Tag Archives: art

Herding Cats: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen

Herding cats is one of those impossible tasks which would be idiotic to even attempt, but as a metaphor for life, Sarah Andersen graphically encourages the reader to keep moving forward and “Go make stuff” through a series of comic strips.

Sarah loves both cats and dogs who are featured throughout the book:

Cat shapes: Round, Long, Curve, Loaf
Dog shapes: Dog

Starting the day is tough for Sarah, who is far from a morning person:

“I will set my alarm for 7:30 and I will WAKE UP at 7:30! No snooze!”
Last panel: The comforter proclaims “BED OF LIES”.

Sarah tries to get a handle on her life:

4 panels with a clean room reflecting “a life of simplicity and order”.
Panel 5 – Later that week – “CHAOS, I AM YOUR MISTRESS.”

Then there is always retail therapy:

Before: Sad
After: Sad, but in a fabulous outfit

Other issues explored include anxiety, being an introvert, and tackling work assignments. There’s a tad of political commentary mainly surrounding a same sex relationship with her significant other.

The last portion of the book is a written commentary about the current state of art and the influence of the Internet, entitled Making Stuff In the Modern Era. Andersen laments that in the beginning she found the Internet a nurturing, inviting environment, but now it’s a “fire pit”. Part One: A Guide for the Young Creative, Being an Artist and the Internet, describes the prevailing situation facing young artists while Part Two: Artist Survival, provides advice on how to deal with the conflicts mentioned under the following five headings:
1. Growing pains are common and okay
2. Understanding criticism and harassment
3. It’s okay to have feelings
4. Go outside; the option is there
5. Don’t give up

The author presents comic style representations of Sarah dealing with these concerns providing the reader with some insight into her motivations for the “Sarah’s Scribbles” series.

Despite the above serious narrative, Herding Cats creates amusing comedic moments which are easy for the reader to personalize, especially if they aren’t a morning person, have a tendency to procrastinate, and love Autumn (like me). The illustrations, while not quite scribbles, are definitely lacking details, yet Andersen is effectively able (most of the time) to visually get her point across, hitched along with a chuckle and sometimes an outright laugh. My favorite comic strip pictures the angst of college students preparing for finals vs the calm of Sarah – “Me: No longer in school”. Been there, done that, appreciate the reminder.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing this temporary ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.


The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

When I think of The Lying Game by Ruth Ware I picture four fifteen year old school girls sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of an old sinking house in The Reach, a home in a tidal estuary located near the coastal village of Salten not far from the English Channel. What a life they had spending time together swimming, laughing, and joking, breaking the school rules until they were finally caught and expelled, although little did the supervising nun know the extent of their misdeeds. Of course to tell would be breaking the rules of The Lying Game, a fun way to put one over on people of authority.

Here it is seventeen years later when Kate texts her three former dorm mates, Thea, Isa, and Fatima, with three words – I need you, and off they all come, back to the scene of the “crime” to face up their youthful indiscretions. Unfortunately, they’re not quite sure exactly what really happened way back when. Yet that’s what they are about to find out as the story unfolds, told by Isa with flashbacks about their Sophomore year at Salten Academy, dwelling on the days they hung up out with each other and Luc, Kate’s half brother, while Kate’s father, an artist, drew what he saw, even if their attire was questionable, especially on those hot, skinny dipping days. This ultimately compounds their troubles, but it’s how they deal with these issues that will determine their future, for better or for worse, as details are revealed and the repercussions of the events which occurred that fateful summer are in danger of ruining their lives.

While the premise showed potential, as a psychological thriller, this one is a little less than thrilling. There’s quite a bit of repetition along with a meandering plot and a climax that, while unexpected, isn’t really totally unpredictable. The reader could easily have figured out a lot of this stuff before the big reveal and the subsequent wrapping up of events, although there were some unanswered questions which didn’t have an adequate resolution. This is not a happily ever after sort of book, but we do get some closure, even if various actions didn’t seem to make sense or, at the very least, are a stretch. However, this book is a good character study on the effects of a guilty conscience as each girl tries to make peace with their dark secret, one which at the time sounded like their only viable option. Some editing might have made this a more exciting read.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

This was a difficult book to read. Not because Every Note Played was poorly written, but because Lisa Genova has done such a masterful job of portraying the anguish brought about by the debilitating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

While ALS would devastate anyone of the population unfortunate enough to contract this fatal illness, how much worse for a world renowned concert pianist to watch his distinguished acclaim shattered as the muscles in his limp arms and hands are no longer able to respond to even simple commands, leaving the keys on his Steinway Grand gathering dust.

Richard’s career always took precedence over both his wife and daughter. Karina, also a gifted pianist, resented her assigned status as a second class talent when their move to Boston wiped out her plans to play jazz in New York City. After Grace came along, Karina found herself a stay-at-home mom, raising a daughter while giving a bunch of talentless kids piano lessons. As Richard’s reputation soared, resentment blossomed in his wife, inflamed by her husband’s gadding about, leaving his family to fend for themselves as he pursued his own passions – both on the stage and in his mistresses’ beds. Divorce was inevitable.

Left there this would just be another tale of two college students with common interests who fall in love, marry and start a family, torn apart by diverging, incompatible life goals leading to a bitter divorce. Yet what happens when a disease such as ALS knocks at ones door mummifying the body while keeping cognition intact? Denial is the first reaction as Richard refuses to ask for help and Karina fails to recognize the seriousness of the situation until it is almost too late. However, despite their differences, Karina finds herself the caretaker for a man she has hated most of her adult life. Richard, at the mercy of the woman he has hurt, doesn’t know how to ask for forgiveness, but has no where else to turn as his physical and financial assets dwindle. Genova, adept at exposing the underside of various crippling diseases through her novels, takes us through the process, step by step, watching the couple try to find peace in a situation which becomes increasingly grave.

Not for the squeamish, since the author does not sugar coat any of the details, often getting down and dirty as she describes the effects on both victims – the man with the disease and the caretaker. The reader who finishes this book does not leave unscathed.

Since Every Note Played was written two events have occurred – the death of 72 year old Stephen Hocking who chose to miraculously extend his life by using a ventilator and the approval by the FDA of a new drug Radicava, which in trials has slowed the decline of physical ailments by up to 33 percent. Like everything else connected with ALS, the cost of survival is beyond the means of most and it is unclear whether insurance companies will cover the monthly $1000 infusions. Still, a positive step forward for this catastrophic disorder which destroys indiscriminately.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Venn Diagram by Wendy Brant

Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant is as cute as the title suggests. High School Senior Eva (pronounced “ever” without the “r”), is gifted in mathematics and helps tutor other students who need a leg up. A PK (Pastor’s Kid), she has extra responsibilities involving her quadruplets siblings, the eees, who at three are a handful requiring more than one set of hands. With so many mouths to feed, her dreams of attending a top notch college hinge on receiving a hefty scholarship. Then she meets Zenn, (pronounced like Zenn Diagram), who captures her heart as she helps him up his math grades. Zenn is a true artist who also has dreams of attending a prestigious college despite his lack of funds to pay the all-too-expensive tuition.

Sounds like your typical teen novel, but there are a bunch of twists starting with a terrible car accident which occurred when Eva was a baby, killing her parents and leaving her with a rare gift/curse – the ability to decipher the emotions of people through physical contact with them or the objects they have touched. With small children it’s all pastel colors and sweet thoughts, but adults radiate complicated vibes which often leave Eva prostrate as their angst can be overwhelming. Eva fantasizes about touching Zenn, a feat she fears is beyond her ability due to the anticipated negative reaction. Somehow she must figure out how their relationship can move beyond the pupil/teacher stage, especially when Zenn seems to feel a mutual attraction. Of course, Eva is not the only one with a secret, and the mystery in Zenn’s life threatens to affect the future of both of their lives. Add in a lifelong best friend who kinda goes MIA when the popular athletic boy shows an interest and an interesting home dynamic which interferes with any thoughts of romance, and you have a fun little YA novel.

While this debut novel by Wendy Brant is well worth the read, the author needs to watch out for repetitive thoughts (Eva too often laments about her inability to touch Zenn and her difficulty going to her first choice college). However, there are several twists which will keep the reader guessing and a hopeful conclusion which seems reasonable without being too sicky-sweet. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Art Forger by B A Shapiro

Claire Roth is beautiful, talented, and cursed. Even when she tries to do the right thing, it somehow turns out all wrong. Take Isaac Cullion, all she wanted to do was nudge him out of his funk and help him get his painting done in time for the art opening and look how that turned out? Now here’s Aiden Markell, offering her the chance of a lifetime. All she has to do is paint a duplicate of Edgar Degas’ After the Bath. Who better than Claire, a certified Repro painter specializing in his works? Yet this time her reproduction is more than just a copy, it’s a forgery of a painting which was stolen during the 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Or is it? Despite the thrill of having an original Degas in her studio apartment, something isn’t quite right. Nagging doubts cloud Claire’s mind, notwithstanding the mind blowing sex with her new lover or the promise of her own art show at his gallery. Since there’s no one she can comfortably confide in, Claire starts doing her own investigation to uncover some truths which have been kept a secret for over a hundred years.

Barbara A Shapiro once again uses her knowledge of the Art World plus the mystique of Boston to bring us a novel of art and intrigue in The Art Forger. Developing a fascination with Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1983 which was reinforced after the infamous unresolved heist at the famous Boston museum, Shapiro waited until she found a way to combine past historical events with fictional characters to create a cohesive tale of love and betrayal. Weaving truth and fiction, she fabricates a series of letters written by Gardner to her “niece” describing her titilating encounters with the famed Degas in her attempts to buy one of his paintings for the museum she is determined to build. He agrees, but there are stipulations which might not be acceptable to her high brow society peers, despite her already outrageous behaviors. Although there is no written record of these meetings and no true correspondence to relate, the author still frames a plausible background to her modern day tale.

While Shapiro’s descriptions of the history and techniques of various art forgeries over the years is interesting, at times the details of this and other artistic techniques are perhaps a bit too technical for the average reader. In addition I would have liked a bit more depth of character for Claire and her associates to go along with the richly developed Boston setting. Besides the old time letters and narrative about Claire’s current life, there are also flashbacks from three years prior to the start of this story involving her relationship with Isaac, explaining her pariah status. I liked how the reader is given clues utilizing the three scenarios to help decipher the outcome, although for me, at least, there were no surprises, just reasonable expectations. In the end, Claire was a bit too self righteous and not entirely innocent, plus she made a lousy girlfriend – still from notoriety comes fame (see the Kardasians).

The Art Forger has been on my to read list since last year when I read Shapiro’s book The Muralist and it didn’t disappoint with a plot richly layered just like the paintings Claire designed. Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is like walking through a maze – well not exactly since a maze has a beginning and an end, more like a labyrinth with a multitude of paths leading nowhere.

Jason Dessen has the perfect life with his wife Daniela and son Charlie. Perhaps he had to give up a high level career and settle for a professorship in physics at a small college and his talented wife never achieved the artistic fame she had once sought, but they were content. Jason has a chance to find out that happiness doesn’t hinge on money and prestige when he is basically kidnapped and sent to an alternative universe (multiverse) while someone else takes over his idyllic life. The new world is a nightmare and in order to maintain his sanity, Jason needs to find out where he is and how he got there in order to have any hope of discovering the path back “home”. What makes matters worse is that second guessing his own motivations only creates more chaos in an already disjointed and deranged world.

What a wild ride! Just when you think you’ve got things figured out there’s either a dead end or an unexpected plot twist. While I was able to foresee a few events there were others which astounded and the ending remained as bizarre as the original premise. At times the author’s explanation of the scientific phenomena of the Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox and quantum physics were repetitious and frankly, over my head, although I did grasp enough of the essence to accept the situation as plausible in a demented sort of way. The singlemindedness of Jason was both annoying in its doggedness as well as endearing for its root causes. It certainly kept me engaged, especially with the crazy climax which appeared to have no acceptable resolution. Crouch definitely induces the reader to analyze their own motivations in life, pondering the various “what if” alternatives which might have been chosen. The one weakness of this novel is the lack of depth in the characterizations which would have provided some substance to the reasonings of the supporting players instead of leaving open ended suppositions about their particular actions for the reader to contemplate.

I find this novel difficult to categorize – is it an existential love story or a science fiction tale of horror or a psychological thriller? You pick.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Muralist by B A Shapiro

The Muralist by B A Shapiro is a mystery full of intrigue occurring under the Roosevelt administration during the depression just prior to the United State’s involvement in World War II. Mixed within the fictional narrative are historical truths which affected the events of the war. At the forefront was Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, a close friend of the President who used his power to limit the number of immigrants entering the US, especially Jewish refugees. Going against the wishes of Congress, Long lied about the numbers while secretly denying visas and publicly justifying his actions with cries of spies mixed amongst the incoming Jews and lamentations over the loss of American jobs usurped from natural born citizens by the intrusive foreigners. (The same rhetoric we hear today about Syrian refugees).

But this is a story about a young artist, Alizee Benoit, whose Jewish family is caught in France swept up into the atrocities of the Holocaust. Desperately trying to obtain visas for her aunt, uncle, and cousins, as well as her brother, Alizee runs into obstacle after obstacle, horrified when even bribery can’t guarantee a safe passage to the United States, despite possible backdoor routes through other countries such as Cuba. Ships full of refugees are turned away and sent back to their fateful deaths. Befriended by Eleanor Roosevelt, even the First Lady fails to persuade her husband to intercede on the Jews behalf.

Alzee turns to her art to express her views and secretly joins a subversive group to attempt a change in the antisemitic policies of certain government officials. Working in the WPA art program in NYC creating public canvases for display, she is surrounded by other aspiring young artists who would later gain world renown (Abstract Expressionists – Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollack). While just as talented as her peers, her future is doomed when she gets caught on the wrong side of the right issue, necessitating her disappearance from view. Despite a thorough search by family and friends, she is never heard from again.

Seventy years later, Alizee’s niece, Danielle Abrams, is fascinated by the stories surrounding her mysterious great aunt. With her own artistic bent, Dani is currently employed by Christies Auction House cataloging various pieces of art from the WPA period in the hopes of identifying the works of the legendary artists who painted besides Alizee. Secretly she is trying to discover the riddle of a myriad of painted squares found taped to the backs of suspected masterpieces, sure that they can be connected to her aunt’s disappearance. Using the two paintings by Alizee which the family still owns as a guide, Dani is sure she has found the key to her aunt’s whereabouts.

Shapiro alternates between Dani’s search and flashbacks from the past to slowly reveal a gripping story from that fateful era. While seeking to clarify the mystery surrounding Alizee, Dani also discovers some truths about herself.

Shapiro has invented a new genre combining history, art, and intrigue. After the success of her previous novel, The Art Forger, she returns to the art world for this current work. Armed with historical tidbits from the era, Shapiro is able to recreate the concerns of the country in the years prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The actual disappearance of the muralist is jumbled and confusing, perhaps reflecting Alizee’s feelings of confusion from the illness within her body and her mind, but the culmination fusing events from present and past straightens out some of the questions posed by the author.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for providing an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.