Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book Review: "The Trials Of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle" By Rick Riordan

"The Trials Of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle" by Rick Riordan has already been published so it's available as both an e-book and a hardcover. This book is written for grades five to nine but I certainly liked it myself. Parents would especially enjoy reading this to their children.

Zeus is my father and he's angry. It seems he's decided to punish me by making "the handsomest, most talented, most popular god in the pantheon" a human sixteen year old kid. This is the basic premise of "The Trials Of Apollo". Apollo is the God of music, poetry, prophecy, plague and healing. He and his chariot pull the sun across the sky and now he's a teenager with no godly powers. There are many monsters, Gods and mortals who would love to use Apollo's weakness against him so his only choice is to try to get to camp Half-Blood where he will be safe. Apollo figures if he can hang around earth for a few years by helping out another God, his father will give his powers back. That's the way it has worked in the past at least. 

Four stars because kids will love it.
Rick Riordan is an extremely popular writer for the young adult genre and I can see by the reviews on Goodreads that nothing has changed in his likability through this book. I have read his Percy Jackson series years ago when I was babysitting and I found that having read previous Riordan books very helpful in the enjoyment factor of this one. In fact, I would recommend reading both his Olympian series and his Roman series books to make this one even better, it brings the whole ball of wax together, so to speak. As an adult I found that this book was about a three out of five but if I was reading this to my children it would be at least a four. I am certain that kids would love the action and visual details that are given in this book. The Apollo character was really funny as he learned how to be human and his complaints brought a smile to my face. This book also has a subtle moral theme to it about compassion and selfishness that I found refreshing.

If you have children you certainly could not go wrong here. I think any child would be thrilled if you started reading Rick Riordan's books to them and happily there are lots to devour. As a stand alone for adults it's a little bit of a shallow pool in that it reminds me of many Disney movies, great visuals, good theme but a little thin on the meaty center. I also have read all of the Harry Potter series and would not make a comparison of this to it. The "Percy Jackson series" is more along those Harry Potter lines. But then maybe if I'd read all the other Riordan books I wouldn't have felt like I was missing an essential unspoken element.

My final verdict is a big thumbs up for this book for children and any parent reading these to their kids would be a hero of the first magnitude. Even better you won't be bored as you read because your child's excitement will be all you need to keep you going.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reviewing 72 Colored Pencils By Kingtop

72 Kingtop Pencil Crayons
I was contacted by the company selling Kingtop colored pencils (Amazon USA, Amazon Canada) and asked if I'd like to review them on my blog. I was thrilled to be asked. First, because it's the first bit of art tools I've been asked to review and second, I actually don't have any true pencil crayons per say. I have watercolor pencils, both Faber-Castell Albrect Durer and Staedtler Karat brands. (I also have a few Derwent Inktense but not many.) Usually I use the watercolor pencils for correcting and enhancing watercolor paintings but I don't really use them as normal pencil crayons. I think I'm afraid that since they're activated by water, if a piece was done and got moisture on it then it would be ruined. Not so for normal pencil crayons.

I have actually been hoping to get the matching Faber-Castell pencil crayons, they've been on my wish list for quite some time. Alas, they're expensive and I've been putting off buying them in favor of watercolor paint as I use them so much more. It is fun though sometimes to let my inner perfectionist come out and play once in a while and that's why I wanted the pencil crayons. I am so surprised and thrilled to say that in fact I now won't be buying the expensive artist quality Faber-Castell pencil crayons because these Kingtop actually will do just fine!!
Back & Front of Kingtop PackageInner container with 72 Pencil Crayons
Above is what arrived very promptly after I ordered them from Amazon.ca. They actually arrived two days early with not a single broken tip. The outer package has a color chart on the back but I suggest anyone getting them make their own chart. I did and it made such a difference when I was making the test art I did for this review. The end of each pencil has the color of the lead. It helps as just like other pencil crayons and watercolor pencils, you can't tell accurately what color the lead will give you. Each pencil crayon is numbered from 501 to 572. Although names are given on the back of the package with the color chart, the numbers are the only way to tell which color you're actually getting. The fun names don't help because they haven't been connected to the numbers on the pencils. Really though, just get around that by making your own color chart like the one I made below. As I said above, it really helps you use the pencils more easily.
72 Kingtop Pencil Crayon Color Chart (click to enlarge)
I'm really thrilled with Kingtop's quality and I put them through their paces this last week. I must admit, I didn't expect them to give me the versatility and depth of color. I am absolutely giddy after testing them. I wanted to show you some of the agility tests I performed. I tested their erasability and their intensity. then I made a piece of art to test blend-ability and to see just how far I could push them. Could they keep up with an artist who expects perfection? Yes they could!
Erasability of Kingtop Pencil Crayons
Kingtop pencil crayons were highly erasable! I was thrilled to find that if I went over a border, I could just pick up any eraser and touch up that edge. I found that especially if I had just gone over a little with a few strokes, any color I used would erase completely. As you can see from above, with highly saturated strips you get most of the color up but not all.
Gradients of Kingtop Pencil Crayons
With the gradients, you can see that you can do very light colors all the way to more saturated samples. I would say I could have gone one more shade darker, showing five gradients with each color. There is a limit to their saturated color but I didn't find any problem when doing the following piece of art. If I couldn't achieve the color I wanted I chose a darker pencil crayon to achieve the saturation I wanted. I found the best way to get an even wash of color was to color in one direction at at time then add another layer going another direction to get more saturation, changing direction with each darkening layer.
Kingtop Pencil Crayon Test: "Art of the Pear"
My final grade for the Kingtop 72 colored pencils was an A. The only slight issue I came across at all was that these pencil crayons are not as color saturated as professional artist grade pencil crayons, but they're close. They would certainly work abundantly well for both the coloring book crowd, student artists and even professional artists. I love them and I consider myself a closet art tool snob. I usually buy the best. I am so happy that I can truthfully say I will NOT be buying the more expensive Faber-Castell pencil crayons. Thank you to Kingtop for allowing me to test their product, I look forward to using them for years to come.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review: "Storme Warning" by W.L. Ripley

"Storme Warning" by W.L. Ripley is the second "Storme" book I've read and loved. Several months ago I read "Hail Storme" and gave it five stars, "Storme Warning" is even better.

Wyatt Storme usually has an uncomplicated life. He lives in the remote woods of Missouri in a cabin he built himself. Although he's both a former soldier and star of the NFL who played for the Dallas Cowboys, he doesn't like the limelight. Wyatt loves the solitude of fishing and hunting and slow pace of his chosen home. It's hard though to stay off the grid but when Wyatt's best friend Chick Easton entices him to let a movie studio shoot the latest Jessie James movie on his land, Wyatt isn't surprised it brings with it a heap of trouble.

The play of personalities against one another was the most enjoyable thing about this mystery. Wyatt and Chick's wise cracking continually aggravates the uppity, privileged Hollywood movie stars makes this book not only a great mystery but really funny too. Usually Wyatt is up against very deadly people, this time it's the attitude of the stars around him that elevates this book to a five star. I highly recommend this book and all the Storme books. Fortunately, they all work as stand alone mysteries too.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Book Review: "Dead End Fix" by T. E. Woods

"Dead End Fix" by T. E. Woods will be published June 7, 2016. It is the sixth book in the Fixer series. The last book, "Fixed In Fear", left the reader awaiting this newest mystery with a great cliffhanger, now we finally get to find out what will happen.

I've voraciously enjoyed every one of the "Fixer" series and since the last book left us hanging, I've been chomping at the bit to read "Dead End Fix". I am slightly saddened to say that I was a little disappointed in this book. I'm so used to Woods' books being winners, a clear four to five star read that having this one be only a three star was a little bit of a let down. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed it as only a fan of an author can. Sometimes you get a duller read in the middle of a great series but it still pushes the story forward and as a fan you await the next thrilling read from that author. This was one of those books, it pushes the story forward but I didn't love it as much as usual.

The Fixer must find Detective Mort Grant's granddaughter who has been kidnapped by her sociopathic drug czar aunt. Allie Grant thinks she has a right to take her niece, it's her family after all and she's angry that the Grant family won't accept her into the fold. It matters not that she is a vicious murderer and international criminal who heads a drug cartel, Allie Grant wants what she wants and she wants it now. She'll hurt who she has to to get her due.

The Fixer is not going to let Allie hurt her family, someone has to stand up to this sociopath and say NO. It will be a colossal struggle to track down Allie, she has more money than she knows what to do with and underlings who will kill to protect their Czarina. 

As a reader I was already heavily invested in this series and wanted to see Allie Grant get her comeuppance. This is where I was a little disappointed.  I found the wrap up to this part of the storyline a little lackluster. For an author who has kept me on the edge of my seat, I expected a little more breathless moments than I received. There was a slight feeling of letdown when finally the Fixer confronted Allie about her crimes. Maybe I'm bloodthirsty but I would have stretched the moment out a little more and designed in more collateral damage. I felt like... "Oh, ok, well, that's over" instead of of the expected... "OMG, I can't believe that just happened!".

Although "Dead End Fix" was a slight disappointment, the story is certainly moved forward and therefore is a must read for anyone invested in this series. I look forward to the next Fixer mystery without some of the distractions inherent in this novel.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Three Colorful Peppers!

Eat Your Veggies
Yep, I'm still at it, painting veggies. And yes, before you ask, my home's walls are covered in fruit and veggie art. I really just love painting them. Today we have peppers, colorful peppers done in a loose graphic style, which seems to be where my style is going lately. I'm good with that, wherever it goes to get me to unique, I'm happy with.

I'm actually pretty darn thrilled with how they turned out. I used colors that weren't actually in the green peppers but then an artist is supposed to interpret what they see, right? So my using phthalo blue (red shade) in the shadows and some phthalo green (blue shade), also called viridian, in the lighter areas to give some oomph isn't a bad thing it's just a creative thing, lol. I also allowed the green pepper's darks to bleed into the red pepper's side, it helped to make it's shadow much more unique.

I'm even proud of the stems which just like leaves I have a terrible time with usually. This time I just let my eye tell me what to do instead of analyzing just exactly what I was seeing, I just let the artist interpret what my eyes were telling me. It feels a little like exhaling, like I finally "got it". Does that make sense? Anyway, here's some colorful peppers, may they inspire you to go buy and eat some! (They're so good on a baguette after you sauté them in olive oil with fresh garlic and add some capers. Go get creative with your peppers. It's called eating the rainbow and it's SO good for you!)
Oh, I just remembered that a year ago I finished up some of my last pages of my first Moleskine with a painting of peppers. Here's the comparison, I think I see some definite improvement. I like to think that I'm developing a style that I could be identified by. Hopefully if you saw something painted by me you'd think, oh, that's Jenn's painting. Crossing my fingers. ;o) Now I gotta go pick more veggies for tomorrow's painting. I take suggestions!



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