Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey (review)

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What strange days we’re living in! Here on Canada’s west coast signs of spring are poking out and blooming all over. The coming of spring usually buoys my spirits immensely and this year is no different—and yet it is. For the black Covid-19 cloud looms on the horizon and we’re all living in obeisance by “social distancing” and, if returning from abroad, living in actual isolation. Closeted in our houses, condos, or apartments, we go out only for necessities and short walks, avoiding each other like the plague (which, we fear, anyone can be carrying, unbeknownst to them). It all feels so bizarre and unreal.

It’s gratifying to see how the online world has stepped up to fill work and recreation gaps. Lately I’ve heard more than once that this is a great time to spend unexpectedly free hours learning something new. My interest in art has familiarized me with that sphere. There, artists are offering all manner of online courses and tutorials, many free.

Another option, if you’d like to try your hand at art, specifically learning to paint with watercolor, is books. One I worked through last year was Jenna Rainey’s Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days.

Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey

This is an excellent book for a beginning painter. Rainey starts with the basics in sections called “Techniques” and “Form, Perspective and Light.” Her explanations of theory are followed, at every step, by projects. These range from making color swatches to completing complex scenes. I worked through the whole book and along the way learned about wet on wet and wet on dry painting, value and tone, light to dark layering, light source, shadow, and much much more.

Bookstores in your area are probably closed but no problem. You can purchase this book online, in fact, have it on your device in minutes as an e-book. I bought it that way and viewed the book’s projects on my iPad as I worked on them.

As a teaser, here are some of the Everyday Watercolor projects I completed. (The ideas and designs are © Jenna Rainey.)

You can also follow Jenna Rainey on Instagram, where she posts painting instruction videos. Can you watch her work and not fall in love with watercolor? I doubt it!

The Road to Happenstance – review

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The Road to Happenstance by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“Happenstance: A chance happening or event” (Dictionary.com)

That is what Matthew Sadler’s (aka Matthew Smith’s) arrival at the town by that name seems to be at first—a chance event. But the town’s welcoming vibe and quirky inhabitants cast a spell over the fleeing-from-demons teacher, whose motorbike, pony tail, and new growth beard are outward signs of the inner changes he seeks.

However, not all is as it seems even in the town that bills itself as “A Town You Can Trust.” As Matthew gets to know his two aging hosts at the Happenstance Hotel, the local mechanic, the coffee shop owner, the pastor, the woman who is a fellow guest at the hotel, and others, he realizes that strange things seem to be afoot—and even here his past might find him.

The wonderful writing, colourful characters, cleverly contrived plot, that reinforces themes of faith and grace, made this cozy mystery a welcome winter diversion for me.

A set of discussion questions at the end would make it a good book club choice.

Recommended!

I received a copy of The Road to Happenstance as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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South: The story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Review

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South (Illustrated): The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition by Ernest Shackleton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Recently my preference in books has settled on memoir and biography. In that genre, South a memoir of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Antarctic expedition (first published in 1919) was a real find in my stash of unread Kindle books.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) was an Antarctic explorer who had gone on several expeditions before the one described in this book. He was a third mate in Robert F. Scott’s 1901-1903 Discovery Expedition and led another, the Nimrod Expedition, in 1907-1909. On that trip, he and his mates broke the then-record for getting nearest to the South Pole and climbed Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s most active volcano. On returning to England, he was knighted by King George VII, becoming Sir Ernest Shackleton.

His third expedition, the 1914-1917 one which South details, was ambitious. It involved two ships with a selected crew of 26 men on each. The ship Endurance carried Shackleton and his crew. They hoped to reach Antarctica via the Weddell Sea (approaching Antarctica from the east), and trek overland. Meanwhile the ship Aurora, approaching Antarctica from the South via the Ross Sea, was tasked with carrying and depositing supplies along the route that Shackleton and his men hoped to take.

The expedition’s trouble began when the Endurance became trapped by ice before reaching land. Active ice floes moved, ground, and pressed against the ship. Shackleton and his men, fearing the worst, prepared for the possibility of abandoning their floating home. One fateful day the Endurance was indeed crushed and badly damaged. Shackleton and the crew’s many weeks drifting on the ice was only the beginning of their misadventures.

Shackleton’s telling is rich with journal entries of his own and others. The story of the Aurora and its crew, almost as discouraging, follows the tale of the Endurance crew.

In this day of air travel and sophisticated communication, the isolated, helpless state of Shackleton and his men is almost unimaginable. Their character, stoicism, and resourcefulness, along with Sir Ernest’s inspirational leadership are things I found remarkable in this story.

On this expedition, Shackleton and his men encountered the beauty and brutality of nature. They were often near death and I wondered, did they ever get to a point where they were beyond themselves? Did they ever acknowledge God? Pray?

Several times in the book Shackleton does mention Providence (yes, capitalized). And this bit from the last leg of his journey on South Georgia Island to get help is very interesting:

“When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

— South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (Kindle Location 3220)

South is a riveting tale that will keep you reading long into the night. Highly recommended.

Note:
My Kindle edition of the book had a list of illustrations (mostly photographs) that weren’t included in the book. Should you happen to read such an edition, the illustrations are available and linked here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5199/5199-h/5199-h.htm .

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Hidden Secrets (review)

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Hidden Secrets (A Green Dory Inn Mystery, #2)Hidden Secrets by Janet Sketchley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With batches of fragrant muffins and mugs of herbal tea, served up in an idyllic seaside setting, Janet Sketchley lures us into discovering the deadly secrets of the Green Dory Inn. Hidden Secrets is Book 2 in the Green Dory Inn Mystery series.

Thoroughly modern, with cell phones and drones, there are also elements of old sea tales with rogue ships and rum-runners in this cozy mystery. The Christian faith of the two main characters, Landon and Anna, adds value and heft to this hard-to-put-down read.

The believably imperfect characters (many of whom we met in Unknown Enemy, Book One of the series) remind me of the characters in Jan Karon’s Father Tim books. But the main player here is a 24-year-old college student, Landon, whose secretive personal past adds complications to the fast-moving plot. Sketchley has included a character list at the beginning of the book to help us keep straight the cast of characters and their relationships to each other. Though it works nicely as a standalone, reading Book One of the series would help you feel like you’re reconnecting with these folks.

Sketchley’s descriptive, yet tight writing and savvy plot combined to make me wish the book was longer. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am happy to hear that Sketchley is beginning work on Book 3.

I received Hidden Secrets as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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As the Ink Flows (review)

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As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian WritersAs the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers by Glenda Dekkema

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though books of devotions abound, As the Ink Flows is a unique collection of ninety meditations written by five Canadian writers for writers—and speakers too.

Section divisions (The Craft; Inspiration; Know Yourself; Well-Being; Personalities; and Faithfulness) demonstrate how wide-ranging and thorough this book is.

Devotions are short. A quoted scripture verse, two to five paragraphs on the day’s theme, followed by a one-line prayer completes on one page. Each is followed by a “Let the Ink Flow” page which consists of a thought or idea on which to reflect and a writing prompt. Space on these pages makes writing directly in the book possible (if it’s a hard copy).

I found these devotions by turn encouraging, probing, affirming, illuminating, and challenging. What a useful guide for worship, gratitude, prayer, meditation, and future direction for writers or speakers at any point in their career, from “should I give this a try?” to “been there, done that.” Highly recommended for Christian speakers and writers of any genre.

I received this book as a gift (ebook edition) from the publisher in exchange for a review.

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The Lord of the Rings (review)

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The Lord of the RingsThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently finished reading The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien—all six books, a Kindle edition purchased May 9th, finished reading around August 14th.

Here are some of the things that impressed me about book(s).

The contrast between good and evil. Good characters and settings were beautiful, wholesome, verdant, fragrant, admirable, while the evil characters and settings were creepy to grotesque, debauched, barren, in some cases smelled vile, and were frightening and repulsive.

That said, characters were still complex. Though the good characters were essentially white, they still had the capacity for foolishness, made mistakes etc. This made for my continued interest.

My favourite character was Frodo’s servant, the loyal Sam Gamgee. Through him Tolkien illustrates the values of love, faithfulness, perseverance, courage etc. in the face of insurmountable odds.

The hobbit characters retained their love of hearth, home and a good meal. Their reminiscences about these things and their appearances in the story even when situations were at their worst (a good meal cooked when making a fire was a dangerous act; the singing of a lullaby during captivity by evil orcs) kept me hopeful that the good would win.

As I looked for Christian allegorical themes, and knowing that Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were contemporaries and literary buddies (the Inklings), these jumped out at me.

1. The fight between good and evil—a biblical theme if there ever was one.

2. Saruman and Sauron as types of Satan.

The wizard Gandalf says of Sauron:

“… I found our fears were true; he was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again” – p. 250.

Treebeard says of Saruman:

“He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things” p. 473.

3. King Aragorn as a type of Christ:
In a scene with the hobbit Pippin:

“’King! Did you hear that? What did I say? The hands of a healer, I said!’ And soon word had gone out from the House that the King was indeed come among them and after war he brought healing.” P. 286.

This wasn’t my favourite book in the world. The language is more descriptive and flowery than I’m used to, though I felt it suited the story genre well. I also found the use of words and phrases in Tolkien’s made-up language confusing in that they slowed me down, though again, they made the story feel like an authentic middle earth tale.

All in all, this was a very long but worthwhile read. If you haven’t read it maybe you should for aspects of this story (in book and film) are now woven into the imagination and fabric of our culture.

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Unknown Enemy (Review)

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Unknown Enemy (A Green Dory Inn Mystery, #1)Unknown Enemy by Janet Sketchley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Landon Smith gets a call to help Anna, the woman who was an anchor to her in her troubled past, she leaves her college dorm in Toronto for a weekend in Nova Scotia with hardly a second thought. Once there she is immediately caught up in the mystery of who is terrorizing Anna’s business, the Green Dory Inn. Or is Anna, whose husband died recently, falling apart mentally and seeing things?

Unknown Enemy is full of tension as we try to puzzle out with Landon and Anna who, in Sketchley’s cast of colourful (and complex) characters, could be behind this. When the weekend has passed and the mystery is still not solved we wonder, will Landon be able to get to the bottom of this before her exacting prof drops her from her course.

I love the local colour of the Lunenberg setting—an actual town in Nova Scotia—and all the homey touches of the inn (beautiful décor, lots of tea and homemade baking). I wish the Green Dory Inn wasn’t fictional as I’d love to stay there!

Faith plays a big part in all of Sketchley’s stories and this one is no exception. Landon has made a practice of handling flashbacks of past trauma with prayer. That’s something she learned from the almost saintly Anna, who is a paradigm of loving the outcasts and marginalized.

I enjoyed this quick read, which kept me turning pages way past when I planned to stop.

With this novella, Sketchley introduces a new series: The Green Dory Inn mysteries. Fans of contemporary Christian mystery won’t want to miss one installment. Unknown Enemy releases August 2nd, 2018.

I received a copy of Unknown Enemy as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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