly observant, and always very aware of her status as an outsider. UK readers will be able to see how Americans view their country, and American readers will be able to benefit from her descriptions of life in the UK. Although Jillian and I have the same opinion about a few things (some facts about life in the UK and housecleaning come to mind), I'm not sure we'd be best buddies even if my occasional snarky periods coincided with hers. But being friends with the main character really isn't the point of the book.

Jillian's voice kept me under her spell throughout the book. Malliet has written a masterful character study. I can't pinpoint exactly when I began to get my first glimmerings of what might actually be going on in Weycombe, but I know it made me smile. What if.....? No, I am not going to tell you any more. I can't talk about the plot without giving important points away. All I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you're the type of reader who doesn't mind a rather acid character or when an author wants to try something different, chances are you might enjoy it every bit as much as I did. I hope you do!

 Weycombe by G.M. Malliet
eISBN: 9780738754956
Midnight Ink © 2017
eBook, 360 pages

Literary Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Net Galley

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Question of the Absentee Father by E.J. Copperman & Jeff Cohen

First Line: A letter arrived in the daily mail.

When Samuel Hoenig's mother receives a letter, she asks her son a question that he really doesn't want to hear: "Where is your father living now?" Samuel's father left when he was quite small, so Samuel has no feelings for him one way or the other, but when the business you run is called Questions Answered, he's duty bound to find the information his mother needs. 

There's just one small problem. Samuel has Asperger's Syndrome, and the necessary flight to Los Angeles to find the answer to his mother's question takes him completely out of his comfort zone. Little does he and his associate Miss Washburn know, but the flight is the least of their worries. Once that plane lands, finding the answer to one simple question puts both of them in serious danger.

The Question of the Absentee Father continues one of my favorite mystery series. Not only is this book (and the series) a sensitive treatment of Asperger's, it actually allows me to see the world through Samuel's eyes and to have my brain become attuned to the way he thinks. Samuel is a nuanced character; readers learn his many abilities as well as his weaknesses, and in this latest book, we see how well he copes with being taken out of his comfort zone. His investigations also teach him things from book to book-- so he's doing better than many of the rest of us.

The cast of characters around Samuel is a wonderful support group for him. (We should all be so lucky.) His mother takes a backseat in this book, but her presence is still felt. Mike the taxi cab driver not only helps Samuel get from Point A to Point B, he can also be relied upon to help when needed. And what can I say about Miss Washburn? Two things, actually. One, it's a pleasure to watch the working and personal relationships between Samuel and his associate grow, and two, whatever you do--be careful with this woman's phone!  

This entire series delivers strong characters, humor, enlightenment, and a fine mystery, and I recommend it highly. If the series is new to you, you can basically jump in anywhere, but for the sake of character development, I suggest you begin at the beginning with The Question of the Missing Head

The Question of the Absentee Father by Jeff Cohen/E.J. Copperman
eISBN: 9780738753058
Midnight Ink © 2017
eBook, 288 pages

Cozy Mystery, #4 Asperger's mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


My Top Ten(ish) Movies

One of the things that make compiling top ten lists so difficult for me is the fact that the finalists can change from day to day (or hour to hour) depending on my mood. Making choices like this tend to be extremely subjective because I'm not looking at each choice from an expert's point of view. I'm not looking at cinematography, screenplays, choice of actors, et al. with anything that even remotely smacks of expert knowledge. I'm looking at how all the parts of a movie affect my emotions and my mind. 

That said, here is my most recent list of top ten favorite movies according to their release dates. Hopefully, you'll find one or two of yours here as well. Click on the name of the movie in each caption, and you'll be taken to more information about that film.

1943--Shadow of a Doubt   1954--Rear Window I had a little trouble choosing one favorite Hitchcock movie!

1949--The Heiress

My interpretation of the ending of The Heiress has changed over time as my life experience has changed. I like that.

1957--The Incredible Shrinking Man

1962--The Manchurian Candidate

1963--The Haunting

1972--Jeremiah Johnson

1991--The Silence of the Lambs

2002--Rabbit-Proof Fence

2003--Finding Nemo


Do we agree on any of these films? Did I surprise you with any of my choices? Which ones? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Friday, October 06, 2017

A Power of the Sun Weekly Link Round-Up

Y'all might remember that our house has a large bank of solar panels on the roof. Denis and I both think it makes sense to harness the power of the Arizona sun, and we always have a surplus of electricity to sell back to Salt River Project. We've gone solar in other ways, too.

We have solar fountains and lights in the back garden, and that large yellow duck you see in the pool is solar-powered, too. 

You may take a look at those large blue rings and think that aliens have landed and are holding a convention at Casa Kittling, but they take advantage of the sun to warm the water in the pool. We got them too late to prolong this season's pool time, but I'm really hoping that they'll be the bees' knees for next year, allowing me to get in sooner and stay in longer. By the way, if you think you see a snake in the pool, that's the garden hose. I decided to interrupt fountain and birdbath filling to take a photo.

Time to wind up the hose and head out to the corral. I have some links that want to tickle your fancy. Head 'em up! Mooooooooooove 'em out!


►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄
  • Ancient shipwrecks discovered at the depths of the Black Sea's Dead Zone are perfectly preserved after thousands of years. 
  • Archaeologists in Norway may have unearthed a Viking boat grave.
  • The discovery of porpoise bones at a medieval site on an English Channel island has mystified archaeologists. 
  • Archaeologists don't always need to dig-- they've got drones.

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • Celebrate 150 years of Arthur Rackham, the illustrator who brought children's books to life. 
  • Victoria and Abdul: the friendship that scandalized England.
  • Author Attica Locke on the rise of the Aryan Brotherhood, and never quite leaving East Texas.

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!