Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: "She's Not There" by P.J. Parrish

"She's Not There" by P.J. Parrish will be published by Thomas & Mercer on September 8, 2015. P.J. Parrish is actually an amalgam of two sisters who write together. Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols have written many books together and are New York Times bestselling authors. Their most famous series is the Louis Kincaid mysteries of which there are eleven books (plus one short story). After reading "She's Not There", I surmise that a new series could come of this book.

Amelia awakens in the hospital where she is told she has been in a car accident and suffered a severe concussion that has left her with retrograde amnesia. Her doctor assures her that her memories will probably return slowly as she heals. Amelia's doctor also tells her that an unknown man dropped her off in Emergency. This information triggers a memory for Amelia, she sees a dark haired man hovering over her and she feels afraid. When a dark haired man appears later in the day, claiming to be her husband, Amelia runs from the hospital when no one is looking. All Amelia knows is that she's terrified and she needs to run away to save her life.

For me, a mystery/thriller doesn't have to be a headlong rush into terror to be a five out of five star read. This book is like a hurried walk through a scary part of town. You're not running because you don't want to look stupid, but something is triggering your fear response and all you want to do is get away. That's why this book is a five star for me. 

I found myself so impressed with the main character's intelligence, resourcefulness, tenacity and ability to rely on instinct. Amelia is like one of those people who don't realize just how smart they are but they think five steps ahead of most people. That innate intelligence is what propels Amelia along her goal to find out who she is and who might want her dead and why. I loved that the authors wove a little luck into this story too. Amelia luckily runs into just the right people a few times and it makes you hope that the Universe is trying to help her survive.

For me, this was a terrific book and I highly recommend it to anyone who reads good mysteries. It's up there in the coveted five out of five star books for me and although it's a little different, that's one of the things I like about it. It is also possible that this stand alone book will become a series because there are a few threads left unfinished. There is space left for another mystery. We'll just have to wait to see what the two sisters writing under the nom de plume P.J. Parrish get up to next.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: "The Hanging Girl" by Jussi Adler-Olsen

"The Hanging Girl" by Jussi Adler-Olsen will be published by Penguin Group Dutton on September 8, 2015. Jussi Adler-Olsen is an incredibly popular Danish mystery writer and is well known for the Department Q series. The series follows Carl Mørck, a Copenhagen homicide detective who starts working cold case files in the basement of Police Headquarters. So far there are six books in the Department Q series.

The mystery opens with Carl Mørck taking a phone call from a police officer who lives on the island of Bornholm, Denmark’s easternmost island. He tells Carl that he desperately needs help solving a cold case hit and run accident that has haunted him for years. He wants help clearing the case because he's retiring. When Carl doesn't respond the way the officer wants, he hangs up, leaving Carl staring at a dead phone line. A few hours later Rose, one of Carl's assistants, accusingly reports that the officer shot himself at his own retirement party. Now Carl and his assistants Rose and Assad are off to investigate both the suicide of the officer and his cold case.

I certainly think it would have helped if I had read the previous books in the Department Q series. Although this book gave some small insights into each of the characters, Carl, Assad and Rose, not having their back stories left me with the dilemma of having no previous connection or positive feelings for the characters. I think this really affected my enjoyment of the mystery. The book seemed slow to me, I found myself wishing something would happen. Instead, there were convoluted and twisty details leading the reader to the unexpected ending. Usually that's a good thing that I didn't know "who done it" until the end, but in this case I just found myself frustrated.

If you have read previous Department Q mysteries, I'm sure this book, although slower, will still satisfy. On the other hand, if you haven't yet indulged in a Department Q book, you might want to start at the beginning and avoid my somewhat disappointing enjoyment.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: "The Shadow Artist" by James Grayson

"The Shadow Artist" by James Grayson was published June 21, 2015 so it's already available to purchase. It can be on your Kindle with a couple of minutes!

I picked up this book specifically because Alex Winter, the main character, was an accomplished artist along with being a CIA agent. It piqued my interest when the description of this book said Alex had an eidetic memory and she was skilled in advanced tradecraft. What could be better in a spy novel? As an artist myself I couldn't wait for the details the author would add about Alex's artistic talent.

Here's the basic premise of the book. Alex Winter is in London on assignment for the CIA when in the middle of her mission her father shows up. The problem with that is that her father supposedly died nearly twenty years ago when he was also on a mission for the CIA. Now Alex suspects he's been using his superior tradecraft skills to hideout all this time. Alex's mission is now blown but she decides to track down her father and try to unravel just what her mission really was. There is a missing billion dollars and Alex will have to navigate high finance and international espionage to try and unravel the truth. Maybe by successfully following the threads she'll save herself find her father.

I was disappointed to find that I just could not connect with the main character, Alex. I usually have no trouble caring about the main character so I was surprised to find myself not drawn into the book. I wish I could have become invested in this spy thriller as the premise sounded so great. Many other reviewers loved this book and I just may be wrong in not loving it. But I found myself annoyed as the book switched from character to character and because I was uninterested, I couldn't remember what that character did a few chapters ago.

I can only give this book a three out of five star rating. The writing was good and as I said above, the premise and theme of the book had promise. I also liked the main character, I just wish I had found it easier to care about Alex Winter. It may just be me. I sure hope anyone reading James Grayson's book enjoys such a promising spy novel.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Book Review: "99 Percent Kill" by Doug Richardson

"99 Percent Kill" by Doug Richardson will be published on August 15, 2015. I agreed to review this book for Mr. Richardson because with the request to review he included some of his accomplishments as a writer. I was very intrigued to find out that he had written previous books that had been "developed as movies for Twentieth Century Fox and MGM" and that he had been a screenwriter on "Diehard 2" and "Hostages".

The book opens with us getting to know our main character Lucas Dey, also known as Lucky. Lucky is a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detective who is hoping to be reinstated soon. As he awaits his recall back to active duty Lucky takes on a lucrative case, finding the missing fifteen year old daughter of a Wisconsin software millionaire. Lucky assumes that with his skill, this girl won't be that hard to find. What he doesn't factor into this equation is that the girl's father wants to tag along with Lucky. Andrew Kaarlsen's thought process goes like this, "I'm this girl's father and I'm paying you fifty thousand dollars. I'm coming along whether you like it or not.". So starts this harrowing chase through the underbelly of LA.

What we learn throughout this book is there are predators always trolling for the perfect girl who can be easily manipulated, used and abused. I didn't find it unbelievable to come across a handful of men who wanted to exploit the beautiful young flesh around them. I did wish several times that the world wasn't like this though. 

The first half of the book we spend our time learning about Lucky and Andrew as characters, as Lucky uses his considerable skills to track Andrew's daughter across LA. When the reader crosses the fifty percent mark of the book, the excitement increases. Now it becomes a game of wits, who will win, Lucky and the desperate father or the predators who want to exploit Andrew's beautiful young daughter.

I found my enjoyment of this book changing quite dramatically across time. At first I was interested in continuing to read even though the excitement wasn't there. In the second half of the book my enjoyment rose to a four out of five star as Lucky got closer to finding the missing girl. We also got to know each character even more intimately. In the end though, I was slightly disappointed when the writer seemed to forget he was not writing a screen play, but a book. In the last several pages an incident happens that would play very well on screen as it would be akin to the last "blow up" scene in a good shoot-em up movie. But because this is a book, I was left thinking, "what was that?". 

I give this book a reserved four out of five star rating. I'd suggest ignoring the last several pages of "99 Percent Kill". The true ending that happens several pages before the last page is truly satisfying, if sad. It wraps up the details beautifully. The final scene was unnecessary and took this book from a five of five down a peg. I know this character, Lucky, will do well as a series regular and I look forward to the next installment.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: "12" by Sean Platt & David Wright

"12" by Sean Platt & David Wright has already been published (May 12, 2015) so it's already available for download onto your reader. This is a fantastic read, a rare five out of five star thriller.

The question asked in this book is, "What Would You Do With the Last 12 Hours of Your Life?". The reader is moved back in time to twelve hours before an horrific massacre takes place in Goldman's Diner. We meet twelve people who soon will all be at the diner when a gunman enters, intent on killing all who thwart him. Who are all these unlucky people and how will their lives be affected by such violence? Who will live, who will die? That's the premise of this exciting and intense thriller.

When I first read the synopsis for this book I was unsure any writer could pull off the colossal feat of making me care enough about twelve people that when the shooting happened, I would really hurt for them. Because this book had already been published, I could see that everyone who had read it absolutely loved it. They were right, Platt and Wright have written an amazingly well wrought thriller. I found it easy read and the characters were so well written that I, in fact, did truly care about which of them would be wounded or killed. Platt & Wright fleshed out each and every one of the twelve characters but beyond that, I found reading each character's internal dialogue forced me to think about how I think and talk to myself. I love when books make me think about my own behavior.

This thriller illuminated how drastically bullying can change the victims, how easy it is to misstep raising a child, how difficult it is to change one's life, how your own selfishness can affect your loved ones and how so many people dream but don't make plans to make their dreams come true. Beyond being a great mystery, a "who will do it", this thriller is also a book to make you think about your own behavior, how everything one does affects one's future, for better or for worse.

As I said in the beginning, this is a five out of five mystery/thriller. Because it's already available and it's such an easy read, I recommend downloading a Kindle version US/CAN/UK this weekend. Brew a great pot of coffee, get out the chocolate cookies and indulge in a heart racing book with real heart. What a rare treat that'll be.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Cherry On Top

It seems it was months ago that I had the inspiration to line up a bunch of cherries in my large Moleskine and paint them up. I got as far as drawing interesting cherry shapes and putting the word "Cherries" under the drawing. Then I started Tracey Fletcher King's class and got totally involved in paint veggies on actual paper, not in a sketchbook.
Five and a half Cherries
Just yesterday I opened my large Moleskine and thought I should finish those cherries. So I did. It was such fun splashing the paint around. I used every red and pink and purple have. There was quin red, quin pink, quin magenta, carbazole violet, pure yellow, vermillion, transparent orange and permanent red. Oh, and new gamboge too. I really did these wet on wet. I started with yellow then just kept adding colors where I wanted them until the cherries looked like I thought they should. I added shadows using Payne's grey and some of the color of that cherry as the reflected color in the shadow. The only thing I'm not as thrilled with is the stems. I'm just not sure how to make them look more three dimensional. I tried layers, darker to the edges but the stems are so thin it was hard. Other than that, I'm happy. Up next? Ice Cream & Popcicles (yup, paint what you can't have!). I've also already drawn out all my paint tubes onto one large Moleskine page. It looks so graphic, I can't wait to see it with some paint! Later Gator.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Changing My Palate

Green Bean Love
No, not that palette, lol. I mean the one in my mouth. I've found that lately I like foods, actually LOVE foods, that I used to HATE. All my life I've hated green beans. I know, even the fresh ones right from a warm, sunny garden patch. Nope, hated them. You could boil them, sauté them or even casserole them and I would consistently hate them. But the other day our next door neighbors went to the market and brought home fresh green beans and they shared some of them with us. 

I shivered with horror. Beans, in my house?? In my kitchen? Polluting my refrigerator? Ewwww. Well, since our lovely neighbors brought them, I felt obligated to use them. So, the other night we sautéed them up in a little olive oil, salt & pepper. HOLY COW! I LOVE GREEN BEANS!! Who knew? Not me, that's for sure. I was shocked.
I knew my palate had changed lately, I mean, I'd had a similar experience a few months earlier when I discovered that I newly LOVED olives. OLIVES?? Yup. I had hated them for almost forty-five years. I had tried them over and over but to no avail. Then one day I tried an antipasto and TADA! I now loved olives. I eat olives with everything now. I love them alone or with mozzarella cheese. I love them in my vegetable soup and especially on gluten free pizza. YUMMM! Any color, any kind, I'm not picky. Big ones, small ones, black ones, green ones, even stuffed ones.

Golden Beet (painted last month)
I wonder what the next thing will be that I decide to like. So far I still don't like beets. Besides, the sheer pigment in them freaks me out. I mean if you drop them on your shirt it's gonna leave a terrible stain. I'd rather paint them like I did a month or so ago. I'll love them from afar. It took more than thirty years to get myself to love coffee. Then it took another fifteen years to convince my palate that it didn't need heaps of Coffee Mate with the tablespoons of sugar for me to love it. I'm a fickle pickle. Ooh, I now like all things pickled too, which I hear is a good thing. Somehow the fermenting/pickling process is good for digestion.

Well talk soon, I'm sure. There's always another fruit or veggie hanging around these parts to paint. ;o)


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Watercolor: My Palette

My Cotman Palette
This post has been a long time coming. I've been working on getting all the colors I wanted for the last couple of years. I started out with Cotman Student watercolor but found them frustrating. When I was mixing paint, I found I got frustrated because what I got was muddier than I wanted it to be. In part that has to do with the quality of the paint.

If you want to read how I moved toward my current palette, go to my Tools of the Trade As ART! There I show all the many ways I've drawn and painted up my art supplies. I love seeing how other artists paint their palettes and supplies so I figured it was time to do a page showing all art I've made over the years all about my tools of the trade. Yes, I'm an artist and I'm kinda crazy (about my art supplies). ;o)

I had originally planned my palette to be full of only Daniel Smith Watercolors but when I came across a Schmincke Palette at WetPaint I just couldn't pass up the deal. I got the 2014 version of the palette, there is a new one out now and what a great deal it is! I wrote about the new 2015 exclusive Schmincke Palette here if you're interested. (THAT PALETTE IS SOLD OUT, go here for the 2016 version.
My Final Palette full of both Schmincke & Daniel Smith Artist Quality paint
All the colors I have on Swatches
So now I had a palette that held twenty-four half pans and since it came with half of them filled with Schmincke paint, I had twelve more to fill with my Daniel Smith selections. By the way, if you push the rows over a little, you can fit one more half pan in each row so you can actually fit twenty-six half pans in this set! It's taken me months and months to figure out just what colors I needed to get my palette just the way I wanted. That's a good thing as it allowed me to save for the paint.

I have both warm and cool (and more) for each primary color (red, yellow, blue), a bunch of earth colors and also a mixture of convenience colors. A convenience color is one that you could mix yourself but it's easier and faster to have in your palette as you use it so
Tiny Paint Tin
much, like a good green, purple and turquoise. I just recently took the time to swatch every color I have. I included paint I don't usually use (I either had them donated to me or they're my old Holbein left over paint). I keep some extra half pans of rarely used paint in another home made palette but you can also get a tiny child's palette for a couple dollars, take the cheap paint out and fill those holes with the good stuff you rarely use but still have around. I got this one at WetPaint one of the times I was ordering paint.

Daniel Smith Dots
So, as I said, my plan had ben to use all Daniel Smith paint so I did a bunch of research on their color selection. They sell dot sheets that have every color offered by Daniel Smith so about a year ago I ordered that and swatched all the colors. There's an amazing number of colors, 238 to be exact. The only ones I didn't swatch are most of the iridescent colors. I was interested in all the others though. Actually, I just recently cut each sheet into four quadrants, it works out perfectly, each quadrant gets fifteen dots. Then I just punched a hole in the top left corner and tada! I had all the dots on a  little binder ring. They're so much more convenient this way!

(click to enlarge)
My Final Palette Colors
If you'll notice, I've added black dots and white dots on top of some of the color swatches above. The white dots are the actual Daniel Smith paints I bought. The black dots are colors I own, just in another brand like Schmincke, M.Graham, Sennelier or Winsor & Newton.

I realize it's hard to see the colors and even harder to read the names on the above swatches so I ended up photographing all my larger swatches. I've included them below so you can really see all the colors. Maybe it'll help you find a new favorite! 

On each laminated card I did a juicy wash and under that represented the darkest the color would go with several glazes of each color. On the top is the brand, pigment information, whether the paint is staining and/or granulating (although it's hard to get info about granulation about Schmincke paints) and also whether the paint color was more transparent or more opaque.

These swatches include every tube or pan I own. Now I have all of the info I need, right at my fingertips. I got the idea from Jane Blundell who has a huge number of paint swatches over on her website. I was lucky enough to have a bunch of left over bookmark sleeves so I laminated each swatch. I love knowing that they're safe on a binder ring and will never be damaged.

BluesGreens & Yellows
New Colors
The final panel of swatches (on the right) are the new colors I just added to my palette. I love how bright they are. One point I wanted to make, as I end this rather long blog post, is that even metal palettes get stained when you're using staining paints like Phthalo Blue (and all other phthalos), Indanthrone Blue (PB60), Carbazole Violet, Transparent Orange, Quin Red, Sap Green, ultramarine etc. The reason we artists like a white place to mix our paints is that with watercolors, many of them art transparent so you can see the actual color better if you're working on a white background. This necessitates finding a convenient way to remove the stains after using staining colors.

Magic Eraser
When I had a plastic palette I found that after I cleaned off all the paint, the only way of removing staining was to use a kneaded eraser and some elbow grease. It was hard work and over time this method stopped working. With my new metal palette I wanted a better way to keep the surface white on the mixing side. I discovered  that Mr. Clean Magic Erasers work PERFECTLY at removing all the stains! It seems to be the combination of the soap and the non abrasive surface of the sponge that does it. If the sponge is out of soap it's less effective on getting those pesky stains out.
I thought some visual aids would make you all believers. Oh, and to save on sponges I cut each one into fourths then use just the tip, whetted, then scrub with a little squeeze to get the soap activated.

Anyway, that's my colors and my final palette. It works great to use full pans for your most used colors. It also allows you to know more easily where each color is. I use those full pans as "markers" so I can easily find the color I'm looking for. Funny, most colors look so dark in the pans that it's sometimes hard to tell what is what! When I had all half pans I tended to have to count from one end or guess and get it wrong sometimes. With this method I find it easier to get to the color I want. It should also be mentioned that along with great paint, I have invested in some great brushes lately. I had no idea how much of a difference a good brush would make in my paintings. I decided on the Da Vinci Maestro 1503 Kolinsky Sable travel brushes. You can also get long handles instead of travel brushes. I love them and if there was a fire my palette and brushes would be the first thing I rescued!

Soon I'll be posting about what I've learned about watercolors in general. For instance, why a split palette is the best way to go and why single pigment paints should be your goal. I'll talk all about granulation and transparency. It'll be fun, I promise!! Talk soon, K?


Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Review: "Trust No One" by Paul Cleave

"Trust No One" by Paul Cleave will be published August 4, 2015 and I sure do recommend you read it. This one was a definite five out of five star. If you have had anyone in your family or even a friend who has Alzheimer's disease then this psychological thriller is not only a great mystery to enjoy but you'll also get a real idea about what it might feel like to have this insidious disease.

Our main character is Jerry Grey. Jerry is a famous writer who writes crime thrillers under the pseudonym Henry Cutter. As Henry Cutter, Jerry has kept his readers enthralled throughout his twelve books. But now Jerry has a problem. At the early age of fourth-nine, he's just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Jerry tells all the wanna-be authors he meets to "write what you know, fake the rest". His motto becomes a problem when Jerry cannot tell what he made up and what he actually experienced. Jerry wrote exquisitely intense books about psychopaths and murder and now, as Alzheimer's slowly muddles his brain, he begins confessing to the murders that he wrote about in his books. The police, the nurses in the home where Jerry now lives, and even his daughter become Jerry's audience as he continues to confess to more and more terrible crimes.

Is Jerry really a murderer? Has he just lost his grip on reality? The reader is led on a harrowing path of misdirection, red herrings and Jerry's sheer fantasy and the trick is to try and figure out what is real and what is Jerry's terrible disease.
I found this thriller an easy way to digest the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. It really helped to connect to a likable character and try to understand what this decent into illness would be like. I would highly recommend "Trust No One" to anyone, even if you just want an intricate psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the end. Cleave is an award winning author and that's obvious reading this book. The prose are so smooth, Cleave makes it easy for the reader to accept Jerry's "crazy" thinking. I applaud how beautifully Paul Cleave wove his mystery and he forced the reader to consider how horrible it would feel to lose one's mind slowly. Not only was this book a spectacular thriller but it also taught the reader about a disease that each of us should pray to avoid.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Did You Bring Me A Letter?

I'm not a happy camper. Canada Post is phasing in community mailboxes for EVERYBODY. Yes, you heard me. Not just rural homes, but everyone in Canada. I heard we are the first developed country to dispense with home delivery. I've even seen that they're usurping little pieces of people's land to put the ugly boxes on! 

I can't help thinking of the elderly, infirm and handicapped. How do you go get your mail, all the way down the block in the snow and ice when you're seventy-five with a cane? The other egregious thing is that we pay exorbitant prices to mail anything! Just to mail a little package, like two inches square and an inch high, weighing a pound. It costs us more than $10 to ship that to the next city, like Nanaimo to Victoria which is less than a two hour drive in the car. Sheesh.

Canada Post Community Mailbox
Old Mailbox (Click to Enlarge)
A single stamp is one dollar now. I know I shouldn't be such a Debbie Downer but it's insane to have such HIGH prices to ship anything and STILL also not actually deliver ANYTHING TO the person who ordered it. It means there's no point ordering anything from within the city. You'll still have to go pick the package up so why not just go to the out of the way shop.

I am totally crossing my fingers and praying to the mail Gods that the next election this Fall will change this whole community mailbox plan. I miss the old mailboxes. Now seeing one is like seeing public phone booths, dinosaurs and dodo birds. 


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