Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Early Artwork

As those of you who follow my blog know, I took art up to A level at school, then I put my pencils down and barely picked them up again until a couple of years ago.  Last weekend, I persuaded my long-suffering hubby to drag down my school portfolios from the loft and had a good old rummage through them.  The most surprising thing was how many large artworks there were; I'd forgotten just how many larger-scale (A1) pieces I'd worked on.  I can see it wasn't my greatest forté - and if you follow me on Facebook, you probably know how much I love small-scale!

Sadly, I can't show you the largest pieces, as my scanner is only A4, and I couldn't get them to stay on the door so I could photograph them, so I've just included a few of the smaller pieces, plus an A3 pastel and a photo of my A-level art piece.

This was from my fourth year Communications project (don't ask me what fourth year translates to in today's schooling terms, because I haven't a clue!).  I can see the errors, but it was quite a good exercise in perspective.

These were sketches of my hands for a graphic design project (not my strongest point!) - I included them because it amused me to see my stumpy little paws - they're still the same!  And they're exactly the same shape and size as my Mum's. Definitely not artist's fingers ... ;)

This was an attempt at a portrait of my lovely Grandad.  It's not perfect, but it does look like him.  Brought a tear to my eye, too.  RIP, Grandad. x

A random cat that I copied from somewhere - no idea where, it certainly wasn't one of ours!

And finally, some colour!  Pencil has always been my medium of choice; I did a lot of painting at school, but it was never particularly successful.  This was an experiment with pastels.  I think it may have been a depiction from a character from a novel.  I did a lot of that - still do, in fact.

And finally, my A-level piece.  We had a choice of whether to use Letraset (anyone remember that?!) or draw our own letters, and I chose to draw mine.  Coloured pencils, of course!  It's a photo, so it's not very good quality.  The butterfly's hiding a mistake!  This is on my Mum and Dad's wall - upstairs, thankfully.  It's quite a large piece.

So that's a tiny fraction of my schoolwork, and most of it hasn't been seen in a looong time!  It was a little bizarre looking back at it and remembering drawing some of it.  Where have all those years gone, eh?  The only thing I really miss is the student discount at the local art shop, though!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Book Review: The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams (urban fantasy ... ish)

I liked this book.  It didn't suck me in and shut off real life until I'd devoured it at speed, but I did finish it, and I do have the next one on my wishlist.  I'm not entirely happy with calling it urban fantasy, as some of it felt more like straight fantasy, although that may be due to the fact that much of the story takes place in the fae realm, not in our world.

McKenzie (I really don't understand why so many characters seem to be given surnames these days, but I can get past it!) is a shadow reader - she can not only see the fae, she can tell where they have teleported - or 'fissured' - to.  A rare talent that the Fae king has been making use of for several years.  McKenzie is in love with his sword master, Kyol, but relationships between humans and Fae are forbidden, so she knows nothing can come of it.  She has never questioned the stance of the king and his soldiers, however - she knows they have right on their side, and she's happy to use her talent to help them.

However, when she is kidnapped by the Fae rebellion - those she assists the king to defend against - she begins to realise that perhaps not everything is exactly as she's always believed.  I liked McKenzie's character.  She's not super-human in any way other than her particular talent.  She gets hurt, she makes poor decisions, but she learns along the way and she's not absolutely resistant to the truth when it's shown to her.  That said, she's loyal, so making a decision that will hurt the king and Kyol, or the rebels and their leader, Aren - who is quite different to Kyol, but noble in his own way - is a terrible choice for her.

There's a cast of interesting, mostly three-dimensional supporting characters, and the premise of a woman who can sense teleportation was unusual.  I thought the book was well-written, although I must warn you it's written in the present tense.  I've read several such books recently, and it doesn't really bother me, but I used to really struggle with it.  I've never in my life written anything in the present tense, and I don't really understand why writers use it, but I'm okay with it.  And after writing this review, I'm actually quite eager to start the next one!

4/5 stars

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

What would you go back and tell your 15-year-old self?

I saw my best friend at the weekend and she suggested this question for a blog post idea.  And as someone who knew me when I was 15, she'll know if my answers don't add up (so no pressure)!

Firstly, I have to try and remember what I was like when I was 15.  It was 26 years ago, after all.  Much like now, I was very quiet with people I didn't know.  I hated being the centre of attention and loathed being asked to answer questions in class.  I remember the encompassing dread I felt when my English class was told we each had to stand and make a presentation to the class.  Public speaking was not my forté!  I also remember that we never had to do it, in fact, as the class was so naughty and disruptive, we managed to delay the teacher sufficiently to postpone it permanently.

Apart from being quiet, I remember little things seeming to have importance out of all proportion - for example, crying with rage because my fringe wouldn't 'go right'.  Really.

So what would I go back and tell my fifteen-year-old self?  In no particular order:

  • Don't sweat the small stuff.  No-one else cares if your fringe is sticking up on one side.  (My hair is never perfect.  I can live with it.)
  • You are never going to use matrices in normal life, so don't panic when they try to put you down to the next maths group.  Your maths will be sufficient for a working life spent mostly in accounts (I might not mention that bit, though - my fifteen-year-old self may well have a meltdown at the thought of such a future).
  • You are not fat.  One day (26 years later, say) you will look back and wish you were still that size.
  • Stop wishing to be taller.  It's not going to happen.
  • Don't go to the A-level certificate evening.  The humiliation of your horrible form tutor announcing to the entire hall that 'Louise is currently unemployed - any offers?' will linger for a long time.
  • You're right to think your relationship with your parents will be improved by leaving home.  Sad, but true.
  • Work harder.  I was the mistress of the 'revise-right-before-the-exam-only' technique.  It shows in my grades.
  • Be more tolerant of people who don't grasp what you're saying right away.  One day you will realise that there are far greater qualities in human beings than a quick mind.
  • Stop waiting for good things to happen to you.  Make the things you already have good.
  • Trust your instincts.  If it feels wrong, don't do it, no matter who you disappoint.
  • Don't suppress your creative side.  It will find its way out!
  • In spite of what you hope, you're never really going to feel grown up.  But you will have the right to walk away from a situation that makes you uncomfortable.  You may never do it, but knowing you can helps.
  • Finally, to myself and my lovely friend - the permed hair.  Don't do it.  Nothing else to add.
I'm sure there are many more things Louise aged 15 needed to know, but I'm pretty sure I'm still learning, so ask me in another 26 years!

(An old, poor quality photo scanned and cropped, of myself and my friend - I'm the one on the left!)

What would you go back and tell your fifteen-year-old self?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Book Review: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers and City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

First up this week is a novella by Mary Ann Rivers, The Story Guy.  I'm not sure how to categorise this one - probably contemporary romance (something I almost never read).

I'd never heard of this author.  I found her while trawling for new authors (I do this a lot since getting the Kindle - it's usually less expensive to try out a new author, and you can often download a free sample to see if you like their writing style.  In this case, the price was so reasonable, I decided to give the whole thing a go).

In her thirties, living alone, and still holidaying with her parents, Carrie is starting to feel dissatisfied with her life.  Her friends are in happy relationships, and although she knows her life is good, it's also just a little too safe and boring, and deep down she's lonely.  She enjoys reading personal ads placed by men who seem to have a 'real' voice to her - nothing glossy and superficial, just honest, often painful insights into their lives.  She never replies.  Until the day she sees something a little more intriguing than usual.  It begins: I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park.  Kissing Only.  Before she has a chance to talk herself out of it, she's replied and agreed to meet him on Wednesday.

When she does muster her courage and go to meet Brian on that first Wednesday, to find that he's kind and passionate - not to mention gorgeous - of course she wonders why he's restricting himself to this small window of contact.  And she wants more.  As does Brian, apparently, but he won't allow himself to take more.  And as they start to fall in love - and, naturally, can't resist contacting each other outside of those Wednesday interludes - you find out why Brian can't take - or give - more.  And my goodness, was I ever glad I work from home.  I often read while I'm eating my lunch, and sobbing into my sandwiches with an audience would have been most embarrassing!  I can't remember the last time I read a book that made me cry like that.  Brian's struggle is beautifully drawn, and Carrie is no two-dimensional character either.  I defy anyone to read this, and not be sucked in by the characters.  It is a well-written love story (and the love scenes are fairly hot, so be warned) by an author I'm going to be reading again, and I highly recommend it.

5/5 stars.

Secondly, we have the third in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare - City of Glass.  It's a young adult urban fantasy series.

Again, I can't give much away with my review, in case you've yet to read the first two in the series.  There is still much of Clary jumping into situations without considering the consequences.  She is still only sixteen, so I can forgive her that a little, and the things she has gone through in these three books do seem to have made her grow up and make hard decisions that your average sixteen-year-old probably wouldn't need to, so I'm happy with the development of her character.  Jace is still witty and gorgeous, along with a newly-acquired streak of self-loathing that makes him even more interesting.  And Simon (Clary's friend) has no choice but to grow up fast, thanks to the events of the previous books.  I love the way his character has been drawn, and how Clare uses the plot to put him under pressure and prove his worth.  There are nice little sub-plots featuring the supporting cast of characters and you never feel as if they're just page-fillers.

There's plenty of peril in the book, and you're never sure the characters are going to survive it - something I think is important in a series of this nature.  I used to be a (huge!) fan of the Anita Blake books by Laurell K Hamilton, but she lost me when it became apparent that, in spite of the cast of characters becoming ridiculously large, none of the main characters would ever die.  I don't mean I like my series peppered with painful killings-off of my favourite characters, but if you know Anita's going to save the day every single time, the tension is gone, and tension is the second thing after characters that I value in a novel.  And never mind the fact that Anita turned into an uber-slut at the same time ... but I digress.  (Again!)

This book concerns the villain Valentine and his quest to obtain the third and final Mortal Instrument and his plans to wipe out all opposition when he does.  And of course the quest of our heroes to stop him doing that.  It's fairly standard heroes and villains fare, but it's nicely done and I like the world-building and the characters.  If you don't mind reading YA - and it's not dumbed-down in any way - you might want to give these a try.

4.5/5 stars

It has occurred to me that I'm really only reviewing books I've enjoyed.  The reason for this is that if I really don't enjoy a book, I don't finish it.  Life is too short (and there are too many great books out there) to waste it on less than stellar books.  And I feel that I shouldn't really review a book if I haven't read it in its entirety.  So I may just include a little DNF (did not finish) section, with a few words about why I didn't finish the book and my rating for the part I did read.

This week's DNF:

Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler.

I really wanted to like this!  An urban fantasy by a new-to-me author, it's about Jane True, a woman who doesn't know why she's drawn to swim in the sea over and over, although it's obvious from the start that it has something to do with her departed mother.  It started off well, the writing style was fairly engaging and I didn't hate the protagonist.  But I really, really didn't like the 'love' interest.  The moment he entered the scene, I pretty much switched off.  This is a problem for me.  You all know how I feel about tension - including sexual tension - in a novel, and for me it just wasn't there.  Jane practically rolls over for him - there may be all sorts of reasons for this that I had yet to read, but it bounced me right out of the story and left me feeling somewhat cheated.  Yes, I like the odd smutty book, but I'd rather read a well-written story without a single love scene, than have them included just for the sake of it.  I may try and go back to it, but I'm a picky reader - you don't often get two chances to grab my interest!  So my rating is based on about 40% of the novel.

3/5 stars.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Book Review: The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale

As I'm in the middle of two books right now (paperback for bath-reading and electronic for the rest of the time), I'm going to review one of my favourite books today.

While my favourite genre is without question dark/urban fantasy, I've also long been a fan of romance.  It sounds cheesy - especially historical romance - and much of it is, but there are a few authors whose work I really respect in this field.  One of those is Laura Kinsale.  I struggled to choose which of hers was my favourite, but in the end I went with The Shadow and the Star.  I find her titles a bit ... naff ... if I'm honest, and the cover of my copy reinforces that impression.  It features that huge muscular male model with the long hair who was on so many of the bodice-rippers of the 80's and 90's.  I used to be embarrassed to read them in public; I think perhaps I'm too old to care any more, though!

The cover is - of course- not indicative of what's inside, however.  This was published in 1991, and not discovered by me until years later.  It follows timid, law-abiding seamstress Leda and rich businessman (and martial arts afficionado) Samuel.  I know what you're thinking.  Seriously?  Can anyone say hackneyed plot?  Well, it's a case of suck it and see, with a Laura Kinsale book.  Samuel is most definitely not your typical strong, silent alpha male.  He is (as you would know if you had read her earlier book The Dream Hunter - not necessary, by the way) very damaged.  And filled with self-loathing at the feelings gentle Leda inspires in him.  When he acts on them, almost in spite of himself, she doesn't rebuff him, and it's not entirely because she's so innocent that she doesn't understand what's happening.  Some small part of her wants something beautiful for herself, even for a fleeting moment.

Of course, even fleeting moments have consequences when it's 1887 in London.  And much of the book tells the tale of how their lives change when they have to deal with those consequences.  Samuel still believes it is wrong that he wants to touch Leda and she struggles with the almost subservient nature her upbringing (and social station) has left her with, to try and make him see that it isn't.  We see how the characters fall in love, and how Leda begins to heal Samuel in her own quiet way.  Laura Kinsale has a rare talent for making her characters unique.  I've lost count of how many romances I've read which could have had various characters from other books dropped in and out without me even noticing.  But Kinsale's characters really do have their own voice and their own distinct nature.  And you're not told Leda feels x because of y, you're shown.  Which, to me, is how a good book should be written.

There is a minor suspense plot that creates some peril for the characters and enables the story to be wrapped up.  I've never been entirely sure that it was necessary, although it does prompt Samuel to reveal his feelings, so perhaps it was.

Anyway, if you like romances with beautifully-drawn characters, some plausible angst, a little well-stirred sexual tension and a few touching love scenes, you might want to give The Shadow and the Star a try.  You may also like Flowers from the Storm by the same author - another woeful title (in my opinion), but a heart-wrenching love story about a Quaker and a nobleman who has suffered a stroke - something which had yet to be diagnosed back then, and was seen as madness.

5/5 stars.