Friday, September 22, 2017

Literary Friday: The Way to London

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm reviewing another WWII-era historical novel, The Way to London by Alix Rickloff.  

About The Way to London

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 19, 2017)

From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II—the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever.

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore. Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Alix Rickloff

Alix Rickloff is a critically acclaimed author of historical and paranormal romance. Her previous novels include the Bligh Family series, the Heirs of Kilronan trilogy, and, as Alexa Egan, the Imnada Brotherhood series. Find out more about Alix at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow her on Pinterest.

My Review:

When I first started reading this novel, I didn't care for the main character Lucy Stanhope at all.  I didn't care for her when she was a drunken tart in Singapore;  I didn't care for her when the Germans torpedoed her ship off the coast of Africa en route from Singapore to England (as a matter of fact, it wouldn't have fazed me in the least had she gone down with the ship);  and I especially didn't care for her when she made it to Nanreath Hall in Cornwall and didn't lift a finger for the war effort, the selfish tart.

But once she met Bill (and they meet under harrowing circumstances), I started to not have quite as much disdain for her.  Slowly but surely the selfish, hardened Lucy began to grow a brain, heart, and conscience.  I think Alix Rickloff did an excellent job with Lucy's development, and I even began to admire her by the end of the book.  In other words, if you can get over the disdain you might feel for this character in the beginning and keep on reading, I think you will be satisfied, too.

If you would like to read a World War II historical novel with an exotic setting, well-drawn characters, over the top family drama,  a sweet, yet believable romance, and one of the most farcical journeys from Cornwall to London ever written, then you should read The Way to London.

I also read The Secrets of Nanreath Hall as part of the Once Upon a Book Club Subscription, and I loved it!  Both books were set at the same time and place (Nanreath Hall) and I kept expecting Anna from The Secrets of Nanreath Hall and Lucy to bump into each other but it never happened. *sadface*  Maybe there will be another book to tie them together because I felt like The Secrets of Nanreath Hall could use a sequel.


I received an ARC of The Way to London from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What I'm Reading Wednesday: The Little Book of Tidying

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm reading The Little Book of Tidying: Declutter Your Home and Your Life by Beth Penn.  Beth is a professional organizer, and she has written the best little book!

Little, being the operative word....

Look how small the book is!

But don't let the size fool you.  It's chock full of fantastic information of not only how to get rid of clutter, but also why we hold onto things long after they are no longer useful to us.

Also, the book discusses the science behind clutter.  Yes, this phenomenon has been studied, and it's interesting to read about the effects clutter has on our physical and emotional well-being.

Having a tidy house in and of itself might not have any value.  But what it gives us is time.  It frees us for other activities, and if we change our spending habits it can give us the time and the means for more meaningful experiences rather than things.

Beth Penn outlines the process for decluttering our environments (home and work) and our lives.  She also explains how this is an ongoing process, and I plan on implementing many of the new strategies I learned from reading this little yet mighty book!  I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants helpful hints on how to declutter.  By the way, some of her techniques are truly creative and brilliant!

One of my favorite tips in the book is to "beware of the organizing tools aisle."  It makes perfect sense because if you don't have tons of stuff you don't need bins in which to keep it!

What are you reading today?  Have you learned anything super-cool?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It's a Sketchy Reader Giveaway!

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  Y'all have made me so happy with your sweet comments, emails, and even a couple of phone calls about the changes I've made to my blog.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart because a kind word (or three) can certainly go a long way to encourage a soul.  :D

To celebrate my new and streamlined blog, I'm giving away a letter from my Etsy Shop PLUS the book discussed in the letter to one lucky reader.

You will get your choice of either:

September 2017  "Favorite" book selection, Outlander

September 2017 "Indie Next List" book selection, The Almost Sisters

Each letter comes with a fun set of discussion questions.  Next month on October 15th I'd like to discuss these books on my FB Page!  If you've read either book, please stop by for the discussion.  You can drop in at anytime during the day and participate!  :D

But wait!  There's more...  I'm also including a copy of the book, too!  So you'll either win:

in paperback,

in hardcover.

Both books are fantastic, and the stories will stay with you for a very long time.

A close-up of the Outlander letter

Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Sketchy Reader Debut: A Note From My Heart

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  I want to forewarn you that this is a rather lengthy post. However, I'm writing from my heart, and I hope that you'll take the time to read the entire post (especially my blog friends who've followed me for years).  This has been a difficult post for me to write; I can't tell you how many times I've edited it.  I tend to have a bit of a stoic persona here on my blog, but in real life I'm not that way at all.  I've always been a little "guarded" on my blog, but I intend to change that ~ starting today!

As you know, I've changed the name of my blog from Art @ Home to The Sketchy Reader.  I have several reasons for the change, and over the past month I've left hints and clues about what I want to achieve here on The Sketchy Reader.

Reason #1:   For the first time in almost twenty-five years, I'm an empty nester.  I didn't want it to be a rough transition for me because I've placed quite the focus on home and family.  One thing you need to know about me is I was not a stay at home mom by choice.   I had to end my career because our youngest daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at eighteen months old.  Suddenly our lives were filled with numerous therapies per week.  Shortly after Shelley's diagnosis, Shanley Belle was diagnosed with dyslexia.  She needed therapy in order to read, and all of her therapy was private. You see, the State of Alabama didn't even recognize dyslexia as a learning disability until 2015, the year Shanley graduated from college.  I made a conscientious choice to make the most of our situation, and threw myself into the role of domestic engineer and chief advocate for our daughters.  I admire both my daughters so much because they learned from a young age how to work hard.  Both experienced challenges that I can't imagine, yet they both overcame their disabilities:  Shanley Belle is a scientist at LSU and a published fiction writer;  Shelley is a college athlete and artist.  Although they will always need me as their mom, now is the time to focus on myself.

I wanted a new challenge, (I think I've found one), and my blog will be a big part of what I'd like to accomplish as an artist.  (More on this later in the post.)

However, I will continue to allow the Westies to guest post occasionally and share family events.

Reason #2:   My blog, like my life, has been "scattered" since 2010.  I really want to narrow the focus of my blog, and from now on I'll be focusing far more on books, magazines, and reading in general.  I know that I will probably lose many readers because of this, but I feel like I need to be honest with myself and you, my Sweet Readers.  What exactly will this mean for my blog?  Let me explain.

Why books?  I've loved books since I was a tiny little girl.  My mom says that when I went to toy stores as a child I'd almost always choose a book rather than a toy (but I still loved my bike and all things Barbie).  I can remember when I was in middle school I walked to the library after school and waited until my mom picked me up after she left her teaching job at our local high school.  I loved the independence (although it was only two blocks away), and I loved finishing my homework and finding good books to read.

Math was always my strongest subject in school, but I've always loved stories.  My grandmother used to tell my cousin and me stories especially at night before gong to bed, and I've been hooked on good stories ever since.  I enjoyed my high school English classes, and I was an English minor in college (I think I had enough English credits to declare a double major).   English class wasn't always easy for me because it seemed like I always read things a bit differently from the rest of the class (some of you who know me well aren't surprised at this).  But I still loved learning about different writers and poets. After working in my major field of study for a couple of years, I decided to go to graduate school in English Education and become an English teacher.

I read to my daughters all the time while they were young, including the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  One is a voracious reader, and the other one?  Not so much, but I did influence her in the art department!

Many of you have asked me: "How do you have so much time to read?"  I think we make time for what's important to us, and I enjoy reading.  We've never watched much TV in our home except for Hallmark movies and Chicago Cubs baseball.  I don't read as much at all during baseball season because if we're home, we have the game on either inside or outside on our patio.

I will read and review more home decor books in the future.

A couple of you have asked: Will you continue posting about home decor and featuring your home?  Yes, but it will be related to either home decor books I'm reviewing or magazine articles that are inspiring me.  I might also feature blog posts that are inspiring me in my decor, so again the focus will be on what I've been reading and then how it's inspired me.

Another goal is to read, try recipes, and review cookbooks because I hope to make more time to learn new things in the kitchen.

Y'all have seen every inch of my home.   I want to keep my blog's content new and fresh, so as much as I enjoy taking out the same pumpkins every year to fluff the house for fall, y'all might not care to see them.  Again.  But if I do change something around here, I'll share that and the resources that inspired me because although I'm an artist I'm far more resourceful than creative!

Practical Magic Party

Mad Tea Party

Another way I'll feature home decor will be participation in book-related link parties.  An example: Practical Magic Parties and Mad Tea Parties.  You can see some of these parties on my Link Parties Page.  Mayhap I will also host a few of my own.  Stay tuned!

Reason #3:  I enjoy art journaling, and I journal about my life which includes books.  I will share these posts maybe once or twice a month along with any completed paintings. Sometimes I like to create little journals or other works of art with ephemera, and I will share those, too.  And because I'm such a book nerd, I'm sure several will be book related.

Reason #4:  I've been so inspired by Janice MacLeod and her Paris Letters.  Who wouldn't want to read about Paris, especially from someone who's lived there, is a talented artist and a talented writer!?!? Plus, who doesn't like getting fun snail mail?  I subscribe to Paris Letters, and they have all been so unique and fun: I love receiving them in the mail.  By the way, I've been sending and receiving snail mail from these fun Dutch ladies via Instagram, too.

I've been so inspired by Janice that I wanted to do something similar.  But who wants something called "Birmingham Letters?"  No one.  So I had to think about what I have to offer other than my art, and I had a reviews!  That's how "the Sketchy Reader" was born.  Now I know that anyone can read my reviews for free via my blog and Goodreads, but they won't get fun snail mail, my art, a set of discussion questions, and other surprises from time to time.

Not only that, but subscribers will get to discuss the questions and the books on my Facebook Page. If you would, please take the time to click on the above link and like my page.

I will offer three subscription choices, either one month, six months, or twelve months.  There will be two categories, either a Favorite Book of mine, or a book from a recent Indie Next List.

On the left is a letter featuring a Favorite Book, Outlander.  On the right is a book from the Indie Next List, The Almost Sisters.

I know that because I'm writing about books my audience will be limited.  But one of my main goals is to build a community of others who will enjoy discussing these books with me.  I've had difficulty locally with book clubs.  One club is overwhelmingly political, and I was in the minority.  I join a book club to read books and have spirited discussions.  Another club was code for drinking wine in the middle of the day while the kids are in school.  I was usually only one of two, maybe three who even attempted to read the bookclub's selection for the month.  I join a book club to read books and have spirited discussions about the books.  I know I said that already, but darnit!  It's frustrating!

So if you know a bookworm or two who might appreciate fun snail mail complete with discussion questions, send them to my Etsy Store.  Or, if you have a bookworm in your life who'd enjoy these letters, please stop by and subscribe!

Here is a close-up of the Outlander letter.  All letters will be addressed to the recipients.  

Here's a little bit about my process.  I lightly sketch my art on high quality watercolor paper, and then I color them using Derwent Inktense pencils.  Then I add the water so it looks like a watercolor painting.  The reason for using the Inktense pencils is they turn to "ink" when wet and if I need to write over the art once it's dry I can do so.  

Once a letter is ordered, I'll make a colored copy on 8 1/2" X 11" card stock paper.  Discussion questions will be printed on regular copy paper.  

I'm working on the October letters now.  They will be ready to ship by October 15th.  Books are not announced beforehand: they are meant to be a surprise.  The Almost Sisters and Outlander are September's letters: They are "back issues" because letters are mailed on the fifteenth of each month. However, all back issues will be available for sale in the shop.

There's a link to my Etsy shop in the navigation bar, above.

Reason #5:  I need to be true to myself.  I want my blog to be authentic even though I'm inspired by books, other bloggers, and other artists like Janice MacLeod.  

I hope you'll continue my blogging journey with me.

However, I get how blogging is supposed to be guilt-free, and you only have a certain amount of time during the week to read blogs,  so I will understand if I don't see you around here much anymore.

And if I still read your blog, please don't feel obligated to read The Sketchy Reader.  That will make me feel even worse....

But if you need something good to read, I can help.  If you don't, but you have a friend who loves reading, please send her my way.

Well, there you have it!  The five reasons I reimagined my blog.  I would really appreciate your feedback.  Please email me or leave a comment below.  

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, September 15, 2017

Literary Friday: To Wager Her Heart *plus* a Recipe for Chocolate Chess Pie

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  I have a bittersweet Christian historical romance to share with you today.  It's Book 3 in the Belle Meade Plantation series:  To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander.  Although it's part of a series, it truly reads as a stand alone novel, so it doesn't matter if you haven't read the first two. 

According to Goodreads:

With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society's expectations must work together to achieve their dreams—provided that the truth doesn't tear them apart first. 

Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father's name. One man holds the key to Sy's success—General William Giles Harding of Nashville's Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks. Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville's society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he's found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison's fiancee—and what has broken her heart. 

Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen's university in the United States. But family—and Nashville society—do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both. Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy's roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor? 

Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn't count on is having to wager her heart to do it. 

Set against the real history of Nashville's Belle Meade Plantation and the original Fisk University Jubilee Singers ensemble, To Wager Her Heart is a stirring love story about seeking justice and restoring honor at a time in history when both were tenuous and hard-won.

My Review:

First of all I need to fully disclose that I love the setting.  I went to graduate school at Belmont College in Nashville, and I've attended several charity events at Belle Meade Plantation.  It is such a gorgeous property, and I could picture Alexandra and Sy on the Old Harding Dogtrot Cabin front porch before the dinner party in the main house.  I also appreciate Tamera Alexander's research.  I don't normally expect this much attention to detail in a romance, and I was pleased with the historical accuracy in this book.  It's a treat to visit Tamera's website because she has several videos and other historical extras that are fun to see.  Here is a LINK to the extras page.

Alexandra's story is heart-wrenching, but so is Sy's.  Both are still in mourning over losing loved ones in the train accident, and Alexandra is still too terrified to get on a train again not to mention ride in one.  Both characters are also at a crossroads, in their faith and in their vocations.  I loved seeing how they recognize God's hand in guiding their paths.  I found their love story to be a bit more difficult than most, but at the same time it's very realistic. Also, the story as a whole doesn't tie-up nicely like a bow which is atypical of romances; this makes the story more real to me.  

If you or a friend is looking for a well-written Christian romance with a historical setting (this one is set during the South's Reconstruction), then I highly suggest To Wager Her Heart. Plus, there's a recipe in the back for Chocolate Chess Pie (which is a Nashville thing). Usually chess pie is either chocolate or lemon.

Belle Meade Plantation, c. 1890

This is the Belle Meade Depot that "Sy built" for Mr. Harding in the book.  Sadly, this structure is no longer standing.

Via the Belle Meade FB Page
This is the dollhouse at Belle Meade, c. 1890's.  These are the Harding and Jackson children playing, and today it's open to the public.  Run by the education department and staffed by the junior docents, there are period games, toys, and primers for children to see and play with in the miniature house.

If you ever visit Nashville, I highly suggest a tour of Belle Meade.  It is one of the best plantation tours in the South!

Add to Goodreads badge

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million

iBooks | Google Play |Barnes & Noble

Tamera Alexander  

Connect with Tamera

Website | Facebook | Twitter

It's Pie Time!!!

There's speculation as to why it's called "Chess" Pie.  My favorite story is this one:  A non-Southern gentleman was visiting Nashville, and he asked a waitress what they had for dessert. She answered, "just pie."  According to his untrained ear, it sounded like "Chess Pie" so the name stuck!

In the back of the book is a recipe for Chocolate Chess Pie.  Tamera has many recipes on her website,  and HERE is the link for discussion questions for To Wager Her Heart and her delicious recipe for Chess Pie.  I baked a pie using her recipe, and I really like it!

Chess pies aren't pretty, but they sure taste delicious!
I baked the above pie using Tamera's recipe in the back of the book, but the recipe I'm posting is my own.

Chocolate Chess Pie


1/4 cup margarine, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 T cocoa
1/2 t salt
1 T flour
2 eggs
1/8 t ground nutmeg
1 T vanilla
1 small can evaporated milk
Unbaked pie crust


Beat eggs slightly.  Add margarine and vanilla.  Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.  Add milk, and heat thoroughly.  (I usually heat it in a saucepan on low for a couple of minutes.) Pour into unbaked pie crust.  Bake 350 degrees approximately 40 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.  

(I also like to sprinkle with powdered sugar.)

NOTE:  This pie also freezes well!  Also, I thought Tamera's recipe was MUCH easier, so it was a happy surprise when I finished reading the story!

Sy and Alexandra enjoy a barbeque dinner with chocolate chess pie for dessert in To Wager Her Heart.

Disclosure:  I received an ARC of To Wager Her Heart from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Harry Potter Collection at PB Teen

In case you haven't heard, there is a new Harry Potter Collection at  PB Teen.  Here are some of my favorites:

Patronus Damask Bedding

Marauder's Map throw pillow that looks completely different in the dark: the map appears and glows!

Hedwig's cage jewelry organizer

Here's a video introducing the collection:

What do you think about this new Harry Potter decor?

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Romantic Homes Magazine

Isn't this a beautiful cover?

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  The windy and rainy weather the past couple of days has kept me inside, drawing and reading.  I'm enjoying Romantic Homes Magazine's new look, and this newest issue (October 2017) is the prettiest one I've seen in years.  Sweet Courtney from French Country Cottage is the new editor, and I think it's the perfect fit for her.  There are some stunning houses featured in this issue...truly the entire issue is eye candy!

Check out this feature:

Don't you just love these little crowns?  Of course I do since I'm a Zeta (our sorority's symbol is a crown).  I happened to have an extra crown I used in a Christmas vignette, so I thought I'd put it to use in the art studio, although I love the crowns stacked on books like in photo #3.

The jar contains miscellaneous colored pencils, mostly metallic ones.

Sorry about the darkness of the photos, but it's very overcast here.

If you're not a subscriber to Romantic Homes Magazine, make a trip to the store an buy the October issue.  You'll be so glad you did!

What are you reading this Wednesday?  What's inspiring you?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Calm Before the Storm: Rose Sunday 2017

Rose garden outside of Jewett Hall, Judson College, Marion, Alabama

Happy Monday Morning, My Lovelies!  I'm hopeful that Florida didn't sustain as much damage from Hurricane Irma as was predicted.  We are bracing for tropical storm force winds and rain here in Central Alabama from 6:00 this morning until 6:00 tomorrow morning.  The schools in our area are closed (including classes at Judson College), and I'm hoping we don't lose power or have any damage. We live on a mountain, so the winds are expected to be higher up here.

Yesterday was the 102nd Annual Rose Sunday at Judson College.  Judson College was founded in 1838 by members of Siloam Baptist Church, and all of her presidents have worshipped there.  The relationship between church and college has remained close throughout the years.

To emphasize this tie between the church and college, Rose Sunday was first observed on September 19, 1915.  Each senior wears a red rose on her cap and gown as a tribute to Judson's founders.  The seniors march between ivy chains made by the Freshmen, and they are followed by the other classes to Siloam Baptist Church to take part in the Rose Sunday Service.  This service of worship is a time of thanksgiving to God for the visions and labors of Judson's founders.

Our daughter pinned a rose on her Big Sister Molly's gown.  Molly sang a solo at the Rose Sunday service; she sings like an angel!

Underclassmen procession to Siloam Baptist Church

Judson College students line up for processional

Judson College President Dr. David Potts preached a lovely sermon on faith.  It was a beautiful service, and the day couldn't have been more pleasant.  Last year it was so hot, but it was unseasonably cool and breezy yesterday.

The reading from the service was Psalm 11 which was an appropriate choice:

Psalm 11
For the director of music. Of David.

1 In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
2 For look, the wicked bend their bows;
    they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
    at the upright in heart.
3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
    his eyes examine them.
5 The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.
6 On the wicked he will rain
    fiery coals and burning sulfur;
    a scorching wind will be their lot.
7 For the Lord is righteous,
    he loves justice;
    the upright will see his face.

A clip of Judson Singers performing Cantate Domino at 102nd Rose Sunday Service on Sunday, September 10, 2017 
Siloam Baptist Church, Marion, Alabama

It's my prayer that our extended family and friends in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama remain safe today.


Until next time...

Ricki Jill