Review: Maigret and the Apparition (Maigret #62) ~ Georges Simenon, Eileen Ellenbogen (Translator)

MaigretISBN ~ 978-0156028387
Publisher ~Mariner Books
No. Of Pages ~ 164 pages
Links ~ AbeBooks, Book Depository, Amazon

Maigret arrives home exhausted after cracking an especially difficult case, only to be awakened within hours by the news of a nearly successful attempt on the life of a colleague. Plainclothes Detective Lognon, known to Maigret as “Inspector Hapless,” has become involved beyond his depth in an international art fraud and is suffering the consequences. Maigret’s only clue to Lognon’s assailant is the single word “apparition” spoken by the victim as he emerges from the operating room. The apparition leads Maigret to the highest echelons of the Parisian art world–and the depths of greed and cruelty.

Maigret is a registered trademark of the Estate of Georges Simenon.

3 Thumbs-UpWhen it comes to foreign language detective novels that were written in 1940’s, 50’s and early 1960’s I tend to enjoy the Maigret books more than the other in this genre during this era.

The characters in this, as in other Maigret novels, are ones that a newcomer can easily feel comfortable with and a die-hard lover of this series can welcome back like an old friend; there is nothing too deep or complicated in their construction and none of them reveals any inner turmoil or traits to the reader that could be misconstrued as weakness; a journey back in time to the days when men were men, and women were there to make their lives easier and more attractive.

The location for this little whodunit is an older Paris, set in the days when not everyone was plugged into a phone, or even owned one at home, smoking was common, and files and cases were researched using leg work and taking manual notes.  Because of this the novel can at times seem a little disjointed and makes Maigret seem somewhat irrational in his handling of this case;  I tend to regard it as the Author allowing the reader into the Detective’s thought processes, complete with all its twists and turns from a straight path.

At a 164 pages, this little book is something that can be read at bedtime, as it probably takes no longer to read than an episode of a TV series would take to watch.  It is a darn good story that will not fill your slumbers with gory and disturbed dreams, and may even leave you wanting to read some more novels by this Author.

I would highly recommend this and other Maigret novels to anyone who enjoys this genre, and is looking for a quick and satisfying read to round off the day.

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Review: The Witch of Painted Sorrows (The Daughters of La Lune #1) ~ M.J. Rose

witch of painted sorrowsISBN ~ 978-1476778068
Publisher ~ Atria Books
No. Of Pages ~ 384 pages
Links ~ Amazon

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

3 Thumbs-UpAlthough the first in this series, this is the third novel written by this Author and, to be honest I’ve not read either of the previous two.  However the synopsis intrigued me and held a certain promise, so I set off to wind my way through its pages.

I’m going to come straight out and say this; I did not like the main protagonist at all.  I did not understand her or her motivation for anything she did, and had even less understanding for those things she didn’t do but probably should have.  As much as I tried I could not find myself either empathizing or sympathising with her in any way which resulted in her just being a downright annoyance throughout the whole novel.  Why she had to keep banging on about her one and only failed attempt at watercolour painting just confused the heck out of me, and she seems to use this as an excuse for all her bad behaviour and dishonesty when related to art school.  I did feel sorry for her Grandmother who tried her hardest to steer the lead character in the right direction but was constantly ignored and dismissed.  But again I was also disappointed in her, for a woman who had made a living in her given profession she was not very strong-willed at all, and usually ended up just giving in to the main character for the sake of a quiet life I felt.

So why did I give this book a three thumbs rating?  As already said it was not the characters that helped the novel achieve this rating, but rather the location and the way in which the Author used the words on the page.  The streets of Old Paris leapt of the page through the descriptions of the courtyards around which people made their homes, and the words rolled of the page not in a rush and bluster but as if they were taking a leisurely stroll down the Champs Elysees on a warm summer day.  As much as I enjoyed the relaxed way in which the book was written I felt somewhat let down too; after all the synopsis had promised witchery and there was nothing remotely ominous and witchy that I could find in these pages.  Maybe I like my witches too dark, and the kind featured here were just so innocuous they escaped my attention.

If you are already familiar with this Author, you may just enjoy this book; as for me I doubt very much that I will be reading anything by her again… as the saying goes ‘it wasn’t you, it’s me’

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Review: The Art of Blizzard Entertainment ~ Blizzard Entertainment

art of blizzardISBN ~ 9781608870271
Publisher ~ Insight Editions
No. Of Pages ~ 376 pages
Links ~ Insight Editions, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Over the past two decades, Blizzard Entertainment has had a tremendous impact on the world of games and global pop culture. From its humble beginnings as a three-person console-game development studio in 1991 to the creation of the blockbuster Warcraft®, StarCraft®, and Diablo® series, Blizzard has a history of crafting stunning worlds of science fiction and fantasy. The company’s distinctive gameplay and storytelling styles have captivated an international audience numbering in the tens of millions whose passion cannot be quelled.

Twenty years after Blizzard opened its doors, the company’s World of Warcraft® boasts the title of the world’s most popular subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and the studio is widely recognized as one of the leaders in creatively driven game development.

An epic volume of art and behind-the-scenes insights, The Art of Blizzard® celebrates the studio’s genesis by examining the creative forces behind these games and showcasing their artistry through more than 700 pieces of concept art, paintings, and sketches. Commentary on the art is provided by Blizzard Entertainment’s own Nick Carpenter, Sam Didier, and Chris Metzen, who’ve each played important roles in shaping Blizzard’s game universes over the years.

5 Thumbs-UpWeighing in at 8lbs, this is a coffee table book in the true meaning of the word; my knees went numb as I was reading it on my couch.  Although, if you use the links above, it is hard to find a copy of this book for under $50, I found mine in the bargain priced section at Barnes & Noble, and if you want to splash out more money Insight Editions are selling a specially bound version.  However, if you already own all of the Collector’s Editions of Blizzard artwork books, this is probably not a purchase you will want to make, as many of the illustrations featured in it are in the previously mentioned books.

With over 700 illustrations this book covers the artwork from such iconic Blizzard games as Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, with accompanying commentaries by the artists themselves.  It gives the reader a fascinating insight into the creative talents of the company as well as providing a visual history of Blizzard games.  What I found particularly interesting about this book was how clearly apparent the evolution and refinement of the artists techniques became as time passed, it was almost as if I were seeing physical proof of their confidence in what they were doing growing before my eyes.  Another aspect of the book I liked was the fan art submissions and how some of them were actually recruited into the Blizzard team.  This book covers everything from the early sketches right up to the completed box artwork; one of my favourite in the Diablo section was the Mistress of Pain.

Full of magnificent scenes and characters, what little text there is in this book has been thoughtfully placed so as not to intrude on the main stars of its pages, in fact in some places the writing is rather quite difficult to find and read.  This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book in any way, but for anyone who has a visual impairment and wants to read the text for the back story to the images it may prove to be a challenge.

However, this book does not just focus on the well know side of the company, in this book there is also a section with conceptual art for games that never were as well as a spoof chapter containing holiday themes using the more well-known characters.  In reading this book you actually get a sense that you are in the same room with the creators, listening to them discuss, accept or reject ideas for the next project whilst also sharing with them a trip down memory lane.

I would highly recommend this book whether you are a fan of Blizzard games or just a lover of fantasy art; this book touches all the bases..

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Review: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History ~ Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (Contributor)

The Monuments MenAt the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.  Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

3 Thumbs-UpUnusually for me and this genre of book, we had a love hate relationship.  I have previously read other works on this topic and found them to be engrossing and insisting I keep reading them until the end to discover the next piece in the puzzle; this particular one did not have that hook that pulled me all the way in, and is one of the reasons for the three thumbs review.

The story told within the pages of this book is that of a little known group who can be credited with our being able to view works by some of the greatest Artists in the world that, without their existence may have been lost for all time.  Their story is an interesting and important one as it follows them from the inception of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives to the end of the war.  It documents in great detail the hardships they encountered, and the stonewalling or disinterest shown in their mission by others they met whilst often working on the edge of the battle lines; they actually lost two of their unit through combat related deaths.  Despite this, they regrouped and continued on with the mission at hand, hunting out information and pouring over myriads of records, which in the case of the Paris cultural treasures had been scrupulously kept by a Frenchwoman Rose Valland.  But again, despite this being a fascinating story it was also a frustrating story.

Despite being forewarned in the Author’s Note that some liberties were taken in the creation of the dialogue to help with the continuity of the book, it came across at times that he had taken too many liberties which tended to give this historical account the feel that it was being pulled, kicking and screaming, into the realms of historical fiction; not a place I wanted to be taken when reading this, as there a several great fiction works on this topic out there I have already read.  This created dialogue also took up far too much of the book, and I feel a greater impact would have been achieved if they had been pared down somewhat by a skilled editor, putting the focus firmly back on the purpose and discoveries of the MFAA.  The saving grace in this book, for me, were all the hidden nuggets of information that were buried deeply underneath the unnecessary ‘chatter’.  When taken from a purely historical point of view, this book is well researched and very educational and, combined with pictures taken from the actual time and events mentioned, it could have been something truly exceptional.

Anyone interested in this era in history may enjoy this book; if they can get past the obvious attempts in include a fictional aspect to events.

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Review: Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America ~ Jane Allen Petrick

Hidden in plain sightNorman Rockwell’s America was not all white. As early as 1936, Rockwell was portraying people of color with empathy and a dignity often denied them at the time. And he created these portraits from live models.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America unfolds, for the first time, the stories of the Asian, African, and Native Americans who modeled for Norman Rockwell. These people of color, though often hidden in plain sight, are present throughout Rockwell’s more than 4000 illustrations. People like the John Lane family, Navajos poignantly depicted in the virtually unknown Norman Rockwell painting, “Glen Canyon Dam.” People like Isaac Crawford, a ten-year old African-American Boy Scout who helped Norman Rockwell finally integrate the Boy Scout calendar.

In this engrossing and often humorous narrative, Jane Allen Petrick explores what motivated Norman Rockwell to slip people of color “into the picture” in the first place. And in so doing, she persuasively documents the famous illustrator’s deep commitment to and pointed portrayals of ethnic tolerance, portrayals that up to now have been, as Norman Rockwell biographer Laura Claridge so clearly put it, “bizarrely neglected”.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America is an eye opener for everyone who loves Norman Rockwell, everyone who hates Norman Rockwell and for all those people in between who never thought much about Norman Rockwell because they believed Norman Rockwell never thought much about them. This book will expand the way you think about Norman Rockwell. And it will deepen the way you think about Norman Rockwell’s America.

4 Thumbs-UpWhether you love the work of Norman Rockwell, hate it or just haven’t given it that much thought, after all it pervades most of American life in one way or another, this book is well worth your time to read to gain a new perspective on his work, or allow you to look at it with fresh eyes.

In this short 125 page book, the Author illustrates how the Artist used his talents to give a voice to his feelings about the happenings of the time.  Through thoroughly engaging and captivating stories the Author lets the reader into the mind of Mr. Rockwell and experience his feelings about those in society who are ‘hidden in plain sight’.  This book features a section of those people, those of colour, who he used as models for his work which in turn served to give his illustrations a depth and also a social awareness that many have failed to notice.  In compiling this book the Author provides the reader with a greater understanding of America, as seen through the brush strokes of an artist who snubbed his nose at convention and included people in his artwork that were largely overlooked by society as a whole.  My only issue about this book was that there were not more illustrations to support the stories contained within its pages; I suspect this may be more due to copyright issues than intentional omission

I highly recommend it for readers of any age that are interested in the arts or art history and lovers of Norman Rockwell’s work. Reading this certainly gave me a new appreciation for the work of Norman Rockwell.

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Review: Murder Below Montparnasse (Aimee Leduc Investigations #13) ~ Cara Black

MontparnasseWhen Aimée’s long-term partner and best friend Rene leaves their detective agency for a new job in Silicon Valley, Aimée knows she can handle the extra workload. At least, that what she tells herself. Repeatedly.

But all bets are off when Yuri Volodya, a mysterious old Russian man, hires Aimée to protect a painting. By the time she gets to his Montparnasse atelier, the precious painting has already been stolen, leaving Aimée smelling a rat. The next day, Yuri is found tortured to death in his kitchen. To top it all off, it looks like Aimée isn’t the only one looking for the painting. Some very dangerous people are threatening her and her coworkers, and witnesses are dropping like flies. Now Aimée has to find the painting, stop her attackers, and figure out what her long-missing mother, who is on Interpol’s most wanted list, has to do with all this—fingers crossed she wasn’t Yuri’s murderer, despite clues pointing in that direction.

Obviously, Rene doesn’t need to worry. Aimee has things under control.

4 Thumbs-UpI didn’t realise until I had finished reading this book that it’s actually number 13 in a long series centred around the main protagonist Aimee Leduc; and now I’ve read this one I will be visiting some of the others in the series to see if they live up to this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way the main protagonist was written; she is intelligent, creative, has a certain effortless French chic and is filled with vitality, oh and did I mention she zips around Paris on a bright pink version of my favourite mode of transport – the Vespa.  This character is so well-rounded and developed that it makes it easy for the reader to connect with them and actually enjoy reading about them as they move from one chapter to the next. However, she is not perfect and spends this novel blundering from one situation to the next, and has to be the most incompetent Private Detective in fiction.  But the incompetence makes her endearing in an odd sort of way, and there are certain personality traits that appear that make the reader wonder if there might be a deeper reasoning for her actions and, sometimes thoughtlessness, in the way she treats those around her. The ‘life’ that the Author has written into their main character is not just served for them however, all the characters are filled with the same love for life and energy that she gives the main; this is one of the reasons anyone picking up this series this far into it, would want to go back and read the earlier books, to gain more knowledge and understanding of the players by reading their backstories.  Although this book worked well for me as a standalone novel, I will be reading others from earlier in the series to see if I can gain anymore insight into the characters.

The insiders’ background view to life in Paris is very well detailed in this novel ranging from the busy street cafes, which are a big part of life in this city, to the hidden gems you can often discover as you wander off the beaten track; the surprise gardens, hidden statues and beautifully ornate buildings.  Through their descriptions, the Author really brings this city to life and the reader can almost hear the mix of French and other languages coming out of the pages as they read.  The plot can be slow at times, but I felt that this was a deliberate move on the part of the Author to fit in with the Parisian, and European, way of life; nothing is rushed and time is taken over everything.  The speed the storyline moved made this book, for me, one to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace instead of turning the pages quickly in order to keep up with the action.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy novels set in France, particularly Paris; lovers of the mystery genre and anyone who is looking for a leisurely but enjoyable read.

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Review: The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature ~ Jeff VanderMeer et al

Steampunk BibleSteampunk—a grafting of Victorian aesthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture—is a phenomenon that has come to influence film, literature, art, music, fashion, and more. The Steampunk Bible is the first compendium about the movement, tracing its roots in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells through its most recent expression in movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Its adherents celebrate the inventor as an artist and hero, re-envisioning and crafting retro technologies including antiquated airships and robots. A burgeoning DIY community has brought a distinctive Victorian-fantasy style to their crafts and art. Steampunk evokes a sense of adventure and discovery, and embraces extinct technologies as a way of talking about the future. This ultimate manual will appeal to aficionados and novices alike as author Jeff VanderMeer takes the reader on a wild ride through the clockwork corridors of Steampunk history.

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This was a beautiful book with lavish illustrations tracing the Steampunk movement. Its origins in the industrial revolution and the literature of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, to its influence in modern-day fiction, fashion, art, craftsmanship, and film, are all documented with beautiful photography, illustrations, and prints on almost every single page of the book; it’s worth reading just for the visual experience as the layout of the pages has been well thought out to give the reader a feast for the eyes.

There were some sections that I found rather disappointing. For example, the section on Steampunk fashion made me feel that if I didn’t have the right boots/goggles/work belt, then I wouldn’t be considered to be serious about my Steampunk.  This smacked of the elitist point of view to me, as I know many people who have some outstanding costumes and have won prizes, but don’t check all the blocks they say are necessary in this book.  Also the section on much went on just a little too long for such a new sound.

However, I did find the book thought-provoking and insightful, and made me consider that Steampunk and other movements are actually springing up all around the globe full of people wanting to disconnect from our technological and virtual society. The do-it-yourself ethic in which Steampunk is highly invested, focuses on creating things with your own hands in order to reconnect with the world around you while at the same time giving yourself  meaning and purpose in your life; we can see this mindset slowing taking hold through various avenues such as homesteading and self-sufficiency groups.

I would recommend it to readers who are interested in this genre, if it can be called such; those who are just dipping a toe into Steampunk, and anyone else who would like a beautiful, and unusual coffee table book.

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