Friday, April 12, 2019

Literary Friday: Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak



Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Recently I read one of the most unusual books I've ever read: Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak.  Zusak wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Book Thief.   You may read my review of The Book Thief HERE.

According to Goodreads:

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance. 

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle. 

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

My Review:

In all honesty, I don't now how to begin this review.  It's a very unique book, and it's very hard to describe.  I do want to warn that this is (mostly) a tragic story about Clay, the fourth Dunbar brother: It's a hard book to read.  His story is told by the oldest Dunbar brother Matthew, and I truly love Matthew's voice.  He doesn't reveal his tale chronologically: some of the family's history is interspersed throughout the narrative, and Matthew draws out the real reason their father abandoned them and what secret Clay has been harboring.  The secret and a few other plot points were surprising, and Matthew's story kept me reading late into the night.  

This is a long book (534 pages), but it is so worth the effort.  The style, pace, and voice are definitely an acquired taste, but if readers would keep reading and not give-up, they wouldn't be disappointed: They'd be richly rewarded.  The story is so endearing because Clay has such a tender spirit; but yet so does Matthew because he loves his brother so much he honors him through his words.  

I won't ever forget the Dunbar brothers.  Theirs is one of those rare stories that stay with you forever.  Markus Zusak is such an incredible storyteller and talent, and I hope that this book will be adapted into a movie like The Book Thief.  

If you enjoy reading stories about interesting families with unforgettable characters set in an unusual neighborhood, then you will love Bridge of Clay.  I think it will become a literary classic.


Have you read anything fantastic lately?  Please tell us about it in the Comments section below!



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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill



Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spring Break at the Tallapoosa Art School


Demo at Lake Martin 2019 2
Oil on panel
This is Qiang Huang's demo from day 2 of the workshop.  He focused on metals in the lesson



Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  During the last week of March, I spent Spring Break at the Tallapoosa Art School on Lake Martin in Dadeville, Alabama.  Dorothy Littleton owns the school, and her studio is truly something special, as is her cottage home and the lakeside cabins for guests.  I stayed at our lake cabin because it's only 13 miles from Dorothy's lake property called the Blue Heron.  Click on the LINK and check out the Blue Heron and the summer workshops Dorothy has planned.

Y'all know how much I love the lake, and I also have admired the workshop's teacher, Qiang Huang (pronounced Chong Wong) and his art for a long time.  I jumped at the opportunity to attend the workshop, and I'm so happy I did.  Not only was Dorothy a wonderful hostess (plus amazing artist herself), but Qiang is the BEST workshop teacher I've ever had, and I've attended dozens of workshops over the years.




Qiang Huang and his demo from Day 3
You can learn more about Qiang, his workshops, and his art by linking to his website HERE.




Close-up of demo from Day 3: Glass Lesson
This was also a High Key Lesson, and I found it to be challenging. 


It is very difficult to talk and paint at the same time because both actions use different parts of the brain.  Qiang can do this well, but he's a genius, literally.  He's an engineer by trade, and his story is so interesting.  He actually fell into art when he wanted to furnish his new home and couldn't find anything he liked in his price range!  Qiang is very personable, and very, very patient.  




La Countess de Monet accompanied me on the trip, however I wouldn't let her attend class with me in the studio.  I'm way too messy!  See the door on top?  It's a loft for visiting artists or other guests.  There's a spiral staircase accessing it, but I cut it off in my photo!




Many of the materials for the art studio were sourced from a mid-1800s Iowa barn.  I wanted to show a few of the woods used in the studio in this photo.




Looking over the loft into the studio area
There's room for about ten artists in the studio.


Qiang teaches a process of oil painting called alla prima.  According to Wikipedia:

Wet-on-wet, or alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt), direct painting or au premier coup, is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previously administered layers of wet paint.




Demo at lake Martin, Day 4: Floral Lesson



Lake Martin Day 1 Demo
I brought this one home with me!  :D



Now I'll share two of the paintings I completed at the workshop.  I learned so much painting them, and I can look at them and remember what I learned.  Plus I took copious notes to help me remember what Qiang taught.  



Painting from Day 1
I enjoyed learning a better way to paint grapes.



This is my painting from Day 2.  It was challenging painting both metal and glass in one painting!


Now that I'm home, I'm determined to try to paint everyday and join the Daily Painting Movement.  Below are two alla prima daily paintings that I painted here at home after the workshop.

Both paintings are 6" X 6".









I want to thank Qiang for traveling to Alabama to teach us; the other incredibly talented artists who attended; and Dorothy, the sweetest hostess *ever*  I had such a nice time sharing meals with these artists, too.  I can't wait to take a couple of the workshops this summer!


Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill




Friday, April 5, 2019

Book Excerpt: Justice Mission by Lynette Eason



Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Has the weather been beautiful in your area?  It's been lovely here all week, although yesterday was a wee bit cloudy.  I've been enjoying the weather and the blooming flowers.  What about you? 

Today I have a special treat via TLC Book Tours:  an excerpt from Justice Mission by Lynette Eason.  I love dogs, especially German shepherds.


SYNOPSIS:
Caught in a killer’s sights…

Introducing the True Blue K-9 Unit series


After K-9 unit administrative assistant Sophie Walters spots a suspicious stranger lurking at the K-9 graduation, the man kidnaps her—and she barely escapes. With Sophie’s boss missing and someone determined to silence her, NYPD officer Luke Hathaway vows he and his K-9 partner will guard her. But he must keep an emotional distance to ensure this mission ends in justice…not cold-blooded murder.

Intrigued yet?  

Below is the excerpt:


ONE

     Sophie Walters stood back to count the rows of chairs and relished the thought of the upcoming graduation ceremony that would take place shortly in the auditorium near the NYC K-9 Command Unit headquarters where she worked in Forest Hills, Queens. Today, several new four-legged recruits and their handlers would graduate and join the force in keeping New York City safe.

     The unit was made up of officers who handled dogs with a variety of specialties. While based out of their office in Queens, the officers were assigned to divisions of the NYPD throughout the five boroughs of New York City where needed.
   
     As the administrative assistant to Chief Jordan Jameson who headed up the NYC K-9 Command Unit, Sophie had a wide range of duties, but she’d be the first to admit, she loved the graduation ceremonies most.
   
     Hands down, she loved her job and took pride in the fact that she was very good at it. Something the chief often praised her for.
 
     “You have an eye for detail and organization, Sophie,” he’d said on more than one occasion. “I don’t know what this place would do without you.”

     If only he knew how hard she’d worked to develop that eye for detail. Sophie smiled, her heart grateful for the man who’d taken a chance on a young green college graduate three years ago.
A thud from the back of the auditorium drew her attention to the left-hand corner and she frowned.

     “Hello? Is someone there?”

     Stillness settled over the large room. When nothing more happened and no one announced their presence, she returned her attention to the ceremony preparations.
Something was wrong. Off. But what?

     A little prickle at the base of her neck sent shivers down her spine and she turned to assess the area once more. The auditorium chairs sat empty. She’d unlocked all of the doors in case she had some early arrivals, but the place was quiet for now. Quiet as a tomb. Now why would she think that? There’d been no more strange noises and nothing that should spark her unease. But she couldn’t help feeling like someone was watching.

     But why?

     And who?

     “No one,” she muttered. “Quit jumping at shadows.” But something still nagged at her.

     Sophie scanned the stage trying to put her finger on it. Six chairs aligned just right on the artificial turf. The podium with the chief’s notes for his presentation within easy reach, the mic was at exactly the right height, the graduation certificates were laid out in alphabetical order on the table…
The table.

     She huffed. She’d placed everything on it without putting the black cloth on. Where was her mind this morning?  Definitely on her brother and the attention-stealing phone call she’d received last night. He’d called to tell her he was quitting college to join the Marines.
Seriously? He was nineteen years old. “What does a nineteen-year-old know?” she muttered. Nothing. Which was probably why he wanted to join the Marines.

     But who was she to say it was a bad idea? He was right. They were different people with different lives, but she’d been ten years old when their mother had left and she’d taken on the role of mother figure for Trey. For the past fourteen years, he’d looked at her that way. And now he wanted her to just step aside while he made an important decision without discussing it? A small part of her reminded herself that he was technically an adult.

     “But I’m the one who attended the parent/teacher conferences when Dad couldn’t get off work,” she muttered. “I’m the one who fixed his snacks and washed his clothes and held him when he got his heart broken by the girl who dumped him his sophomore year of high school.”

     Stop it. Let it go for now and do your job.

     Sophie removed the black tablecloth from the supply closet in the hallway, then hurried back toward the auditorium, her mind tuned in to the graduation details now.  She pushed through the auditorium door to the right of the stage and stumbled to a halt. A man in a baseball cap and sunglasses stood next to the podium with Chief Jameson’s red remarks folder open.

     “Excuse me, what are you doing?” Sophie asked. He’d frozen for a slight second when she entered but closed the folder as she strode toward him. Her low heels clicked on the wooden steps and rang through the empty room. She approached him, intent on rescuing Jordan’s notes if need be. “The ceremony doesn’t start for another forty-five minutes. Did you need help with something?”

    “Ah. No.” He turned toward her. “Thanks, but—” He kept his head lowered and she couldn’t make out a thing about his features.

     A little niggle of fear curled in her belly and she remembered the loud noise, the feeling of someone watching her. She stopped so suddenly, she actually slid a couple of more inches on the wood floor. Had he been in the auditorium the whole time? Watching her? Waiting for her to leave so he could look through Jordan’s folder?

     No, of course not. She was being silly.

     “But?” She encouraged him to finish his statement even while she could feel his laser-like stare shooting at her from behind the dark glasses. “Were you looking for something in the folder? It’s just notes for a speech.”

     Once again unease shook her. Maybe she wasn’t being so silly after all. Something wasn’t right with this.

     Get away from him.

     Goosebumps pebbled her arms, and she turned to run. His left hand shot out and closed around her right bicep as his right hand came up, fingers wrapped around the grip of a gun. Sophie screamed when he placed the barrel of the weapon against her head. “Shut up,” he hissed. “Cooperate, and I might let you live.”

     A gun. He had a gun pointed at her temple.
     “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? I don’t have any money on me.” Her shaky voice tumbled from trembling lips. She clamped them down, fighting for control.

     His grip tightened. “Go.”

     Go? “Where?”

     “Out the side door and to the parking lot. Now.”

     “Why don’t you go, and I’ll forget this ever happened?”

     “Too late for that. You’re coming with me. Now move!”

     “You’re kidnapping me?” She squeezed the words out, trying to breathe through her terror.

     “I said shut up! I’m not going to prison because of you!”

     Still keeping his fingers tight around her upper arm, he gave her a hard shove and Sophie stumbled down the steps of the podium, his grip the only thing that kept her from landing on her face.
Her captor aimed her toward the door, and she had no choice but to follow. Heart thundering in her chest, her gaze jerked around the empty room. No help there. Maybe someone would be in the parking lot?

     He pushed the silver bar and the steel door swung out. The gun moved from her head to dig into the center of her back propelling her out onto the asphalt. His other hand snagged the loose bun at the nape of her neck, yanking her head sideways.  She cried out even while she squinted against the glare of the bright morning sun. Normally, her penchant for being early averted a lot of things that could go wrong and usurp her daily schedule. Today, it had placed her in the hands of a dangerous man—and an empty parking lot in Jackson Heights. Where was everyone?  Think, Sophie, think!

     A K-9 SUV turned in and she caught a glimpse of the driver. Officer Luke Hathaway sat behind the wheel of the SUV. “Luke!”

      “Shut up!” Her captor jerked her toward a brown sedan with a glance over his shoulder. His grip didn’t loosen until he got to the driver’s side of the vehicle. “Open the door!”

      No way. With a burst of strength, she jabbed back with her left elbow. A yell burst from him along with a string of curses. She slipped from his grip for a brief second until he slammed his weapon against the side of her head.  She screamed as pain raced through her and stars danced, threatening to send her into the approaching blackness. Her captor opened the door and shoved her inside before she could gather her wits. She landed halfway on the middle console and halfway in the passenger seat with the gearshift digging into her hip. Head pounding, heart thudding, the blackness faded and she cried out once again as he gave her another hard push, forcing her awkwardly into the passenger seat.

The door slammed.

“Sophie!”

     She heard Luke call her name and tried to ignore the nausea climbing into the back of her throat as she grabbed for the passenger door handle. Her captor shot out a hand and grasped her by the hair. “Stay still, or I’ll shoot you now.”

     The car roared to life and spun out of the lot.


***


     Luke stared in horror as he realized he’d just witnessed Sophie being kidnapped. He pressed the gas and the SUV shot after the fleeing sedan.  Bruno, his K-9 partner seated safely in his spot in the back, barked.

     “I know, boy,” Luke murmured to the German shepherd. “I’m going after her.”

     Luke grabbed his radio.

     “Officer needs backup. I have 207 in progress. Repeat, kidnapping in progress. Sophie Walters, Chief Jameson's assistant is the victim. In pursuit of a brown Buick sedan, license plate Eddie-Larry-Peter-four-seven-five-eight. Closing in on pursuit position.” He gave his location and kept a watch for other cars and innocent bystanders.

     Unfortunately, Sophie’s kidnapper didn’t have any such concern. The man swerved to the right and around a parked car, then up on the sidewalk. People scattered like ants. A trash can bounced off the windshield and Luke yanked the wheel to the left to avoid it. Two police cruisers fell in behind him.  Bruno barked again. Luke knew how the dog felt. “Going as fast as I can, buddy.” He lifted the radio once again. “Just hit Ninety-fourth, heading straight for Roosevelt Avenue. Need someone to head him off.” Luke wanted to gun the engine, but he didn’t dare. The streets weren’t packed, but enough innocent people were there to keep him careful.

     In and out of traffic, the man drove, even in the wrong lane several times. Luke stayed with him. Backup stayed behind Luke. “He just took a right on Broadway. I’m guessing he’s heading for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Repeat, he’s heading toward the BQE.”

     Luke received confirmation that officers were en route to that area. “Come on, come on. Slow down. Run out of gas. Anything.”

     But the man kept going. Fortunately, Luke’s siren caught people’s attention so that they moved out of the way. Sure enough, the man merged from Broadway onto the BQE. “Heading in the direction of the Triborough Bridge. Somebody stop this guy, but be careful, he’s got a kidnapping victim with him. Sophie Walters. Civilian employee of the NYPD.”

     “Copy that,” came the response.

     The driver continued his game of dodge and somehow managed to avoid crashing into anything.
Luke followed, staying far enough behind so as not to miss a sudden turn, but close enough not to lose the guy. With each turn, Luke gave the directions, knowing backup would try to cut the guy off. Unfortunately, with no clear destination, he couldn’t give them clear enough direction.  Where was this guy going? How much longer could he drive like this without killing someone? Tension threaded Luke’s shoulders with knots. The kidnapper took another left, heading for one of the more crowded areas of Astoria. The potential for someone to get hurt had just jumped astronomically. Luke requested the area be cleared immediately but knew it wouldn’t be in time.

     The fleeing suspect missed a city bus by a fraction of an inch and Luke barely squeaked past it himself. A young man on a delivery bike slammed into the side of a parked car in his desperate attempt to keep from barreling in front of the speeding sedan. Briefly, Luke hoped the poor cyclist hadn’t broken anything.  Luke braked hard when the sedan swerved. Tires squealing, it headed straight for a fruit stand on the corner. Screams echoed. People ran. The vehicle rammed into the stand, sending produce flying and the owner diving out of the way. Luke screeched to a stop and threw the car into park. He bolted from the driver’s seat and hit the remote button that opened Bruno's area. Bruno leaping out to follow as Luke raced toward the wrecked vehicle in time to see the driver grab Sophie by the arm and pull her from the car.

     “Stop! NYPD!” Luke dodged the fleeing crowd and fought his way toward Sophie. “Sophie!”

     “Luke!” Her terrified scream spurred him faster. Bruno stayed with him. Backup was right behind him, adding their commands to stop.

     Sophie struggled against her captor, and he yanked her hard. She stumbled. Luke closed in, reaching for her. And then the man shoved her away from him. Sophie let out another scream as she flew toward Luke, barreling into him, knocking him off balance.  He fell back, tripping over Bruno, who yelped and scrambled to move out of the way. Luke’s back hit the sidewalk with a breath-stealing thud. Sophie landed on top of him and the last of his air left his lungs. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the man disappearing into the nearest building. Officers pounded after him.
Gasping, Luke rolled.

     “You okay?” he wheezed to Sophie.

     She groaned and pressed a hand to her head.

     Luke staggered to his feet, then helped her up as other officers rushed past them, going after the kidnapper. Two more slowed as though to check on them and Luke waved them on. They took off and Sophie leaned heavily against him. Bystanders crowded around, asking if they were okay while he held her, trying to discern where she was hurt.  Her usually neat bun had fallen, and her long brown hair lay in disarray across her shoulders. He brushed the strands from her eyes and she blinked up at him.

     “Talk to me, Sophie. You’re okay, right?”

     “Yes. I… Yes,” she whispered. “I…I think so.”

     He caught sight of the blood on the side of her head. “Wait a minute. You’re not okay. We need to get you checked out.”

     “No, it’s all right. Just give me a minute to catch my breath and let my head stop spinning.”

     “You’re hurt. You need a hospital.”

     She touched her head with a wince. “No, what I need is to get back to the auditorium. We’ve got a graduation that needs to go on.”

     “Sophie—”

     “I’m serious. That guy was only after me because I saw him messing with Chief Jameson’s folder on the podium. I want to know what he was doing and if he left something behind that would tell us who he is.” She grimaced. “Then you can go after him again.”

     For a moment Luke could only stare at her. She’d been kidnapped, knocked in the head, driven through the city at breakneck speed, and all she could think about was getting back to see what the guy had been up to?

     “You’re amazing.”

     She blinked. “No. I’m mad.”

     “All right. Let’s head back to the auditorium then. While we’re riding, you can fill me in on the details.”

     “Thank you.”

     Luke caught Bruno’s leash, and Sophie followed him—limping slightly—back to his Tahoe where she climbed into the front seat and fastened her seat belt. Luke settled behind the driver’s seat and held the radio to his mouth. “Any sign of the guy who kidnapped Sophie?”

     “That’s a negative,” the voice came back at him through the speaker. “He disappeared after officers chased him through the store. We’re still canvassing the area.”

     “Ten-four.”

     By the time Luke pulled into the parking lot at the auditorium, Sophie had filled him in on everything that had led to her kidnapping. And Luke was inclined to agree with her. This wasn’t just some random snatching. The man at the podium had had a goal—and Luke was itching to figure out what it was.  Another car pulled into the lot.

     “Everyone is arriving,” she said. “We need to make this fast so we can stay on schedule.”

     “Sophie—”

     But she was already out of the car and hurrying—limping—toward the door she’d been forced from about thirty minutes ago.

     “The ceremony can start late, you know,” he murmured to her back. With a sigh, he let Bruno out and they followed after Sophie. Inside, he found her surrounded by other officers concerned with her safety. She repeated all of her “I’m shaken up, but fine” reassurances until they accepted the answer even if they didn’t fully believe it.

     “Is she really okay?” Officer Zach Jameson asked. A fellow officer with the NYC K-9 Command Unit, Zach was also the youngest brother to Jordan Jameson, the chief. The family resemblance was startling with his brown hair and blue eyes. Luke noted Carter and Noah, the other two Jameson brothers, standing nearby with their K-9s seated at their sides.

     “She says she is,” Luke said with a frown. “That’s all I have to go on.”

     The Jamesons had made law enforcement their family business and all had arrived to attend the ceremony, then get back to work. Officer Finn Gallagher, another K-9 Command Unit member, stood nearby, green eyes watching. Usually the jovial, outgoing jokester of the group, he now sported tight features and a tense jaw.  Luke nodded to Chief Jameson’s wife, sitting in the front row and glancing at her watch.

     “Is Katie all right? She looks a little pale.”

     Jordan’s wife had her blond hair in a French braid that fell over her right shoulder. Her blue eyes continued to bounce between her watch and the door her husband should have entered at least fifteen minutes ago.

     “I noticed that, too, but when I asked, she said she was fine, just feeling a little under the weather and that she and Jordan had an errand to run after the ceremony so she thought she’d just come watch.”

     “She’s always been crazy about the dogs,” Luke said. “And Jordan likes having her here.” He glanced around. “Speaking of Jordan, where is he?”

     Zach shrugged, blue eyes narrowed as he watched his sister-in-law. “Katie’s wondering that, too. He’s usually here by now, going over his notes or shaking hands—and paws—with the soon-to-be new graduates.”

     Sophie broke free of her concerned friends and headed for the stage. Luke and Bruno followed her up the steps and to the podium. “Where’s Jordan?” Luke asked. “Did he say anything about running late?”

     “No. At least not before I was snatched.” Her hand shook slightly as she reached for the red folder. “Let’s see what my kidnapper found so fascinating about Jordan’s notes.”

     She flipped the folder open and an envelope fell to the floor. Frowning, she retrieved it, slipped a finger under the flap and pulled out the paper inside. Her eyes scanned it and she gasped, the color leaching from her cheeks.

     “Sophie?” Luke hurried the last few steps to her side, thinking the knock on her head had finally caught up to her. “Are you okay? You need to sit down?”

     “No.”

     She stared at the letter, and Luke frowned. No, she wasn’t okay, or no, she didn’t need to sit down? He stepped behind her to read over her shoulder.


     I can’t go on anymore. Please make sure Katie is taken care of. Jordan Jameson.


***


What do you think?  Is this something you'd be interested in reading?

Justice Mission was released Tuesday.  Below is an IndieBound affiliate link for purchasing the book:



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including my blog in the book and excerpt tour.


Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill