Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Energizing Workout by DK Publishing

Energizing Workout presents twelve workouts in one of three different categories: dance, calorie burning, and stretching. Each workout can be done in 15-minutes and is designed to be done at home. The accompanying DVD features 6 of these workouts.

I liked this book, There's plenty of variety in workouts and all can be done in a relatively short period of time. There are tons of photographs, which are very necessary in a book like this. Each stretch, step or move is explained in text as well as one or two photographs. Most of the photographs are large, clear and easy to see.

Each section starts with an introduction specific to those workouts. All of them are well worth the read. Twelve different workouts are featured in the book:
• Stretching workouts include: wake up, posture, flexibility, strength
• Calorie Burn workouts include: Boxing, Aerobics, Running, Freestyle
• Dance workouts include: Salsa, Ballet, Jazz, Street

Each of the three sections is written by a different author. I like that! I'd like to think that I'm getting an expert on that particular workout type.

I love stretching, but I don't do it nearly often enough. Because of that, the stretching section is my favourite. Not only does it best translate to the page (because the stretches are more static than say an aerobics step or a dance move), but it shows you how to modify some positions if you are just starting out. It also shows you have to fit it in while you are doing different daily activities. Even though the aerobic and dance sections don't translate to the page as well, there's an accompanying DVD, which features two workouts from each section. It should help explain the dance and aerobic sections better and help the reader understand what's going on.

Many of the workouts include a "at a glance" page where all of the stretches, moves or steps for the workout are photographically presented together in a layout that spans two half pages. I think this would be really beneficial once the reader/exerciser/dancer learns the routines and just needs a quick reminder as to what comes next.

If you want to mix up your workouts or learn new ones from time to time, this would be a great book to use. However, this book may not be for everyone. Some people might find it hard to learn from a book and might be better off in a class at their local gym or fitness centre. However, if you're not ready to join a class or find a teacher, this book is a good place to start.

The Table of Contents has major sections listed and is broken down into stretches/workouts and other items. It also marks which items are featured on the DVD. I love that!!! The index is pretty good and should help find some items in the book. Only one of the three sections, the Dance workouts, features a glossary. It's unique in that a few of the ballet terms are illustrated with photographs.

The book also has a list of some useful resources at the back of the book. I was pleasantly surprised to see some Canadian references.

Recommended. I'm hoping to learn and use at least one of these new workouts.

This book was previously released as 3 separate books.

Note: The cover on this book is slightly different that the cover shown above.

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.

Energizing Workout by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756675663(Soft cover, with DVD), 272p.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Complete Classical Music Guide by DK Publishing

The Complete Classical Music Guide explains the terms used in Classical music, discusses the music and instruments of each period and gives details of the lives and works of almost 300 composers. It's "the essential listener's guide to more than a thousand years of western Classical music".

I loved this book! This gorgeous book is one of the most beautifully presented books I've ever seen. It's simple, yet very elegant. The book itself is white with gold lettering; clean and crisp. It's encased in a protective three-sided box shaped like a grand piano top.    

The inside of the book is no less beautiful. It's nicely laid out, has small, but relevant photographs, and is jam-packed with tons of information about Classical music. The sections are colour-coded and are laid out in interesting and appealing ways. The instrument photographs are labelled and annotated. A few of them are a little small, though.

The book starts off with a terrific introduction that features the basics of music, the instruments and performances before launching into the history of Classical music. The history part is broken down into different musical periods: early music, Baroque, Classical, etc. Each of these sections starts off with an introduction before getting into the major players of the era. There are also sections on opera and the national schools grouped by nationality rather than style.

I loved all of the information on the composers. Some of it was basic: birth and death dates, nationality, number of published works and milestones in their career. For the more well-known or more accomplished composers, there was also information on their key works and influences.  Some of these span many pages.

Some of the information presented was familiar to me as I used to attend the symphony quite frequently. I also used to study/play the flute (strictly as a hobby, no performances). Even though there was stuff I already knew, the books also contained lots of information that was new-to-me. I learned so much about the different composers and musical elements.

My favourite musical period is Baroque, although I do like a few composers from the Classical period. I loved reading about Vivaldi, Bach and Handel, but also found a bunch of less-known-to-me composers that I'm going to check out.

The book contains some wonderful quotes about the artists or spoken by the artists themselves. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:
We cannot despair about mankind knowing that Mozart was a man. (Albert Einstein, page 110)
Keep your eye on him; one day he will make the world talk of him. (Mozart, on hearing the 17-year-old Beethoven, page 114)
After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. (Oscar Wilde, page 132)
It is unnecessary for music to make people think...it would be enough if it made them listen. (Claude Debussy, page 234)
The table of contents is a bit sparse. It only lists the major sections. I quite enjoyed reading over the glossary, which explains some of the terms used in Classical music. The index is extensive and should be very helpful in locating items in the book. It lists the composers, their well-known works and lots more.

Highly recommended. It's a classical music lover's dream. It's beautiful enough to leave out on the coffee table rather than hidden away on a shelf. If you have a classical music fan in your circle of family and friends, this would make a terrific Christmas gift.

The book was previously published as Eyewitness Companions: Classical Music.

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

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

The Complete Classical Music Guide by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756682568(Hardcover with hard protective cover), 352p.

Doodlepedia by DK Publishing

Doodlepedia is part encyclopedia, part colouring book and part doodling pad. This book doesn't just allow readers to draw or doodle in the book, it encourages it, all the while learning about a variety of subjects.

I really enjoyed this book. While I don't generally doodle in books, I like books that allow me to do so. I love how it connects activities with facts. It makes the learning fun and just might make the information easier to remember.

The book doesn't go into much depth with any one subject. Rather it's more like a list of facts on a bunch of different subjects. Even though it's a little short on information, there's plenty of things to colour and lots of room to draw. It could provide the reader with hours of reading, drawing, doodling and colouring fun.

The order of the pages appear to be random. That is there's no apparent order to the subjects. On one page you are learning about (and drawing your own) International Space Station (ISS). On the next, you are digging for diamonds. After that, you're learning about the poles, then shapes. I really liked this! The book doesn't have to be completed in a certain order, either. The reader is free to jump around to whatever they find interesting or feel like doing at the time.

I really like the style of the drawings in the book - cute and cartoon-like. They should be very appealing to the target audience, 6-12 year-olds. The text is large and easy to read, but some of the words might be a little challenging for the youngest readers. There were some words I didn't know! Most are explained (crenellations - gaps at the tops of castle walls), but a few of them are not (plinth, which I learned was a pedestal or platform.)

The book doesn't contain a table of context, an index or even page numbers. It really doesn't need them. However, if you are looking for specific subjects to learn about, that could be a drawback.

The one other drawback is that once the book has been coloured and doodled in, it's not going to be as much fun the next time or for the next reader. Although, once it's completed it might make a nice keepsake of the child's artwork for parents or grandparents if they are into that sort of thing.

Highly recommended.  It would definitely make a great Christmas present!  If you wrap it up with some art supplies or even just a pencil, it'll keep them quiet while you go back to bed. ;)

There are a few other Doodlepedia books available from DK. I haven't seen them, but if they are anything like this one, they'll be terrific.

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

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

Doodlepedia by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756690113(Paperback), 112p.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

In The Prisoner of Heaven, it's Christmas in Barcelona, 1957. Daniel Sempere's close friend, Fermin Romero de Torres is about to get married. Everyone is happy until a stranger visits Daniel's bookstore and leaves an ominous item behind that threatens to reveal a long kept dangerous secret. This leads Daniel and Fermin into the past, the 1940s, where the events that are revealed will change them and everything they know.

Since I haven't read the first two books, I don't have frame of reference or background information on the story or its characters. I read the book as a standalone volume and thoroughly enjoyed it. Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a very talented storyteller and has created the most wonderful characters. His writing is lyrical and very descriptive.  I like all of the characters in the book, but I especially liked Fermin.

The book takes the reader on a journey to dark and ominous time and place; the early days of Franco's dictatorship in Spain. The story was interesting and very compelling; I had a hard time putting the book down. I loved every minute of it.

The story definitely wasn't a pleasant one. Some of the details of prison life were harsh and terribly gruesome. It was almost hard to read at times. However, there are some lighter moments that brought a smile to my face.

This is the third book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. The first two books are: The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game. The beginning of this book says that the books can be enjoyed in any order. Since I've yet to read the first two books, I'm hoping that statement is right. From reading other reviews of this book, the stories of all three books are closely linked and interconnected. I'm sure that I'm going to want to reread this one after I've read the other two books.

New Words:
sumpter (page 29): pack animal
putative (page 30): generally believed to be
anaemically (page 44): weak
rapacious (page 85): greedy
emolument (page 178): ointment
quixotic (page 207): idealistic

I have the first book, The Shadow of the Wind on my to-be-read bookshelf, but I've yet to read it. I've heard such good things about it, so I'm hoping to change that soon.

Highly recommended.  I can't wait to read more of this author's work.

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

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

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

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Harper (HarperCollins), ©2012. ISBN 9780062206282(Hardcover), 278p.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

In The Secret Keeper, 16-year-old Laurel witnesses her mother brutally stabbing a man to death in their yard. Laurel doesn't recognize the man and is baffled as to why her loving mother, Dorothy, would do this. Fast forward 50 years, Laurel is now a famous actress. Her Mother, in poor health with a failing memory, is about to celebrate her 90th birthday. Laurel knows that she has one last chance to find out the truth about that man and how he came to die right in front of her eyes. Skipping between past and present, Morton tells their story taking the reader through WWII England to the present day.

I absolutely adored this book. I've read two of Morton's other books; this one is her best yet! I'm in such awe of her storytelling abilities. How does she come up with these stories and characters? It's nothing short of amazing. The suspense, particularly in the chapter endings, had me reading past my bedtime more than once. There's an overall sadness to the book with some very disturbing events, but it's such a wonderfully written book, I would read it all again in a heartbeat.

The present day story followed Laurel as she tries to solve the mystery, while the parts in the past followed Dorothy (Dolly), Vivien and Jimmy as they lived through the Blitz and went on with their lives the best they could.   Usually, in books like this, I typically like the historical part better than the present day parts. However, in this case, I liked them both equally.

I generally find that long books like this (450+ pages) have a middle section that lags a bit and loses my interest. Not so with this book. Each and every page held my interest until the very last page.

Speaking of the end, this book contains one of the best endings I've ever read. Really! I couldn't believe what was happening. In fact, I had to read a few sections at the end more than once to make sure I'd read them right. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant. It's going to take some doing to top it. While the ending didn't make me cry, I did hug the book for some time after I finished it. I really wasn't ready to let go of the story or these characters, not after that spectacular ending.

New words:
charabanc (page 75): coach for pleasure trips
eisteddfods (page 79): Welsh festival of music and poetry
moue (page 81): pout
plimsolls (page 87): shoes
fulsomely (page 126): excessively complimentary
pilchard (page 140): small ocean fish
obsequious (page 190): flattering
fossick (page 199): rummage or look for something
stultifying (page 265): very boring
anodyne (page 328): bland
muniments (page 331): documents that support claim
fervid (page 332): showing enthusiasm
theistic (page 361): belief in God
upbraided (page 387): scold
moribund (page 405): declining

I read two other books by Morton: The Forgotten Garden (my review), and The Distant Hours (my review). I loved them both and would highly recommend them both.  I also have The House at Riverton on my to-be-read bookshelf.

Highly recommended. It's not only the best book I read this year, it's earned a spot on my list of all-time favourite books. I can't wait for Morton's next book.

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

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

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

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) ©2012. ISBN 9781439152805(Advance Reading Copy), 463p.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Needlework Tuesday - On Wednesday - Stalled

Well, it turns out that after making 5 scarves, I was all scarf-ed out, so I didn't even pick up knitting needles this week. I still managed to plan and work on my next project, but didn't really get that far.

In The Knitting Book (my review), I saw a nifty technique where you recycle yarn from an old sweater, cut it into lengths, then knot it together with other yarns to form a "new" variegated knotty yarn. I didn't have an old sweater (or other knitted item) to use, but I did figured I could try the same thing with leftover yarn from various other projects. I might have been able to make a few mittens/hats/scarves, but it's been sitting for over 20 years (labelled Eatons* and Baycrest, UGH!)...it was time to do something with it.

So this week, I've been sitting in front of the TV cutting up yarn into foot long lengths. I was hoping to make a afghan, but I'm not sure I have enough yarn. So far, I have about 11 ounces or just over 300 grams. I could go into my stash, pull out a few full skeins of yarn that hasn't been designated for anything else yet and cut them up, but I'm not sure I want to do that. It, too, has been sitting, but I'm hesitant to cut up a whole skein. I could either make a smaller item (pillow?) or I could still make an afghan, but in alternating stripes of solid colour and new knotty variegated yarn. I'll have to give it some thought this week.

Whatever I decide to do, it's going to be a very simple pattern because any fancy cables and such will likely be unrecognizable with the knotty yarn. I'm thinking all seed stitch because it's my favourite, but I might opt for garter stitch or stocking stitch.    Also, the knots may irritate me so much that following a complicated pattern may make the project unbearable. I certainly don't need any more unfinished projects. ;)

Anyway, here's a photo of the cut up yarn I have so far:

Crappy shot, I know.  I should have made the whole photo more in focus.  Anyway, you can sort of tell that the colours (burgundy, pink, black, brown, cream, grey, blue, white/pink) don't exactly all go together.  But, that's what I have and that's what I'm going to use.   

*Eatons was a department store in Winnipeg that closed down many moons ago. I'm not sure about Baycrest, but the yarn I have is ancient.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie

In Forgotten, Emma Tupper, a young lawyer, becomes stranded in Africa after a terrible earthquake. Instead of the planned one month trip, she spends six months in a remote village, unable to contact those back home. When she finally returns home, she discovers that everyone she knows thought she was dead. They've moved on with their lives. Her apartment has been rented to someone else; her boyfriend is seeing someone new; her office is occupied by someone else. Getting her old life back is going to be harder than she thought.

I enjoyed this book, but I didn't love it. I know McKenzie writes chick-lit (not a genre I normally read), but the premise was so interesting, I wanted to give it a shot. As it turns out, it was a little too fluffy and a little too farfetched for me.

Several things in the story struck me as unbelievable. For instance, she returns home to find that her apartment has been rented to someone else. Instead of going to live in her mother's house which sits vacant, she chooses to live in the apartment with the stranger.   Besides that, doesn't someone need to check on the house after her six month absence? This isn't even mentioned. I really wanted to hear more about the grief she suffered over her mother's recent death as well as her struggles in Africa.

Having said that, there were parts of the book I liked. With McKenzie being a lawyer herself, she's definitely writing what she knows and it shows. Parts of the story dealing with the law practice appeared realistic, as least to me. I also really liked the parts where Emma and her colleagues were trying to figure out how the piece of art was stolen from the museum. Those parts read like a cozy mystery and peaked my interest. Unfortunately, they weren't a large part of the book.

I've also read McKenzie's Arranged (my review.)

Even though I had a few problems with the story, I'm sure McKenzie fans and fans of chick-lit will enjoy this one. It might make a good beach read.

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 Catherine McKenzie's website.

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

Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie, HarperCollins, ©2012. ISBN 9780062115416(Trade paperback), 420p.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Needlework Tuesday - Scarves Again

I can't tell you how happy I am to be knitting again. I need to find more projects (maybe a bigger one) to keep me busy through the winter.

This week I started and finished two ruffle scarves.

The first one is a variegated blue one from the Frill Seeker yarn I showed you last week. It's a little shorter than the others I made, but it's just perfect for tucking into a light jacket.

Here are a close up:

The second one is made from Bernat Truffles yarn. I love this yarn. It's similar to Red Heart's Ribbon yarn and so much easier to work with than say Red Heart's Sashay or the Frill Seeker one because there's a really clear spot where your needle is supposed to go. No guessing as you do with the others. Anyway, I didn't need more yarn, but I was in Walmart the other day and saw this yarn. I love it's fuzzy edge. If I buy any more, I'm going to have to start hiding it from my husband.  ;)

I didn't follow the pattern on the paper band because it was going to be too thin and too long.  I made the following changes:  11 stitches instead of 6 and I knitted into every hole instead of every second one.    This is basically the same pattern for the Red Heart Ribbon scarf I did a couple of weeks ago. 

Here are a close up of this one:

Finally, here's a shot of the two of them together:

This week, I'm probably going to make another scarf.   I know, no surprise there.  This time I think I'm going to try making another one that's knitted from end to end rather than across the width. I said I was going to wait until I found more of one specific yarn, but there's no reason that I can see why I can't try it with one of the others. It might work.

At some point, I want to start knitting something that isn't a scarf. I don't know if it's going to be this week, though. I'll have to give it some thought.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

In The Charming Quirks of Others, Isabel Dalhousie, moral philosopher and editor/owner of the quarterly journal, Review of applied Ethics, is asked to investigate, with discretion of course, three candidates for the job of headmaster at a boys' school. The school received a letter hinting that one of the candidates shouldn't be hired. However, it failed to state which one. As Isabel looks into their lives and backgrounds, she finds out some amazing things about the three candidates, herself, and others around her.

This is the seventh book in the Isabel Dalhousie series, but the first one I've read. I enjoyed it immensely. Alexander or should I say Sandy, the name he goes by, creates the most wonderful stories filled with terrific characters. This one is no exception. It's less about the story, though, and more about the characters.

Even though this book is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone book. I didn't feel like I was missing any crucial background information to explain anything in this book. Having said that, I really want to go back and read the other now because this one was so good.

By the way, the 9th book in the series is already out in hardcover. According to his website, there's also an eBook original story featuring Isabel.

Speaking of Isabel, I just loved her. She can go off on a tangent like no other person or character I know, then somehow make her way back to the subject at hand. It's quite extraordinary. Since this was the first book I read, I had a little trouble figuring out her age, until her husband, Jamie and small son, Charlie came onto the scene. I especially loved her ponderings on moral philosophy, It's funny, I dropped out of 1st year philosophy in university because it was a snooze-fest. Yet, it was the philosophical bits in this book that I found the most intriguing.

New words:
solecisms (page 15): A grammatical mistake in speech or writing
platitudinous (page 56): dull or tiresome
mendacious (page 110): lying
prurient (page 127): Having an excessive interest in sexual matters
approbation (page 196): approval
syllogistically (page 211): an argument or form of reasoning in which two statements or premises are made and a logical conclusion is drawn
clype (page 235): tattle-tale

I've read a few of his other books and enjoyed each one. He's written so many books, though, that I'm afraid at this point, I'm never going to catch up. Honestly, he can write faster than I can read. I haven't written reviews for all of the books I've read, but here are two that I loved: Corduroy Mansions and La's Orchestra Saves the World. I'd highly recommend them both.

Highly recommended. If you've read and enjoyed any of his other books, I'm sure you'll like this one, too. I have lots of his other books on my bookshelf that I intend to read...one day.

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

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Alexander McCall Smith's website.

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

The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith, Vintage Canada (Random House Canada), ©2011. ISBN 9780307399571(Trade paperback), 256p.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

In The Unseen, two letters found on a long-dead soldier's body, lead Leah on a quest to solve the mystery surrounding Hester Canning, a reverend's wife, who lived in a Berkshire village in the year 1911. Hester is quite naive and can't figure out why her husband isn't more interested in her. That's about to get a whole lot worse as their lives are turned upside down when Cat, their new maid, and Robin, a visiting theosophist, arrive on the scene. In the present day, Leah searches for clues using the letters as a starting point. What she finds is a fantastic story with plenty of secrets, deception, murder and fairies.

I loved this book. Webb is a wonderful storyteller. I loved the way she used the present day and the past to tell this story. A perfect fit for this type of story. She loaded the present day parts with little clues as to what's going to happen next for the reverend and his wife. This foreshadowing made it really suspenseful and hard to put down. There were lots of interesting side stories that weren't exactly part of the main plot, but I enjoyed reading them nevertheless.

The characters were wonderful. I especially liked Hester and really felt sorry for her. She was so naive when it came to her husband, Bertie, and their marriage/relationship, but how was she supposed to know. I suspect that in that time period certain subjects were not discussed. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that. I also liked the free-spirited Cat with the troubled past.

I've seen letters used like this a lot in other fictional works. In some cases, the letters are too heavily relied upon and it doesn't work. Thankfully, Webb uses them brilliantly. These two letters are extremely intriguing as they only give the characters in the present little bits and pieces to work with. They have to really work to find out the rest of the information.

There's so much happening in the past that at one point I completely forgot about the present day characters and how they started on this investigation (i.e. the soldier's letters). That's not to say that I didn't enjoy reading the parts with Leah and Mark, it's just that I enjoyed the historical parts more.

New words:
plonk (page 343): term for wine that is inexpensive and/or poor quality (UK)
somnambulist (page 384): sleep walker
theosophist (various pages): a believer in theosophy, which is a religious system based on intuitive sight

This edition of the book contains some extra information such as The Story Behind The Unseen, a Reading Group Guide and more. All of it was worth the read, but I was particularly intrigued by the fact that the story was first inspired by the Cottingley Fairies.

I read Webb's other book, The Legacy (my review) earlier this year and loved it. I can't wait for her next one.

Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading more books by this author.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website. I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

The Unseen by Katherine Webb, William Morrow (HarperCollins), ©2011. ISBN 9780062077882(Trade paperback), 447p.