Friday, December 31, 2010

Literary Friday: Best Books of 2010

What do a Victorian/Steampunk young adult book; a futuristic science fiction/suspense thriller; and a literary selection rich in art and mental illness have in common?  All three made my Best Books of 2010 List!

My three favorite books of 2010 are:

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare;

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The Dervish House by Ian MacDonald;

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and The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova.

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Clockwork Angel is the first installment in Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series, which is the prequel to her highly successful and very well-written Mortal Instruments series. Cassandra Clare is the best young adult writer today, and I am so pleased she has set a very high standard for the genre.  If you have young adults in your life, you must introduce them to her series. This is definitely not your typical young adult vampire series.  As a matter of fact, although it has a little bit of a gothic vibe, it has a strong Steampunk influence, and I like it!

In Clockwork Angel, New Yorker Tessa Gray must travel to Queen Victoria's London to find her missing brother.  When she arrives, she is kidnapped by the creepy Dark Sisters who are members of a notorious secret society called the Pandemonium Club.  Tessa soon learns that there is a parallel reality comprised of Downworlders, or supernatural beings with special abilities, gifts, and curses. The only people who protect normal humans (mundanes) from this world are the Shadowhunters: descendants of the Nephilim.  Tessa quickly learns that she belongs to this otherworld, a legacy that has been hidden from her since birth.  As Tessa allies with the London Institute of Shadowhunters, she meets two best friends, Will and Jem, who intrigue and frighten Tessa in different ways and for different reasons.  With tutelage from the Institute, will Tessa utilize her gifts and find her brother? Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for me in this book is Magnus Bane.  No spoilers here other than to say his storyline is fun.

I have already posted about The Dervish House.  You can read my post about it here.

I have heard many mixed reviews about The Swan Thieves from my friends. It seems that my artist friends tend to like it better than my non-artist friends, which I imagine is due to the subject matter. The book is about a nationally-recognized artist named Robert Oliver who goes nuts in the National Gallery of Art and tries to attack a priceless painting with a knife. He is hospitalized for mental illness, and psychiatrist Andrew Marlow, an exceptional artist himself, takes on Robert's compelling case.  Marlow almost becomes obsessed with his new patient, and he crosses many professional lines in attempting to understand the "why" behind Robert's illness.   In order for the reader to better understand Robert, Kostova's highly researched depiction of Impressionism in 1880's France is the highlight of the book for me. She spoils her readers with research (for those of you who have read The Historian, you will recall how well-researched her writing is).  The betrayal of a talented female impressionist is key in understanding Robert's descent into madness. Marlow reads a series of letters written between French Impressionist artists and even travels to France to unlock the story's mystery.

Please comment about your favorite books of 2010.  There are so many wonderful books coming out in 2011.  What will you be reading next year?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best Home Decorating Books of 2010

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I am a home decorating book addict.  I hear there is no cure, but fortunately for me, my local library has all the latest and greatest home decorating books. I check out many per month, and I only buy those books I think I will actually use either to inspire me in decorating my own home or in my art. This year, I only bought four home decorating books, and they are all very different.  Here are my picks for the best home decorating books for 2010:

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The first book I bought is entitled Romantic Style by Selina Lake & Sara Norrman.

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There are three reasons why I adore this book.  First, I appreciate how this book is organized into sections like: Romantic Inspirations, Romantic Styling, and Romantic Rooms. I found the chapters on Vintage Romantic and Modern Romantic very helpful and inspirational.  Second, one of my favorite decorating insights (ever) involves color and how to choose colors for your home.  Lake believes that color should be chosen instinctually without inhibition.  As an artist, I love that!  Third, the interiors I tend to like best in the book are those with bright colors enhanced by stark white.  The white accessories really pop in these rooms.

This is one of my favorite interiors from the book.  It is from the Modern Romantic section, and I love the mixture of the contemporary green glass tabletop and chairs with the vintage mirror and vases on the mantle.  The vintage-looking wallpaper with pops of lime green and raspberry is too, too pretty.

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The second book I bought is Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic Interiors: My Rooms, Treasures, and Trinkets.

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This is by far my favorite of all of her books.  It features two of Rachel's homes, plus several other homes that she either helped decorate or reflect her laid-back, casual style. The most important lesson I learned from this book is that you should decorate your home for the way you and your family live.  This book has inspired me to redecorate our unused living room into an "everything room." Here is a picture of Rachel's everything room:

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I want our everything room to be used for creating art, reading, casual dining, and however else we choose to use it.  This conversion from formal living room to everything room will be one of my big projects for 2011, and I cannot wait to get started!

The third book was actually an early Christmas present from my daughter.  I checked it out at the library after reading about it at Lidy's blog,  French Garden House.  Click here to read Lidy's interview of Vicki Archer.  The interview is wonderful, and so are the pictures.  Vicki Archer's French Essence: Ambience, Beauty and Style in Provence is eye candy!

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I have spent many hours reading it and looking at the pictures during the holidays.  Archer bought a seventeenth century olive farm about ten years ago and restored it.  What I like about the book is that Vicki takes you on field trips to places in Provence to show you what has influenced her decorating and lifestyle.  I found it helpful to see how immersion in a different culture can have a profound impact on how one lives.  If you are looking strictly for a home decorating book, then this book is probably not for you.  However, if you want to be transported to Provence and experience a lovely way of life, then you should buy and read this book.  It is almost like reading a Peter Mayle book with pretty pictures!

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While recovering from surgery this Christmas, I did not get to "go all out" with cooking and decorating like I normally do.  The picture below from French Essence made me feel better because the Christmas decorations are simple, yet simply beautiful.  The votives and olive branch garland is all that this pretty space needs:

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The last book I bought for myself as a Christmas present.  It is Creating a Home by Kathryn M. Ireland, and I actually first learned about it from one of my favorite blogs, Velvet & Linen.


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Brooke Giannetti hosted a book signing for this book at her lovely store, Giannetti Home. I adore Brooke's style. I fell in love with her adorable beach cottage when I first spied it in Country Living Gardener Magazine years ago. Look at how Giannetti Home wrapped the book:


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Isn't the presentation lovely?  I was so surprised and happy when I opened it.

Creating a Home chronicles Kathryn Ireland's restoration of a well-known Wallace-Neff designed estate in Ojai, California called the Libbey Ranch.  I love the before and after pictures as Kathryn rescues the gorgeous Spanish-style house.  Kathryn also gives us a glimpse of her inspirations for the renovations, but not as much as Vicki Archer in French Essence.  Also about a third of the book is about Alfresco Living, which consists of the gardens, outbuildings, pool, and breezeways.  I liked this about the book because I need to be inspired to beautify our backyard.  You can see our front yard makeover here.

My favorite rooms in the Libby Ranch home are the bedrooms and bathrooms.  They are stunning! This one is my favorite:

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How do you get your design inspirations?  I tend to get mine from library books and talented bloggers.  I will be joining Courtney over at French Country Cottage for her Feathered Nest Friday linky party.

I hope you have an inspiring (and productive) 2011.

Happy New Year!

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slumber Designs Giveaway!

Jen over @ Slumber Designs is hosting a 700 Followers Giveaway. Congratulations on so many followers, Jen!   She is giving away a Marc Jacobs Daisy prize that includes: a gold wristlet, 4 ml Daisy perfume, and 30 ml Daisy lotion.  Daisy's top notes include wild strawberry, violet leaves, and ruby red grapefruit.  The prize is too, too cute!  Check it out:

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So go on over to Slumber Designs, and maybe you'll win!

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ryan Carlson's Art

I wanted to share with you a couple of pieces of art by Ryan Carlson.  I think he is brilliant! This one is currently showing at Red Dot Gallery:


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Can you tell from what the sweet little hummingbird is feeding?  His art is not for the squeamish, for sure!

This next piece is in my home.  My husband really likes Ryan's art, so he made a special spot in our foyer for this next piece.  It is suspended on a pipe.  There is no room in our foyer for any furniture, so other than one other picture on a tiny wall, this is all that is in there.  I wonder what that says about us?

Ryan said that this image came to him in a dream.  The luna moth is caught in an ice tong, and another moth is watching.  This piece is made entirely of clay.  I painted the alcove my husband built midnight blue, of course!  Our walls are painted mayonnaise.

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Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rare Alabama White Christmas

While I have been cooped-up recuperating from surgery, I was blessed with Birmingham's first White Christmas.  Sorry about the pictures, but stairs are problematic for me now, and I did not have a lot of cooperation from the family as far as taking pictures for me.  Here is what I saw out my front door:

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Here are Camellias blooming in the snow:

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Here is a picture of our backyard:

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It has been a blessing watching all the beautiful snow fall.  Some of the flakes were so huge it was like feathers falling from the sky!

Rhoda over at Southern Hospitality has also posted some pretty pictures of Birmingham's White Christmas.

Cielo asked what we are celebrating over at Show Off Your Cottage Monday. Well, I am celebrating the beautiful snow!











Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

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For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be caller, Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.


Isaiah 9:6


Peace to you and yours this holiday season!


Until next time,


Christmas blessings!
Ricki Jill

Friday, December 24, 2010

Literary Friday: The Book of Lies

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Brad Meltzer's The Book of Lies is a unique and quick read (I could not put it down). The illustrations are wonderful and add a fun dimension to the reading experience.  I must admit that it is also the first book of Meltzer's I have ever read, and I would like some suggestions from some of his readers as to what I should read next.

The Book of Lies tells the story of history's most notorious murder:  the murder of Abel by his brother, Cain.  The Bible story depicted in Genesis Chapter 4 gives motive for the murder, but it leaves out one very important detail: the murder weapon.  Fast forward a few thousand years to Cleveland, Ohio.  In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was shot during a robbery. During the aftermath of the murder, young Jerry Siegel invents the world's best known superhero: Superman!  Superman is bulletproof, and, as Meltzer points out in the book, Jerry Siegel never once mentioned his father's murder in interviews.  So you may be asking yourself: what do these two murders have in common?  The answer: The Book of Lies.  The Book of Lies is a history book God asked Adam to write because he knew that the great flood was imminent.  What if this book was a true birthright, a blessing bestowed rather than a curse imposed on Cain?

In present day South Florida, Calvin Harper must relive a childhood tragedy as he finds his long-lost father shot in a park.  As father and son search for The Book of Lies,  they become stalked by Ellis, a ruthless zealot who has the Mark of Cain tattoo on his hand. The mystery leads the characters to Jerry Siegel's Cleveland, Ohio childhood home where he invented Superman. The story is fascinating from start to finish, and I loved the "secret" revealed at the end of the book.  I think it would be difficult for any parent not to be touched by it.

I must admit that right now I am a bit frustrated because according to the book jacket, Brad Meltzer's website has all kinds of fun stuff on it, like a companion soundtrack to The Book of Lies.  He also states in his Author's Note that he has some other information to complement the book found only on his website.  So why am I frustrated?  Because his website is currently unavailable!  I have been able to look at some of the features, like the video about how some writers (like one of my favorites, Neil Gaiman) and ordinary citizens are working together to restore Jerry Siegel's childhood home.  But I want to read about the secret Aryan society, the Thule Society (mentioned in the book), and read about Ellis's dog Benoni as well as read Ellis's diary. Maybe the website will be available later during the holidays, because I would really like to hear the soundtrack and play with the other features. From what I saw of it, it looks like tons of fun.

Although I grew-up a Marvel girl rather than a DC girl, I highly recommend The Book of Lies.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hot Spiced Russian Tea

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I want to invite all of you to sit back and relax with me while we enjoy a cup of Christmas cheer together.

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This is a recipe for Hot Spiced Russian Tea.  My grandmother taught me how to make this mix when I was a little girl.  The mix makes a nice hostess gift, too.  You can store it in a Mason jar or other container decorated with fabric or ribbon.  Make sure to include instructions on how to make it.

Note: The recipe calls for Tang, and I have not been able to substitute anything else for it.  I buy Tang (made by Kraft) at Winn-Dixie.  You can also order it from Amazon.

Hot Spiced Russian Tea

1 cup instant tea mix (I use Nestea)
2 cups Tang
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together and store in a covered, airtight container.

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Directions for use:  Mix two heaping teaspoons mix with one cup (8 ounces) hot water.

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I hope you take the time to relax and enjoy the holidays with your family and friends.  I will be taking a few days off, too, as I am having surgery tomorrow (December 21st).

I hope you have a Very Merry Christmas, my sweet readers!

Until next time...

Christmas blessings!
Ricki Jill

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Annie Lennox: A Christmas Cornucopia

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If you have not bought Annie Lennox's new Christmas CD entitled "A Christmas Cornucopia," you are truly missing out on some of the best Christmas music.  Ever.  I bought it on a whim at Starbucks, and I am so happy I did.  This CD would make a fantastic last minute Christmas gift for those "hard to buy for" folks in your life.

I have always been a Eurythmics fan, and I should not be so surprised by Annie Lennox's level of talent. But this time I am truly in awe. She arranged the songs as well as played several instruments on most of them: instruments like the dulcimer, panpipes, and santur, to name only a few.   My favorite tracks are "Angels from the Realms of Glory" and "The Holly and the Ivy."  "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" has a distinct madrigal dinner vibe (which I like), and "Lullay Lullay" is unlike anything I have ever heard before.  Her "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is almost unrecognizable in melody, but I really like it anyway.

Annie states in her liner notes that she does not "personally subscribe to any specific religion," but it does not stop her from singing with such a forceful and passionate grace on every single song.  I am a Christian, and her music moved me to tears.  So go buy this CD.  Now.  No Christmas music has ever touched me quite like this since Bing Crosby and David Bowie's beautiful duet of "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace on Earth" back in 1977 when I was twelve years old.

Thanks so much, Annie.  I love your version of Christmas classics and your new song, "Universal Child," too.  I am feeling the Christmas spirit!

Until next time...

Christmas blessings!
Ricki Jill

Friday, December 17, 2010

Literary Friday: The Lace Reader

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Question:  How does one read a book that opens like this:

"My name is Towner Whitney.  No, that's not exactly true.  My real first name is Sophya.  Never believe me.  I lie all the time.

I am a crazy woman...That last part is true."

Answer:  Very carefully!


While in a California hospital recovering from surgery, Towner Whitney, a disturbed thirty-ish woman, receives a lacemaker's pillow from her Great Aunt Eva.  Towner is descended from a long line of lace readers: women who make intricately-patterned Ipswich lace, and can also read the intended lace-owner's future while looking into and through the lace.  After receiving Eva's pillow, Towner feels a deep foreboding.  Her fears are realized when her brother, Beezer, calls from Salem with the news that Aunt Eva is missing.

Towner quickly returns home to Salem determined to find Eva when she learns that a young woman associated with Eva is missing, too.  She befriends and starts dating Detective Rafferty who is assigned to the missing persons cases.  Towner can read minds and lace, plus she has precognition skills.  Will she help Rafferty solve these cases before it is too late?

Complicating Towner's surgical recovery and relationships is her lingering grief over her twin's untimely death when they were both seventeen.  This grief permeates everything, from her memories to her decisions about her future.  Another complication is her coping with the memory of unspeakable abuse within her family.  Deciphering what is real, imagined, and untrue makes this a challenging and fun book to read.

Brunonia Barry has written a fascinating book that has bits of history, romance, religious fanaticism, witchcraft, suspense, and several mysteries that seem as intricate and intertwined as Ipswich lace. Hint: Read this one with a totally open mind until the end.  I hope you enjoy The Lace Reader!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Art Now Showing @ the Red Dot Gallery

Here are some pictures of art currently showing at Red Dot. I want to apologize up front for the poor quality of the pictures.  It is the photographer's fault.  I will try to do better next time. Enjoy!

Erin Hardin:

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I love "The Adventures of Little Hippo."  He is too, too cute!

Jeanne Alexander:

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Ellen Moore:

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Laura Kimes:

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Notice that these are "The Pessimistic Martini" and "The Optimistic Martini."  Did you read the words on the glass bases?

My art teacher, Dori DeCamillis:

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It looks as if the Mad Hatter has been busy again!

You can see more pictures from the art show here and here.

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

A Lovely Holiday Giveaway @ Art by Karena

Karena over at Art by Karena is giving away a lovely gift from My Sparrow. Check out these pretty prizes!  The winner will receive:

Four Verra wineglasses,

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and six zinc bird gift tags.

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Just in time for your holiday entertaining, these gifts will make your table look stunning.  I would like to use the zinc bird gift tags as place tags for a dinner party.  What a great prize!

So scoot on over to Art by Karena for your chance to win!

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Versatile Welsh Cupboard

I love romantic country decorating.  I do not have a favorite style, but one of my favorite pieces of furniture is the Welsh cupboard (or Irish dresser, or English hutch, or American plate stacker).  Whatever name you call it, it is one versatile and functional furniture piece. By definition, it is a cabinet with a large enclosed storage base either composed of cabinets and/or drawers with an upper area of open shelves.

My husband and I bought an inexpensive Welsh cupboard from Storehouse Furniture over twenty years ago, and I have never regretted it.  It is one of my favorite things in our home other than our antiques we inherited.  It has lived in the kitchen of one home, the dining room in another, and now it is in our keeping room.  The maple butcher block top has enhanced its versatility.  I have used it for dish storage, food preparation, and meal serving. Now, I have most of our everyday MacKenzie-Childs dishes on it.  I also love that it is a very pretty, bright white.

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Here is a view of our keeping room from the kitchen.  You an see the Welsh cupboard on the right hand wall.  Since we have a wall of windows in the kitchen, there is no space for it.  It is not that inconvenient, though, since it is very close to both the kitchen and dining room.


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Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?  Where did you find it?  I will be joining Kathleen over at Faded Charm for her White Wednesday party.






Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Santa? Are you paying attention?

I know that Santa follows my blog anonymously, so I thought I'd help him out by posting my Christmas Wish List and give him visual aids (I am here to help)!

Santa will only pick three items from my list of six because Jesus only received three gifts; it is a family tradition.

The first two items are from Anthropologie.  I love both the Pinafore Pullover Sweater and the Single Malt Necklace (although rumor has it that Anthropologie has sold out of the Pinafore Sweater already).

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I would also like the Breville Milk Frother from Williams-Sonoma.  I could be a domestic goddess barista, and mayhap it would pay for itself pretty quickly because I would drastically reduce the number of coffee shop runs I'd make in a month.  (Do you think Santa is buying my rationale?)

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My art teacher told me about these super awesome paintbrushes, and Santa can order them from Dick Blick.  They are Winsor Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Miniature Brushes.

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Aren't they pretty!

And, of course, being the nerd that I am, I have two books on my Wish List.

The first book is The Wolves of Andover  by Kathleen Kent.  It is the prequel to The Heretic's Daughter, which I enjoyed immensely.

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The second book is Right-Sizing Your Home.  I need inspiration because I am considering taking everything our of our stupid formal living room no one ever goes into...not ever...and turning it into an art studio for me!  Yep.  And did I mention that the living room is the first room people see when they visit my house.  Ask me if I care.....*I don't*

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Have you written your letter to Santa yet?  What is on your Christmas Wish List?

Until next time...

Christmas Blessings!
Ricki Jill