Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Needlework Tuesday

I really enjoy reading about Heather's needlework projects on her blog Books and Quilts. Those projects are featured on her posts titled "Needlework Tuesday". Since I do a little crafting myself, I figured I'd try something new and join her. I procrastinate more than I craft these days so I won't be posting every week. Also, my crafting doesn't always include needles, so despite the name of the post, I'll be posting about some of my other crafts (if I ever get around to doing some of those again).

Last year, I started an afghan after reading about it on Heather's blog. The people at Bernat put together a Mystery Afghan Knit-Along. The link will take you to the introductory post if you are interested. I got a late start with this, then I changed my mind about which yarn to use. Needless to say, I didn't keep up with the knit-along. However, I'm back at it now and am determined to finish it. I only have the border to do so it looks promising. After reading on the blog that some of the knitters were doing a moss/seed border instead of the suggested garter stitch, I decided I'd do that too. I love the moss stitch! The yarn is Bernat Satin in silk, banana, camel. Here are a few teaser photos:

Very small section (including the border).

Three of the 8 blocks (in Banana, Silk, Camel).

I'll include a full photo of the afghan once I'm finished.

The other knitting project I started recently was a Stocking Stitch Shrug. I got the pattern from the Lion Brand website. (Unfortunately, I think you have to join the website to see the picture and pattern).

If I would have thought about it more, I may not have started it. However, I've done about 10 inches (out of 40ish), so I'm not about to rip it out. It's mostly unstructured and is more like a sweater/cardigan that doesn't close in the front. The back is also kind of strange and is supposed to be very roomy and drapey (not a word). Anyway, I found some "factory mill ends" at Walmart that I sort of liked and decided to use that instead of the Lion Brand yarn. I got carried away and bought 3lbs of it. More than enough to make several small projects. I'll probably use quite a bit of it on this project.

Here's my gauge swatch:

The pattern says "one size fits all", which we know isn't true. That one size usually fits those model types and not us eXtra Lovely (XL) ladies. I hope I adjusted the pattern enough to fit me. If it doesn't, I have a plan B.

Anyway, that's it for this week.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ideas That Changed the World by DK Publishing

Ideas That Changed the World presents "incredible inventions and the stories behind them". From medicines and machines that keep us alive to inventions that make life more enjoyable, the ideas in the book affect our everyday lives. The book also includes the inventor's name and other tidbits about each item.

This is a very cool book. It's filled with fascinating facts about the items we use every day. The presentation of the ideas is very well done. Each is featured on a two-page spread with large well-labelled photographs and interesting explanations. Occasionally, additional pages are used for further explanation as in the case of the "Ford Model T" (page 148-149), which has two more pages with information on Ford's model factory.

I loved all of the sidebars that offer additional information about the ideas. They include: "Tomorrow's World", which explains where the idea is headed; "Cool Science", which explains more about the science involved; and "Bright Sparks", which features a historical fact on the item. I also loved the "See Also" pointers at the bottom of most of the pages. For example, on page 46 you can read all about "Lasers" and then skip to page 128 to read about the related "Bar Codes".

All of the ideas in the book are interesting, but a few stood out for me as favourites. I really enjoyed reading about: elevators (pages 60-61), glasses (pages 114-115), zipper (pages 138-139), submarine (pages 154-155), Hubble (pages 182-185), space helmet (pages 198-198). Of course, the best one is the printing press (pages 84-85) for without this idea, this book would not be possible. There was one item that was new to me. In 1934, Percy Shaw invented "Cat's Eyes". I don't think I've even seen these in this form. They are the reflective devices on road ways to make them more visible at night. Interesting.

The ideas are sorted into groups. I'm not that fond of these. While some of them make sense (wheel, jet plane, Metro etc. in "On the Move"), some of them do not (stamp and money in "Handy Gadgets") What's the difference between a gizmo (as in "Great Gizmos") and gadget (as in "Handy Gadgets) anyway? I would have rather just had the ideas presented chronologically. I think it would be neat to see which ideas came about around the same time. It would also make it easy to see the progression of the ideas.

Speaking of progression of ideas, there's a timeline at the back of the book, which lists the ideas chronologically. It's very cool. One small improvement would be to add the invention name next to the date (or in the same bold font at the date) to make it stand out more.

The table of contents is very nice. It lists the groups and ideas in a large easy-to-read font. The glossary is also well presented. It offers compact definitions for a variety of terms from acoustic to x-ray. The index was a little disappointing. At the minimum the ideas and their inventors should appear in the index. Sadly, this is not so. I found at least a few of them missing.

Recommended. The DK website lists the book for ages 10-17. I'd say that about right. Some adults might also enjoy it (as I did), but may find the information a little sparse.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Canada website.

I'd like to thank Chris at DK Canada for this review copy.

Ideas That Changed the World by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2010. ISBN 9780756665319(Hardcover), 256p.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

In The Distant Hours, a letter arrives for Meredith, Edie's mother, 50 years after it was sent. She is visibly upset and refuses to talk about it. It is at that time, that Edie learns that her mother was shipped off during WWII (as other children were) to live in Milderhurst Caste with the Blythe sisters. Meredith refuses to talk about it, so Edie embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about her mother's evacuation. Along the way, she discovers other secrets that have been well hidden over the years by the sisters.

This was such a great book. At 562 pages, it was a bit long for me, but I knew I wouldn't have any trouble getting through it because I love Morton's work. I admit I was a little impatient with a few of the storylines in this book. I kept asking myself, what does this have to do with the mystery? How does this tie in? Then the author does what I didn't think was possible; she ties it all together. All of it! All of the odds and ends that I thought had nothing to do with the mystery were tucked in nicely at the end. Brilliantly, in fact. This is a terrific story from a wonderful author who undoubtedly has a fantastic imagination.

I loved all of the characters, but especially the three Blythe sisters: Percy, Saffy, and Juniper. Each of them had their idiosyncrasies that made them interesting. Of the three, Juniper stood out as my favourite. She was such an odd character, I wanted to find the real story behind her madness. Besides them, I really wanted to learn more about Meredith's experiences as a evacuated child in WWII.

There was one odd thing about the book. The story is broken up into several parts. Each part is further broken down into many chapters. The chapters are grouped together by present (1992) and past (1940s). Here's where is gets a little weird. The chapters in the present are named as in "A Lost Letter Finds Its Way", "A Memory Clarifies" and so on. However, the chapters in the past are numbered, as in One, Two, Three, etc. I'm not sure why this was done. Also, because the chapters were mostly grouped into past and present, the flow felt a little too regimented and not very natural. That could have been just my perception. The naming really did throw me off.

My favourite quote:
There's none like a sister for remembering one's ancient sins. (page 72)

The book contained a few new-to-me words:
trireme (page 126): ancient galley
placatory (page 150): soothing
ingénue (page 178): unsophisticated girl or young woman
déshabillé (page 211): casual or careless manner
sycophancy (page 244): flattery

I also have read Morton's The Forgotten Garden(my review). It's really wonderful. I also have The House at Riverton on my to-be-read bookshelf and can't wait to read it.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the Simon & Schuster website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Kate Morton's website.

I'd like to thank Christine at Edwards Magazine Bookclub and those nice people at Simon & Schuster for this review copy.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, Atria Books (Simon & Schuster), ©2010. ISBN 9781439152782(Hardcover), 562p.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Trees

All of the trees are up, so I thought I'd share some photos.

Our main tree. It's artificial, but loses "needles" just like a real one. *sigh* As you can tell, I come from the "the more the better" school of Christmas tree decorating. My motto is simple: if I can see the tree, there are not enough decorations on it. That's not to say that other more-sparsely-decorated trees are not lovely. It's just that in our house, for our tree, I simply cannot edit the decorations. I need to put them all on and then buy more. And people (make that sane people) wonder why it takes us two weeks to put up the tree. By the way, the same over-doneness goes for lights, too. 7' tree = almost 2000 mini-lights.

As for the stripes of different coloured decorations (from the top: pink, silver, white, gold, red)? Call it too much time on my hands a few years ago when I had this bright idea to do something really different. We've tried a few different variations, but always come back to this one.

Our second tree. It's new this year. The inspiration comes from a post from Cindy over at Cindy's Love of Books. Because it started out as an experiment, we created it in a mostly unused part of the house...the partly finished third floor book storage area (hence the raggedy carpet). Anyway, we like it so much that next year we will either finish the area (to be the third floor office/library) or build the tree where we can enjoy it more. Thanks Cindy!

Third, Fourth and Fifth. Three little artificial trees we bought at Walmart for 99¢ each. The funniest thing is that the assembly instructions say to spread the branches so that they look natural. To top that off, one of them is bright pink. Nothing natural about that. This one is sitting on our kitchen table, while the other two adorn our bathrooms.

Anyway, that's it. Have you put up your tree yet?

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Promises to Keep by Jane Green

In Promises to Keep, Callie, a successful photographer, wife and mother, is not at all like her sister, Steffi, who can't seem to keep a job or a boyfriend for more than six months. Their parents, Walter and Honor have been feuding since their divorce many years ago. They would love it if Steffi learned some responsibility, but no one is counting on that. When tragedy strikes, this family along with friends and acquaintances band together to care for the children, make the arrangements and keep the promises that they made to each other.

It's not often that I find a chick-lit book that I love, but I loved this one. The story was good, although it did get a little sappy a few times. Thankfully those times are few and far between. It was the characters that got me. Sometimes with books that many characters I find that I love a few and hate a few. Not so with this one. I loved them all. I wanted to know more and more about each of the characters as they appeared in the book. It was so easy to like them and to really care about them. Besides those mentioned above, there was also Lila (Callie's best friend) and Ed, who I thought were charming together as well as Mason and Olivia, who were anything but. There was also Callie's family: Reece, her husband and her children Eliza and Jack.

The author included some recipes that fit nicely with the story. She had the characters either making or eating the dish during the course of the chapter. Most of the time, it was just casually mentioned and didn't take the focus away from the main story. I certainly loved the recipes because I love finding new ones in unexpected places like novels. I've even read a few cozy mystery series because they contained recipes. Nevertheless, in this case I'm not sure they added much to the story. So that brings me to the question: Why include the recipes at all? Steffi was doing a lot of cooking in her job as a chef, so the recipes are a natural fit with that aspect of the story. However, there are certainly plenty of books out there in which the characters eat or talk about food and recipes are not included. I'm not complaining mind you, but I am wondering.

I admit that I had to put the book aside for a bit about 20 before the end. I knew sort of what was going to happen and I wasn't prepared to read it just then. I needed to put some distance between myself and the characters. Also, I didn't want to end that quickly. I picked it up again a few days later and was totally satisfied with the ending.

Highly recommended. I'd gladly read another book by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Jane Green's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

Promises to Keep by Jane Green, Viking (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9780670069149(Uncorrected Proof), 337p.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients by DK Publishing

The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients features information on over 2500 ingredients from meat and fish to vegetables and flavourings. It offers advice on how to buy, store, prepare and cook each of them for optimum results. The book also includes 200 classic recipes.

I really love this book. The variety of ingredients is outstanding. I love seeing the familiar and unfamiliar ingredients and love learning about their uses. I cook a lot, but I still found there were whole pages where all of the items were unfamiliar, such as the fish and sausages section; two ingredients that I have limited experience with. I even learned some new things about ingredients I use all of the time. For instance, did you know that you can eat rutabaga raw? I didn't.

The photographs in this book are large, stunning, plentiful, well labelled and annotated. This not only allows the reader to really get a good look at the ingredient, but it also gives them vital information about it. I found this particularly important. It will really come in handy if I have to hunt down a new ingredient at the grocery or speciality store.

I haven't made any of the recipes yet. I've been too busy learning about the new ingredients I've encountered. When I do make one, I'll likely start with one of the following: borscht (p. 215), baba ganoush (p. 261), riata (p. 239) or moussaka (p. 118).

The table of contents is a bit sparse and only lists the major section headings. The extensive index, though, more than makes up for it. I love that the recipe names are in italics. This makes them very easy to find. I also love that you can look up the recipes from the main ingredient or by the name of the recipe itself.

Highly Recommended. The next time I come across an unfamiliar ingredient (or a reference to it), this will be the first book I consult.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Publishers website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK Publishers), ©2010. ISBN 9780756667306(format), 544p.

What's Up Down There? by Lissa Rankin, M.D.

In What's Up Down There?, Lissa Rankin, M.D. answers "Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend". She uses her personal experiences and stories about her patients to answer those questions you've secretly been wondering about.

I loved this book. Rankin has a great sense of humour and is very personable. Reading this book really did feel like I was talking to my BFF. She answers the questions as a friend would and only puts on her M.D. hat when it's necessary. In answering the questions, Rankin relates stories from her personal life and the lives of her patients. Don't worry, she has changed the names to protect everyone. While her personal stories are perhaps a bit too-much-information at times, it's really what makes this book great. Also, she doesn't appear to shy away from any question. The questions are diverse and plentiful. A few of them made me blush.

The range of topics covered is varied. She answers questions on: being a gynecologist, how coochies look, smell and taste; sex, masturbation and orgasm; discharge and itching; periods; fertility, pregnancy and childbirth; menopause; and others. She even covers other female parts like: Boobs, Pee and Butts.

Some of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking; some are hilarious; most of them lie somewhere in-between. One thing they have in common is that they are educational. For me, the saddest (and strangest) stories were the ones that involved misinformation (the girl who used a potato as birth control), abuse (the woman who used her vagina as a purse) and mental illness (the woman who accused Rankin of stealing her genitals). Some of questions dealt with stuff I've been wondering about myself, while others dealt with things quite new to me. I won't get into specifics because that would really be TMI.

I even learned some new words for my girly parts: yoni and coochie. Rankin uses the proper names in some places, but these euphemisms make the book less clinical and more fun. One fun addition to the book might be a list of all of the euphemisms we use to describe our most intimate parts.

Highly recommended. I think it's a must read for every woman. Some men might also benefit from parts of it.

For more information about this book, please visit the St. Martin's Press website.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit the Owning Pink website.

Thanks to Dana Kaye from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

What's Up Down There? by Lissa Rankin, M.D., St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312644369(Trade Paperback), 381p.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith

A Greener Christmas offers ideas and solutions for celebrating a simpler, homespun, greener Christmas. It's packed with ideas for trimming the tree, outfitting the table, making the gifts and feeding the guests. It also offers many suggestions for more eco-friendly shopping and celebrating.

I loved this book. It's perfect for those, like me, who are tired of the commercialism of Christmas and wish this time of year wasn't so chaotic, stressful and wasteful. Even though the recipes and crafts look simple, the results are nevertheless stunning. The instructions for each are straightforward and easy to follow. Each project features a level of difficulty indicator, a list of materials, step-by-step instructions with accompanying photos, as well as a photo (or photos) of the finished product. The book even has templates for the crafts that need them.

I appreciate all of the "Green Tips" that are scattered throughout the book. These tips include how to recycling various items, what to look for when shopping, etc. There are also "Cooking Tips" on some of the recipes that further advice.

I loved all of the photographs in the book. They are large and beautifully presented. Especially lovely are the ones featuring the themed Christmas trees. I loved the Natural Christmas tree with the dried fruit slices and cinnamon sticks; the Fabric and Paper Christmas tree with the homemade decorations; and the Edible Christmas tree with the cookies and other treats to eat. Fabulous!

The book also features a substantial Table of Contents as well as a pretty good index. Both of these makes items in the book easy to find. There's also a Directory, which lists the various companies from which supplies can be purchased. Most of them are in the USA and have websites, so if you're into online shopping and can't find the items locally that might be an option.

I haven't made any of the recipes or craft projects yet, but I do have my eye on a couple. The first craft project on my agenda is called "A Flock of Festive Birds" (page 73). Basically, it's a tree decoration in the shape of a bird (or birds) made out of felt. Odds and ends are used for decoration. I already have the scrap felt and the rest assembled and ready to start. I also really want to make the cotton bag (page 170), which according to the introduction would be "perfect for taking to the beach". As far as recipes go, I really want to try the "Marshmallow sweets" (page 260), the "Spiced Nuts" (page 271) and the "Parsnip Chips" (page 272-273).

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Publishing website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith, Dorling Kindersley (DK Publishing), ©2008. ISBN 9780756656478(Trade paperback), 352p.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

In The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship, Val and Lilly have been close friends for a long time. The two of them have shared many recipes over the years as the only two members of "The Recipe Club". However, a misunderstanding has left them estranged. As they try to reconnect, a long kept secret is finally revealed and once again their friendship is threatened.

I loved so many things about this book. First, the format. It's a little quirky as most of the story is told through letters going back and forth between Lilly and Val. I thought the style and the story were a good fit. Second, the recipes. I love to cook and am always pleased to find new recipes. This is especially nice when I find recipes in unexpected places, like in a novel. Third, the story. Val and Lilly had a falling out and openly shared their thoughts about that. I loved that it wasn't just a big love fest. I also loved that the story was unique and unpredictable. I had no clue where the story was going or where it was going to end up.

Having said all that, I didn't think the recipes went that well with the story. Mostly the recipes were mentioned as an aside or after thought in the letters. Although one of the characters was a caterer, she didn't do a lot of that in the story, so there was little or no connection there. In addition, some of the recipes were a little exotic for girls of that age. For example, Lilly sent Val a recipe for "Wild Duck with Cherry Orchard Sauce" (page 81). This was when they were thirteen-year-olds. This recipe would not at all have appealed to me when I was that age. Perhaps they were more sophisticated. Also, the "Turkish 'Cigarettes'" (page 67) calls for phyllo dough. Was that readily available in 1965? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been able to find it in our area.

I haven't made any of the recipes in the book, but I plan to. The "Cheerful Salmon Croquettes" (page 145) look promising. Also, the Turkish "Cigarettes" (with the above mentioned phyllo dough) sound wonderful.


For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website or The Recipe Club website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061992193(Hardcover), 363p.