Sunday, February 28, 2010

Site Updated, Reviews Archived

A few months late, but I finally updated the website again.  Previous reviews have been archived.  I also fixed a few errors, added some Amazon links, and rotated the content in the Random Recommendations.  I should probably devote some time and energy to making the place a little nicer to look at this year, maybe add some graphic interest... we'll see how that goes...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Imaginative Realism (James Gurney)

Imaginative Realism
James Gurney
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Nonfiction, Art
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Professional artist James Gurney is perhaps best known for his imaginative illustrated Dinotopia series, where he convincingly blends humans and prehistoric animals in a variety of settings.  Here, he explains how to use real-world inspirations, hand-crafted maquettes, and other props to create realistic visions of the impossible.

REVIEW: I love Gurney's works.  The original Dinotopia is one of my favorite sense-of-wonder experiences.  Seeing how he pulls it off only makes me appreciate his work all the more.  Gurney doesn't walk readers step by step through paintings, nor does he spend pages on anatomy and perspective and other things covered in so many other art books.  His focus is just what the title says: painting what doesn't exist in as realistic a manner as possible.  He uses models built out of clay, paper, and other materials to study lighting and composition.  He uses live models in costume.  He uses plein air studies and heaps of reference files, and he takes the time to answer all the big questions about composition and such before paint touches canvas.  All the time spent on this background work shows in all of his paintings.  This book may not be for rank beginners, but it's an inspiring read for anyone who wants to create beautiful imaginative art or simply wants to understand how people like Gurney pull off the impossible.  This is yet another art book that makes me wish I had a decent workspace.  And a budget.  Oh, yeah - and an iota of talent with a paintbrush.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Ghosts of Belfast (Stuart Neville)

The Ghosts of Belfast
Stuart Neville
Soho Crime
Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION:  The day Gerry Fegan learned he was to be released from the Maze prison, twelve ghosts began to haunt him.  Each one was a victim of his bloody work in the IRA, ostensibly fighting for Northern Ireland's freedom.  Now, the world is changing, and a peace that seemed impossible for decades is on the horizon.  The same men who once hurled Molotov cocktails at police officers and ordered hits on their own neighbors now wear suits and ties... except for those like Fegan, the ones sent to do the dirty work.  Gerry never wanted to take another life, but the ghosts demand retribution.  His former bosses may fight with media sound bites instead of guns these days, but they still have much to answer for - and, if the rest of world seems to have forgotten, the ghosts of Belfast remember.

REVIEW:  Neville weaves a dark and gory tale of Northern Ireland's dark and gory history, a history that refuses to be forgotten even in this day and age.  The types of people described here - yesterday's cold-blooded killers forgiven as "freedom fighters," hiding from justice behind press conferences - probably have real-world counterparts in Ireland and many parts of the world.  Some of the names and interchangeable thugs ran together, and at least one plot contrivance (the innocent little girl Ellen, daughter of a potential love interest) had me rolling my eyes more often than not.  Does Gerry's crusade balance the scales?  Can Ireland ever wash its hands without the hate-fueled bloodstains resurfacing in some form or another?  Do two wrongs ever make a right?  Neville asks these questions and more, without always giving clean answers.  The back cover claims that the author plans a series; personally, I don't know that it needs more books.  Overall, the story is less mystery and more thriller, and if it wasn't quite my cup of cocoa, it was still a nicely-paced and unpredictable tale that never flinched from its own shadows.