Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Practical Naturalist by Chris Packham

The Practical Naturalist contains information about the natural world around us. It features some introductory material (including a supply list for adventurers) and is then sectioned into habitats. Further breakdowns are used when needed. The book has hundreds of labelled photographs as well as plenty of text to describe aspects of the area. It’s designed to give readers a better understanding of nature and to get them involved in observing it more closely.

This is an absolutely gorgeous book that’s not just beautiful to look at, it’s informative as well. It’s nicely organized with plenty of stunning photographs. I especially love that each of the photographs is labelled. No looking at a photograph and saying “Nice, but what is it?” There’s an introduction to each habitat with broad panoramas giving the reader an idea of what the habitat looks like. It’s followed up by more information about the various regions and a close-up view of smaller items you might encounter in the habitat. The whole book is filled with everything in nature: animals, insects, birds, plants and much more.

The table of contents and the index make things easy to find. A real plus with a book like this. Also, there’s a two page glossary to define some of the terms used.

I really liked the activities that are scattered throughout the book: making sand trap to see who’s been visiting your yard after dark (page 55), bark rubbing of interesting trees (page 95), making a plaster cast of footprints (page 104) and sieving a mudflat for life (page 227). Both children and adults would enjoy these. We plan on making a sand trap because something quite large is knocking down our birdfeeders at night. I'd love to know who or what it is.

As I said above there are tons of great photographs. My favourites include:
- Arctic Fox (pages 236-237), which features a white fox walking in the snow. You can clearly see his black eyes and nose, but the rest of him blends in to the point he’s almost invisible.
- European Starlings at sunset (pages 72-73). I’m not a great fan of starlings because they travel in large noisy flocks and occasionally invade my backyard birdfeeders. However, this photograph, which features several thousand birds flying in a loose formation against a yellow, orange and red sunset, is awesome.

This book made me realize how vitally important each and every item in a habitat is. The forest is not just trees; the ocean is not just water; the desert isn’t just sand. There are many, many items in those areas that depend on each other for survival. It was all so fascinating. I realize now there so much to learn about my backyard and other corners of the world.

Speaking of my yard (which is part forest), this book was also helpful in identifying some plants and insects that I’ve encountered since moving here just over a year ago. I’m sure the book will be helpful in the future as I journey further away from my back door.

There is only one minor drawback in the book. Because it contains information about a lot of different things, the material on one particular item is not extensive. However, if it did contain comprehensive details about each thing, I would be able to lift the book, never mind open it and read it.

Favourite quotes:
Dedicated naturalists are careful, patient observers with an insatiable curiosity and a sense of wonder about the world. (from the Foreward)

Highly recommended. Perfect for nature lovers or anyone curious about the world around them.

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

For more information about the author, please visit Chris Packham’s website.

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

The Practical Naturalist by Chris Packham, DK Publishing, ©2010. ISBN 9780756658991(paperback), 256p.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Instructions by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

In Instructions, Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess come together to create a story that offers advice for children and adults alike. The subtitle describes it best: Everything You’ll Need to Know on Your Journey.

Everything about this book is beautiful. The writing and the illustrations are just gorgeous. On the surface the book appears to be a picture book for younger children. However, after reading it a second and third time and admiring the stunning illustrations, I realized that the book contains lessons relevant for readers of all ages.

Favourite quotes: I could probably quote the whole book as one long favourite quote, but I’ll leave it at one line/page:
Do not be jealous of your sister;
know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from one’s lips as toads and frogs;
Colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.

I also loved the line involving giants, witches, dragons and hearts.

My favourite illustration has to be the monochrome/sepia toned one on the first endpaper. I love it because it’s a sweeping panorama of the whole story and features most of the characters.

Highly recommended. It would make a perfect little gift book for those starting out on a new journey or taking on a new challenge.

Click here to see a YouTube video featuring those nice people at HarperCollins talking about this book, as well as a couple of other wonderful books.

For more information about this book or to browse inside and some sample illustrations, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Please visit Neil Gaiman’s website or the Mouse Circus for more information about the author. For more information about the illustrator, Charles Vess’s website.

I'd like to thank HarperCollins Canada for this book.

Instructions by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, Harper (HarperCollins), ©2010. ISBN 9780061960307(Hardcover). 40p.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photo Friday - Summer Fun


For more "Summer Fun" photos, visit the Photo Friday website.
For more of my submissions, please my PhotoFriday set on my Flickr page.

CSN Stores

I’m ecstatic! Jason from CSN Stores contacted me the other day about reviewing a one of their products. How cool is that?

I’ve seen some of their items on other blogs, but since I saw mainly bookshelves/bookcases, I thought that was all they had. I was surprised to find out that they had other furniture (like twin beds); cookware and everything else you’d need for the kitchen or barbequing; lighting for your house, inside and out; entertainment stands and CD racks; and a huge selection of toys and games? That’s not all. If you click on one of the above links, you'll see that there are tons of categories under each one of these. You could just about equip and decorate your whole house with the items that CSN Stores have.

Now I just have to decide what product to review. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment or email me.

Once I've decided, I'll let you know. When my review item arrives and I've had a chance to do something with it, I'll post my review.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei

In A Thread of Sky, Irene plans a trip to China. It’s supposed to be a family reunion of sorts as well as a celebration of Lin Yulan’s (Irene’s mother) 80th birthday. She has to convince her daughters (two nearby and one already in China), her sister and her mother to take the trip. Since Irene’s husband was tragically killed, the family has drifted apart; Irene hopes this trip will change that. Once in China, the family visits various tourist attractions while trying to connect with one another and their homeland.

I really loved this book. However, I had a little trouble getting into this story at first. The prologue just didn’t grab me. Once I got into the main part of the story, though, my interest level went up dramatically. The chapters are written from the different characters’ perspective as they take turns telling the story. I loved how it all unfolded and how the secrets were revealed as the narrative progressed. The story highlighted the interaction between the characters and the insight into their relationships, while revealing intimate details about the individuals themselves.

Each of the women had conflict and troubles in their lives, but for me Lin Yulan’s story was the most heartbreaking. It seemed that at times she was mostly forgotten by the others. Even before the reveal of her closely guarded secret, I truly felt sorry for her.

I found Irene’s work with Alzheimer’s and Lin Yulan’s story about being a revolutionary in China extremely fascinating. Some of Irene’s work was way over my head, but interesting nonetheless. I learned a bit about Chinese history as I read about Lin Yulan’s radical activities and the events surrounding those activities.

The vivid descriptions of China made me want to plan my own visit. It’s such an intriguing country that’s rich with history and spectacular sites.

The book also contained a bit of a social commentary about Asians, stereotypes, customs, and what it’s like to be an American-born Chinese (ABC) visiting China. It was all very informative.

I would have loved to see a map of the areas the women visited included somewhere in the book. I love maps and would have loved to follow along as the women travelled. [Note: I’m reading an advanced copy of the book. Perhaps it was or will be included in the final copy.]

Favourite quotes:
You think you know China, but you don’t know the first thing about being Chinese. It’s about family...—family, house, home. In Chinese, it’s all one word. (page 276)

Highly recommended.

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

For more information about the author, please visit Deanna Fei’s website.

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

A Thread of Sky: A Novel by Deanna Fei, Penguin Press (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9781594202490(Advanced Uncorrected Proof), 351p.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

In Every Last One, Mary Beth and her family were close and spent lots of time together. They were a normal family and did normal family things. And just like other families, they had their highs and lows. When Mary Beth’s son, Max, became depressed, she focused a little more on him than her other children. Then one day the unthinkable happens and Mary Beth is left to pick up the pieces. She not only has to come to terms with what happened, but she also has to try to carry on under the weight of unbearable circumstances.

I loved this book. Quindlen offers a beautifully written story about the strength of a woman and her undying love for her family. The novel revolves around Mary Beth, the mother and narrator, Glen, her husband, and their children Ruby, Alex and Max. There were a few other non-family characters that figured prominently in the story as well as a host of other minor characters. The story was appealing because the family was so ordinary and the tragedy was so extraordinary.

I knew something bad was going to happen by reading the inside of the dustcover. At first, I was a little distracted wondering when this unknown was going to happen. However, I soon settled into the story and loved all of the characters I was reading about. Then all of a sudden "it" happened. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach and hit over the head with a rock. I think I even said "NO!" out loud. I didn’t think it was possible, but it was worse than I had imagined. I had to read that section twice to make sure I understood what had happened.

All of the characters were great, but my favourite was Mary Beth. My heart really ached for her in the second part of the book. She was totally lost in her grief, yet she didn’t give up. It was interesting to see her thoughts and actions after her life was basically turned upside down. Quindlen did a great job in portraying all of that. I can’t really be sure of how I’d act in this situation, but I bet I would not have done as well as Mary Beth.

This is another book featuring twins; that makes the third one in a row for me. The other two are: The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen and The Wild Irish Sea by Loucinda McGary. This was totally unplanned. While I think it was interesting to see the different relationships (because I am a twin), I tend to shy away from books featuring twins or multiples. Anyway, I hope that’s the end of this streak for now.

Favourite quotes: a novel about facing every last one of the things we fear the most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, and about living a life we never dreamed we’d have to live, but find ourselves brave enough to try. (from the dustcover)

In the twin relationship, issues of difference can be even more significant than issues of sameness. (page 109) some peculiar and shameful way I think of my sons as two halves of a single whole, as though they were Siamese twins inextricably joined together by their differences.(page 59)

I've also read Blessings and Black and Blue by this author. I liked them both.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse and search inside, please visit the Random House website.

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

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

Every Last One: A Novel by Anna Quindlin, Random House, ©2010. ISBN 9781400065745(Hardcover), 299p.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

In The Opposite of Me, Lindsey is about to land the position of VP creative director for her advertising firm. She's been working her butt off for years and really deserves this promotion. However, it all slips away after a night of bad decisions. Just like that her chance at the position is gone, along with her job. To regroup, she decides to move back to Maryland, where her parents and her twin sister, Alex, live. Alex, is preparing for her upcoming wedding, while Lindsey tries to figure out where to go and what to do next. All of their lives, Lindsey was the smart one, while Alex was the pretty one, but after a chance discovery, things get turned upside down and Lindsey and Alex struggle to figure out who they are.

I really enjoyed this book. The story was smart, cheerful, and witty, with some very touching and sensitive moments. The author brought a few surprises into the story making it unpredictable and fun to read. Even though the story was mostly upbeat, there were a few events that choked me up to the point of tears. I can't exactly remember now which events moved me, but it happened more than a few times. In those instances, I knew what was coming, but that wasn't enough to take the sting out of it for me. Perhaps it dredged up some long buried memories.

This is the second book in a row I've read that involved twins. As I mentioned in my previous review, the book was especially interesting because I'm a twin. I really could relate to Lindsey and Alex's relationship because my relationship with my sister is similar. We have different issues, but like them, we have more differences than similarities.

It would have been interesting to hear the story from both Lindsey and Alex, however, I loved that the author chose just one of them to tell the story. That's probably my own bias of wanting to very much be an individual rather than half of a whole. I even liked that the title used the word "me" (individual) instead of the "us". I can’t think of anything I dislike more than being called “the twins”.

This edition of the book includes both a Readers Club Guide and a Q&A with the author. Both are worth checking out.

Recommended. Good summer read.

There are lots of other reviews out there for this book. Here are a few that I found: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin?, Devourer of Books, Beth Fish Reads and Books, Movies and Chinese Food.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.

For more information about the author, please visit Sarah Pekkanen's website.

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

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen, Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), ©2010. ISBN 9781439121986(Trade paperback), 373p.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Photo Friday - Bloom

For more "Bloom" photos, visit the Photo Friday website.
For more of my submissions, please my PhotoFriday set on my Flickr page.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Wild Irish Sea by Loucinda McGary

InThe Wild Irish Sea, Amber rushes to Ireland after getting a vision of her twin brother fighting for his life. Once there, she meets Kevin Hennessy, a police inspector, who sweeps her off her feet and helps her find her brother.

Once I realized that this book was going to be more fantasy than reality, I quite enjoyed it. There's plenty of romance, suspense and paranormal activity. The steamy scenes between Amber and Kevin bring lots of heat to the story, while the storyline involving Amber's brother, Parker, had me quickly turning the pages to see what would happen next. The paranormal aspects of the book were interesting. Amber and her brother Parker were able to communicate telepathically. They didn't even have to be in the same room with each other to do so. Once Amber reached Ireland, she discovered that this ability was strengthened and not only could she communicate with other people, she could also sense a connection with the seals.

I did enjoy the book, but there were a few things that bothered me about the story. For one, I didn't think Amber would be feeling such an attraction to Kevin when she was so concerned about her brother. At times, it seemed that her connection to Kevin was stronger than her bond with Parker even though the story kept saying the opposite. Also, I don't think the author adequately explained why Amber and Parker could read everyone's thoughts once in Ireland. Was it because they were in land of their ancestors or some other reason?

This story was especially interesting for me because I'm a twin. My relationship with my sister, however, is very different from the one described here. I thought the relationship between Amber and Parker was kind of spooky. There's no way I'd want their mind-reading abilities.

I don't usually read romances, but the suspense part of the story kept me entertained to a point. I would have liked to see a little bit more of that. Even in the romance department, anticipation is a wonderful thing.

Recommended for McGary's fans and for those who like romances mixed with a little magic.

Want to read another review? Here's one from Kaye at Pudgy Penguin Perusals.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the Sourcebookswebsite.

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

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

The Wild Irish Sea by Loucinda McGary, Sourcebooks Casablanca (Sourcebooks), ©2010. ISBN 9781402226717(Uncorrected Advance Copy), 306p.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Rough Guide to Cloud Computing by Peter Buckley

In The Rough Guide to Cloud Computing, Peter Buckley offers readers advice on how to get the most out of the internet. He suggests tools and websites that allow users to access their data 24/7 from anywhere in the world. He calls it "being creative, being entertained and being organised in an ever-changing digital age."

This is a great little book filled with extremely useful information. Buckley provides advice on devices (desktops, laptops, smart phones, PDAs, etc), internet providers, networks, browsers, operating systems and a whole lot more. Once he's covered the basics of access, he delves into the websites that make cloud computing possible. These include sites that offer: email services, calendars, to-do-lists, social networking, storage, office tools, photos, music, maps and lots of other things you probably didn't even know existed.

The book is put together in an orderly fashion. The website names stand out because they are either in blue type or surrounded by enough white space to make them easy to find. There are plenty of screen prints, but some of them are hard to make out because of the size of the book. However, it's size makes the book very portable. It doesn't take up much room so it's easy to keep on your desk or take with you as you travel.

I really liked that the author explained websites that I had heard about, but didn't know much about. These include:,, and more. There are plenty of websites that were new to me. Here are a few of the ones that I'm going to check out:,, Google Docs, and iGoogle (which my husband uses and loves) or iCloud (just to be different). There are plenty more to choose from, but I'll probably start with those above and then branch out. Buckley even mentioned a few that I already use, like Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. It's nice to know that I'm not entirely out of the loop.

The whole term "cloud computing" is new to me. Honestly, it's still a little scary. I'm pretty protective of my data and I like to know where it is. Having said that, I can see immediately that storing my data out there on various websites (or their storage mediums) is so much more advantageous than if I store it on my hard drive. Two examples:
1) Recently, my PC went down. While it was in the shop, I had no access to documents, bookmarks, old emails, etc. I felt lost and was not a happy camper. Had I followed Peter's advice, I could have accessed my data from another device (laptop, phone, library computer, whatever) and got on with it.
2) On a recent trip, I was using the hotel computer and couldn't remember the URL of the website I wanted to check out. I tried googling it with no luck. I would have been all set had I stored my favourites at a site offering that service.

I could probably come up with many more troublesome scenarios where cloud computing could come in handy.

For me, it's probably going to be a slow data migration, but now I have a guide in Buckley and this book.

Highly recommended for both novices and experienced users.

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

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

The Rough Guide to Cloud Computing by Peter Buckley, Rough Guides, ©2010. ISBN 9781848365209(soft cover), 213p (includes index).