Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review: Monet, the Ultimate Impressionist by Sylvie Patin

 In 1874 Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise caused uproar among the critics and a revolution in painting. His inventiveness was inexhaustible: with the Haystacks, Poplars and, finally, the enchanting Water-lilies of Giverny, Monet captured light in all its fleeting qualities.

At last, almost blind – 'I fear the dark more than death' – he feverishly produced near-abstract landscapes of water and reflection, a vision of nature that paved the way for the art of our own times. 

Including hundreds of beautiful reproductions and contemporary illustrations,comprehensive text, documentary witness accounts and letters, Monet: The Ultimate Impressionist, a pocket-sized book, is perfect both for the lover of Monet and of the history of Impressionism. 

Sylvie Patin worked at the Jeu de Paume and the Musée de l'Orangerie before being appointed curator of paintings at the Musée d'Orsay. (via

Though I know very little about it, art has intrigued me for the past few years and impressionism, in particular, has really captured my interest. So, as I have a few months to go until my next university course kicks off, now seems like the perfect time to begin learning a little more about this form of creative expression.

After recently taking an audio tour around the National Gallery and finding myself admiring Monet's work more than most others, this book caught my eye in the giftshop. Unlike many art books that I've seen, this one, published by Thames and Hudson, comes as a compact paperback, making it easy to lug around outside the house without being too much of a nuisance. It's filled with full colour images and plenty of commentary, tracing Monet's life through various sources of direct evidence including the art, various letters, and a transaction log book kept by the artist himself.

Though the book is relatively short (175 pages, many of which are illustrated), there is a wealth of information about Monet's life and everything is unveiled in chronological order. I can't share everything that fascinated me (I would probably end up listing everything in the book!), but here are a few tidbits.
  • It was enlightening to find out how much Monet struggled during his career. He was frequently rejected by exhibition organisers, critics often mocked his work, and he was forced to sell his paintings for prices lower than their worth just to have money to live on.
  • He formed very deep friendships and support systems with fellow impressionists such as Manet, Renoir, and Pissarro. He even appealed to Manet for monetary loans quite frequently, and of course he obliged, though Monet always paid him back. Vincent Van Gogh's brother, Théo, even bought some of Monet's work and had them exhibited.
  • The back pages of the book include various documents written by Monet, his friends, critics, and admirers. Here's a fraction of a letter that Vincent Van Gogh sent to H.M. Levens in admiration:
    "There are many things to see here .... In Antwerp, I never even knew what the Impressionists were; now I have seen them, and although I am not yet one of their club, I am a great admirer of some of their paintings ... [notably] a landscape by Claude Monet." (Paris, summer or autumn 1886)
I also think my understanding of how to read a painting has improved. From what I gather, the most important thing to observe is the composition, for example the lighting, shadows, and the use of colour. But all you art lovers in-the-know can tell me if I’m right or wrong there!

Still, the book wasn't perfect. The compact size compromises the quality of the prints, and so it makes it slightly more difficult to appreciate what the author is trying to convey. Also, the pages are cluttered with information. There are notes explaining each of the illustrations alongside the more detailed main paragraphs, where perhaps readers might just benefit from the name of the piece and a reference to a footnote at the back of the book.

Altogether, though, I found this a very informative and enjoyable read. If you're looking for a good pocket-sized book to learn more about Monet, then this would be a good choice. However, if you'd prefer to something with more high quality prints, I would suggest something published by Taschen. I have several art books by Taschen, and though I haven't read them in great detail, they can be very affordable options (an A3 hardcover can be as little as £8.99, while this Thames and Hudson A5 paperback was £7.95).

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Like what you've heard? Get your copy at The Book Depository.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Quote of the Week

I love a good quote, whether it's funny, inspiring, completely bonkers, book related, non-book related, etc. I don't discriminate! So, I've decided that each Monday, I'll be posting a Quote of the Week.

For this very first installment, I've chosen some enlightening words from a celebrated artist (who I also happen to be reading about right now)...

“What I do here will at least have the merit of being unlike anyone else's work ... because it'll simply be the expression of what I personally felt myself.”
- Claude Monet

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Review: I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

I've lost it. The only thing in the world I wasn't supposed to lose. My engagement ring. It's been in Magnus's family for three generations. And now, the very same day his parents are coming, I've lost it. The very same day. Do not hyperventilate, Poppy. Stay positive!! 

Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier. She is about to marry the ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her 'happy ever after' begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring but in the panic that followed, she has now lost her phone. As she paces shakily round the hotel foyer she spots an abandoned phone in a bin. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!

Well, perfect except the phone's owner, businessman Sam Roxton doesn't agree. He wants his phone back and doesn't appreciate Poppy reading all his messages and wading into his personal life. 

What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other's lives through emails and text messages. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, mysterious phone calls and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents... she soon realises that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life. (via Goodreads)

If you've read any of Sophie Kinsella's other books, it's likely that you'll recognise the same traits in Poppy as you would expect to find in Kinsella's other protagonists. Poppy is a professional young woman with a heart of gold who tends to put that heart first instead of her head. The result is a series of unexpected, yet self-provoked, incidents with the undeniable ability to make a person cringe!

And cringe I did, especially at the beginning! I found Poppy to be very annoying. Not that I was surprised by this Kinsella's characters all have a tendency to test my patience at some point. What I didn't like about Poppy were the people-pleasing aspects of her personality which tended to get her into large muddles with those around her. The only person she didn't seem all that interested in pleasing was Sam, the owner of the mobile phone she finds in a hotel lobby bin.

But, the story really grew on me. After I got past my initial hang-ups and became used to Poppy, I began to accept her. The best thing about the book was seeing her relationship with Sam grow, and observing all the ways they end up helping each other.

Also, Kinsella's writing is still on top form here. I really admire that certain cinematic flow her books seem to have; as if you can imagine them being played out on screen with little adaptation.

I've Got Your Number is a very clever story, and once you get past all those initial annoyances it's easy to enjoy. Definitely worth a read!

Rating: 4 / 5

Like what you've heard? Get your copy at The Book Depository.

Beads and Bracelets

Around two months ago, I became interested in making jewellery. It's not something I think about doing as a career but rather as a fun, and perhaps profitable, hobby. A girl can hope, right?

Since I've spent a small fortune on supplies (can you say, carried away?!), I've gotten around to creating these pretty elastic beaded bracelets. Even though they're simple to make, you can come up with some excellent and professional designs. Personally, I love beaded bracelets like these. They're usually the first thing I lock eyes on in the jewellery/accessories section of a store (I have more store-bought beaded bracelets than I know what to do with!)

So, I've put together a few of my own creations and opened a shop on Etsy. If you'd like to look at what I've got on offer at the moment, please check out my shop here.

There's also a chance to win a bracelet in my big May giveaway, especially made just for you! You can enter that here.

If you'd love to have something handmade and totally unique, now's definitely the time to get going!

In the future, I'm hoping to start making more intricate jewellery using wire instead of elastic. We'll see how that goes. First, I need to find a local beading class... where are they hiding?

For now, here are some of my current creations. Hope you like them!

This one has just been sold. It's made of glass beads and Tibetan silver. If you would like to have one for yourself, I've got enough supplies left to make another exactly like this. Price was £1.80 excluding postage.

On sale now for £2.00 excluding postage. The parrot charm is Tibetan silver, and the beads are all glass. Four are imitation pearls and the rest are turquoise and yellow crackle effect beads.

Very similar to the one above, except the glass beads are fuschia and yellow. On sale now for £2.00.

A light green bracelet, also all glass. There is one oval blue and clear crackle bead, two white hearts with flower detail, and two Tibetan silver dividers. I haven't put the bracelet on Etsy yet, but expect to see it soon.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Review: A Good Year by Peter Mayle

Max Skinner is a man at the heart of London's financial universe until his employers embark on a little asset- stripping of their own. Himself. Amid the grey London drizzle, there is one potential ray of sunshine: Max's Uncle Henry has left him his estate in his will - an eighteenth-century chateau and vineyard an hour's drive from Avignon. Out of a job, and encouraged by his friend Charlie about the money in modern wine, he heads for France. What Max discovers is a beautiful house, wonderful weather and a bustling village. The downside is the quality of the wine in his vineyard, but when Max suggests calling in an expert, Roussel, a former employee of his uncle's, is resistant. Help is at hand, however, when a beautiful blonde Californian arrives unexpectedly at the chateau. Peter Mayle's delightful novel will enchant the audiences who bought A YEAR IN PROVENCE and TOUJOURS PROVENCE in their millions. (via Goodreads)

The reason I decided to read this book was because one of my favourite films, also called A Good Year, was based on it. There are quite a few big plot differences between the two, but I won't go into the specifics of that now. Let's just say that if you've seen the film before you've read the book, or vice versa, these differences will probably intrigue more than annoy.

A Good Year is the perfect book to read if you've been dying to escape the never-ending conveyor belt of rainclouds hovering over Britain for the past month or so. You're instantly transported from a grey and repetitive existence which, aptly enough, is exactly what the main character experiences during the first two chapters of the book before relocating to the south of France.

The way Mayle describes the beautiful French countryside is so blissful and inviting. It made me feel like I was stepping into the story like I was in Provence and I could feel 'the glorious shock of heat' with Max as he walks out of the airport (something I always treasure whenever I arrive at a hot destination).

The plot itself is a little slow paced and not overly intense. This is something I usually complain about when reading but here it didn't bother me at all. It just seemed to add the the overall gentility and the implied laidback, idyllic lifestyles that the people of Provence experience.

I would say that if you enjoy wine, food, beautiful scenery and good company, a hint of crime and charming laugh-out-loud humour, A Good Year can provide you with plenty of it all. It's the perfect companion on a rainy day or even for those moments when you're basking in the sun.

Rating: 4 / 5 

Like what you've heard? Get your copy at The Book Depository.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Collecting vintage postcards

You might be wondering why the last items up for grabs during my giveaway are handmade bracelets and vintage postcards. They're not exactly bookish items, but they're two things I have recently become very interested in.

I've enjoyed purchasing various postcards over the past few years from cities I've visited to fine art prints from various galleries but it wasn't until about two months ago while I was visiting my talented friend, Jackie (check out her website!), that I became inspired to start a collection of vintage postcards.

My collection ranges from as early as 1900 to the 1960s. The prices you can expect pay for postcards can vary, but most I've paid for a single card on eBay is around £6 including postage. There is also an amazing antique shop a few miles from where I live, The Antique Cellar in Brackley, which has a whole section full of vintage postcards with hundreds of them only costing a mere 50p each! Needless to say, I have become quite eager to expand my collection.

To date, I have probably got just over a hundred vintage British, American and Asian postcards (the majority British), including a beautiful Edwardian postcard album that Jackie gave me for my birthday.

Now to share some of my favourites! All of those seen here are British, apart from the two which are indicated. You can also see more vintage postcards (some of which I've purchased) on my Pinterest board.

My Edwardian album (1916), which holds 400 postcards

A birthday greetings postcard, posted in 1921

Two song cards from World War I

A studio photograph postcard, posted in 1913. Studio photographs seem to have been quite popular in the early 20th century

The back of a postcard which was sent from the US Naval Hospital, Hawaii in 1942. See the front here.

An embossed birthday greetings photo postcard. Not sure of its exact date, but I'm guessing it's from around the 1910s.

A handpainted Japanese postcard from the 1950s

Hope you've enjoyed these! I'll be sharing more details about my handmade bracelets in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Closed for entries | Surprise! MAY Month Giveaway Bonanza!


To celebrate post-exam relief and my birthday (which is on May 10), I've decided to hold a big international giveaway! Check out the prizes below and then fill in the Rafflecopter form to enter. The more you do, the more chances you have of winning!

The MAY Month Giveaway Bonanza! will begin May 1st and end at 12.01am EST on June 1st. Winners will be announced on June 2nd so make sure you check back to see if you've won!

Good luck everyone!

Each entry will have the chance to win one of the following...
1 x US$10 towards any choice of books from The Book Depository
2 x paperback copies of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (one for each winner)
1 x paperback copy of Complete Novels of Jane Austen
1 x paperback copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
1 x eBook copy of Taste by Kate Evangelista
2 x Glass bead bracelets (handmade by me!) and vintage postcards (one for each winner).