Friday, January 25, 2013

Artful Readers Club January - Heartstone by C. J. Sansom

It's time for my first book review and associated arty piece reveal for the Artful Readers Club

The book I chose to read in January is Heartstone - the fifth and most recent title in a series of period crime thrillers written by PHd historian (ie. he knows what he’s talking about!) C. J. Sansom

The five novels revolve around a fictional lawyer come amateur detective called Matthew Shardlake, active during the reign of King Henry VIII.

I have read the first two Shardlake books – Dissolution and Dark Fire – but am yet to read #3 Sovereign and #4 Revelation – despite the fact I have them sat on my bookshelf – so I’m really not sure why I skipped straight ahead to Heartstone, I think I thought this was the next one – I will have to go back and play catch up at some point.

This is an ambitious book, and a long one at over 700 pages – but none of those are filler as there is a lot going on.  There are two separate cases of wrongdoing for our clever lawyer to investigate, both of which attract multiple twists and turns (and dead bodies) along the way  – and all of this is set against the backdrop of the war against France, and in particular the French navy’s arrival at Portsmouth and the ensuing battles at sea.

I particularly liked the part of the book about the Mary Rose as I remember a trip to see the remains of  the ship when I was little
The author’s real skill, as well as writing a cracking story that’s extremely entertaining to read, is in bringing the sights and sounds and smells of Tudor England to life, and also in perfectly explaining the social norms of the day, how people of all classes from beggars to the Monarchy behaved around each other.  He creates a really believable and immersive world.

And our lead characters are believable too – Shardlake, clever as he is, and seemingly in possession of more ethics and morals than the rest of Tudor England combined, doesn’t always make the right deductions or the right calls, in fact sometimes he gets things quite spectacularly wrong.   And his dogged determination to solve even the cases that nobody wants solved, despite the fact that his continued meddling endangers himself, his clients and everyone around him, is rightly highlighted by his manservant / right hand man Jack Barak as a major character flaw.

All in all, another great book from an accomplished and well rounded author – but I would definitely advise you start with one of the earlier books in the series if you would like to try a Shardlake novel for yourself – they are shorter and punchier than this one, a little faster moving, and most importantly provide important background for the lead characters which help you to understand their motivations in their later adventures.

Oh – and as for the title of the book itself – which will hopefully help make some sense of my accompanying artwork – one of the key scenes in the book takes place on a deer hunt – and the ‘heart stone’ is a heart-shaped bone from a felled stag that is given as a good luck charm to the huntsman who brings the stag down.  One of the main characters in the book wins the heart stone and ..... it's barely mentioned again for the rest of the book :)  (I kept thinking it would end up being hugely significant seeing as it's the title of the book, but no). So I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that little snippet.

And here's my arty thang:

I've decided to make individual 7" x 7" loose pages - artwork on the front, details of the book and a copy of my review on the back - and at the end of the year I'll bind them in some way (probably a stab binding of some kind - there's a one inch flap of paper on the left that you can't see as I have tucked it under for the photo)

This one has a watercolour and charcoal background, with a bit of stamping (the manuscript lettering, to represent one of the lead character's legal documents) and a stag hand cut from black card overlaid.

His heart is nice and glossy as it is topped with diamond glaze, but you can't really see that in the photo.

Now to go and link this up over at Darcy's blog, and to get blog hopping to read everyone else's reviews!

Next month I'll be reading America Unchained by comedian Dave Gorman, which will be quite a different experience to Heartstone, I think :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Desert Island Discs circle journal - Crazy Little Thing

It's circle journal time again - and what a joy to take my turn with Donna's most excellent desert island disc box:

Isn't she a beauty??

The premise of this CJ is slightly different to most of the others doing the rounds - instead of a book with pages, we have a box with little file folders for us to fill - and instead of choosing a song to "artify", Donna has done the choosing for us.

This worried me a little to start with, but as it turned out, the song I was allocated - Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen - was exactly the one I would have chosen for myself from what was left on the list, so all's well there.

Working on my entry kept me amused over a snowed-in weekend, I've had a lot of fun with it.

Here's my file folder / envelope thingy:

I've given Freddie some sparkly jewels in his crown, they suit him :)

Inside the envelope:

The brown outer wrapper with the hearts on comes off to reveal my "crazy little thing called love" in all his glory:

Cute isn't he, in a slightly demented, evil-looking way :)  I drew him in India ink with a nib pen and coloured him in with watercolours.  There's Diamond Glaze on his eyes to make them nice and shiny but you can't really see that in the photo.

This part opens up to reveal some stamped lyrics from the song, and my little sign in tag/disc


And on the back, a stitched double heart:

And here's all my bits together:

Like I said, it was an enjoyable one to pull together

But the fun didn't stop here, as this isn't just any old circle journal, this is a COLLABOR-ART circle journal (please don't sue me, Marks 'n' Sparks!) - so that meant I also had free licence to play with all the previous players' work..... I love this part :D

I added a "USA" button to Donna's Blondie entry, to go with her I <3 NY sticker:

For Sherry's tribute to a song by 'Louise and the Pins'?  What else but some colour co-ordinated safety pins?


And finally, I couldn't resist adding a literal Primal Scream (aaaaaarrrrggghhhh!!!!!!) to Pam's rendition of the band's logo:

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Rocking Your World Friday - wrapping up 2012

And so, 2012 is over, and I need to wrap up my year-long document of what’s been rockin’ my world….

I’m quite chuffed I managed to stick with this for the whole year, I’m a rubbish blogger usually.  I didn’t do it quite as per instructions (you’re supposed to post every Friday, but I ended up slipping to fortnightly, then every three weeks….) but I always caught up.

I think next year I might slip even further and do a calendar-monthly catch up at each month end.  But I’m definitely going to keep the practice going in some format or other as I have found the whole discipline of constantly looking for the positives in my life to be hugely therapeutic and helpful.  It’s not a new idea, this counting your blessings lark, but so many people nowadays seem to spend more time moaning about what they don’t have than appreciating what they have got, and that’s a real pity.

So before I get into the nitty gritty of what’s been happening for the last three weeks, here’s a little snapshot of what I’m grateful for in general:

My wonderful other half Jay who keeps me on an even keel and always puts a smile on my face with his constant stream of so-bad-they’re-good jokes, and his brilliant Ewok impersonations:

My sons – it has been great having them all around at once over the Christmas period

The fact that I have a job that I don’t hate and that pays the bills with some to spare, not everyone is so lucky in the current financial climate

Never being bored  – I have my art materials and – at the moment at least – no shortage of creative mojo, more books than some travelling libraries, great TV and films to watch, my hockey, fab company around me, my online buddies, loads of great days out, let’s face it my life is Fun with a capital F and I sometimes wonder how I struck so lucky :)

So – anyway – all gushiness aside – where were we?

Ah yes, the last three weeks of December – what did I get up to and what rocked my world?

- Live music rules!!!  We went to two gigs in December- the first one was on the 12/12/12 – Californian ska-punk kings Rancid at the O2 Academy in Bristol.  I haven’t seen them in a good 17/18 years, and Jay had never seen them.  They were excellent, still lively, still in tune, and still great to boogie to :)

Tim’s changed a bit though -  I thought a tramp had wandered in off the street and nicked his guitar :D  That’s some crazy beardage!

(Rancid photos from the Bristol gig by Adam Gasson)

And then on Boxing Day night we headed back to Bristol, with the kids in tow this time, for a festive knees up with Bad Manners at the Fleece.

This gig would have been brilliant, if the band hadn’t come on sooooo late!!  They didn’t hit the stage until around 11:30pm by which time the kids were shattered, so they only lasted through about half of the set and then needed to go and sit/lie down, so I took them back to the car and subsequently missed the rest of the gig :(  Never mind, we had all had fun boogie-ing to the classic punk and ska disco for the previous 4 hours, plus Jay and Darby got to stay to the end and had a great time (and I’ve seen Bad Manners a few times before so not the end of the world)

- My work’s Christmas do – we had a delicious nosh up at the Thai restaurant in Ciren followed by a free bar at the bar next door (pity I was driving home so I couldn’t partake – but at least that meant I had a fresh head the next morning unlike many of my colleagues :) )

- Secret Santa time – I did really well with my office secret santa gift this year – someone (it turned out to be Tracey who works in my room – thank you!) knows me really well as I got a brilliant Box o’ Zombies!  I LOVE them.

- Seeing family – from a fab meal out with Jay’s mum, step-dad, nan and gramp to celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary (wow!) on December 15th, to Christmas day at my cousin’s with my dad and sister, it has been a great month for catching up with the rellies

- Having both my big lads home for Christmas – so good to have them at home again even if only for a short while – Darby was only back for 4 days but Ethan and Daisy stayed from December 15th to Jan 5th – I miss them loads when they are off in Bristol and Cornwall

- Surviving the end of the world – suck on that, ancient Mayans! :P

- Having lots of fun creatively – mainly making Christmas pressies and decorations and taking part in Marit’s Top 2000 Blog Party – and learning to use my new soldering iron too

- Eight whole days off work.  In a row!  Yay!  (actually 8 and a bit as they let us go home at around half past two on Christmas Eve).  I REALLY needed the break!  (it went by far too fast though)

- Getting the decorations sorted- our tree didn't go up until December 20th this year, and I always moan that it's a chore and that I'm not a Christmas person ..... but once it's all done I love it :)

- Christmas Day – was just about 99% perfect (it would have been 100% if Jay and Reece had been there too) – myself and my three sons went to my cousin’s gorgeous house in Kent for the da y and met my sister and dad there.  Company was great, food was delicious, the sun even came out for a little while so we could enjoy the great view <-------, we had a nice walk after the main course and before the pud, as is traditional.
And everyone liked their pressies.  It was great to chat to my cousin Christine about her paintings (she’s one of the more creative members of the family) and to natter to her son Robin about his adventures climbing the rigging of the Cutty Sark.  And the drive down and back was uneventful, not much traffic about, which makes a nice change when you have to tackle large sections of the M25.

- Boxing Day was also fantastic – Jay and Reece came over so that’s when we did our main present exchanging.  As previously blogged, I was utterly spoilt :)  We also had a matinee game of hockey to attend on Boxing Day followed by the Bad Manners gig in Bristol. No rest for the wicked!

Loved the label on the hot hot hot sauce
- Whole Foods Market has opened a store in Cheltenham!  I’ve only seen them before in the US and in Vancouver.  I could have spent a fortune in there.  Everything is sooooo delicious!  Amongst other things, I bought some butternut squash and goats cheese cannelloni – just 9 pieces cost £5.50!!  Seemed like such a rip off, but when I cooked them the next day, oh my word, worth EVERY penny!  Thankfully we don’t go to Cheltenham all that often, otherwise I’d be doing all my shopping in there (which would leave me homeless as I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay my mortgage any more)

the cookies were soooooooooo goooooooood!
- A New Year’s Eve trip to Coventry and Nuneaton to see fab art and even fabber friends.  After a bit of shopping and mooching around my old home city of Cov we went to the Herbert (museum/art gallery), opposite the cathedral.

First we visited the dinosaur exhibit ROAARRRRRRRRR, and then, the main reason we were at the Herbert, we went to see the His Dark Materials exhibition, by local artist Adie Blundell.  We weren’t allowed to take photos in there, and there was an eagle eyed lady watching, which is a pity as I can’t find any photos on the interwebs that really capture the atmosphere of the exhibition.

they did have these postcards for sale though....
Here is the artist’s website, his sketchbooks are amazing, and his wall of iron and salt masks (which Jay called ‘not the best Slipknot tribute band I’ve ever seen’ :) ) was brilliant, and, oh it was just all fantastic.  You should go and see it!   And I have booked up to take a workshop with the artist in March, can’t wait.

Then after lunch we headed up the road to Nunny to visit my bestest buddy Alison and hubby Malc (and Bertuzzi the dog) in their Winter Wonderland Grotto.  Seriously, the house had to be seen to be believed :)

We spent a great afternoon catching up with our pals, I got a sparkly purple manicure, Jay and Malc had a beard off: (Malc won!),

and the kids played happily with various remote controlled vehicles while petting Bert and eating piles of biscuits.  And we were home in plenty of time to watch Jools Holland count in the New Year.  What more could you want from a day?

So that’s that all done and dusted – I will go now and link this up at Rockette Central with the lovely Virginia, queen of the blessing counting.  If any of you reading this would like to join us in 2013, there’s always room for another Rockette (or Rocker!), and I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  Gratitude improves your attitude, and all that :)

See you again somewhere around the tail end of January…..

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A year of Artful Reading starts here

So it's January 1st - the start of a new year - and time for a new challenge!

The Artful Readers Club is the brainchild of the lovely Darcy from Art and Sole - at the start of the year we are to choose 12 books, and then each month we will:
  • read one of the books
  • write a brief review of it on our blog
  • make a piece of art of some kind inspired by the book
<=== This was my original choice of 12 books 

But I was a little worried about that monster at the bottom of the pile, New York by Edward Rutherfurd.  It has over 1100 pages, and the chances of me managing to finish it in a month are frankly slim

Then came Christmas, and one of my presents was a book about fonts called Just My Type, that looks really interesting, so I swapped that for New York and here is my revised pile:

I have left New York on my virtual bookshelf over there in the left sidebar, though, and my plan is to try and read it bit by bit over the year as a bonus book

I'll see you back here on the last Friday of January when I'll be posting my review and related art-thingy for book # 1 on my list - Heartstone by CJ Sansom, a crime thriller set in Tudor times

Until then, happy artful reading to everyone else taking part in the challenge