Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: "Murder With A Twist" by Tracy Kiely

"Murder With A Twist" by Tracy Kiely was a fun, easy-breezy read. The dialogue between the two main characters, Nic and her husband Nigel was quite funny and it helped keep the book light instead of heavy as some murder mysteries can become.

Nicole used to be a cop but after being shot she decides to retire and marry Nigel Martini, a very wealthy playboy. The couple are in New York to attend a cousin's birthday party but things don't go as planned. It seems the birthday girl's cad of a husband has disappeared and Nic is put to work by the matriarch of the Martini family to find said cad and drag him back into the fold so Audrey, the birthday girl, won't be embarrassed by her philandering husband at her gala celebration. 

As you can imagine, Nic, a former homicide detective, finds this all quite tedious. The whole Martini family knows the missing sleazy Leo isn't worth finding but no one wants to explain that to the distraught Audrey. All Audrey wants is a pretty party that splashes out spectacularly on the society pages. Nothing is going to be pretty though, when low life friends of Leo's start turning up dead. Nic has to find out what's going on and find Leo before he ruins the party by becoming a corpse himself.

This hilarious romp into the world of the super rich is made all the more enjoyable by both Nic & Nigel's banter and the family matriarch's idea of how the rich should act. I laughed out loud several times. I would certainly say that I'm looking forward to Tracy Kiely writing more Martini mysteries. They're perfect as a palette cleanser between hard boiled and heavier reads. I'd also definitely take it on a vacation, I can see myself sitting on a beach somewhere and reading this.

This is one of those books that falls between the star ratings. "Murder With A Twist" is definitely more than a three star book but reaches just shy of a four of five star mystery. I do look forward to reading more banter between Nic & Nigel in the future, hopefully next time I can be sunning myself beside a pool somewhere when I pick up Kiely's next book.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

Cherry Blossoms outside my window (close-up)
We here in Western Canada, Vancouver Island, BC to be specific, has been lucky to avoid mostly all of the terrible polar vortex winter troubles that Central and Eastern Canada has experienced (and still is, actually).

We've been so lucky here. We're seeing fully blooming cherry blossom trees, crocuses, daffodils and tulips coming up through the still cold ground. All the new color makes for a much happier day when you see it. We're still in the low teens, temperature wise here (that's Celsius people, like 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit). So, still cool weather, sweater weather for sure. But the blossoms still push through and insist on popping their heads up a little early. I'm certainly not complaining though!

My New Paintbox
Other than painting the pretty Cherry Blossoms that are a wonderful constant every spring across BC, I've had my head in a book. I'm either reading a mystery that I've said I'd review or I'm trying to learn about color theory. I got the idea to learn a little more about how to mix paints from Roz Stendahl. She commented that I'd feel more comfortable with my new paintbox if I had more of an idea of how the paints worked together, hence the color theory study. I've put it off too long anyway. I'm not a good book learner, never have been. I'm so much better at learning from listening or doing. But I've promised myself not to give up on this. I'm using a Stephen Quiller book. He's one of the definitive authors on color theory so I'm looking forward to learning more about my watercolors.

Cherry Blossoms in my Watercolor Moleskine
That's what I'm up to lately, looking out the window at riotous cherry blossom trees and reading mysteries and art books. Yup, what an exciting life, hehehe. Let's hope as spring  moves forward, life gets a little more exciting. I'm waiting with baited breath. What are you up to?


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review: "The Stranger" By Harlan Coben

I love that I get to review Harlan Coben books, he's one of my very favorite authors because his books never fail to grip me on the very first page. "The Stranger" was no different.

We start out meeting our main character, Adam Price. Adam is a family man. He has two boys and a loving wife. They live in an idyllic town with an idyllic life. As his friend says, "We're living the dream". 

On an average day, a stranger approaches Adam and tells him a secret. That secret shatters Adam's life. That's what the stranger does. He whispers in your ear a piece of information. You're unsure where it or he came from or who this stranger is. He disappears, leaving you to pick up the shattered pieces of your life.

That's where our mystery starts for Adam Price. Is the secret true and if so, what are the ramifications for his family? Adam decides to get to the bottom of who the stranger is and why he decided to drop this bomb into Adam's life. Just the act of searching for answers gets Adam into a whole world of trouble where accusations of theft, conspiracy and murder lurk. To get out unscathed may be impossible.

I always love how Harlan Coben throws you into the deep end right away. His mysteries suck you into the story quickly so your interest is piqued and you want to continue to read. I found myself trying to right away, suss out who this stranger could be and what his game plan was. Of course this kept me furiously reading. It was interesting how, without confusing the reader, Coben kept pulling in new details from new sources but it all still kept you guessing, how, why...who? I was so rooting for our hero, Adam Price. I wanted his life to come back together again and not be ruined. 

I love it when an author gets me to care so much about the characters. Although in the end, the mystery was a tiny bit convoluted, with so many pieces to fit together. But I really enjoyed the read and would certainly highly recommend this book as a four out of five. It would certainly make a great Spring read. Harlan Coben never fails to please and this mystery is no exception. I didn't see the ending coming and I was kept furiously reading well into the night just to get to the last page. 


Saturday, March 21, 2015

New Moleskine Minus One Monkey Equals ART

Christmas Present - New palette w/DS paint
I haven't been painting much, which disappoints me. Don't get me wrong, I give myself permission to take breaks when I'm feeling uninspired and I even allow for those times when I'm feeling scared and don't know what to paint. I have to admit though, I hate having long periods of drought in mark making. It makes me feel sad as I stare at my unused paint palette and pens. I assume my supplies feel lonely too, being unused for so many, many days.

I have analyzed what happens and I did know it had to do with both starting art and finishing a painting. I had successfully solved the finishing dilemma many months ago with help from Tommy Kane. My problem had to do with perfectionism. If I thought a piece wasn't working, I didn't want to go on and that sometimes even got me to not even start at all. I was really lucky to find an easy solution (although it took me years to bump into it). 

When I took a Sketchbook Skool klass that included Tommy Kane as one of the week's teachers, he said something that changed my dilemma and actually turned my perfectionism on it's ear. He said that he had ONE rule, no matter what, he ALWAYS finished the piece of art he was making. Always. No exceptions. Even if it wasn't going well, he always stuck with it and finished. This gave me an "out" so to speak when it came to my annoying and mostly useless perfectionistic streak. Instead of focusing on the piece being perfect, which paralyzed me many, many times, I focus on finishing the piece. Make FINISHING the perfection I seek. This allows me to use that mean old need for perfection differently. Usually it would stop me from trying but if I changed what I wanted to be perfect, I could use my need for perfection in a good way. It's not about the art, but the finishing of the art that was perfect. TADA!! One problem solved. Even better, I didn't have to find a way of getting rid of my obsessive need for perfection (which, I have to say, so far, has been impossible!). All I had to do was use it in a different way.

Newly used paintbox. Look at those yummy colors!
Now, in this New Year I bumped my head hard against my other problem. I couldn't even define what it was though, all I knew is that it had to do with starting art at all. I knew it didn't have to do with that monkey on many artist's backs, that notion that we're not good enough to create. I just had no idea, if it wasn't that, what was in fact stopping me from starting? I had one small clue but I couldn't figure how how it possibly related to anything. My not starting art got much worse after Christmas when I received my new, beautiful, shiny palette. Somehow just opening and looking at all the beautiful colors was paralyzing! I found the answer from Roz Stendahl, another one of the teachers from SBS. Roz answered another artist having "monkey" troubles and it gave me an Aha moment when she mentioned time. With Roz's permission, here's a little excerpt of what she said that helped so much...
"I think before you can move forward you need to sit down and have an honest chat with yourself about what SPECIFICALLY is going on. For instance, are you not drawing because you think your drawings aren't good enough? Not drawing because you feel you never have time? Each of those has a different necessary response. What are you afraid of?...  Something I always say to my students—If your internal critic or some other aspect of yourself tells you you don't have time to draw, remember that in the time you spend arguing and wrestling with that voice or impulse you could have finished a drawing. Instead, next time just draw and sort out the argument later (which will be never because once the drawing is done their won't be anything to discuss). "
New Daniel Smith paint & paintbox
That was so helpful and freeing to me as I read it. I realized that when I looked at my beautiful palette filled with new Schmincke and Daniel Smith paint, I felt paralyzed because I didn't even know how to use most of these new colors!! So, on top of the idea that I just don't have time to do a piece of art (I'm a slow artist, no painting or drawing happens faster than a few hours!), I also felt that it would add even more time as I learned how to use these new paints. It totally paralyzed me for months. Yes, months. But with Roz's words I finally picked up a pen and made a mark and then added paint. It feels ever so much better to be back at painting again. I'm always surprised when I get over some blind obstacle, how much I think, "why did it take so long?". Well, the answer is that you need to get to know yourself a little better when you hit walls that block you. Thank you Roz.

I'll end with a wonderful quote I've seen from Roz. She says it's originally wisdom from one of her mentors...

"What could I accomplish today if I let go of perfect?"


Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review: "Cost Of Life" by Joshua Corin

"Cost Of Life" was a total thrill ride, what a great book. I've never read a book by Mr. Corin until now but I'm adding him to my goto authors because this thriller/mystery was wonderfully unique but also easily enjoyable and interesting to read.

"Cost of Life" starts with the kidnapping of a pilot's wife and young son. The kidnappers want Larry Walder complacent, they want him to board his plane and fly hundreds of passengers to an unknown location. Larry doesn't want to participate in a hijacking but he desperately wants to save his family. After doing what the kidnappers ask, it becomes clear that Larry's job is just starting. Now he has to find a way to rescue his family, his crew and all the passengers he betrayed by following orders. He is not alone in the task though. The world is watching for the outcome of this hijacking and disgraced former FBI special agent Xana Marx is brought in because of her unique skills. Xana is a recently recovered alcoholic and she needs the support of the people around her to stay sober while she tries to solve this hostage crisis.

Xana, the FBI, police and airport security will all work together to bring back flight eight sixteen. The problem is, this is no ordinary hostage negotiation. The kidnappers have a very unusual plan and it becomes clear that a good outcome may be impossible even using Xana's superior skills and intelligence.

Character development of Xena Marx goes above and beyond excellent. The reader really gets a sense of who this woman is as she tries valiantly to both stay sober and solve a nearly unsolvable crime. The Characters that are added around her help show her many and complex sides. The story is told from both Xana's and pilot Larry Walder's point of view. The complex problems and fears that are created with a hijacking and hostage negotiation are made so clear that the reader feels both the panic and frustration the passengers feel as the hijacking continues long into the day. 

This was a terrific book not only because the writing is tight and the emotions are true but also because the situation surrounding the mystery is so unique. Initially, I thought a hijacking could only go a few ways but the author has created such an unusual and unexpected twist that as the reader you find yourself trying to discover the next move. What would help the good guys win the day? 

I didn't see the end coming and for me, that's a very, very good thing. This is a five star thriller/mystery. I highly recommend trying it and since it debuts on March 17, 2015 you only have a few days to await it's release! You'll love the characters and root for the good guys even as you can't figure out how they could possibly win in this very complex hijacking. Go preorder it, you won't regret it, guaranteed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

International Women's Day... Are You A Feminist?

I wrote & posted the following treatise five years ago today. I have to admit, I'm really proud of it and I thought it could use a day out of the blog closet for a little airing out. I hope you enjoy. I also hope you agree, I'd love to hear your comments. 

Today is International Women's Day. Wikipedia states that today, March 8th is the major day of global celebration of women. In different regions the focus of the celebrations range from general celebration of respect and appreciation towards women, to a celebration of women's economic, political and social achievements.

Today, I'm inspired to put down my opinion on a subject close to my heart. I think it's quite misunderstood. Currently, many view "Feminist" is a derogatory term that's equated with being masculine and strident. This is a falsehood. To be a feminist simply means believing in the equality between men and women, supporting the idea that women deserve the same rights under the law as men.  Feminine and feminist are not mutually exclusive. One can have the wonderful qualities of womanhood and still be a Feminist. It is also true that men can still be masculine while also holding the belief that the women in their lives are their equal.

Where people seem to be getting confused is when manners and common courtesy enter the picture. Just because a man opens a door or pulls out the seat for a woman doesn't mean he thinks of her as less. A gallant man is not sexist, he is mannerly. It is gentlemanly behavior to have manners and be polite. Holding a woman's chair should be equated to using please & thank you. It is a form of politeness and shows good manners.

Unisex is not the goal of Feminism, equality is. Men and women make a great team working together. Each gender brings their own strengths to the party. The value of those strengths is what's equal. This is a good thing and anyone misunderstanding what the Feminist Movement really is can be comforted by that. As the French say... "Vive La Différence!"


Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: "Quicksand" by Gigi Pandian

"Quicksand" by Gigi Pandian is the latest mystery that I've been devouring. It's official publishing date comes up in a few days, March 10, 2015. This is the second Gigi Pandian book I've read in the last few months and I am certainly not disappointed with this selection. Read the other review here... ("The Accidental Alchemist").

This latest offering (volume 3) from Gigi Pandian continues her Jaya Jones series. Our main character is aptly described as a "female Indiana Jones". She is an historian working as a professor in a San Francisco University but she's certainly always ready for any treasure hunt that has her delving into interesting artifacts, historical relics and mysterious clues. I enjoyed the ease that the author writes about historical situations, the reader can learn a little something without being overwhelmed with superfluous details that would weigh down the book.

In "Quicksand" Jaya has just started the University term and she's thrilled to find her students interested in what she's teaching them. This is why our heroine feels torn when she gets a letter and a plane ticket in the mail ostensibly from her newest love interest. Jaya loves teaching but who could turn down a free trip to Paris especially when she'd love to reconnect with Lane, the man who sent the ticket. When Jones gives in and gets on the plane she inadvertently steps into a complicated and dangerous situation that just might ruin her career.

"Quicksand" was a fun and interesting read that runs along at a good paste and keeps the reader guessing as to how the mystery will all end. If the two books I've read by this author are any indication of her usual prowess, I would have to highly recommend any book Gigi Pandian writes. They're fun and easy to read, making them a good selection between heavier mysteries. Why not try this selection, it stands alone well, not requiring the reader to have indulged in the two previous selections in the Jaya Jones series. 


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