Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy 2013!!!

Constantin Alajalov

Inge Look



Well, it's that end of the year thing come around once again. On the whole, it's better to still be here, than not. So, HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all and guess what I'll be doing?

I found out yesterday that Neflix is streaming THE WEST WING - All Seven Seasons!!! This is WEST WING heaven to me. Began watching last night and stayed up until 1:30 a.m.

I meant to begin the New Year with Jenn's New Year's Readaton over at her Picky Girl blog, but bowed out with regrets - the lure of THE WEST WING is just too strong.

Instead I'll be having a WEST WING Watch-A-Thon to welcome in the New Year. 

You're welcome to join in with me, if you like. (But be prepared to share the champagne since I forgot to buy a bottle. Got other goodies, though.)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Salon: 12 Landscapes I Love

The Harvest by Swiss painter Rober Zund (1826 - 1909)

Field in Asturia 1903 by Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (1863 - 1923)

Early Evening Winter 1912 by English painter J.E.H. MacDonald (1873 - 1932)

Ruined Moorish Arch in Ronda, Spain 1866 by English painter Frederic Leighton (1830 - 1896)

October Gold 1922 by Canadian painter Franklin Carmichael (1890 - 1945)

Farmhouse with Birch Trees 1900 by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918)

Along the Marne 1925 by American painter William Glackens (1870 - 1938)

Landscape at Twilight by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

Storm in the Mountains 1870 by German/American painter Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902)

The Cold Road to Dorchester by contemporary English painter Nicholas Hely Hutchinson

Bruges Moonlight 1910 by American painter Charles Warren Eaton (1857 - 1937)

Vernazza Yellow Boat by contemporary American painter Scott Burdick

Some landscape paintings leave me feeling detached, unable to relate. I think it might be the distance, the painter's faraway point of view - I'm not sure. But, at any rate, the eleven I've chosen for today's post are landscapes that will involve the viewer in one way or another. At least I hope so.

I'll be doing a post on seascapes in the New Year and that's why no Turner paintings here. I feel he'll fit in better then. My favorite Turners always involve the sea. I know I selected a fairly subdued Van Gogh for my collection, but I love this one.

Remember that these are not the ONLY landscapes I love, just the twelve I love today.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ten Favorite Books This Year - 2012

Jessie Wilcox Smith

I only listed two books that were published in 2012. The rest are from assorted years. This list is comprised of books I loved best, read by me for the first time this year whether new or old. Somehow I only managed to read 50 books - the lowest amount ever. I blame life, re-reading, the blog and Pinterest. I did a lot of dithering this year. Ha. 

I hope to do better in 2013 - really.

And now in no particular order, The Top Ten. Please note I've added links to my reviews just in case you're so inclined.

1) WHAT ALICE KNEW A Most Curious Tale of Henry James & Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen. (2010)

I've read and enjoyed all of Paula Marantz Cohen's books, but this one tops anything she's done before. For one thing, WHAT ALICE KNEW has a more serious subject matter - the multiple murders by Jack the Ripper in Victorian England. Marantz Cohen brings ex-pat author Henry James, his brother William, sickly sister Alice and the London society they lived in to vivid life, then gets the three siblings improbably involved in the search for a mad killer. How the author makes all this viable and believable is no easy task - but somehow she does it. This is a brilliant tour de force - an over-used expression but definitely applicable here.

2) INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS by Imogen Robertson. (2010)

The first in a series set in late 1700's England - the only historical mysteries that I know of set way back then. The author not only brings the era to life, but has created two interesting and intriguing protagonists who instantly captured my imagination: Mrs. Harriet Westerman, a woman of means and society burdened with an inquisitive mind and Gabriel Crowther, a wealthy recluse who prefers to spend his time examining the bones of dead bodies rather than dealing with live ones. CSI 1700's would not be too far-fetched a title for these books. But oh, they are so much more. A great series brilliantly written. (I know I use the word 'brilliant' a lot, but if it applies...)

3) MASTER & COMMANDER by Patrick O'Brian (1969)

The first of the incredible sea-faring adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, naval surgeon Stephen Maturin, set during the Napoleonic Wars. I know next to nothing about sea battles and British ships of the line - except for what I've seen in movies, but I quickly picked up the jargon (more or less) and used my imagination for what I couldn't. I urge anyone who loves fine writing, adventure, the sea, British history or just plain good story-telling to pick up this first book in the series. I mean to read them all.

4) DARKNESS AT PEMBERLEY by T.H. White (1932)

This book was the surprise of the year for me. It is the only mystery written by T.H. White before he gained fame as the author of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING and other Arthurian novels. Set in Cambridge and at the great house called Pemberley (yes THAT house) in the 1930's, the story offers up a locked room mystery, murders and enough chicanery to warm the cockles of any mystery loving heart. This is one of those stories where you know the killer going in but somehow, it doesn't dampen the fun one bit. Don't miss this book if you have any liking at all for vintage mysteries with a touch of the melodramatic.

5) THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins (1868)

A diamond with a violent history, stolen from the forehead of an Indian deity in Colonial India and bequeathed to a niece (our 'heroine') by a troublesome uncle, is at the heart of this story. The diamond then disappears from the young woman's room on the very night she's received it. This intricate tale is revealed in all its devious detail in letters - the so-called 'testimony' of several characters, some less important than others, all having their own points of view to add. The technique works beautifully. We can thank Collins for creating the first British detective story and introducing us to the detective as brilliant eccentric - the sort of thing we're all very familiar with now.

6) THE SOLITARY HOUSE by Lynn Shepherd (2012)

Certain sinister characters from Charles Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE are brought to life again in Lynn Shepherd's extraordinary adaptation. Here is the dank, dark, murderous underbelly of London exposed in raw detail as an ex-policeman turned private inquiry agent is hired to find a certain man who poses a threat to the well-being of a wealthy and very sinister client. All is not as it appears in this complicated intelligent feast of a book whose grim story is revealed from several angles including the pages of a heartbreaking journal.

7) SYLVESTER or The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer (1957)

It's about time that the thirty-ish Duke of Alford begin searching for his future Duchess. Any one of several society types will do, the Duke isn't too picky. But lo and behold his mama has different ideas. So the Duke goes off to the countryside to look over a girl who might suit - at his mama's behest. But what if the young lady balks? What if she doesn't want to be a Duchess? What if she'd rather write novels? What follows next is a wonderful comedy of errors (upending Regency posturing and manners) mostly set in a tavern where the young lady and a pal with a broken leg have taken refuge. Often hilarious and always beguiling, all I can say is, I loved this book with a passion. I could have easily listed all the Heyers I read this year - I meant to read more and will do so in 2013 - but kept it to this one. Gotta' give other books a chance.

8) DEATH IN KASHMIR by M.M. Kaye (1953)

The first in prolific author M.M. Kaye's 'Death In...' series and one of the best. Somehow I'd overlooked this one even though I am a big fan of Kaye. When a young woman's skiing holiday is upset by the death of a fellow skier who may or may not have been a spy, it isn't long before she is deeply involved in the hunt for a murderous master spy who will stop at nothing to keep his identity from being revealed. Set high above the Vail of Kashmir and later on the shores of an idyllic lake where our heroine has gone to stay on a houseboat, this is another fine example of Kaye's mastery of craft and atmosphere. A thrilling tale with a bit of romance added to the mix.

9) VICTORY OF EAGLES by Naomi Novik (2008)

The fifth in the Temeraire series in which the noble dragon and his friend and 'master' Captain Will Laurence are separated after Laurence is convicted of treason (read the fourth book) but kept alive so that Temeraire will submit to the will of the government. But when Napoleon sails across the English Channel and marches on London, all bets are off and it's all hands on deck as Temeraire and his beloved Captain are finally reunited to help Wellington and his armies squelch the French dictator. Thrilling is not a big enough word to describe this fabulous book. I adore this series even if I am not normally a big fan of fantasy. I love that everything takes place in a real part of the world during actual historical events. The only difference is that the author has created a Dragon Air Corps which engages in battles alongside human 'handlers'.  Simply brilliant. (There's that word again, but really I can think of no other.)

10) TAKEN by Robert Crais (2012)

I take note that this is the only 'contemporary' novel on the list. Oh well, it happens that way sometimes. I suppose 2012 was my year for history. I never know what I'm going to be in the mood for until I'm in the mood for it. The strength of Robert Crais' Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books lies in the creation of two honorable men whose deep friendship holds everything together, especially when the bullets start flying - which is often. Set in modern day L.A., this is definitely a series that should be read from the beginning, but hey, fine writing is fine writing - if you're not a stickler, begin where you will. This time out, the disappearance of a young woman places private eye Elvis in possibly the greatest danger of his life and it's up to Joe Pike to do what he does best. I've included a link to R.C.'s website so you can play catch-up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas: The Day After

William Steig

I hope you all had as wonderful a Christmas as we did with family or friends that are like family - and pets too. We had two dogs (Rocky boy and my daughter's Pepper girl) in attendance gobbling any bits and pieces that might, just might, accidentally on purpose fall to the floor. Pepper especially had to be watched with an eagle eye as she's prone to jumping up on the table and grabbing anything in sight. Ha! 

The center of attention was my granddaughter - of course. She tore into her presents with eagerness, joy and just a touch of confusion. Confusion because she's still too young to understand what it's all about though she's formulating an opinion that a man in a red suit stopped by in the night while she slept and left all the goodies. She just can't figure out why.

That man in the red suit was very good to all of us and to top it all off, my daughter cooked a fabulous meal. 

All in all, another great Christmas Day. My family is very fortunate to be able to be together at holiday time and don't think we don't know it and thank God for it. I can only wish that my mother and father had lived to share a few more Christmases with us.

P.S. We did get chance to watch the Disney Silly Symphonies cartoons I posted about a few days ago. My granddaughter LOVED them! Especially T'was the Night Before Christmas. It did my heart good.

P.S.P.S. When I got home last night I watched my very own copy of CONTRABAND with Conrad Veidt which was part of my Christmas loot.

Rocky doing his best imitation of an elf. 
Photo by Skye.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Painting Sunday: Merry Christmas and a BIG Thank You!

A moment in time to thank all my friends - blogging and blogg-less - who stop by to  leave a comment now and then, for having helped fashion another pleasurable year for me.

I'm not a mushy-gushy sort of person, but I hope you'll consider this the mushiest and gushiest THANK YOU ever.

Christmas is what we make it, so let's try to 'muddle through somehow and have ourselves a Merry little Christmas now...'

Today is the last post from yours truly until after Christmas day. The painting is by Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863 - 1935), the famed illustrator whose work is still treasured and loved by millions.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Painting Saturday

Okay, so nostalgia ain't what it used to be, but I still find it very soothing. This is a book cover, but I couldn't find the actual art online. This is THE Christmas book for those of us of a certain age and our children if we were lucky enough to have a copy to share with them.

Just looking at the wonderful cover art makes me nostalgic and all over misty for Christmases of the past when I was a kid growing up in the city. The cover instantly brings all holiday good things to vivid life for me.

Christmas in New York was a very special part of my childhood and this book, written by Dorothy Hall Smith in collaboration with illustrator Gertrude Elliott Espenscheid, instantly transports me back even if it is not set in any specific location.

I love Gertrude's work though there isn't much of it to find online - it is a bit reminiscent of Tibor Gergely's (you're familiar with his style if you are familiar at all with Golden books of the fifties), but has its own unique charm. This particular book consists of short pieces, poems and familiar Christmas tales, nothing earth-shattering, everything just right.

Filled with gentle illustrations to treasure, THE TALL BOOK OF CHRISTMAS is just plain wonderful.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Silly Symphonies

Remember these wonderful very vintage cartoons from Walt Disney? Well, even if you don't, they're 'oh so much fun' to watch (even for the first time) and can't help but bring a smile to your face. I love these clunky old animation techniques, seen in retrospect, they seem especially naive and full of joy.

I taught my daughter very early on the difference between good animation and not so good. (The difference, say, between the great old Tom and Jerry's from the 40's and the later versions for television which were unwatchable far as I'm concerned.) She caught on quickly. Of course by then we were watching cartoons on television. You may not be as particular as I was about my cartoon viewing, but we all have our little quirks.

Here's a youtube link to two Christmas cartoons from the early days.

These cartoons (well, maybe later ones from the late 40's and early 50's) were once the staple - ten at a time - between feature length movies at the local theater, while I was growing up in NY. Two movies, ten cartoons and as many Coming Attractions as you could stand - all for 25 cents. My friends, it never did get any better than that.

P.S. I hope to be watching these two cartoons with my granddaughter over Christmas.

Christmas Painting Friday

Today's artwork is by the brilliant Swedish contemporary artist, Lennert Helje....Hmmm, do I sense a Swedish theme going on here? It's just that the Swedes seem to do Christmas very, very well and very cheerfully too. We need a little cheer these days.

While Helje's painting is not specifically Christmasy, it still says 'Christmas' in its own way. There is always magic in the sweet (never cloying) gentleness of his images.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Painting Thursday

Today's daily (until Christmas day) painting is an especially touching one and a favorite of mine. A smiling child dressed in Christmas red, the daughter - I believe - of Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919), she personifies the joy of the season. Her name is Brita and she's happily holding some candles and a basket of those little apples whose name I forget.

For more on Carl Larsson and his work, please check this link.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Painting Wednesday

'Yuleltide Revels' by American realist painter William Glackens (1870 - 1938) is today's Christmas entry. I love the holiday hubbub, the exuberance in this work, one of several done in this particular busy illustrative style.

Glackens was a 'member' of the Ashcan School art movement and an illustrator. To read more about Glackens and his world, please use this link.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Painting Tuesday

My yearly ritual: posting a Christmas themed illustration or painting daily until Christmas day.

Today's painting is a wonderful evocation of Christmas in the city by illustrator John Gannam, 1948. This is the way I always remember Christmas, growing up in New York. Those big clunky taxi cabs really make me misty. New York crowds always seemed so cheerful - at least in memory. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Painting Monday

As I've done every Christmas since I began my blog, I will post a Christmas themed painting or illustration each morning as we approach The Big Day. This year it's an especially sad season, but we seem to be indefatigable when it comes to Christmas - and maybe that's not a bad thing.

Today's choice is Roger Duvoisin's New Yorker cover for December 16th, 1939.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: THE MEMORY OF BLOOD by Christopher Fowler

This is the ninth Peculiar Crimes Unit thriller by Christopher Fowler. The books' stars are, of course, Bryant and May, two old cop-codgers (way past retirement age) who run (metaphorically speaking) rings around the regular London constabulary - they are the chief investigators of the peculiarly named Peculiar Crimes Unit. Arthur Bryant is the older of the two and the scruffier - his clothing (most of it tweedy and of WWII era) is rarely without a noxious food stain or two and while moths don't actually fly out of his woolly worn out scarf, its probably because they're dozing after a good meal. Sartorially Bryant is a wreck.

Though the drastically under-funded Peculiar Crimes Unit is held in contempt by Scotland Yard - et al - Bryant is tolerated (barely) by 'officialdom' because he knows where certain skeletons are buried AND he is brilliant - the PCU's case record shows that much. Bryant's knowledge of London's colorful history, criminal and otherwise, is encyclopedic. With fiendish glee, he is able to use that knowledge, often running afar and afoul on tangents which make no sense to anyone but himself, to solve the bizarre murders which land on the PCU's dilapidated doorstep. (Renovations are in progress to fix up an old building - finally - for the PCU's official use.)

Bryan's partner John May, in appearance, is Bryan's exact opposite. Only a few years younger than Bryant, sartorially Bryant is splendid. May has given up bemoaning his partner's rag-tag appearance since obviously, after so many years, it all falls on deaf ears. Literally. Bryant conveniently and often will turn down his hearing aid. Bryant also has dentures, but the less said about that, the better.

May, a widower (or maybe he's long divorced), is a bit of an old skirt-chaser and currently has a girlfriend who is working temporarily in France - don't know whether they'll get back together - don't care. May is the perfect foil for Bryant's eccentricities even if he has given up trying to corral Bryant when the elder man runs off on that tangent I mentioned.

Bryant has NO social skills whatsoever and is often seen stomping all over a witness's (aka potential suspect) delicate sensibilities. It's then up to May to point out this fact to the unaware Bryant. Together they make a mighty fine pair of sleuths, though it's Bryant who does most of the sleuthing and May who does the necessary politicking. They are old friends, their relationship based on ancient mutual understandings and respect for each other's quirks.

The series' attraction, for me at least, is this whole idea that though the stories take place in modern day London, it might just as well be sixty years ago. Computers and gadgetry are used, but rarely by Bryant who has a habit of tucking his phone in a ratty pocket filled with melting caramels or other assorted foodstuffs. The descriptions, the shadowy settings, the whole darkly gothic aura of the series (including its two uniquely fashioned main characters) is old-school peculiar - that's what I love most about it. Author Christopher Fowler is also a horror writer, so perhaps the 'peculiarites' of these stories should come as no surprise. Though they did to me since I'd never read any other Fowler books.

These are most definitely NOT cozies, by the way. The crimes are bizarre and very often grisly. But Christopher Fowler is such a damn fine writer with such an inventive mind, I just follow where he leads even if most of the time, I have no clue.

The current case is especially daunting as it involves the 'locked room' murder of a child by, supposedly, a puppet. Set in the world of an odious powerfully rich man who collects Punch and Judy puppets and marionettes, the first murder occurs during a cocktail party in which all the suspects (of course) gather to celebrate the opening of a play currently being produced by said powerfully rich man.

We get to learn an awful lot of Punch and Judy historical minutiae by way of Bryant running amok hither and yon, trying to learn how the killer's mind works - I found this fascinating. Perhaps because I have a minutiae sort of mind. Who knew that Punch and Judy represent anarchy?

There is also, concurrently, another case involving the murder of a young woman who is transcribing Arthur Bryant's memoirs (in which he promises to divulge all), setting up the next book by leaving that particular denouement vague and open-ended. All we are left with there is the thought that in their next case Bryant and May will risk all. But don't they always? The PCU is usually on the verge of being shut down - if only they weren't so successful at catching killers.

Though this is not the best Bryant and May book, the killer's identity and the murderous 'how-to' seem a little too contrived even for a PCU case, it is still a worthy entry in a terrific series that I've read from the very beginning.

I suggest reading FULL DARK HOUSE (if you haven't), the first Bryant and May, which will set you up nicely for the rest.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: (1977) Jim Henson's Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

I know, I know, this is not a film and it's not really forgotten, but hey, Christmas is less than three weeks away and I am overcome with the spirit of good cheer and cute stuff.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what really forgotten films and other audio/visual whatnots other bloggers are talking about today. It's always a fun, eclectic mix.

Jim Henson's exceedingly charming production of EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS is based on the 1969 book by Russell Hoban which features illustrations by Lillian Hoban. The special debuted on HBO in 1978 and later on ABC television. It is now widely available on DVD of course and you'd be foolish not to own a copy.

Emmet and his Ma.

There are some stories that strike a chord with whatever part of you still believes in innocence and light and something about EMMET OTTER'S JUGBAND CHRISTMAS immediately takes you back to when you were a child and all things were possible. I first saw this with my 7 year old daughter and I think we both loved it in exactly the same way with maybe me being a bit more bowled over by the artistry and my daughter taking it all for granted as kids will. The only thing I know for sure is that whenever I watch Emmet - even now - I immediately suspend my disbelief and enter eagerly into the life of the furry and feathery denizens of Frog Hollow.

Henson and his oh-so-inventive crew (including the inimitable Frank Oz) use hand puppets, marionettes and all other sorts of magic to tell the story of a dirt-poor but honest widow, Alice Otter and her young son Emmet - both barely scraping by in their tiny house by the river. She does laundry for and is often cheated by the locals, and Emmet takes the odd job where he can find it.

Both otters are fashioned by artful puppet-masters who have given mother and son adorably winsome faces which are at their most enchanting when they sing.

Emmet and his Ma on the river before the freeze.

The story is all about Emmet and his mother's struggle to fashion a memorable Christmas - each for the other. In other words, it's a story about love, honor and respect - quietly and sweetly told. Well, except for the notorious (and hilarious) Riverbottom Nightmare Band about which the less said the better. ("I'm not hungry, I'm HUNGRY!")

Riverbottom band strutting its stuff around town. Not seen in this pix is the fish that travels with its own tank as a member of the band. 

The basic plot has a 'Gift of the Magi' flavor to it as Emmet wants to get his mother a piano and plots to win the down payment by performing with his little band at a talent show in Waterville, the next town over. The only hitch is that he must make a hole in his mother's laundry bucket - the only way she has of earning a living - to fashion a washtub bass for his band. She, unbeknownst to Emmet plots to enter the same talent show so she can buy Emmet a guitar.

How adorable is this?

The hitch for her is she must sell Emmet's few tools (left to him by his Pa) in order to buy fabric for a dress so she'll look nice and professional performing on stage. (And the outfit Alice shows up in is so adorable you just have to go, 'awww....')

Emmet and his band rehearsing.

The entire production is enriched by several hum-along songs written by Paul Williams, who went on to write many more tunes for the Muppets. The songs are especially affecting when sung by the sweetly wonderful voice of Marilyn Sokol who brings Alice Otter to life.

All the characters in the cast (except for Gretchen Fox, the mayor's wife who delights in cheating Alice over a few cents and the aforementioned Riverbottom band about which...well, you know) are loaded with charm, even the scruffy members of Emmet's little jug band: a porcupine, a beaver and, I think, a woodchuck. (The porcupine's quills protrude through his clothing - delightful attention to detail.)

The scene of Emmet and his mom sliding down an icy hill to the frozen lake surface is worth the price of admission on its own. Needless to say, the talent show later is lots of fun too. Add in the touching ending and you have just about the perfect Christmas tale.

This gem of a production was shot on tape rather than film which only adds an unique quality to the show. So, if by some happenstance you've managed to miss EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS, do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy immediately.

To read more about the behind the scenes expertise and techniques used by the brilliant Henson team, please use this link.

Actually, now that I think on it, the Riverbottom band has its own devilish, heavy metal charm. But don't tell Emmet and his Ma that I said that.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Salon: 11 Still Life Paintings I Would Love to Own

American Realist Painter,William Glackens (1870 - 1938)

Dutch Painter, Kenne Gregoire (Born 1951 - )

 American Realist, Janet Fish (Born 1938 - )

French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 - 1919)

Belgian Contemporary Painter, Jan De Vliegher (Born 1964 -)

Contemporary American Realist Painter, Andrew Lattimore

French Painter and Lithographer, Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 - 1904)

American Contemporary Painter Jeffrey Larson (Born 1962-)

French Painter Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954)

Contemporary American Realist, Andrew Lattimore

Contemporary American Painter Christine Lafuente (Born 1968 - )

I could get to really like these 10 Of posts. (Yeah, I know today it's 11, but pretend you don't notice.) The fun is in the research. I'm mad about still life paintings and here's my chance to post some favorites. You know me, my tastes are definitely eclectic. And of course, there are so many more where these came from.

Next week: Landscapes.