TWO BOOK REVIEWS: THE EVENING and THE MORNING (Ken Follett) and SPY (Danielle Steel)

Thirty years ago, Ken Follett published one of my MOST favorite novels (that blossomed into the KINGSBRIDGE series…) PILLARS OF THE EARTH. Now, a prequel to the Kingsbridge Trilogy, THE EVENING and THE MORNING, shows Kingsbridge’s humble origins and how it grows into the bustling city it would eventually become.

The tome (900+ pages) begins towards the end of England’s “Dark Ages.” Starting in the year 997 CE, it covers the years to 1007 (…actually about 125 years before PILLARS begins.) Kingsbridge doesn’t exist…there are just a few buildings in a run down hamlet, Dreng’s Ferry…far from any of England’s major cities at that time..

My book cover for THE EVENING and the MORNING…

The story blends many characters, both sinister and well intentioned, into the developing hamlet of Dreng’s Ferry…the beginnings of Kingsbridge from Follett’s Kingsbridge series. The story takes us through the interweaving of these characters who eventually shape the town and the cathedral that many of us came to know in Follett’s previous books. The characters became familiar…a well-intentioned man of the cloth, a very bright young peasant man with the mind of an engineer, a wellborn lady brought below her station by circumstance, a vicious clergyman obsessed with personal ambition and a brutish thug of an overlord. Each character, brilliantly developed, became part of my family!! Much of the plot revolves around the personal lives of the main players (above)…their loves, losses, dreams, scandals, betrayals, marriages and children.

Anything Ken Follett writes is a masterpiece. His intricate plots, deep characters and his writing voice work together to create beautiful book tapestries. This good vs. evil book, THE EVENING and the MORNING, proved to be a most enjoyable escapist journey via historical fiction.


My book cover for SPY…

Danielle Steel’s SPY is a historical fiction novel that combines elements of espionage, romance, drama and mystery. It’s a story of family relationships, loss, standing up and fighting for your beliefs…and commitment. Our heroine is Alexandra Wickham, a young British aristocrat.

To me, this book is divided into two parts. The first half of the novel is about Alex’s service in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) branch of England’s military. She begins her journey in 1939 when she joins the war effort following her two brothers. Starting as a truck driver for the armed forces, her capacity to prevail in the face of adversity catches the attention of MI6. Her fearless nature and flair for languages sees her recruited as a spy, working behind enemy lines on perilous missions.

In the second half of SPY, Danielle Steel traces Alex’s life over three decades of intelligence service during wartime and peacetime…a risky, treacherous existence- indeed, living a double and secret life. We also see her falling in love, becoming a wife, mother and eventually a grandmother.

Most WWII spy novels end with the spy returning to civilian life…something I think would be a very difficult transition. Instead of the ordinary, Steel places Alex in key international locations with her diplomat husband, (while maintaining her secret spy status for MI6,) as the world is rebuilding after the war and into the Cold War…Britain, France, India, Russia, Morocco and the United States…an interesting spin.

Although I got a real feeling for what it was like to be a spy during challenging times, while keeping it all secret from loved ones, I didn’t feel I really got to know the characters well enough. That being said, I did enjoy this quick read and DO RECOMMEND it!


MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: It’s a one color world today…

Glorious snow and very cold temperatures have defined February’s days and nights. There’s been quite a bit “inside, admiring the outside” times to read, FaceTime with family and friends as well as time to create digital art. This is a short, catch up post to document some of the art I’ve created in the past couple of weeks. I’ve been inspired by my love for trains and travel…

by my lifelong desire for a sister…

The artist in the bubble is an artist in Montmartre, PARIS, who sketched my image..

…an example of MAIL ART…

a poke at the use of silhouettes

…and finally, some pieces about the Roma or Gypsy culture that has always held great fascination for me…

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please visit me again…

Stay safe!

Big Hugs, abbyj



by Susan Jane Gilman

Being a native New Yorker, I’ve always been interested in the history of this exciting, dynamic city…New York! I admit I’m a bit obsessed about the city’s Lower East Side in the early 1900’s when it was teeming with immigrants living in tenements…what their lives were like every day. Enter Susan Jane Gilman , making a grand entrance with her debut novel, THE ICE CREAM QUEEN of ORCHARD STREET. With her easy style of writing, relatable characterization and well researched historical information, both author and novel are impressive. Here’s the cover I created for the book…hard to see, but the children are eating ice cream cones!

This is an immigrant story like none before it. Even the living conditions in Manhattan’s Lower East Side are described better than in many novels I’ve read, filled with the foul smells and neverending din of life, with despair and hopelessness. Six year old Malka Treynovsky and her family arrived at Ellis Island in New York in 1913…Jewish immigrants from Russia. They found that America was very different from what they expected. Through heartbreaking events, Malka lost her family and came to live with an immigrant Italian family…the Dinellos. It’s with them that Malka gained a new family, a Christian name (Lillian,) and learned the art of making ice cream…but she never felt like she “belonged.”

The book jumped between past and present, (the present being the early 1980’s,) to tell of Malka’s transformation from part of the Dinello family (where she was called Ninella,) into Lillian Dunkle, the Ice Cream Queen. The book progressed through her marriage to Albert Dunkle, both her husband and her business partner. Lillian was the committed, driving and creative force behind the ice cream empire they built…(Albert’s strength was his mechanical ability.) But, in an era when women and the drive for success in business did not mix, Lillian faced obstacles every step of the way…each one making her stronger.

This rags to riches tale with world history in general and the history of ice cream in particular, brought out the full range of emotions in me. Although Lillian was anything but likeable as she became more successful, she was relatable, multifaceted and deeply human! The author holds nothing back regarding her description of the times and hardships faced by immigrants. Brilliantly painted, we understand the misery of those trying to squeak by, understanding their drive to succeed and thrive. Hardships and challenges were faced by all.

THE ICE CREAM QUEEN of ORCHARD STREET is a love letter to New York City and to the American dream… for all those who worked so hard and pulled themselves up to a better life than they had in the country they left. I don’t hesitate to recommend this book!


MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: New administration…a GREATER AMERICA ahead?

Well, the Inauguration of our new President Biden and Vice President, Kamala Harris was accomplished smoothly. We’re ready to turn the page and find better, kinder times in future days.

Our lives continue on…the clock keeps ticking…and I continue to enjoy creating bits and pieces of theme-based art for my online art challenge groups. This week, DIGITALMANIA ( simply asked artists to create a triptych. I used a photo I took in China some years ago for one of my triptychs…

and a nod to who I’m becoming for the other…

SUNDAY POSTCARD ART ( wanted artists to concentrate on the theme of MUSIC…

and finally, DIGITAL WHISPER ( must have taken a look at our grey skies and asked to see an artpiece about RAIN…

That’s it for this week. Stay well and careful…hoping you’re getting your covid vaccine shot soon (if you wish to do so.) Sending prayers and big hugs…and thanks for stopping by.



MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: Digital art…my most fun pastime

A real quickie posting…to keep up with some of my art challenge groups. Here we go… For DIGITAL WHISPER, ( I created a JOURNEY on the subway…

…and on a railroad train.

For THE THREE MUSES, ( FAMILY is their subject. My family is the little girl reading to her doll in the library…

Finally, for TAKE A WORD ( DANCE is their theme…

That’s it…thanks for checking in!

Stay Safe.

Big Hugs,



MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: He’ll be gone in two weeks!

In two weeks, the REAL work will begin. We, the people, have a country to rebuild; respect to reclaim; COVID to fight and terminate; hatred, racism and prejudice to eradicate; a divided, violent country to bring together in peace. Can it be done? I believe in “we, the people” and our ability to accomplish these goals. But we must all do our part…small as it may seem. I want to try…will you try, too?

As Michael Jackson wrote:

Heal the world

Make it a better place

For you and for me

And the entire human race.

There are people dying

If you care enough for the living

Make it a better place

For you and for me


I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you want to make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself, and then make that change

Stepping down from my soapbox and putting on my digital artist hat, I had a stimulating time this week creating art for two of my online challenge art groups. First, for Flicker’s DIGITALMANIA ( artists were introduced to British pop artist painter, Julian St.Clair. I find his work fun, colorful and contemporary. These two are his…

and here are mine, inspired by St.Clair…

DIGITAL WHISPER ( declared their theme to be LITTLE BOYS. I had sooo much fun with this one…

Hang on…hoping that better days are ahead for “we, the people” as well as “for you and for me.” Michael Jackson had some meaningful thoughts…certainly applicable to today’s world and our part of the world…our United States. I pray for us all…for the regaining of our humanity and compassion for all. Stay safe!

Looking forward to seeing you for my next posting.

Big Hugs, abbyj

Between Christmas and New Years

MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: Footprints encased in the fallen snow…

We’re well into the holiday season…Christmas has gone and New Years is on its way. I, for one, am looking forward to a bright, shiny 2021, with the promise of good health, through a vaccine, to chase away Covid-19! Wishing everyone the best in the year ahead.

I’ve had some fun with my digital art groups…particularly Flicker’s DIGITALMANIA and THE THREE MUSES. In DIGITALMANIA, ( we enjoyed learning (virtually) about a French artist, Stephanie LeDoux. She’s a traveler, journaler and designer whose artwork reflects the people she’s met and the world she chronicles. She has a particular style that really speaks to me. Here are some of my creations in her style, reflecting my travels and people I’ve met…

The challenge to illustrate a favorite quote was put before participating artists at THE THREE MUSES ( I couldn’t decide on just one…

Happy New Year every day of the year!

Hope to see you next posting.

Big Hugs, abbyj


MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: It’s beginning to look like Christmas…

the true magic lies

making holiday moments

that last a life time

As we head to the zenith of the holiday season, Covid rages on… worse than ever. Are you keeping safe…masked, washing hands and avoiding crowds? We’re taking it more seriously now as the numbers hit unimaginable heights…and are predicted to climb even further. In our house, we’ve put our hopes in the soon-to-be-administered vaccine. Perhaps that, with the prescribed safety precautions, we can see an improvement. We can only hope…

I continue my experimentation with Photoshop and some new-found techniques and skills…thanks to the expert instruction and patience of my friend, Todd. Art challenges put forth by TAKE A WORD ( caught my interest with their declared theme, “Tis the Season.”

From Flicker’s DIGITALMANIA ( ,) I answered the challenge to include a map in my creations…

Wishing you good health and the spirit of cooperation for the safety of us all. Enjoy your holidays…

Much love and big holiday hugs,



AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins

From panic to peaceful…terror to tranquil- those are the feelings I experienced over the 400 pages of AMERICAN DIRT, but it started with the first paragraph! Forced to flee from Acapulco, Mexico after the massacre of their entire family, Lydia and her eight-year-old Luca become migrants.

Fearing that she and Luca will be hunted down by the head of the cartel that slaughtered their family, they begin a harrowing journey to illegally enter the United States.

This is a timely, powerful and fictional portrayal of the plight of the migrant, but Cummins did her research. No one is to be trusted. Although, amid much cold-blooded barbarity and those out to make a quick buck at the expense of the frightened and needy migrants, there are good people who provide food, water and shelter… expecting nothing in return. Although Lydia and Luca struggled for their entire journey, they maintained a hopeful attitude about reaching a place of freedom and safety. They weren’t running for their lives or to find a better life…they were running to SAVE their lives.

I found AMERICAN DIRT riveting, informative, suspenseful and heartbreakingand I highly recommend it in the hopes that productive conversations and awareness will be generated about the issue of immigration. After all, we are a nation of immigrants!

Thanks for checking in. Hope to see you for my next posting.

Big Hugs,



MY LIFE IN 6 WORDS: We gather together to give thanks…

‘Tis the beginning of the holiday season. It started (for me) with our first real snowfall…

With Thanksgiving on its way, I’m starting to count my blessings yet again…or should I say “still?” In these very difficult and challenging times, it’s important to remember all the good in our lives. In addition to dear family and friends, both near and far, I’m grateful for my online art challenge groups.

This week, I’m particularly thankful for the always inspiring group, DIGITALMANIA ( who introduces participating artists to the styles of other artists and challenges us to create in that artist’s style. Oftentimes, it’s difficult and out of my comfort zone, but always a learning experience. This week, LOUI JOVER is our inspiration. An Australian painter and artist, he’s known for his artwork in ink wash paintings, often on vintage book or newspaper pages. Here’s what he inspired for me: the first is a wish for peace in the world, in our own United States and in our hearts.

Wishing you a holiday filled with fun, love and delicious food. Know that I’m grateful for each of you.

Big Hugs, abbyj