Book Review: The Edge of the Earth

the-edge-of-the-earth

I don’t usually read historical novels, but I was eager to read The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz because I have always had a fascination for lighthouses, and the cover of this book drew me to it immediately.

The book tells the story of Trudy, a young woman who abandons the life that is expected of her, to marry Oskar, a man who is ambitious and determined to invent something that will bring him fame and fortune. Keen for adventure, Trudy leaves her comfortable life behind to accompany her husband to a remote island off the coast of California where he has taken a job as assistant lighthouse keeper. There, Trudy must learn to adapt to a difficult life on the island, which is home to only one other family, and which feels like living on the edge of the earth. While struggling to maintain a relationship with her increasingly distant husband, her life suddenly becomes more interesting when she discovers something hiding among the rocks, and she sets out to uncover the mystery surrounding the strange presence.

I loved the atmospheric setting of the story, and the depiction of life as it would have been for lighthouse keepers at the end of the nineteenth century. A wonderful story with interesting characters and richly detailed writing that draws you along to a climactic ending.

~  ~  ~

A few years ago Nick and I visited Castle Point Lighthouse on the Wairarapa Coast of New Zealand. Although we weren’t able to go inside, it was a wonderful experience to walk up to it and explore around it. The lighthouse was built in 1913 and was one of the last attended lighthouses to be built in New Zealand. It became fully automated in 1988 and the lighthouse keeper was withdrawn. Although we set off to drive there early in the morning, unfortunately we got there too late to see the light shining.

These are some photos that Nick took of the lighthouse.

Castle Point Lighthouse

Castle Point Lighthouse

Castle Point Lighthouse

Castle Point Lighthouse

We saw many fur seals basking on the rocks surrounding the lighthouse.

fur seals

One day I hope to return and see the light shining.

Books by my Favourite Mixed-Media Artists

 

As a book lover and a crafter, I have quite a large collection of art and craft books on my bookshelves. I love browsing through them. Each one provides me with inspiration for my own craft projects, as well as teaching me new techniques. These are a few books by my favourite mixed-media artists.

Mixed-Media Girls with Suzi Blu: Drawing, Painting, and Fanciful Adornments From Start to Finish

Mixed-Media Girls

www.suzibluart.com

Suzi Blu was the first mixed-media artist I ever discovered. I fell in love with her charming mixed-media girls and her gypsy boho style of art. When her book came out I immediately bought it, keen to learn her techniques and to see more of her lovely creations. It was her book that provided inspiration for my first foray into the world of mixed-media art. She also introduced me to the wonderful world of art journaling. I took one of her art journaling courses and discovered a whole new way of expressing myself creatively. She has many videos on YouTube and offers lots of courses on her website.

Mixed-Media Girls with Suzi Blu includes instructions for drawing and shading a pretty face and folk art body, lots of step by step projects, and a gallery of artwork by her students. It also comes with a bonus DVD on which Suzi guides you through drawing, painting, and finishing one of her mixed-media girls, presented in her fun, quirky style.

Creative Girl: Mixed Media Techniques for an Artful Life by Danielle Donaldson

Creative Girl

danielledonaldson.com

This is the book that began my love of watercolour painting. Danielle Donaldson paints lovely whimsical watercolour illustrations and her distinctive style of art includes a range of mixed-media elements. Her book teaches basic watercolour techniques and fun ways to incorporate mixed-media elements such as stitching, collage, and layering, into your projects to tell visual stories. At the back of the book there is a small gallery of some of Danielle’s work.

Collage Couture: Techniques for Creating Fashionable Art by Julie Nutting

Collage Couture

julienuttingdesigns.blogspot.com

As a young child I loved playing with paper dolls and was so excited whenever I received a new one for my birthday or Christmas. I would spend hours cutting out the clothes, folding the paper tabs over the cardboard dolls, and making up stories for them to act out. I still have all of the paper dolls from my childhood and take them out every now and then when I am feeling nostalgic! Naturally I was thrilled to discover Julie Nutting’s two books, Collage Couture: Techniques  for Creating Fashionable Art, and Collage Couture Studio Paper Dolls. It was a chance for me to rediscover those magical childhood memories, and to combine two of my favourite things, paper dolls and pretty scrapbook papers.

Collage Couture: Techniques for Creating Fashionable Art teaches you how to sketch fashion figures and create stylish dresses  from patterned papers, and it has step-by-step projects for creating mixed-media backgrounds for the dolls. Great fun!

Collage Couture Studio Paper Dolls: Design, Collage, Cut & Play by Julie Nutting

Collage Couture Studio Paper Dolls

Collage Couture Studio Paper Dolls has five paper dolls from around the world, each with their own little story and a page of clothes in their own style, which can be photocopied or scanned and cut out.  There is also a template for designing your own paper doll, and step-by-step projects for building mixed-media backgrounds and settings for the dolls.

Taking Flight: Inspiration & Techniques to give your Creative Spirit Wings
by Kelly Rae Roberts

Taking Flight: Inspiration & Techniques to Give Your Creative Spirit Wings

www.kellyraeroberts.com

It was through this book that I first discovered Kelly Rae Roberts. In Taking Flight, Kelly Rae shares her personal journey towards becoming a full-time artist and inspires you to rediscover your dreams and live a more creative life. She shows you through step-by-step projects how to create mixed-media backgrounds, using collage and other techniques, and how to draw and paint faces. As well as teaching through her own recognizable style, the book also includes techniques from contributing artists, which Kelly Rae incorporates into her projects. At the end of each chapter is an interview with the contributing artist.

Layered, Tattered & Stitched: A Fabric Art Workshop by Ruth Rae

Layered, Tattered & Stitched: A Fabric Art Workshop

ruthrae.blogspot.com

As well as having a love of scrapbook papers and embellishments, I also adore fabrics, lace, beads and buttons. This book indulges my love of all those things. Layered, tattered & Stitched: A Fabric Art Workshop by Ruth Rae is full of inspiring small projects with step-by-step instructions for making fabric cards, books, journals and albums, art dolls, wall art, and much, much more. The book explores a range of sewing techniques combined with collage, photo transfers, dyeing and staining fabric, using wire, and more. At the back of the book there are pattern templates for some of the projects. A lovely book for anyone interested in fabric art.

Book Review: 101 Easy Homemade Products For Your Skin, Health & Home

I have always tried to live a healthy lifestyle, conscious of what I put both into and onto my body, and the effect that household products have on us and on the environment. For many years I have used cleaning products that have no nasty chemicals, and body care products that are natural and organic.

Recently I bought a book called 101 Easy Homemade Products For Your Skin, Health & Home by Jan Berry. I have followed Jan’s blog The Nerdy Farm Wife for a while now and was excited when I saw that she had written a book. It is full of projects for making skin and hair care products, household cleaners, health remedies, and pet care products using natural ingredients and common herbs, flowers and oils. The book is perfect for the beginner with easy-to-follow directions and lots of lovely pictures.

101 Homemade Products

So far I have made three projects from the book. The first one I tried was a lip balm. Jan teaches you how to make a basic lip balm, then gives lots of ideas on how to customise it using different herbs and essential oils. The first one I made I used avocado oil infused with lemon balm from my garden, and the next one I used olive oil infused with lavender flowers. It was so easy to make, I will never buy lip balm again!

lavender lip balm

Next I made the calendula lotion, which had a few extra steps and ingredients, but it turned out really nice. I didn’t have any calendulas flowering in my garden, so I bought a packet of dried calendula flowers from a health shop and infused them in organic avocado oil. I’ve planted a load of seeds in my garden so that I will have some on hand for using in creams and lotions when I need them. Now that I know how to make a lotion, I can’t wait to try out some different recipes. There are recipes in the book for face cleansers, face creams, eye creams, body butters, soaps, and much, much more.

Calendula Lotion

I made the orange pine floor cleaner, using pine needles collected on our walks, and oranges from our garden. It cleans the floors well and leaves a lovely refreshing scent.

orange and pine floor cleaner

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in making their own herbal products and in living a natural, chemical-free lifestyle.

A New Favourite Author

Don’t you love it when you fall in love with a book by an author you haven’t read before, and then find they have written several other books, and you can’t wait to read them?

I discovered Susan Branch while browsing on the Internet for a calendar for 2016. Her Heart of the Home calendars feature recipes, quotes and her charming watercolour illustrations. Then I discovered that she had written a book called A Fine Romance: Falling in love with the English Countryside. It immediately caught my attention as I have always dreamed of travelling to England and exploring the picturesque country villages. I bought the book and it is just amazing, not only to read, but there is so much to look at, too!

The book is Susan’s account of her and her husband’s trip to England to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Based on the diaries that Susan kept of the trip, the book is handwritten and tells the story of their voyage from America to England on an ocean liner, and then of the two months they spent exploring the English countryside, visiting historic homes such as Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, and the tea rooms, pubs and antique stores they discovered along the way. The beautiful hardcover book with a red ribbon bookmark is full of photographs, recipes, and Susan’s delightful watercolour illustrations. Her warm, friendly prose makes you feel as though you are right there with them on their journey.

Susan has also written two prequels to A Fine Romance. Memoirs of her life, The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard Isle of Dreamsare also handwritten, with lots of photographs and watercolour pictures. These beautiful hardcover books recently arrived in my mailbox and are eagerly awaiting to be read and devoured!

Susan is an amazing watercolour artist. As well as her memoirs and calendars, she has a Heart of the Home series of books that celebrate cooking, gardening, homemaking and entertaining, and a range of products that feature her watercolour illustrations including greeting cards, journals and recipe keepers.

You can learn more about Susan, her books, and her life on the beautiful Isle of Martha’s Vineyard at her website www.susanbranch.com.

Favourite Books of June

My favourite books this month include two non-fiction books and another young adult apocalypse novel.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
Edited by Pamela Smith Hill

As a child I loved watching the TV series, Little House on the Prairie, and I enjoyed reading the Little House series of books. This new book, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, includes Laura Ingalls Wilder’s never-before-published autobiography, Pioneer Girl, which she completed in 1930 at the age of 63. Her story, with much help from her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was later rewritten as the Little House series of books for children.

This is a beautiful, large format, hardcover book that contains not only the manuscript for Pioneer Girl, but lots of information and insights into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. It also includes many maps, photographs and records from the period, and is a book that I’m sure all Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will love.

The Pioneer Girl Project blog, which I began following in the months leading up to the publication of the book, has lots of extra photographs, interviews and interesting information about Laura Ingalls Wilder, her family and friends, and the communities in which they lived.

The Secret Language of Flowers by Samantha Gray

I know there are many books on the language of flowers, but this one is a particularly lovely one with beautiful illustrations. It discusses the hidden meanings of over 50 flowers and includes a lot of interesting flower folklore and myth. A small, hardcover book, it is perfect for browsing through on a rainy day, or reading while sitting in the garden, drinking tea, surrounded by flowers.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

What would you do if you knew the world was going to end in two months? An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and there is a sixty-six percent chance that it will collide with the planet and destroy life as we know it. This is the story of four teenagers and the choices they make with the knowledge that they may have only two months left to live. The chapters alternate between the characters – the athlete, the outcast, the slacker, and the overachiever – who each have very different personalities, backgrounds, dreams and ambitions. Through the impending disaster, their lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. This is one of those books that I couldn’t put down, anxious to see how it would end and whether or not our planet would survive.

Tommy Wallach is a singer-songwriter as well as an author, and he has written and recorded an album to go along with the book. It is available on iTunes, and you can listen to one of the songs on his website tommywallach.com.

Favourite Books of May

Favourite Books of May

Three books I have enjoyed reading this month include a magical story from one of my favourite authors, a companion book to another of my favourite books, and a post-apocalyptic novel.

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

Nightbird

Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors and I have been gradually working my way through her extensive backlist. I love the magical realism genre, which Alice Hoffman writes so well for both adults and children. Nightbird is her latest novel for middle grade readers. I love the cover!

Twelve-year-old Twig lives in a small town, with a mysterious brother, and a mother who bakes irresistible apple pies. Twig’s family are reclusive, distancing themselves from the rest of the town to protect a family secret. Twig dreams of one day having a friend and when a new family moves in next door, her dream becomes reality as she befriends Julia and her sister, Agate. When rumours abound throughout the town of a winged beast, accused of theft and vandalism, Twig and her new friends set out to solve the mystery surrounding the myth before the townsfolk hunt the beast down. But first they need to break the witch’s curse that keeps Twig’s brother a prisoner in his own home.

Nightbird is a story filled with magic, mystery, a touch of romance, and those delicious pink apple pies. There is even a recipe at the end of the book so you can make your own. I have tried it and it is very good!

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

One of my favourite books I read last year was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which is an endearing and entertaining story about a  man who recieves a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend whom he hasn’t seen for many years, explaining that she is dying of cancer. On a whim, he sets out on a pilgrimage to walk the length of England to reach her before she dies.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is told from Queenie’s point of view. As she lies in the hospice, waiting for Harold Fry to arrive, she decides to write a second letter revealing her true feelings for him and telling the truth about the events that led up to her sudden departure from his life all those years ago. As Queenie tries to hold on until Harold arrives, she forms some unlikely friendships as the staff and patients in the hospice follow Harold’s progress through postcards he sends along the way.

In this book we learn a lot more about Harold’s past, and the mystery surrounding his son. As Rachel Joyce says, this is not a sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, nor a prequel, but a companion.

It is a story of unfulfilled love, atoning for one’s past, and making peace with the present, and although it is set in a hospice, it is not at all depressing.

The Sky so Heavy by Claire Zorn

The Sky so Heavy

The Sky so Heavy is a post-apocalyptic novel set in Australia. After nuclear missiles are detonated on the other side of the world, entire cities are wiped out and a nuclear winter descends upon the earth. With their father missing, and their mother in the city, seventeen-year-old Fin and his younger brother Max are left at home to fend for themselves. With no power, bitterly cold temperatures, and dwindling food supplies, their lives become a daily struggle to survive. When their neighbours start getting sick from radiation poisoning and society collapses around them, with no relief in sight, they decide to leave their home in the suburbs and head for the city in search of their mother. Along with two friends, they make the perilous journey, unaware of what they will find when they get there.

I found this story very plausible, thought-provoking, and unnerving. It made me wonder how I would survive after a nuclear war, or if I would even want to when every day becomes a battle for survival. The story is a real page-turner, but it is not only a story of survival, but a story about the unbreakable bonds of family, and the importance of friendship.

Book Review: An Altered Existence

An Altered Existence

There is something about vintage photos that sparks the imagination, drawing you into a bygone era, imagining what life was like for the subjects, who often looked solemn, dressed in all their finery, posing for the camera. I love to use old family photographs in my heritage scrapbooking and mixed-media art, telling the stories of my ancestors through pictures and journaling.

In An Altered Existence: Fictitious Stories About Faces from the Past, Melody M. Nunez has taken vintage photos, also known as cabinet cards, which she collected from flea markets and antique stores, and created fictional short stories about the people in them.

Each chapter begins with an “altered” photograph, embellished with stitching, buttons, lace, an old key, followed by a story woven around the subject of the photo. The stories range from historical to contemporary fiction and cover a wide range of subjects from family, relationships, and the language of flowers, to ghosts, hoarding, and a man obsessed with time. I love Melody’s style of writing. It is easy to read, with each story an imaginative glimpse into a life that could have been.

Melody is an artist and a writer. Visit her website at www.melodynunez.com to see illustrations from the book, and to view more of her artwork.