Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Shadow Cabinet" by Maureen Johnson

I just finished reading the third installment in Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series, "The Shadow Cabinet". It certainly cleaned up many questions that I was left with from the second book, "The Madness Underneath". I have to say though that I would not read this book as my first foray into the Shades of London series. I think you'd ruin your experience of a really good, strong series if you started with this book. 

I read the first two books specifically so I could give an accurate and fair review of Johnson's newest, "The Shadow Cabinet" and I'm so glad I did. If I hadn't taken the time to read the first two, I think I would have been lost for much of this book. I will try to explain where we are in the series without giving away spoilers to those who've never read any of the books yet. Here we go...

Rory Deveaux is an American transplant in London who decided to do her last year of high school in a posh boarding school instead of staying in Louisiana with relatives. Rory found she had much to learn, including that she could see ghosts. This discovery made Rory nervous at first, was she going crazy? When she found that she wasn't the only one who had "the sight", Rory set out to learn all she could about her new abilities. Our heroine has been through some major ordeals in the first two books and in this third installment is no different. There are many malevolent people who want to use Rory's skills for their own reasons and she has to learn how to choose her friends carefully.

"The Shadow Cabinet" is a good follow through from "The Name Of The Star" and "The Madness Underneath". I found this book to be even more a head long rush into danger. As one reads along there is a huge amount of information to be learned about London, mythology, history and occultism. I found myself unsure what was a product of the author's incredible imagination and what was actual historical fact. I think this shows Johnson to be a terrific writer, to be able to enmesh fantasy and reality so beautifully. 

I highly recommend this series and book three is no exception. Although the series is technically a Young Adult selection, it is also a very good and enjoyable read for any adult. I found Johnson's writing to be well plotted and not at all dumbed down. This is certainly a four of five star book and my only complaint was that I wanted the middle to move a little faster because I was so anxious to find out what was going to happen! I think that's actually a mark of a good writer, the reader so wants to get to the answer that they stay up late, forgo sleep and read on until the early dawn just to finish the last page of writing. "The Shadow Cabinet" was a satisfying read but I warn you, I don't think it's done yet, we are left with a "what will happen next feeling" so I look forward to book four, I hope Johnson writes this one quickly.

Best,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book Review: "The Name of the Star" & "The Madness Underneath" By Maureen Johnson

(First Book)
I've been reading a new series from Maureen Johnson and I'm loving it. So far there are three books in the Shades of London series, "The Name of the Star", "The Madness Underneath" and "The Shadow Cabinet". In the last four days I've read book one and two and I'm chomping at the bit for the review copy of "The Shadow Cabinet" to arrive on my doorstep. Until it arrives, I thought I'd tell all of you about this series so you too can get started on a set of books that will thrill both mystery and paranormal fans.

Maureen Johnson is a New York Times best selling author of young adult fiction. Her excellent writing style is eminently readable by both teens and adults. I found myself surprised that the books were geared toward young adult, only because the writing was in no way dumbed down. Never did I find myself thinking that the author sacrificed plot to make the story simpler for younger readers. Johnson's books are considered YA, in my opinion, because there are no offensive sex scenes and her writing style is so smooth and easy to digest (but not unsophisticated).

(Second Book)
When I did some research on this Edgar-Nominated series before agreeing to review the latest book, I got the impression that I would love these books like I loved the Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling. I was both right an wrong. I do love this Shades of London series but in a different way that I loved Harry Potter. Johnson's writing has a sophistication that even exceeds Rowling's writing style. I loved the Potter series because they were so fun, I love this series  not only because the mysteries are fun but also because Johnson's style is so smooth that I don't feel like I'm reading a "younger" book.

The main character, Rory Deveaux, starts out as a "fish out of water" character. She is a seventeen year old American who has moved to London from Louisiana to go to a posh boarding school. Rory has so much to learn, from the new lexicon to what to wear in colder and rainier London along with getting used to new classes and friends. The day she arrives is also the day that a serial murderer begins his work. The media dub him the New Jack The Ripper because his first murder closely mimics the original Ripper's murder in 1888. The city of London is gripped by Rippermania, people are not only frightened but also fascinated by the horrific murders. 

There are no leads and the Police are stumped. Who is recreating these terrible crimes? Although there are many CCTV cameras throughout London, nothing is caught on film, there are no witnesses until Rory sees someone outside her boarding school. The problem is The Ripper also saw Rory and now she's his next target.

I highly recommend these books, they deserve a true five out of five. The second book, "The Madness Underneath" flows directly from the first, as though the story never ended. Anyone who loves a good mystery with some paranormal leanings will love this series. The reviews on the first two books are excellent and fans have been waiting almost three years for the newest book, "The Shadow Cabinet", to arrive. Today (February 10, 2015) is the publication date for Maureen Johnson's highly anticipated third installment of The Shades of London Series. I don't think you could do better than to go out and buy these books. They will keep you warm and happy through these winter nights. All you need is some popcorn and a good cup of coffee and you'll have the perfect trifecta. Happy Reading!

Best,

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Art For All

I've been delighted to be a part of a new movement toward making art. It's happening all over the world, from "Stockholm to Sydney, Barcelona to Brooklyn". It's the one year anniversary of Sketchbook Skool and both students and teachers are cheering the phenomenal success created from the inspiration from Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene. If you want to read how Danny and Koosje are feeling about their phenomenal success just click on their names.

At the moment, Sketchbook Skool (SBS for short) has three classes it offers, Beginnings, Seeing and Storytelling. They are each six weeks long, each week having a phenomenal art teacher who will inspire you with their insights, help and personal sketchbook journey. I hear new classes are being created as we speak and I can't wait to learn about what they'll be all about. All the classes are offered in a three month rotation. For instance, Beginnings started for the fourth time on January 2nd, Seeing started January 23rd and Storytelling starts February 13th. I understand the next offering of each class will be in April and hopefully we'll have a fourth class then too!! 

If you'd like to see just what Sketchbook Skool is all about, here's a free sample class that gives you an idea of what you'll get if you sign up. Also, SBS has a blog where you can read wonderful articles that will inspire you to make art and try new things with your art supplies. There's even a compilation video of SBS students telling Danny & Koosje just how Sketchbook Skool changed their art world. Click here to view.

The art you see are pieces I did when I was enrolled in Sketchbook Skool. It's a terrific, enlightening and encouraging environment with so many teachers and students who will bolster your belief in your own talent. Art for ALL, come join us.



Best,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review: "Hit & Run" by Maxine O'Callaghan

"Hit & Run" by Maxine O'Callaghan was a fun read with enough red herrings to make it difficult to figure out who done it. This is the third book in the series but the mystery does not rely on the previous two to bolster the story. I think it's worth four of five stars, let me tell you why.

Our main character is a female P.I. who is probably too curious for her own good. To me, the character that the author creates in Hit & Run, Delilah West, is a combination of Sue Grafton's character Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum.

Delilah has the tenacity of the Millhone character, she just won't let an injustice go but she is poor as a church mouse at the moment, much like the Plum character. Delilah is living in her office and sleeping in a sleeping bag on her office floor. She hunts down small jobs from insurance companies and lawyer's offices but this still isn't enough to put food on the table so she moonlights as a waitress at a mom and pop restaurant to make ends meet.

"Hit & Run" begins with Delilah being struck by a car on a rainy night. She is unhurt but there is a body in the road and she is the only witness to this brutal slaying. It seems that a reckless driver in his Trans Am has mowed down an elderly man who was out for a walk. But is this actually the case? Is Delilah sure that's what she saw? The young man who is quickly charged with the murder claims he didn't do it and his mother tries to hire Delilah to look into the incident. 

The interesting conflict of interest that our main character finds herself in really adds to the mystery. The reader can't help ask whether Delilah should even be involved in this investigation. By poking her nose in where it ostensibly doesn't belong, she is essentially invalidating her testimony at any trial that is held for this murder. Delilah can't let it go though, she thinks there just might be a miscarriage of justice. Finding whether there is another killer puts her own life on the line.

Maxine O'Callaghan's book is well written and I think this character can grow into a strong lead. My only complaint is that there was so much focus on her monetary circumstances that it did detract from the book. I look forward to reading more of this character, she's a strong female lead that competes well with other female P.I.'s in this genre. As I said, O'Callaghan's character holds it's own against the likes of Grafton, Evanovich, Paretsky, Jance and Robb. If you like these authors, I think you'll like this series. It's worth a try, adding another author to your favorites is always a treat.

Best,

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