The old adage says that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but the folks at the Bata Museum in Toronto, Canada, would probably say it is in the foot.

The Bata Shoe Museum, whose tagline is “For the curious,” houses an astonishing 12,500 shoes and shoe paraphernalia covering over 4,500 years’ worth of human history.  From chestnut-crushing shoes to high heels for the men of the French court, the expansive collection is continually growing as a result of shoe-hunting excursions conducted by Bata Museum staff on a regular basis.

What makes this museum of interest to this blogger is the sheer amount of information and time they have invested in their website.  In the “All About Shoes” section the web visitor can select several different collections to view, from footwear of the Native Americans to a history about elevated shoes to wedding wear and more.

If you would like a shoe expert or curator to spend some time talking to you about the who, where, what, why, and hows of the shoe world, check out their dozens of podcasts on a variety of topics.  From dance shoes to wartime footwear and, yes, Justin Bieber’s sneakers, the Bata Shoe Museum has something for almost everyone (even Napoleon’s socks).

With hundreds of detailed and colorful photos, this visitor learned that high heels used to be closer to the center of the foot because early models did not have reinforced heels.  When they placed heels on the actual heels, the shoes kept snapping off at the arch.  I also learned that men used to wear high heels ostensibly because they helped them better keep their feet in the stirrups while horseriding.  I also found interesting that early heeled shoes came with sled-like clog contraptions that you could tie on to your shoes.  Why?  Because heeled shoes were invented before roads were paved, and wearers in heels would get stuck in the mud without them.

The Bata Shoe Museum is definitely “for the curious,” but I would also say that their website is so well done and so engaging that they could even claim that their museum will make you curious.

Long Gone, the new thriller from Alafair Burke, is a suspenseful roller coaster of a novel where everything appears one way but, in reality, is completely the opposite.  Recently fired from her job at a prestigious art museum in New York, Alice Humphrey is thrilled to be approached by a complete stranger, Drew Campbell, during an art gallery opening.  Drew offers her a fabulous proposition – a dream job of managing an up-and-coming art gallery funded by an anonymous, wealthy patron.  After a few initial doubts, Alice accepts the offer and begins to make her mark on the art world.

After the initial flurry of a successful opening, Alice begins to enjoy her new career until one morning a few weeks later.  She opens the gallery and discovers the space is completely empty and the body of Drew Campbell is on the gallery floor.  Quickly, the evidence begins to mount against her and the police believe that she killed the man who she thought to be Drew Campbell, but has been identified as someone else.  Knowing that she has been set up, Alice desperately sets out on a quest to clear her name and find out the truth.  While searching for answers along the way, Alice discovers even more hidden secrets involving her own family’s past.

Long Gone is a page-turning mystery with an intense and intricately woven storyline.   Highly recommended!

Seriously, why hasn’t this book been made into a movie already? (although you’ll certainly be reminded of scenes from several popular movies and tv shows) Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career, offering a real-life international thriller in Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasure.

The son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career going undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid. Wittman tells the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: the golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king, the Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement, the rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments. The art thieves and scammers he caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners. Wittman has saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities, but he considers them all equally priceless.

Told with a true storyteller’s gift, Priceless is intense and fun and personal – Wittman feels passionate about preserving art and he’ll make you fell passionate about it too.

Madonnas of LeningradThe past is still vivid to Marina, even though the present fades in a fog of age and approaching Alzheimer’s. Now elderly and living in America, as a young woman she had been a docent at the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. When Leningrad comes under siege during World War II, Marina and the other museum workers carefully hide the priceless artworks, leaving the frames behind as a promise of their eventual return. Marina painstakingly memorizes each painting and sculpture, memories she can escape to as the winter and continuing siege worsen, memories that now seem more real than her current life. Interspersed with vivid descriptions of the artwork and the suffering of the Russian civilians, this is a beautiful book about the power of memory.