Category: Art

Jun 17

The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett

Art, Crime, Historical Fiction, Mystery 43

How fare thee, sweet Bookworms?

Today we explore a book about books! A few weeks ago, one of my aunts left me a note on Facebook asking me if I’d read The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Love and Obsession by Charlie Lovett. I said I hadn’t and asked if it was any good. My aunt responded with “I don’t know, YOU’RE the bookworm!” Apparently snarky eyebrows aren’t the only familial trait… Full on sarcasm runs rather strongly as well. I decided to look and see if I could find this book on NetGalley, so I could mention this conversation on my blog and tell the world that my aunt is one sassy broad. As luck would have it, I was able to snag a copy. I am fortune’s fool… Or something. Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley. This shan’t compromise my integrity in the slightest, as I am rather fond of looking gift horses in the mouth. I won’t hesitate to bite my thumb at it, should it come to that.
bookmanus
Are my Shakespearean references annoying you yet? Too bad! This book is about Peter Byerly, an antiquarian bookseller and collector. Peter is a shy young widower with an anxiety disorder. Since the untimely death of his beloved wife, he’s lost interest in his former passion for hunting down lost treasures in antique manuscripts. He has run away from his grief stricken home in North Carolina and settled in a cottage in the English countryside. While half-heartedly rummaging through a collection, Peter discovers a water color that is the spitting image of his late wife. The mystery? The painting is very clearly from the Victorian era… And Peter is in 1995. He is suitably confused, and embarks on a journey to uncover the origins of the painting. During the course of Peter’s research on the painting, he accidentally runs across a book that has the potential to prove that Shakespeare really wrote all of his own plays.
Oh yeah. Background information. There’s always been some rumors swirling about in literary circles that doubt that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were in fact written by William Shakespeare. Theories abound as to who the true author may be, or if the person of William Shakespeare existed at all. Though the works are clearly documented through dates, it’s awfully difficult to prove WHO actually wrote them. Most of the works were originally plays, Shakespeare the business man never spelled his name with an “e” at the end and only had a grammar school education, Francis Bacon may have wanted to use a pen name, blah blah blah. Conspiracy theorists only sound ridiculous when you’ve got solid proof to discredit their claims, and no such solid proof exists of Shakespeare being, well, Shakespeare. Except maybe, just maybe, this book that Peter has come across. Dun dun dun!!!
This book has elements of The DaVinci Code and Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. We’ve got a mystery of historical proportions that needs to be solved. The stakes are high. The mysteries run deep. People are trying to protect SECRETS.  The story is constructed sort of like a braid. It’s got three distinct storylines going at the same time. We follow Peter’s life circa 1995 with the brooding and the grief and the mystery. We also explore the time line that shows Peter meeting his late wife Amanda in college and the blossoming of their love story (which is rather heartbreaking since you know from the beginning that she’s not long for this world.) The third piece of the puzzle is the story of a rather important book and how it ends up being passed down through the ages.
The black string is Peter in 1995. The red is Peter and Amanda, sitting in a tree. The blue is the book's story.

The black string is Peter in 1995. The red is Peter and Amanda, sitting in a tree. The blue is the book’s story. Analogies in friendship bracelets. Astounding. (Image Source)

I refuse to be a spoilsport, because I rarely read mysteries and I rather enjoyed this one. The ending was a little too tidy for my taste (dare I say predictable?), but I’m willing to forgive Lovett on the grounds that I enjoyed the rest of the story. If you liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, I think this will be right up your alley. It’s not quite as whimsical as Penumbra, but it is every bit as engrossing. If you’re at all like me, Peter the super book nerd will steal your heart and you’ll want to hug him and give him tea… And Xanax.

Oh yes. I almost forgot to mention! I felt exceptionally close to this book because it talked about places I’ve been! Several times throughout the book Peter stops at the Russel Square tube station while in London. It’s close to the British Museum (where I’ve BEEN!!!) and it was our “home stop” while I did my two week mini-mester in London approximately 1,000 years ago. I was all, “Russel Square is my ‘hood!” Very exciting for me.

Oh my dear little peaches of Bookworms. We could talk about Shakespeare or mysteries or any number of things. But I must know. Am I the only person who gets unreasonably excited about reading stories with PLACES I KNOW?! When I was reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods I was practically giddy with all the Illinois small town name dropping. It makes me feel a part of it, you know? Is it just me? Don’t leave me hanging y’all. Share your stories. Or tell me I’m crazy. I most certainly am, though this is probably quite low on the list of my “eccentricities” shall we say? Spill!

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May 21

Let's Judge Books By Their Covers!

Art, Blogging, Chick Lit, Coming of Age 38

Hey Bookworms!

I’m sorry about being out of pocket yesterday, but I had a very taxing weekend… Well. That’s a relative term I suppose. My sister’s weekend was certainly MORE taxing than mine, as she spent most of it laboring to make me an aunt for the first time, at least the first time BIOLOGICALLY. I’m an honorary aunt several times over (and I love each and every one of those pumpkins just as much as my new little guy) but THIS one can’t disown me. Good luck, Nathan! Muahahahaha.  I also had an extended conversation with a toad I found in my garden and relocated to the neighbor’s yard so I wouldn’t get startled by a hop and squish him. Then I spent time with friends, saw a movie, drank a martini called “lizard on a mattress,” planted MORE beautiful flowers, and got my crafty on helping a friend with wedding planning. I’m back now. Just in time for TOP TEN TUESDAY!

toptentuesday

This week the ladies of The Broke and The Bookish have asked the bookish blogosphere to list out their top ten favorite book covers. I do the vast majority of my reading on my kindle, so I don’t connect with book covers the way that I used to. Also, there are so many different things I like about different book covers that I decided to rebel. REBEL, I tell you! In my tenure as a blogger, I’ve been lucky enough to be taken into the bosom of some incredibly talented and generous blogger/artists. Some of their work is so incredible it deserves to be on book covers. So. MY list this week will feature art that is NOT on book covers, but should be. Ready?!

hummingbirdpoppies

Courtesy of Lillian Connelly

1. This watercolor was done by the fabulously talented Lillian Connelly. You may know her from her blog, It’s A Dome Life. I absolutely adore the colors and the hummingbirds and the poppies. Couldn’t you just see it as the cover art for an Alice Hoffman or Kate Morton title? I love this piece so much, I bought a necklace of it. Oh yeah, she’s got a zazzle store. Click HERE to get all swagged up!

Courtesy Sandra at BuLaMamaNi

Courtesy Sandra at BuLaMamaNi

2. Sandra at BuLaMamaNi does some amazing collage work, like the piece above. I love that the little girl seems to be crying flower petals. Can’t you imagine it as the cover of a tragic tale of innocence lost? Forgotten childhood? Beautiful.

3. How cool is this?! It’s wacky wonky paper dolls and it’s trippy and fabulous. I imagine it going with a quirky coming of age tale. Some teen angst, perhaps? So cool!

4. Sandra provides another awesome image. See the horses with the super long legs in the background? They remind me of the imaginary creatures at the end of His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, or some of the fantastical Harry Potter animals.

Lillian Connelly

Lillian Connelly

5. Lily, my dearest dear. Please forgive me this terrible pun, but I cannot resist. This piece would be the perfect cover for some Chick Lit!!! (Wah wah wah…)

BuLaMamaNi

BuLaMamaNi

6. Another piece from Sandra. I adore this one. It feels like childhood and playing in the rain and chasing butterflies. It belongs on a book that embodies these feelings!

7. Okay, okay. Chrissy isn’t an artist in the traditional sense of the word, but occasionally she dabbles in magazine collage. It makes me laugh because it’s so… Her. I like to think this should be the cover of her autobiography, entitled Snowing Like A Banshee. She gave her final creative writing project that title in college. I hated it because it made no sense. The phrase is “yelling” or “screaming” like a banshee, because a banshee is a mythological ghost that flits about making endless wailing noises. It has nothing whatsoever to do with weather. But that’s Chrissy. She makes no damn sense, but she’s tough to resist.

Art by ME!

Art by ME!

8. This is what happens when I try to draw stuff. It should never be a book cover, but I thought it would be amusing to remind you of my limitations. That’s an alligator. Saying “rawr.” Fierce.

Alright. So that’s only 8 covers, but since I cheated at the topic I figure I can fudge the number. What do you like to see in a cover, Worms? What pulls you in? It’s speech bubbles on poorly drawn reptiles, isn’t it?!

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Mar 25

Road Tripping with Swamplandia!

Art, Audio Books 21

Hello my Beautiful Bookworms!

Thank you ALL for the fabulous birthday wishes and making me want to eat ALL THE CAKE. You’ve still got a few days to enter the giveaway, so be sure to enter for $30 Amazon bucks- international entries welcome! Also, I’ve guest posted today on my friend Chrissy’s site. If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to check it out.

Last weekend, I took a trip to attend my “nephew’s” birthday party. When I take a long drive, I like to listen to books on tape. They keep me alert better than listening to music, plus, I mean, BOOKS. I took this trip with a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!

swamplandia

Are you aware that Florida boasts the most oddball theme parks per capita in the world? I may have made up that statistic, but I think I could be right. Swamplandia! is the account of a fictional family owned theme park on an island off the coast of Florida, known as (appropriately) Swamplandia. The Bigtree family is a “tribe” of alligator wrestlers. They renamed themselves “Bigtree” to sound more native, but their clan originated in Ohio. As PT Barnum would tell you, there’s a sucker born every minute. People believe what they want to believe, so if they prefer to think of alligator wrestlers as endowed with magical Native American gator charming talents, the Bigtrees are happy to oblige their delusions.

The family alligator wrestling matches are only one of the attractions. The main event is watching the family matriarch, Hilola Bigtree, dive into the gator pit and swim through unscathed. It’s a fantastic spectacle and crowd favorite. The gators are all referred to as “Seth,” I’m assuming, because “Sawtooth” was already taken. (No, they never really explained why they chose Seth. But yes, Grandpa was named Sawtooth.) Sadly, as we learn about Swamplandia’s glory days, we also learn of its demise.

Hilola Bigtree, headliner and matriarch, falls victim to cancer. Grandpa Sawtooth falls victim to Alzheimer’s. Chief Bigtree falls victim to his pride. Young Osceola falls victim to obsession. Kiwi falls victim to his limited home-school education. Ava, our 14 year old protagonist, falls victim to everyone else’s bad decisions.

Image courtesy of genius book blogger and generous soul Andi of Estella's Revenge.

Image courtesy of genius book blogger and generous soul Andi of Estella’s Revenge.

So. What did I think? I’ve got mixed feelings on this novel. On the one hand, I LOVED the language. The writing was gorgeous, and the actors reading the audio book were fantastic. That said, I think sometimes the story fell by the wayside so the language could shine. Some people wouldn’t be bothered by this, but as you know, I’m a story girl. I felt parts of the novel were more drawn out than necessary (particularly Louis Thanksgiving’s extremely detailed back story…) On the upside, I now have a fantastically vivid mental image of Florida’s swamplands. Overall, the prose reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, only set in North America. With alligators and stuff. Also a theme park based on Hell. Complete with saltwater drinking fountains. (Kudos for imagination!)

For reasons I will not disclose to you, as they might be considered “spoilers,” a red gator makes an appearance in this novel. I really wanted to know if such a thing existed in nature. As it turns out, they’re not really a thing. Which means, of course, that there aren’t a whole lot of readily available images (unless you happen to email a cool blogger like Andi and she lets you borrow her stuff.) I actually thought it might be a good idea to try and make my own art! I convinced Lauren of Filing Jointly…Finally to help me with the project and… well… This happened:

I drew a really horrible alligator.

I drew a really horrible alligator and embellished it with a voice bubble for extreme fierceness.

And then Lauren drew an alligator who thinks he's a stegosaurus.

And then Lauren drew an alligator who thinks he’s a stegosaurus. (Which, in spite of its dino-ness is infinitely better executed than my doodle…)

And now we know why Katie and Lauren don’t have promising futures in the lucrative world of alligator caricatures. Luckily, there’s not much of a market for that sort of thing in Illinois. It’s really the deer and skunk caricature niche that’s our bread and butter, so. You know. It’s cool.

Have any of you read Swamplandia!? What did you think? Did it spur you to do anything unusual, say, sketch a species-confused alligator? Tell me about it!

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Mar 11

Tutu Girls Walk Into a Barre: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Art, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction 28

Bonjour, Bookworms!

Please excuse the pun, I cannot help myself. I’m incorrigible. Today we are taking a trip to 19th Century Paris as we discuss The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. I don’t know about you, but when I think of ballet, I think of frothy tutus and toe shoes. I danced growing up, so I can tell you that dance apparel is not inexpensive. Thus, I was surprised to learn that the ballet dancers of the famed opera houses were often more Gavroche than Baryshnikov. (It’s probably also part of the reason ballet loves super svelte dancers… The early ones were half starved!) The youngest of the ballet girls were known as the “petite rats,” and successful dancers were frequently, uh, sponsored? by creepy old dudes. So. Yeah. The beautiful ballet had a dirty, seedy, underbelly. Scandalous.

paintedgirls

I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked by this whole thing- this novel takes place a few decades after Les Miserablesit’s not as though a comprehensive initiative to eradicate poverty had been undertaken. This is a society where a girl could legally prostitute herself at the age of 16 (assuming she was declared STD free, of course. Syphilis was colloquially known as “French Pox.”) When artists were looking for ladies to model in the nude, they didn’t go knocking on the doors of aristocrats, what with all the young nubile flesh for sale. Edgar Degas was one such artist, and if you know anything about his art, you’ll know that ballet girls were among his favorite subjects. Much in the way Tracy Chevalier brought to life the subject in Vermeer’s painting in Girl With A Pearl EarringBuchanan does for Marie Van Goethem, the model for Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer Aged 14.

Marie lives in a sketchy Parisian neighborhood with her widowed, absinthe-swilling mother and her two sisters Antoinette and Charlotte. Antoinette had been a ballet girl, though she’d been tossed out of the company for mouthing off to the director. Instead she began working as an extra in the opera, earning a ridiculously small salary. After the death of their father (and the loss of his income) it is decided that Marie and Charlotte must audition to join the ballet school. Underfed “rats” from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks they may be, but super flexible hips are a commodity worth paying for. Both Charlotte and Marie begin their dance careers, in large part to contribute to the family baguette fund. Dancing for their suppers, as it were.

Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is the sculpture in question. Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eventually Marie catches the eye of Degas, and she is more than willing to pose for him in varying states of undress if it keeps her family from starving (absinthe isn’t cheap, you know.) While Marie is busy being naked in front of weird old men, Antoinette strikes up a romance with a potentially sketchy fellow named Emile, who seems incapable of saving money but terribly fond of spending it (bad combination, Antoinette!) Both Marie and Antoinette (LET THEM EAT CAKE!) try to find ways to hustle for cash so tiny Charlotte will be less affected by their poverty.

In the spirit of not being a major spoilsport, I shall tell you that this novel contains prostitution, petty theft, murder, guillotines, alcoholism, scientific misinformation, and one rather disturbing incident of animal cruelty (you’ve been warned.) It’s all based on true events! A triumph of historical fiction, my friends.

So, Bookworms, how much do you love it when art imitates art?! I even made a list of such novels on Riffle! (Not on Riffle and want to be?! Let me know and I’ll send you an invite.) Tell me, Bookworms. Ballet, street urchins, Paris, art. and scandal- you’ve got to have thoughts on some of those things. Tell me, tell me, tell me!

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