Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!   I was hoping to have given you an update on our clean-up after the tornado, but it is going very slowly.  Give me about another week or so, and maybe I'll have some news then.

Today I'm sharing my review of The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen.  I agreed to be a part of the book tour months before the storm, and I do try very hard to keep my commitments!  One reason I was excited about this book is because I've enjoyed Rhys Bowen's cozy mysteries over the years, especially her Molly Murphy Mysteries.  

According to Goodreads:

Love and secrets collide in Venice during WWII in an enthralling novel of brief encounters and lasting romance by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and Above the Bay of Angels.

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.

Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins.

Connect with Rhys

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

My Review:

I have read way too many World War II historical fiction novels over the past ten years or so, but I thought this one would be different as it's set in Venice.  I also like family dramas and dual timelines: This story has both.  Caroline's Aunt Juliet has passed away, and Caroline is her heir.  Her inheritance barely affords her a trip to Venice to learn more about the contents of a box that had once belonged to her aunt: two sketchbooks, Venetian glass beads, a ring, and three keys.  With little hope of solving the mysteries of the items, Caroline is determined to enjoy her holiday.  Surprisingly, she serendipitously discovers the function of one of the keys, and that leads to even more discoveries about her Aunt Juliet.

Juliet's storyline begins when she's around nineteen.  She travels with her Aunt Hortensia to Italy, the best place for a budding young artist to be inspired.  While in Venice, Juliet meets Leonardo Da Rossi: Their meet-cute is fun.  He takes her on a late night picnic, but they're caught by the innkeepers who tell Aunt Hortensia.  She is furious with Juliet and changes their plans to leave Venice early;  Juliet is unable to say goodby to Leo.   Upon her return to England, Juliet is unable to attend art school because her father loses their wealth during the market crash of 1929.  However, ten years later, she is gifted a bursary as an art teacher to travel to Venice and study art for a year.  She runs into Leo, and as the war in Europe begins, she and Leo forge an interesting partnership.  I found Juliet's story bittersweet, and the plot is engaging albeit predictable at times.

Caroline's storyline is a bit problematic.  She's a mom, and her flighty, fashion designer ex-husband is in New York City living with a pop star.  Their young son is living with him because his summer holiday is extended due to the tragedies of 911...or at least that is the ex's excuse for not bringing Teddy back home to Caroline in England.  This is why I have an issue with Caroline's character.  She takes off to Italy for her little adventure and doesn't fly to New York to at least see her son.  Her lack of maternal instincts are not endearing.  Still, I did enjoy how Caroline discovers her aunt's secrets.  The setting is beautiful, and Bowen's descriptions of Venice and her culture are stunning.  If you enjoy mysteries and historical novels set during World War II, you should enjoy The Venice Sketchbook.

Disclosure:  I received a beautiful hardcover copy of The Venice Sketchbook from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.  Thanks for letting me a part of the tour!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

An IndieBound Affiliate Link

Until next time...

Ricki Jill


Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  I will be taking a blog break for a couple of weeks as we clean-up from the EF-3 tornado that ripped through our neighborhood.  The winds were up to 140 miles per hour, and it was truly the most frightening experience of my life.

Over 100 homes in our neighborhood were damaged, and about 30 or so are uninhabitable.  We were fortunate.  We lost many trees, and two cars: The damage to our home is minor compared to most (windows and painting).  Trees covered our driveway, and several were blown down in the back of our property, too.  Our patio and other outdoor areas sustained damage due to falling trees and debris. We will be dealing with the insurance agents, tree and landscape professionals, and other contractors for the next several days.  Our neighborhood looks like a war zone, and it will never be the same.  

I have to give kudos to our city.  Crews were out within the hour to clear streets for first responders.  Miraculously, no one was killed nor seriously injured (it's a miracle).  Our police have been patrolling nonstop and are not letting people in our neighborhood unless they are residents or vendors.  Truly, our first responders are the best!  The city also brought in a charging station for medical devices, phones, and iPads.  We have been overwhelmed with volunteers bringing water, snacks, and other needed items. 
Alabama Power worked day and night getting our power back on, and Thursday night (the tornado hit Thursday afternoon) we could hear chainsaws all night long.  We didn't get much sleep, but we were only without power for about three days.  Spectrum also worked to get us back online. 

We are expecting more strong storms Wednesday, and I'm praying that the storms won't be severe.  I'm concerned about leaning trees everywhere that might fall and cause even more damage to homes and other property.

I want to wish you and your family a Blessed Holy Week and Easter.  I will be posting everyday on my devotional blog because that's one of the few things keeping me grounded right now!  

Take care, and hopefully I will be back sooner than later!

Until next time...

Happy Easter!
Ricki Jill


Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  Today I will be sharing with you a Bible reference book that is also a gorgeous coffee table book: Who's Who in the Bible by Jean-Piere Isbouts.  This book has been out for several years (2013), yet this is the first time I've read it.

About National Geographic Who's Who in the Bible: Unforgettable People and Timeless Stories from Genesis to Revelation

• Publisher: National Geographic; Illustrated edition 
• Hardcover: 384 pages 

Written by best-selling author Jean-Pierre Isbouts, Who's Who in the Bible is the ultimate reference guide to the men and women in the Bible, featuring more than 2,000 entries spanning Genesis to Revelation. From the author of In the Footsteps of Jesus and The Biblical World comes a vibrant family reference that brings to life the fascinating characters of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. From the fall of Adam and Eve to Judas' betrayal of Jesus, the key events of the Bible are expressed through the lives of hundreds of people. Told through exquisite art and artifacts, intriguing sidebars, and unique family tree features, this illuminating volume tells the stories of Biblical characters and highlights their greater meaning for mankind. Illustrated with lavish color photography and exquisite historical artwork, this reference runs chronologically, with each person listed by order of appearance. 


Purchase Link


About Jean-Pierre Isbouts

JEAN-PIERRE ISBOUTS is the author of National Geographic's best-selling books The Biblical World and In the Footsteps of Jesus and the director of Charleton Heston's Voyage Through the Bible. He is a professor at Fielding University in Santa Barbara, CA.

My Review:

This book is beautiful, and it is very helpful if you need to look-up a biblical character.  It is large, so it is not easy to hold: It's easier to place the book flat on a table and read it.  Presented chronologically, each section (books of the Bible) features alphabetical entries of the people depicted in the books.  The maps and timelines are helpful, too.

What I love most about it is the art.  Some of the most beautiful Christian art is included.

Daniel in the Lion's Den 
c 1615 
by Pieter Paul Rubens
Daniel is one of my favorites, and this painting is unbelievable. 

Martha and Mary Magdalene
by Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 
circa 1598 
oil and tempera on canvas

I also like that the book goes into quite a bit of historical detail about everyday life including photos of artifacts. 

This page features treasures from the Roman Age.  The Romans appreciated Greek craftsmanship, but the Romans excelled at glassmaking, like the beautiful glass urn (lower right).

What I don't like about the book is that it doesn't explain the purpose for Christ (the Light of the World) and God's plan for humanity (salvation through Christ).  The section about Jesus was not as comprehensive as it could've been, so that was also a bit of a disappointment.  Also the dates in the book are BCE and CE: The irony is not lost on me because it is 2021 AD (anno Domini), the year of Our Lord.  Christ split time, after all!

I do recommend this book as a reference for the character entries, history (use discernment), art, and maps in spite of its lack of explaining the purpose for the Bible.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

IndieBound Affiliate Link

Disclosure #1:  I am not certain that all of the timelines in this book are accurate because I'm not a historian.  Please read this and any/all biblical history and commentary with discernment. 

Disclosure #2:  I would like to thank the publisher and TLC Book Tours for gifting me this beautiful book in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Until next time...

Ricki Jill


Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today's review is for a book with a unique setting: The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper.

According to Goodreads:

A young prodigy in need of family.

A painting that shatters a woman’s peace.

And a decades-old mystery demanding to be solved.

Australia, 1906

Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship. Having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were.

Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business.

But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel her story before it’s too late.

From the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, this compelling novel presents a mystery that spans continents and decades as both women finally discover a place to call home.

About Tea Cooper:
Tea is an award winning Australian author of  historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the bestselling author of several novels, including The Naturalist's DaughterThe Woman in the Green DressThe Girl in the Painting and The Cartographer's Secret. 

Connect with Tea

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

My Review:

I love novels about smart, dynamic women, and Elizabeth Quinn and her ward Jane Piper are both, plus they excel at mathematics and science.  Siblings Michael and Elizabeth want to pay it forward by giving bright orphan Jane a better life through education and opportunity.  Jane moves in with them when she's around ten, and they educate her and hire her to work in the family firm.  Elizabeth is a role model for Jane, and she admires Jane's intellect and strength: She is always poised and put together.  Elizabeth quickly falls apart after visiting an exhibition of Victorian curiosities and art.  She starts shaking in the gallery, and is hysterical: Jane is shaken and doesn't know how to console Elizabeth.  Once calm, Jane quickly gets Elizabeth home.  Eventually a doctor is consulted, and as was common during this era, Elizabeth was diagnosed with mid-life hysteria.  But Jane thinks it's nonsense because she believes that Elizabeth was traumatized by either the bird exhibits (because she has ornithophobia, or a fear of birds) or something else she saw at the gallery.  Elizabeth is also remembering frightening memories from her early childhood, memories she had repressed.  Eventually Jane realizes that a painting at the gallery is what caused Elizabeth's trauma, and she is determined to solve the mystery about the significance of the painting to help Jane.

This is the first time I've ever read a historical novel set in Australia during the Victorian era, and I loved it.  Tea Cooper did a super job researching several historical truths shared in the book, and one I find disturbing is child migration.  The English sent these "vagrant" children all over the world, starting as early as 1618 when children were sent to the Americas, and as late as 1967 when children were flown to Australia. If a child was over fourteen, he or she was considered an adult.  Another interesting plot point is the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria's son, Prince Alfred.  On March 12, 1868, an Irishman, Henry James O'Farrell, attempted the assassination by firing his pistol at close range.  The bullet only caused a superficial wound thanks to the prince's braces.  There are other real historical events and places in the book, and Maitland, Australia is full of history along with the Ugg Boot Factory.  I think it would be a lovely place to visit!

This book has a little bit of everything: Victorian Australian history, romance, family drama, mystery, art, suspense, and a surprisingly sweet ending.  The plot is fast-paced enough that I had a difficult time finding a stopping point to do important things, like cooking dinner.  I love discovering new writers I enjoy: Australian historical fiction is a new genre to me, and I hope to read more of Tea Cooper's books soon, probably beginning with The Cartographer's Secret.  

Disclosure:  I received an ARC of The Girl in the Painting from the publisher Thomas Nelson via TILC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

IndieBound affiliate link

I hope y'all have a wonderful weekend!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm sharing with you a beautiful book that not only shares stunning botanical art: It's also a complete guide on how to draw and paint beautiful subjects from the botanical world: Botanical Art Techniques by the American Society of Botanical Artists.  It was published by Timber Press, and I have bought several beautiful books from them.

I love flowers, and I strive to improve my skills as an artist.  I have painted floral still life paintings in the past, but I was hoping that the book might offer different techniques for both painting and drawing.

Here are a few of my floral paintings:

According to Goodreads:

The Ultimate Reference, from the Experts
This definitive guide is the most thorough how-to available on every major technique of botanical artistry. The experts at the American Society of Botanical Artists offer step-by-step projects that move from introductory to advanced—so any level of artist can build on acquired skills. Helpful tutorials cover watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, vellum, egg tempera, oils, pen and ink, and printmaking. Filled with more than 900 photographs and stunning examples of finished art by the best contemporary botanical artists, Botanical Art Techniques is the authoritative manual on this exquisite art form.

About The Authors:

The mission of the American Society of Botanical Artists is to provide a thriving, interactive community dedicated to perpetuating the tradition and contemporary practice of botanical art.

Carol Woodin has been a botanical artist for thirty years and is the recipient of the 2018 ASBA James White Service Award, the 1998 ASBA Diane Bouchier Artist Award, the Orchid Digest Medal of Honor, and a Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal.

Robin A. Jessis the Botanical Art and Illustration Certificate coordinator for The New York Botanical Garden, and former executive director of the American Society of Botanical Artists. In 1990, she was awarded a Distinguished Artist Fellowship by the New Jersey State Council on Arts.

This book is so beautiful, and it has the most stunning botanical art I've ever seen.  It covers several mediums, including watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, vellum, pen and ink, egg tempera, oils, printmaking, silverpoint, and more.  The step by step instructions are very detailed and precise, and I followed the steps for drawing an apple, and it was very involved.  But I learned quite a bit, and I transferred some of the information to silverpoint.

I started with this lesson on how to draw a Granny Smith apple with graphite.  Then I applied the lesson to silverpoint.

These silverpoint drawing of sleigh bells and a Granny Smith apple are in my silverpoint art journal.
Silverpoint or any metalpoint must use a special ground for the metal to stick to the paper.

Apples are tricky because there are so many planes on an apple.

Below are a couple of orchids:

I also decided to try a few of the drawing lessons for branches.  Here are my results, also drawn in my journal:

magnolia branch

dogwood branch
This was not included in the book, I just wanted to practice another branch.

I would love to have the patience to draw this:

It's an oak branch with lichen.  I think it is so pretty and detailed!

I have a few projects from the book I want to try soon.  Once I practice in my art journal, I will draw a couple of subjects on board treated with silverpoint ground.  I'll share once I finish them!

If you are a watercolor artist and want to learn new skills, you must invest in this book.  Most of the instruction in the book covers watercolor (alas, the one medium I do not use), and I wish there were more oil painting instruction.  But each lesson is instructive, and I'm learning about composition throughout. The drawing areas, whether with graphite or colored pencils, is very comprehensive, too.  Each lesson has a complete list of all materials used, instructions, and the amount of hours it took the artist to finish.  

Below is an IndeiBound affiliate link:

Shop your local indie bookstore

Until next time...

Ricki Jill


Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Are you looking for something good to read this weekend that's set in Ireland?  (After all, Ireland's favorite saint's day is this month.)  If so, I have you covered!  Today's review is for Tana French's latest novel The Searcher.  Tana wrote the popular Dublin Murder Squad Series, and it has been adapted for television.  I think you can watch it on Acorn, STARZ, or Amazon Prime.

Four of six books in the Dublin Murder Squad Series

According to Goodreads:

Retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in rural Ireland. His plans are to fix up the dilapidated cottage he's bought, to walk the mountains, to put his old police instincts to bed forever.

Then a local boy appeals to him for help. His brother is missing, and no one in the village, least of all the police, seems to care. And once again, Cal feels that restless itch.

Something is wrong in this community, and he must find out what, even if it brings trouble to his door.

About The Author:

Tana French is the author of seven previous books, including In the Woods, The Likeness, and The Witch Elm. Her novels have sold over three million copies and won numerous awards, including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

My Review:

When I read a book with a unique setting, it's important to me that the author successfully creates a sense of place.  It irritates me when a book's unique setting doesn't matter, that it could be set anywhere.  Tana French does an excellent job painting the scenery of Ardnakelty, Ireland, the tiny, remote Irish village that retired detective Cal Hooper moves to from Chicago.  Cal is in the middle of renovating a cottage a little ways from the village, and he thinks the smallness and remoteness of Ardnakelty is what he needs to start anew after retirement and his recent divorce.  From the local pub, the mountains and peat bogs, and patchwork land of fields and stone walls, there is no doubt about the setting of this book.

"The West of Ireland looked beautiful on the internet; from right smack in the middle of it, it looks even better.  The air is rich as fruitcake, like you should do more with it than just breathe it; bite off a big mouthful, maybe, or rub handfuls of it over your face."
The Searcher, p. 3

If the quote above isn't descriptive enough, there is also a little bit of perceived danger as the book opens with a clamor of rooks living in Cal's garden.  Rooks are predators, yet they have been known to befriend humans and even bring them gifts.  The sinister elements of the atmosphere are nuanced, but they are definitely there.  

The characters are so well-drawn and complicated.  Ardnakelty has its share of unique characters with agendas: some are overt, like the shopkeeper's attempt at setting-up her sister with Cal.  But most of the villagers in general seem to be a part of a sinister conspiracy because they refuse to discuss a missing teen.  There is one exception: the missing teen's brother, 13-year-old Trey, stalks Cal and harasses him until he agrees to help Trey find his brother.  

Cal is a recalcitrant detective for Trey's cause at first, but the more he investigates, the more "that feeling at the back of his neck" is telling him that foul play is a possibility.  As the season turns from summer to autumn, the chilly weather reflects Cal's reception from the villagers as his investigation is noticed.  There are several plot points I did not anticipate, and one in particular that is a complete shock: This is not a predictable mystery.  In the beginning, Cal is working on his cottage's renovation, and his days are very simple and peaceful with hard work and very rustic living conditions.  The plot reflects the slowness of his progress on his home until be stops construction and starts investigating.  Then his bucolic idyll is shattered by violence, intimidation, suspicion, and foreboding, and the plot thickens as it accelerates.  Some of the characters, innocuous and friendly at the beginning of the story, scared me to death toward the end: I was very fearful for Cal.  The mystery's conclusion and the book's ending is highly satisfying which is always a plus.

If you enjoy thrillers and/or mysteries, I highly recommend The Searcher.  

Here is a post featuring other books set in Ireland.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

IndieBound affiliate link

Do you have any plans to read this weekend?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

the favorite

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm sharing with you the Mitford Series by Jan Karon.  It's a bit of a round-up post bec...