Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pilates Practice Companion by Alycea Ungaro

Pilates Practice Companion is a workout book for those interested in starting Pilates or those already doing Pilates and are in need of a printed guide. The book covers lots of Pilates related topics. From getting started to how to use Pilates in your everyday life, it's all there.

I really liked the book. It got me excited about trying some of the exercises in it. I wasn't really that familiar with Pilates, so the book was quite an eye-opener for me. It's loaded with tons of advice on all things Pilates related. It goes over the history and evolution of Pilates, the benefits of Pilates and what to do before you being and many, many more topics.

The book is divided into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels. Each one of these has routines for varying workout times: for 15, 30 and 45 minutes. I love this. When I have more time I can do longer workouts. As I progress, I have new exercises to try. Even if I decide to take a class later on, I can use the book as a reference guide at home. I loved that the book showed me ways to measure my baseline for different aspects of Pilates. That way I can measure my progress as time goes by.

Because I'm a visual learner, I liked that each of the exercises was documented with lots of photographs and instructions. A series of photos show the positions, repetitions and tempo. Some of the exercises even have small insets showing what people normally do wrong. That should be really helpful.

It looks like Pilates relies on exact body alignment when doing the exercises. This will be pretty hard to verify alone at home. I can see how an instructor might be helpful in this respect. Having said that, this book might not replace a qualified instructor, but for the most part, it's sort of like taking a class in a studio without the expense. I like to think of it as a kind of "try before you buy" thing.

I really enjoyed the last section of the book on how to use Pilates in your everyday life. I hadn't really thought about how an exercise could be carried over and used after a workout session, but this section explained how this was possible.

The book contains numerous quotes by the inventor of Pilates. Here are some of my favourite quotes:
In 10 session you will feel the difference. In 20 session you will see the difference. And in 30 sessions you will have a brand new body. (page 8)
If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young. (page 26)
A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of doing sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion. (page 28)
The mind, when housed within a healthful body, possesses a glorious sense of power. (page 43)
Both the table of contents and index are adequate for this type of book.

Highly recommended. I can't wait to get started. 

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

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

Pilates Practice Companion by Alycea Ungaro, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2011. ISBN 9780756671495(Hardcover), 256p.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble

In Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble, Callie Valentine Jones escapes her man troubles by taking off to Cozumel, Mexico. Her cousin, Lovie, has invited the whole family down to visit an archaeological dig. When Elvis, Callie's basset hound, who's really the reincarnated King himself, unearths a skeleton not associated with the dig, foul play is suspected. Things go from bad to worse, when Lovie and Elvis go missing. Callie must step up and find the two before they are harmed.

This was such a fun book to read. It had an interesting story, larger-than-life characters and great chapter titles. The archaeological dig was interesting and I would have liked to see a little more about it included in the story, but that wasn't not the focus of the book. The great characters and their antics clearly drove the story and that was just fine by me. They were all terrific.

I especially liked the chapters written from Elvis's point of view. He's so adorable. Channelling the King through a hound dog was very clever. The author included many Elvis references so that there was no doubt about it; he was the King.

I also loved Fayrene's numerous malapropisms. Classic! Many of them were laugh-out-loud funny, but it took me a second to figure out a few of them. I'm hoping I haven't made the same mistake myself! Ruth Nell, Callie's mother, was also a real hoot.

The author has included some recipes at the back of the book. These include: gluten-free biscuits, grits, peach cobbler, and two kinds of punch, including "Lovie's Prohibition Punch", which was talked about and sampled frequently throughout the book. Each recipe is followed by some notes from Elvis. I haven't tried any of them, but they look good.

Highly recommended for cozy mystery lovers. This is the first book I've read of Webb's, but it won't be the last.

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

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

Thanks to those nice people from Kensington Books for this review copy.

Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble by Peggy Webb, Kensington Books, ©2011. ISBN 9780758241412(Hardcover), 236p, including recipes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison

In Twelve Drummers Drumming, Tom Christmas, magician-turned-vicar, seeks refuge in Thornford Regis, a seemingly idyllic village, after the death of his wife. During the May Fayre, the body of Sybella Parry, the choir director's daughter, is discovered in the village hall in the base of a Japanese o-daiko drum. Father Christmas soon realizes that there are lots of suspects and the village is chockfull of secrets. It's especially unsettling when he realizes that one of his parishioners is likely the killer.

I truly enjoyed this traditional British cozy. The title had me a bit fooled, though. With its reference to "The Twelve Days of Christmas", I was sure it was Christmas related and even saved it to read during the holidays. I was surprised and maybe a little disappointed to learn it wasn't. Once I started reading, though, none of that mattered. It turned out to be a great cozy mystery.

The book was wonderfully written. I loved how Benison dropped little hints here and there and alluded to something sinister just beneath the surface. I love also loved how he used unfinished or interrupted conversations. Just when one of the speakers is going to reveal a juicy secret, the conversation was cut off or interrupted by something or someone. It all added to the suspense of the story.

One of my favourite parts were the letters Mrs. Prowse wrote to her Mum. They are written casually and very much like someone would speak. They offered a great recap to what happened thus far as well as furthering the story along with additional details. At times they were laugh-out-loud funny! They were so well done, I could just about picture the woman writing them. She was a hoot.

I read Benison's Death at Buckingham Palace some time ago and really enjoyed it. It's another traditional British cozy featuring Queen Elizabeth II. I have his other books on my to-be-read shelf that I hope to read at some point.

The book contained a whole slew of new-to-me words. That's not unusual for a British cozy. No worries; I love learning new words:
disputatious (page 13): argumentative
uxorious (page 85): excessively devoted to your wife
profligate (page 85): extravagant
mufti (page 87): expert on Islamic religious law
hermeneutics (page 93): science of interpreting texts
insularity (page 106): narrow-mindedness
middens (page 115): dunghill
tor (page 165): mound or rise
punctilious (page 175): meticulous
antipathy (page 182): opposition
verger (used repeatedly): church official
vacuity (page 201): emptiness
asperity (page 209): roughness
bombazine (page 214): twilled material
dolorous (page 222): sad or painful
farrago (page 228): jumble
antediluvian (page 278): prehistoric
febrile (page 296): feverish
benison (page 358): blessing

This book is the first in a planned twelve-book mystery series. I think it was rather clever and unexpected to start at the top (12th) of the series, rather than the bottom (1st).

C.C. Benison is the pseudonym of Doug Whiteway. He lives in my hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. If I didn't know this, I would have sworn he was British.

Highly recommended. I can't wait for the next one in the series.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

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

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

Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison, Doubleday Canada (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780385670135(Hardcover), 370p.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

In The Virgin Cure, a young girl named Moth is sold as a servant to a wealthy, but cruel, woman. After suffering much abuse, Moth meets Miss Everett, who takes in young girls to work in her brothel. Her cliental are particularly interested in young virgins, much like Moth. Soon she meets other young girls in the same situation as well as Dr. Sadie, who takes Moth under her wing and shows her how to avoid the worst dangers of Moth's new profession. Through all of this, Moth dreams that one day she'll own a big beautiful house and won't have to put up with any more abuse at the hands of others.

I loved this book! It's so well written with a fabulous story that made me want to keep reading and reading. I really don't know how McKay does it. She got my attention with the very first sentence and held on until the very last page without a single waver. I just could not put this book down.

Moth was a superb character. She was streetwise in some ways; very innocent in others. I especially loved that the story was written from her point of view with an occasional passage from Dr. Sadie. McKay got her voice just right. It felt like the story was coming from a child. I also loved Dr. Sadie. She knew what these girls faced and did everything she could to help them.

I adored the historical information contained in the side bars. It was relevant, interesting and added a lot to the story. I loved that McKay choose to include this extra information in this form. I can't think of another author who does this. Having said that, I sometimes have a hard time with side bars. I find them a bit distracting only because I can never decide when I'm supposed to read them.

The author's note, in which Ami McKay explains the origins and background of the story is particularly interesting. I love that it comes from her own family. It's definitely worth the read.

New words:
chancres (page 93): ulcer indicating syphilis and other diseases
diadem (page 243): tiara

This is the second book of McKay's that I've read. Her first book, The Birth House (my review) was fantastic as well. I think the reason I loved them both so much is that the stories were was interesting and the characters were so real. By including lots of historical information in both of the stories, McKay taught me a lot about the people who lived long ago.

Highly recommended. I read this book at the very end of 2011, but didn't write the review until now. The book should have made my list for Best of 2011, however, because the review wasn't written yet, it got overlooked. I'm adding it to my Best of 2012 right now. I hope to read many more books by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

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

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

The Virgin Cure by Amy McKay, Alfred A. Knopf Canada (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780676979565(Uncorrected proof), 351p.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is filled with tiny stories and illustrations. Each story is no longer than a few sentences and is accompanied by a tiny illustration. The whole book is "a collection of innovative crowd-sourced creative projects that pushes the limits of originality, cooperation, imagination, and inspiration."

This is such a delightful little book. It definitely has a little something for everyone. The stories and illustrations are varied in theme and style. Some of the stories are funny and light-hearted; others are serious and thought provoking. My favourite stories were:
The element of surprise wasn't allowed near the Periodic table.(page 38)
Tea Party: The hostess offered seconds, but all of the guests were stuffed. (pages 46-47)
His hands were weak and shaking from carrying far too many books from the bookshop. It was the best feeling. (pages 68-69)
I wanted to know more about the author, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and hitRECord, the group that put this book together. I knew I'd seen the author/actor before, but I couldn't place him. Finally I looked it up. As it turns out, he's that kid (now all grown up) on 3rd Rock from the Sun. He's done a lot since then, but that's where I recognized him from. I'm not much of a celebrity follower, so I was impressed that I actually knew who he was.

Anyway, I watched the whole amazing introductory video and was extremely impressed with his presentation. He came across as articulate, funny and sincere. It really got me excited about the whole project and the website. I don't know if I have the time right now to participate, but it might be something I'd do in the future. It's pretty cool. If you do anything creative and would love to collaborate with others on a project, it's definitely something you should check out.

Highly recommended. I can't wait for the next volume of Tiny Stories to come out.

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

For more information about this project, please visit the hitRECord website.

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

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, !tbooks (HarperCollins), ©2011. ISBN 9780062121660(Tiny Hardcover), 87p.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey

In The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, a man wakes up on a beach. He's naked and doesn't know who he is. In a nearby car, he finds some clothing and some ID belonging to someone called Daniel Hayes. Could this be him? All he remembers is a woman's face. Now his only choice is to find that woman and figure out who he is.

This is such an awesome book! It grabbed me from the very first page and didn't let go until the last word. I loved that part of it was written in screen play or stage play format. There were even a few emails and Facebook posts thrown in. I was often confused (in a good way) while reading the book and couldn't figure out what was going on, but that's pretty much how Daniel felt, too. I loved how the bits and pieces came back to him as he figured out who he was and how he got to where he was.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away. It's so good you have to experience it for yourself. I will say that the book was definitely a page turner. I stayed up late a few nights because I couldn't wait to see how it was all going to turn out in the end. Speaking of the ending, it was fantastic. It had so many twists and turns that it left me dizzy and breathless. I loved it!!

I don't often reread books, especially mysteries, because I already know how they are going to turn out. However, in this case, I'm going to make an exception. For first time around, I was reading so quickly that I'm sure I missed some details along the way. Even if I didn't, this book deserves to be read again...and again.

Favourite quotes:
...you're only who you choose to be. Every moment. The past is gone. Memories are no more solid than dreams. The only real thing, the only true things, is the present. That's it. (page 288-289)
New words:
palimpsest (page 185): a manuscript
churrascaria (page 214): Brazilian steakhouse

Highly recommended. This is the first book of Sakey's that I've read, but it won't be the last. I hope to read many more.

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

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Marcus Sakey's website.

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

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Dutton (Penguin), ©2011. ISBN 9780525952114(Hardcover), 388p.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grounds for Murder by Sanda Balzo

In Grounds for Murder, Maggy Thorsen has reluctantly agreed to manage the barista competition at Java Ho, a speciality coffee convention. There's tons of competition going on behind the scenes too, but when Maggie finds a body underneath one of the tables, things get even uglier. She soon finds out that nearly everyone had a beef or argument with the victim, including herself. To clear her name, she talks to all those involved to see if she can smoke out the culprit.

I really liked this cozy mystery, the second book in the Maggy Thorsen Mystery series. The story is interesting and relevant, especially with coffee shops popping up everywhere and the little independent ones trying to contend with the corporate giants. I loved that this one took place at a convention. I could just imagine what that's like! Caffeine, headaches and tons of fun! Well, until someone turns up dead, but you know what I mean.

Balzo's characters are wonderful. Some of them a little larger than life, but that's true in a lot of cozy mysteries. I especially loved Maggy. She's trying to get on with her life after her son goes away to college and her good-for-nothing-cheating husband left her for his hygienist. Her coffee shop is just starting out but she's determined to make a go of it. There were lots of great more minor characters, but my favourites were: her love interest, Pavik, Antonio, the lactose-intolerant milkman and Frank, her oversized dog. All of them were fun to read about.

New Words:
apoplectic (page 9): furious
dragooned (page 128): intimidated

Favourite Quote:
I yelled, thereby joining every fictional character I've ever disparaged for giving the bad guy warning before grabbing them. (page 221)
I also read and really enjoyed the first one, Uncommon Grounds (my review). I have the third one, Bean There, Done That and Triple Shot on my virtual to-be-read shelf. I hope to get to them soon.

Highly recommended. I can't wait to read the others in the series.

For more information about this book, please visit Amazon.com.

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

Many thanks to the author for sending me this eBook to review.

Grounds for Murder by Sandra Balzo, Severn House, ©2007. ISBN 9781847510273(e-book/PDF), 224p.

The Look of Love by Mary Jane Clark

In The Look of Love, Piper Donovan is asked to create a wedding cake for Jillian Abernathy, the owner of Elysium, an exclusive spa in Los Angles. Part of the deal states that Piper gets to stay at the spa the entire week before the wedding. Shortly after she arrives, though, one of the guests is murdered. With the wedding just days away, is doesn't look like Jillian is going to be walking down the aisle any time soon.

I really enjoyed this book. It's such an easy read that I breezed through it in no time. I love how Clark builds suspense by using short chapters and many points of view to tell the story. I also love how she doesn't tell you exactly who everyone is right away. The identities, details and motives are revealed in small bits and pieces, added more suspense. Sometimes I was left wondering how a person fit into the story and had to read several chapters before finding the answer. I didn't mind at all. In fact, I love this style of writing. It's all the more satisfying when I could later say "Aha! I get it now!"

This is the second book in the Piper Donovan mystery series, but the first one I've read. I have the first book in the series, To Have and To Kill on my eReader. I can't wait to read it now. I just loved the protagonist, Piper. It was a little unbelievable that she's making wedding cakes for high-profile clients when she has so little experience, but maybe that's explained a little more in the first book.

The pacing in this book was pretty even until it came to the end. It started to pick up speed until it was at a frenzied pace with extremely short chapters, jumping into all of the different plot lines seemingly at once. I was almost breathless and I couldn't stop turning the pages. Brilliantly done.

My one complaint is that the ending wrapped up a little too quickly. All of a sudden the culprit was suspected, pronounced guilty, and the book ended. I still wanted to know more about the other suspects. However, I guess when you find the guilty party, why look further? Nevertheless, the book was thoroughly entertaining.

I've read a few of Clark's other books: It Only Takes a Moment, When Day Breaks, Dying for Mercy. I've enjoyed them all. I have a number of her other books waiting to be read. I hope to get to them sooner rather than later.

Highly recommended.

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

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

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

The Look of Love by Mary Jane Clark, William Morrow (HarperCollins), ©2012. ISBN 9780061995569(Hardcover), 340p.