#BookReview THIS GOOD BOOK by IAIN HOOD @renardpress


Sometimes I wonder if I had known that it was going to take me fourteen years to paint this painting of the Crucifixion, and what it would take for me to paint it, would I have been as happy as I was then?’

Susan Alison MacLeod, a Glasgow School of Art graduate with a dark sense of humour, first lays eyes on Douglas MacDougall at a party in 1988, and resolves to put him on the cross in the Crucifixion painting she’s been sketching out, but her desire for authenticity in her portrayal of suffering means that the painting doesn’t see the light of day for fourteen years.

Over the same years, Douglas’ ever-more elaborately designed urine-filled plastic bags bring him exponentially increasing fame, prizes and commissions, while his modelling for Susan Alison, who continues to work pain and suffering on to the canvas, takes place mostly in the shadows. This Good Book is a wickedly funny, brilliantly observed novel that spins the moral compass and plays with notions of creating art. 



Renard Press



This is a more than a good book! This is a very good book! And so unique! I wondered how I’d get on with the Scottish dialect and slang, alongside a look at the art world, but it works surprisingly well and it’s one of those stories that can shock just as much as make you laugh! And it made me laugh a lot with the darkness and pointed look at the pretentiousness of what is perceived as art nowadays.

Susan is at the heart of the story, she’s an art school grad and when Douglas came into her life, she decided he was the perfect ‘model’ for her art creation representing the Crucifixion. But there’s always something holding her back in being completely satisfied with what she’s creating and the years fly by and still no completed work.

In the meantime, Douglas hits the art world with his own unique brand of art using bags of urine!! And he gets huge critical acclaim and success, whilst Susan struggles along in the background with her more ‘normal’ artwork. Their friendship never fails to waiver and they seem to just get one another, despite success taking Douglas away more and more. The banter between them makes the story as it’s so raw and honest and I loved the way their conversations would flow about everything and nothing! The serious to the fun.

The way that Douglas infuriates her but intoxicates her in equal measures is at the heart of the story for me – seeing him sail along, creating artwork from nowhere with seemingly minimal effort, whilst Susan toils with her creation not matching up to her vision for years. It does a great job of showing the madness of the art world, alongside the madness of the artists!

The darkness in the characters also had me spellbound! It made them even more fascinating to read about as you just don’t know where their ‘art’ will take them next!! I savoured every page of this book! A fabulous read that I highly recommend to one and all!!





An exploration of how the rose—the most ravishingly beautiful and symbolic of flowers—has inspired fashion over hundreds of years​

The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing is a fascinating exploration of how the rose has inspired the way we look, dress, feel, and fantasize. It foregrounds innovative, refined, and challenging fashion design from elite 18th-century woven silks to the latest gender-neutral catwalk trends and Alexander McQueen rose dresses. Drawing upon fashion clothing, everyday dress, millinery, fine jewelry, perfume, and artificial and fresh roses, multiple expert contributors make reference to love, beauty, sex, sin, gendered identities, rites of passage, transgression, degradation, and death. This sumptuously illustrated book also includes a contribution and stunning images of roses by visionary photographer Nick Knight. Wild yet cultivated, savage yet delicate, this flower has remained an enduring symbol perhaps due to its versatility and the dichotomies it represents. 







If you’re expecting a ‘coffee table’ book with just lots of pretty pictures then think again!! This is far more than that, which made for a wonderful reading/viewing experience!

At the heart of the book is the humble rose! As a keen gardener, I’m always eager to have more in my garden and this book gives a fascinating insight into how this flower has captured the hearts of so many – in art, fashion, literature … the list seems endless! It explores the impact that the rose has had over the centuries in different ways, and how it has continued to evolve and stay current throughout!

I could have happily just had a book full of the stunning photographs, illustrations and paintings but to learn so much about the role of the rose was an added bonus! As it does feature a lot of fashion, the use of flowers on the clothes and styling was just amazing to see and it is definitely one of those books that you keep picking up and noticing different details everytime you look at a photograph.

A ravishing read indeed!!


#BlogTour #BookReview A Right Royal Face-Off by Simon Edge #Giveaway @rararesources @EyeAndLightning

A huge delight to be the latest stop on the Blog Tour for A RIGHT ROYAL FACE-OFF by SIMON EDGE.  My thanks to the author, publisher and Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for the copy of the book and putting this tour together – and letting me be part of it all!

There’s also a chance for you to win a copy of this book too!! I do spoil you……..

A Right Royal Face-Off

It is 1777, and England’s second-greatest portrait artist, Thomas Gainsborough, has a thriving practice a stone’s thrown from London’s royal palaces, while the press talks up his rivalry with Sir Joshua Reynolds, the pedantic theoretician who is the top dog of British portraiture.

Fonder of the low life than high society, Gainsborough loathes pandering to grand sitters, but he changes his tune when he is commissioned to paint King George III and his large family. In their final, most bitter competition, who will be chosen as court painter, Tom or Sir Joshua?

Meanwhile, two and a half centuries later, a badly damaged painting turns up on a downmarket antiques TV show being filmed in Suffolk. Could the monstrosity really be, as its eccentric owner claims, a Gainsborough? If so, who is the sitter? And why does he have donkey’s ears?

Mixing ancient and modern as he did in his acclaimed debut The Hopkins Conundrum, Simon Edge takes aim at fakery and pretension in this highly original celebration of one of our greatest artists.


Purchase Link

Readers can order the book from the Lightning Books website at 50% off (with free UK p&p) if you enter this code at checkout – BLOGTOURFACE

Eye Lightning Books

Author Bio –

Simon Edge was born in Chester and read philosophy at Cambridge University.

He was editor of the pioneering London paper Capital Gay before becoming a gossip columnist on the Evening Standard and then a feature writer on the Daily Express, where he was also a theatre critic for many years.

He has an MA in Creative Writing from City University, London. His first novel, The Hopkins Conundrum, was longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award. He lives in Suffolk.   Read more about Simon and his work at http://www.simon-edge.com.

Social Media Links –

Twitter: @simonjedge

Instagram: @simonjedge


If you are looking for a book that is the perfect antidote to the miserable, crazy world we currently live in, then you’ve come to the right place!!  This is a Georgian comedy about Thomas Gainsborough  and his rival painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds – if you thought the art world was stuffy and dull then think again!  It’s a book that made me smile and chuckle on numerous occasions and I just adored spending time with these characters and wondering where the story would take me!

It’s a dual timeline story – from the present time when a new antiques show is about to debut on TV and they’re looking to spice things up, to the past where we see Thomas dealing with royalty and rivalry on a grand scale!  There’s also letters we get to read from the past as we read the Georgian goings on from the point of view of David, a servant to the master painter and he has a whole different take on events at work, as he reports back to his family and let them know about a world they can’t even  begin to imagine!

Gainsborough is a  wonderful character! He almost seems to resent having to paint portraits but it pays the bills and he wants to be #1 – not easy when Sir Joshua seems to be flavour of the month! I loved the behind the scenes  goings on too at a sitting for a painting – the royal family gossiping and complaining about life as they chat with him!

In the present we get to witness how the world of TV operates, especially reality shows who try and use the public and humiliate them – when Muriel Mudge takes a painting along to be valued they think they’ve struck gold with her absurd claim but they’re soon the ones eating humble pie when she digs in her heels and refuses to speak to them as they try and make amends when doubts start to creep in!

The whole flow of this book was just pitched perfectly! There’s a great balance between the two timelines and so much to keep you entertained and intrigued! Just why is there a painting of a man with donkey ears?!  You can tell that the author has had so much fun with creating this storyline as it really comes across and his imagination has run riot!

A blast to read and quite touching too at times! It’s a book that has a little bit of everything from history, to mystery to satire and it  is one I highly recommend to everyone!



A treat for those of you in the UK who want to win a copy of this fabulous book!

Giveaway to Win 5 x PB copies of A Right Royal Face-Of (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Click below to enter!! GOOD LUCK!!



#BookReview The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

About the book

A mesmerising literary novel about a lost man in search of connection – a meditation on love, art and commitment, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest art events in modern history, Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present.

‘This is a weirdly beautiful book.’ David Walsh founder and curator, MONA

‘Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.’ Stella Adler

‘Art will wake you up. Art will break your heart. There will be glorious days. If you want eternity you must be fearless.’ From The Museum of Modern Love

She watched as the final hours of The Artist is Present passed by, sitter after sitter in a gaze with the woman across the table. Jane felt she had witnessed a thing of inexplicable beauty among humans who had been drawn to this art and had found the reflection of a great mystery. What are we? How should we live?

If this was a dream, then he wanted to know when it would end. Maybe it would end if he went to see Lydia. But it was the one thing he was not allowed to do.

Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.

This dazzlingly original novel asks beguiling questions about the nature of art, life and love and finds a way to answer them.

Published by Allen & Unwin

Purchase Links

hive.co.uk  – audio version

book depository


What a special book! I chose this randomly from the BorrowBox library audio app and have been utterly absorbed over the past few days as I couldn’t get enough and just had to keep listening! Special mention for the narrator whose voice just fitted perfectly with this tale of art, love and life.

I have to admit to knowing nothing at all of Marina Abramovic, a performance artist who once sat in the Museum of Modern Art for 75 days straight – 8 – 10 hours a day – and invited members of the general public to sit opposite her and do nothing! Just sit! She didn’t eat, walk around, pee … just sat there staring at the different faces of people who queued up for hours to be part of it all. And this story is set around Levin and Jane, two strangers who are dealing with their own forms of grief and end up at the museum to witness this ‘art’ and find themselves questioning their own lives, the world around them and striking up a comforting relationship.

This is a story that ends up being so profound! It explores the questions of ‘what is life all about’, what makes people so drawn to something so simple and ‘what is art’. Jane and Levin have such different but similar pasts that you can’t help but share their concerns, doubts and worries over how they cope with things that life has thrown their way, and that they find strength in each other and the ritual of going to watch this artist and just observe things around them. 

And at the centre of the story is Marina herself – why she’s drawn to the world of performance art and her relationship with her family. I’ve now read more about her as an artist and watched video clips of ‘The Artist Is Present’ and it just seems so amazing that it affected so many people in such different ways. Even celebrities lined up to sit opposite her and be part of it all! Some smiled, some stared blankly, many cried and that’s how this book makes you feel too! There’s something very special about a book that makes you think, take time to ponder, to observe, to listen, to reflect, to just ‘be’ and I’m very glad I found the time to experience this piece of art and the stories of strangers thanks to an author who has captured the feelings beautifully. Life is art in itself and you get a very strong sense of that throughout. Wonderful!


#BookReview The Lonely City by Olivia Laing #nonfictionnovember

About the book

What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Fascinated by the experience, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives – from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules, from Henry Darger’s hoarding to David Wojnarowicz’s AIDS activism – Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed. Humane, provocative and deeply moving, The Lonely City is about the spaces between people and the things that draw them together, about sexuality, mortality and the magical possibilities of art. It’s a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive

Published by Canongate

Purchase Links



book depository


I found this to be a fascinating and thought provoking look at the concept of loneliness, through the author and her own experiences alongside those of a number of famous artists and the struggles they faced of their own, and how loneliness affected their art and outlook on life.

When Olivia Laing moved to New York for a relationship, she quickly found herself alone in a strange city and this book sees her coming to terms with her situation and how it made her feel, and how social media gave her an uneasy sense of security, and often made life easier to face from the safety of a computer screen. It goes into what loneliness means to different people – the isolation, the fear of missing out and not fitting in – and how the world we live in today seems to be fracturing those real relationships and the art of conversation.

This book also features the lives of prominent artists over the years – such as Warhol and Hopper – and how their own lives were blighted by loneliness and despite their fame and success it was a difficult feeling to escape from. It goes into detail of their often complicated lives and was a fascinating insight into some of the art worlds’ most famous names.

I think she captures the mood perfectly in this book – exploring the way the mind works at times, when you often feel ’empowered’ by not conforming and fitting in, and then equally ashamed by not following the pack and feeling outcast. Loneliness isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ kind of thing and that comes across so well in this book and made for a riveting read.


#BlogTour The Eyes That Look by Julia Grigg #bookreview @Bookollective

Extremely delighted to be the next stop on the Blog Tour for this stunning book. My thanks to the author, publisher and team at Bookollective for inviting me to be part of the fun!

About the book

Yes, we may have eyes that look, but how clearly do we see? Julia Grigg’s compelling novel, The Eyes That Look, set amidst the feverish creativity and competition of mid-sixteenth-century Italy, tells the story of Francesco Bassano, a young man who questions why an extraordinary painting was made and sets off to find out. His journey takes him across the Veneto and to Florence, where he learns about loyalty and the unbreakable bond between a master and his dogs, about the determination it takes to innovate, and about the sacrifices needed to turn ambitions into reality. Witness to astonishing achievements in art and architecture, Francesco is enthralled and uplifted but also exposed to human frailty and inhumanity. Thinking anew about truth and beauty, he also experiences bitter betrayal.

A novel steeped in the visual and tactile power of art, The Eyes that Look entertains as it informs, inviting readers to revel in a Renaissance world of unrivalled artistic richness.

Published by Unicorn Publishing

Purchase Links

hive.co.uk  £10.75

waterstones  £13.00

foyles  £13.00

About the Author

Julia Grigg started out in fashion journalism, her first job on Vogue, also writing on the arts, food and travel. She retains an abiding interest in all these subjects but soon moved into a career with UNICEF as a writer and advocate for children’s issues and over many years was deployed to some of the world’s most demanding and complex countries. 

Julia began The Eyes that Look – the secret story of Bassano’s Hunting Dogs while studying for the Bath Spa University Masters in Creative Writing from which she graduated with Distinction. Early drafts of the novel were longlisted for the Exeter First Novel Prize and for the Aurora Metro Virginia Prize for New Writing by Women in English. 

The Eyes that Look was years in the making before a single word was put on the page. Writing it meant Julia could delve deep into the Italian High Renaissance, indulging a lifelong fascination with its art, music and poetry. In the research process she embraced online study, attended the Courtauld Institute summer school and the British Institute in Florence, and spent much time in Italian archives, galleries and churches as well as in trying to master the language. 

Julia is working on the second novel of a planned Renaissance trilogy, involving mid 1500s Rome, Florence and Venice settings and some of the same cast of characters as The Eyes that Look. 

Cornish in origin, Julia divides her time between the UK and Nairobi, Kenya, spending as much time as she can in the West Country, always thrilled to be once again crossing the Tamar. Dogs are another passion; she and her husband share their home with a pair of black and tan dachshunds. 

Author on Twitter


I found this to be a beautifully written book that transports you back to Italy in the Mid 16th Century and brings the sights and sounds to life with such astonishing attention to detail.  The colours literally ping off the pages as you read!

I’m often a little sceptical of books about the art world and paintings – how much can be written about a particular painting?! But with this story we go beyond the art, and to the story behind this famous painting mixed with historical facts that blend so well.

It did take me a while to get into the flow of the story as I was a little unsure of what to expect, but once I’d got my head around the characters I found this so easy to read and so captivating as you follow a young man on his quest to discover more about his father, and more of the artwork he created.  There are so many mentions of artists we’ve all heard of, and the way they are used adds such flavour to the story.  It’s also told from a number of different Points of View so you’re always getting different sides to stories, varying glimpses of life and seeing young  Francesco have his opinions changed as he discovers more about the story of this painting that was very unusual for the time.

There is no better setting for a historical mystery than Venice, and the way this is written is stunning.  I couldn’t get over how much colour plays a part in setting the story – it was so vivid!  It left me wanting to read more about the artists and period of history. The author obviously has a clear love of Art as her devotion to the story and understanding of that world makes you connect with the characters so much more.

The lessons he learns on his journey teach him so much and you can’t help embrace the same message as you read.  It explores the relationship between father and son and how we often see people differently because they are family and that it takes others perceptions to allow you to see them as they really are.

A stunning read and one I can highly recommend to others who are looking for something a little different.


The Optickal Illusion by Rachel Halliburton #bookreview


In this vividly fashioned debut, Rachel Halliburton draws from the sordid details of a genuine scandal that deceived the British Royal Academy to deliver a stirring tale on the elusive goal of achieving artistic renown.

It is 1797 and in Georgian London, nothing is certain anymore: the future of the monarchy is in question, the city is aflame with conspiracies, and the French could invade any day. Amidst this feverish atmosphere, the American painter Benjamin West is visited by a dubious duo comprised of a blundering father and vibrant daughter, the Provises, who claim they have a secret that has obsessed painters for centuries: the Venetian techniques of master painter Titian.

West was once the most celebrated painter in London, but he hasn’t produced anything of note in years, so against his better judgment he agrees to let the intriguing Ann Jemima Provis visit his studio and demonstrate the techniques from the document. What unravels reveals more than West has ever understood—about himself, the treachery of the art world, and the seductive promise of greatness. Rich in period detail of a meticulously crafted Georgian society, The Optickal Illusion demonstrates the lengths women must go to make their mark on a society that seeks to underplay their abilities.

Hardcover, 352 pages

Expected publication: February 8th 2018 by Duckworth Overlook       ISBN139780715651971


Amazon UK  –  £15.18

Hive.co.uk – buy online and support your local bookstore  –  £12.45


Book Depository  –  £12.76

About Rachel Halliburton

Rachel Halliburton graduated in English and Classics from Cambridge. As a journalist and the former Deputy Editor of the Time Out she has interviewed notable people including Gorbachev, Yoko Ono and Kissinger for publications such as The Times, Financial Times, New Statesman, Spectator, Evening Standard and Independent. She lives in London.


This is a sumptuous read, stepping back to Georgian times to take a look behind the scandal that rocked the art world, deceiving so many prominent artists of the time, and looks at those behind the deception.

I have to admit to knowing very little of the art world, although reading this book has made me eager to learn more, and of the scandal that hit the British Royal Academy but this imaginative and beautifully written novel, sets out to go behind the story and looks at all those involved. The American painter, Benjamin West, is the president of the Royal Academy but his star is waning and has many lined up to take his place, so when he is made aware of a manuscript by a father and daughter duo that is alleged to contain secrets which most artists would kill for, he is intrigued and is taken in by their stories and wants to use these secrets for his own gain.

The father and daughter have their own reasons for wanting to share this manuscript, and the daughter particularly, Ann Jemima, is such a fascinating character whom I loved reading about. She was so different to many women of the time, who just knew their place in society and were happy to wait for the right man to come along and provide for them, but she knew she wanted more from life. She had a keen eye for art and shocked Benjamin West with her ability when he asked her to demonstrate the secrets from the manuscript. In these modern times, it was fascinating to read of the lengths that women were forced to, to make something of themselves and that often meant by any means necessary! And she was still treated like a second class citizen despite her obvious talent. She was a very tough cookie and very strong-willed and that came through clearly in how she thought she was being treated at times.

The story is set in such an interesting time in world history and that is reflected in this novel. The political issues facing many countries around the world, alongside the question of the monarchy and slavery were all touched on within this book, and that really made for an even more immersive read.

It often left me wondering how to feel sympathy for, with the amount of deception going on and really questioned all the characters and their motives! While the story revolves mainly around Benjamin West and the Provises, there are a number of other characters involved who often have an equal part to play in how the story pans out.

The level of research that must have been involved in the writing of this book must have been staggering, as the art of painting is brought to life in so much detail, and even though it isn’t an entirely faithful historical account, it still really captured the shock waves that the scandal created and how life must have been for those at the time.

Overall, I found this to be an engrossing, historical read and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future!

Thank you to the publishers for the advanced reading copy in return for a fair and honest review.