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Death and Restoration (Art History Mystery) – Book Review

dearhThere is nothing quite as lush as pairing the rich, vibrant world of art history with that of a mystery. Iain Pears, an art historian, pairs the two together in his novel, Death and Restoration. It is the sixth novel in Pears’ Jonathan Argyll series. However, readers who are new to it, will not be lost in what came in books prior. Pears subtly reminds his readers of important past events and relationships that are key to following the mystery in Death and Restoration.

The Plot

Again, the book opens with the series main characters, Argyll and his soon-to-be wife, Flavia di Stefano. The two are immersed in the Italian art world– Flavia, as a member of the Rome police’s art squad and Argyll as a professor of art history. The plot is mainly centered around a art-theft, but breaks off into smaller sub-plots that each character seamlessly narrates.

Argyll, for example is bothered by his fiancee’s frequent absences from their wedding planning while, Flavia is more pre-occupied with trying to prove that her revival, Mary Verney is in Rome, bent on master-minding a great art theft. However, everything is changed when it is uncovered that Verney is in Rome to steal a painting, but her reasons for it have nothing to do with personal gain, but rather to free her kidnapped granddaughter Louise from the sadistic Mikis Charanis.

The Mystery

Further questions arise, though, when Verney is supposed to steal the Madonna artifact from San Giovanni. The big question is, why does Mikis Charanis want this artifact? Why would he want the lesser known, not as valuable artifact when he could black mail Verney into stealing the Caravaggio that San Giovanni is known for?

For those who had fallen in love with the Jonathan Argyll series with An Instance of the Fingerpost, they will not be let down by where Pears takes the series in Death and Restoration. Overall, this installment of the series is full-bodied and enticing as the reader is led through the underbelly of the art world and through the lush richness of Baroque-inspired Italy.

Other works in the Jonathan Agryll series includes The Raphael Affair, The Titian Committee, The Bernini Bust, The Last Judgement, and Giotto’s Hand. So far, the series has not been extended past The Immaculate Deception. Pears does have a body of work outside of his Jonathon Agryll series.

Death and Restoration by Iain Pears was published on August 5, 2003 by Berkley Trade with ISBN 0425190420.


Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978 – Book Review

skateThe world of skateboarding is something that many kids from the late 1980’s and up until present day are at least some what associated with. Skating celebrities like Tony Hawk have mainstreamed the sport, turning it into video games and entertainment. However, skateboarding did not begin with the 80’s or even with the grunge movement of the early 1990’s. Skateboarding has been around since the 1950’s.

A Brief History of Skateboarding

Skateboarding began in the 1950’s when surfing was at its peak. People soon realized that a skateboard gave them the same feel as surfing. Skateboarding then slowly grew over the decade and by 1959, first Roller Derby Skateboard was for sale.

By the 1960’s, skateboards had entered mass production. Many stores were carrying them and the sport was quickly becoming a new fad. However, just as with any new sport, safety concerns soon began and people began speaking out against skateboarding, urging parents not to buy their children skateboards. The fad quickly died out, almost as fast as it began.

On Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978

When the 1970’s hit, so did the next big skating boom. The way skateboards were made changed and skate-parks began popping up all over the continental United States. The boards themselves were being made wider, offering skaters more stability especially on vertical surfaces.

Photographer, Hugh Holland, though not a skater himself, began to document these skateboarders in Los Angeles, parts of the San Fernando Valley, Venice Beach, San Francisco and Baja California, Mexico. It was also during this time, that Southern California was experiencing a serious drought which left much of the areas pools emptied for rebellious skaters to break into and use to hone their skills.

Holland documented all of this for three years, capturing the very beginnings of what would become a huge sport in the late 1990s and well into the new millennium. Holland’s photographs have that great dated feel to them and really makes the collection look authentic and more interesting than other collections that were captured on a digital camera as opposed to film.

Adding to that, the fonts chosen and the overall attitude of the collection, makes the reader feel part of and immersed in what Hugh Holland was documenting over thirty years ago. Overall, Holland captured a moment in time that might have gone otherwise overlooked. His collection is interesting and fun to look at and read through.

Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978 by Hugh Holland and Steve Crist was first published on October 1, 2010 by AMMO Books with ISBN 9781934429471.


Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design – A Review

biophilicThe world unto itself is a work of art, with its natural beauty and majestic landscapes. Too often, modern society tends to forget the world we live in, failing to preserve the beauty that we were given from the beginning. Biophilic Cities explores the importance of incorporating wilderness and nature in our urban lives. City living makes it easy for us to forget what nature is like, everything from its beauty to its power to heal even the most jaded of city landscapes.

About Biophilic Cities

In his book, Timothy Beatley argues for the greening of future cities, stating that renewable energy and better public transit are just one part of what a green city is. More importantly, urban planning needs to begin to focus around coexisting with the natural world instead of constantly impeding on it. A biophilic city, argues Beatley, plans in conjunction with nature. It incorporates the natural world into its buildings and planning.

It is imperative that as we move towards the future, we begin to take into consideration the importance of doing so because nature is an important part of sustainable living and thus, overall existence. What is most notable about Beatley’s ideals for a future planned city, is that it not only incorporates the nature that was already there in the first place, but it also strives to replenish and revive what has already been lost and degraded by poor planning in the past.

Including Nature in Urban Design

Timothy Beatley offers many solutions to how urban planners can incorporate nature into urban development. Beatley includes essays and beautiful photographs of roof-top gardens, green walk-ways, living walls and sidewalk gardens. His ideas for what a city can be, does not make it difficult to put these new ideas into place. Rather, his ideas for the greening of urban living are about coexistence and even a beautification of drab urban settings.

Overall, Biophilic Cities presents interesting ideas on what future cities could strive to become. The essays though interesting, can be a bit dry in places. However, Beatley does make up for that by including beautiful nature and urban photography which often enhance his ideas on what a city can be and what the issues with past urban planning have caused. It will be interesting to see how many of Beatley’s solutions begin to redefine what we have known as the urban landscape.

Biophilic Cities by Timothy Beatly is available for purchase with ISBN 1597267155. It was originally published on October 25, 2010 through Island Press.


Book Review: The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostovaswans was first published in 2005 with her best-selling historical vampire thriller, The Historian. Today, there are more than 1.5 million copies in print and a Sony film adaptation is in the works. Much like that novel, Kostova sets up The Swan of Thieves.

The Artist and the Academic

Here, Kostova creates a central, academic hero that becomes engrossed within a mystery. Each chapter ranges in time from past to present, encompassing the lives of painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose lives are beautifully described and played out through their art and letters.

Juxtaposing the past with the present, Kostova creates her academic hero in Andrew Marlow, a trained psychiatrist who is bent on asking the tough, prying questions and unraveling the mystery that is key to the plot of the novel. The mystery being that one of Marlow’s patients, renowned painter Robert Oliver, tried to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow becomes increasingly obsessed with Oliver and his reasons for attempting to do what he did, when he uncovers Oliver’s obsession with a stolen batch of letters written in French that he continually reads and obsesses over himself.

Living Up to The Historian

Fans of Kostova have waited with great anticipation for her next novel. Fans of The Historian will not be disappointed by The Swan Thieves, in fact, it is rather easy to see much of Kostova’s budding writing style continue on into her latest novel.

The intrigue and ability to build a deep and entangled plot is clearly evident in Kostova’s second novel. Accompanied with the lush world of Impressionism and 19th century life, Kostova delivers with The Swan Thieves: A Novel. Kostova has a great gift for writing. It will be a long wait to see what her third novel will bring to her already impressive quality of work.

About the Author – Elizabeth Kostova

Kostova was born New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan.

According to a press release, in May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created to help support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova was published by Little, Brown and Company on January 12, 2010 with ISBN 0316065781.

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Book Review: The Botticelli Secret

secretSteeped in the turmoil of the non-unified Italy of the 1400’s, Marina Fiorato skillfully weaves a detailed and evasive mystery around one of Botticelli’s more famous paintings, Primavera or Allegory of Spring. The painting is packed with meaning alone, but Fiorato takes the painting to an entirely new level in her book, The Botticelli Secret.


Painted in 1482, the Primavera was created by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. He was of the Florentine school and worked during the Early Renaissance or Qauttrocento. It is suggested that the allegory had been petitioned by the Medici family.

The work is largely accepted as an allegory of springtime, however, other themes and meanings have been explored, including the idea that the painting illustrates the ideal of Neoplatonic love. For Fiorato, the painting serves as the basis for her art history mystery in her novel.

The Plot

Fiorato opens her novel with the introduction of her heroine- common whore by the name of Luciana Vetra. She is described as a classical beauty, with long flowing ringlets and a sharp tongue from the four years that she spent on the streets of Florence. She is aptly named for how she arrived in Florence. Her origins for much of the novel are unknown, but from the beginning Luciana speaks of her uncommon arrival in the city- as a baby washedup on the shores of the city in a glass bottle.

The reader is quickly drawn to her, despite her abrasiveness and crassness that are abundant in the earlier part of the novel, but softens as she finds herself and finds love during the course of the story. Her flaws make Luciana realistic and easy to relate too, despite the over-the-top mystery and life that she eventually gets swept up in to.

Fiorato’s story of Luciana, Primavera and the mystery that engulfs everything is skillfully rendered and so lush that the reader easily gets immersed in the world of what Italy was like during the early part of the Renaissance. Fiorato leaves nothing to the imagination and stays away from romanticizing the period, leaving the reader with a raw and detailed depiction of what life was like during the time that Botticelli lived and worked.

The Botticell Secret by Marina Fiorato was originally published in April of 2010. It is available for purchase through St. Martin’s Griffin, New York with ISBN 978-0-312-60636-7.