Friday, February 22, 2013

Digital Photography Through the Year by Tom Ang

In Digital Photography Through the Year, Tom Ang answers the questions of "what to shoot", and "how to shoot different subjects in different situations". The book features lots of photographs in various sizes with explanations on how the results were achieved. It's divided into seasons so the reader is armed with ideas and inspiration for the whole year.

I loved this book! It not only offered tons of advice on how to shoot the things I'm already shooting, but also opened my eyes to other subjects that I hadn't thought of shooting. It's so inspiring. It gave me so many ideas that I couldn't wait to pick up my camera to start going through some of Ang's tips.

The book is divided into seasons, then further divided into three other sections, early, mid-, and late. For example, there's a part of early spring, mid-spring and late spring. While the four seasons may be been enough, I like the smaller sections. It divides up the information into "bite-size" pieces that can be easily digested.

On each two-page spread, there's a large photograph with 3 key points clearly labelled and explained. Ang also included camera settings (mode, lens setting, ISO etc.), alternative approaches (different ideas on how to shoot similar subjects) and one or two different sidebars with even more ideas. The spread also features a list of other pages that focus on similar subjects or situations. For instance, the bottom right hand corner of the page titled "Splash" lists the following references: "Waterfalls, pp. 134-35", "People under water pp. 174-75", "Watersports pp.182-83", "At the poolside pp. 200-201". I especially love this because it allows me to find the many examples of the look I'm trying to achieve. It also shows me things I never would have thought of.

At the end of each chapter, there's a "Exploring Technique" spread that deals with a specific aspect of photography. i.e. Camera Modes, Close-up and Macro, Exposure, Using a Flash. Ang uses text and lots of photographs to explain the different aspects of the technique.

I love that the book features 4 very distinct seasons. From snow in the winter and rain in the spring to sandy beaches in the summer. However, not everyone is going to have that, especially the snow in the winter. Ang makes sure there's something for everyone and includes photographs and tips that will be useful in all kinds of weather in each of the sections. He also includes lots of indoor shots/situations so the photographer will still be inspired when shooting outdoors isn't possible or when the situations calls for indoor shots.

I've also read and continue to use Ang's, How to Photograph Absolutely Everything (my review) and Digital Photographer's Handbook 5th Edition (my review). Both are excellent. This book, though, is my favourite out of the three.

Highly recommended. I'll be referring to this book time and time again.

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

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Tom Ang's website. A list of other Tom Ang books available from DK can be found here.

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

Digital Photography Through the Year by Tom Ang, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756698348(Hardcover), 360p.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hors d'Oeuvres by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille

Hors d'Oeuvres offers more than 200 recipes for appetizers and several meal plans for throwing the perfect party. There are also step by step instructions for things like croustades, potato röstis, filo tartlets, pastry tartlets and other vessels. The "6 ways with" pages feature different topping/filling/ingredient options for various appetizers.

This is such a beautiful book! It has large stunning photographs of delicious looking bites. The book is nicely laid out with one recipe per page (with the just a few exception). The font is large enough so that you don't have to squint to see the type.

The introduction gives you ideas on what to serve, how much to serve, and what beverages to serve with your appetizers. The 24 different menus using the hors d'oeuvres from this book are presented for different party situations. Where it's a summer party, winter party, afternoon tea, something quick and easy, or one that allows your guests to sample foods and flavours from around the world, there's a menu for it. There's even one for a full vegetarian feast. All of these look delicious. I'm really terrible at putting together dishes that complement each other. I tend to make things that I like regardless of whether or not they "go" together. In this book, the authors have done that work for me.

The recipes have tips and advice on how to make some of the items or perform some of the steps ahead of time, so you can spend more time with your guests. The recipes also list essential equipment if any are needed. It's good to know up front if you need a mandolin or piping bag, for example. Some of the recipes also have variations listed so you can change it up a bit for something different or change it to suit your tastes.

I love that some of the recipes are quick and easy and are labelled as such. These would be good ones to make when time is short or when unexpected guests show up. Of course, there are many more involved ones that require long marinating times or require many steps to complete the hors d'oeuvre.

Besides being beautifully presented, the "6 ways with" pages offer a number of recipes to make that are quick, easy and varied. Two examples: a two-page spread for "6 ways with oatcakes", which features different toppings; and another for "6 ways with wraps", which features different fillings. The "step-by-step" pages feature many photographs and explanations on how to complete the recipe. For example, the book shows the reader how to make parmesan shortbreads from start to finish. All of these pages are terrific!

Most of the ingredients used in the recipes are readily available at larger supermarkets. However, a few of them are going to be harder to find. These include: quail eggs, gram flour, duck, smoked eel and micro cress. Also, some of the recipes feature seasonal ingredients that may not be available year-round depending on where you live. I don't think my supermarket carries eggplant or butternut squash all the time. Even if they did, the price would probably be cost prohibitive.

I love that one of the authors is a caterer and has selected these recipes based on actual experiences. She made sure "the recipes work, not only for the cook but also for the guest". I don't entertain a lot, but I know that some foods can be annoying and messy to eat while trying to hold a glass of wine in the other hand. From the looks of these recipes, it appears that the authors have thought of that.

So far I've only tried one of the recipes, Piquant Peppery Hummus.  Instead of putting on top of oatcakes as the book suggested, I bought some crackers from the store and used those instead. I loved it, however, some people I served them to thought the jalapeño chili in the hummus would have been enough heat for them. They didn't need the chili garnish as well. I'd definitely make it again, but the next time I'd adjust the heat.

For my next book club get-together I plan to make the following:
  • Oven-dried Root and Fruit Chips (page 94). I might even make these for just me and my husband.
  • Sweet Potato and Ginger Rösti with Cilantro Pesto (page 148) I'll definitely make a few changes to this one because I despise cilantro, but as a whole, the appetizer looks and sounds delicious.

Besides all of the savoury bites offered in this book, there's also a chapter on sweet ones. It's kind of short, but it's filled with yummy recipes.

I have two small complaints about the book. The first is that not all of the recipes have photographs. That usually doesn't bother me, but with hors d'oeuvres the presentation can be just as important as the taste. Even a small photo would have sufficed. The photographs that are included, though, are so gorgeous, that they almost makes up for the ones that are missing. My second complaint is that one of the recipes in the quick & easy menu planner requires marinating for 8 hours. I don't think it's "perfect for those impromptu guests" as the section suggests.

The table of contents is a little sparse. It lists only the chapter heading, the "step by step" and "6 ways with" items. It's probably good enough, though. The index looks pretty good. It has lots of entries for ingredients as well as recipes.

Highly recommended for those who love finger foods and for those who like to entertain. I have a number of friends and neighbours who love to have people over. I'll definitely be recommending this book to them.

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.

Hors d'Oeuvres by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756698362(Hardcover), 224p.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

In Speaking From Among the Bones, it's the 500th anniversary of Saint Tancred's death and the hamlet of Bishop Lacey is preparing to open his crypt. 11-year-old Flavia de Luce is really excited to get a glimpse of what's inside, but before they can get to the Saint, Flavia discovers the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist. Determined to find out who wanted him dead, she embarks on her investigation.

As with the other books in the Flavia de Luce series, I really enjoyed this one. It's really a terrific addition to the series. This installment, the 5th, finds Flavia still precocious and totally enamoured with chemistry and her lab, but something is definitely different and even Flavia herself is not sure what's going on. For possibly the first time, she's not at constant war with her two older sisters. I know, it's shocking!

In fact, there are lots of changes are happening at Buckshaw, the family manor. Because Flavia doesn't have time to keep up with what's going on there, not with Mr. Collicutt's murder to solve, some of them take her by complete surprise.

I especially love Flavia's "relationship" with Gladys, her bicycle. She talks to her and about her as though she were a real person. Some of those lines are priceless. As for other relationships, Flavia knows she's a child, but doesn't like to be treated like one. Those who treat her like an adult, like Dogger, are more likely to gain her favour.

In her chemistry lab, Flavia whips up a recipe, although Flavia calls it an "invention", for Steamed Eggs on page 208. Flavia doesn't just go through the procedure. Because she's a chemist at heart, she describes chemical composition of egg shells and why this method works better than Mrs. Mullet's method, which leave the eggs "with their green circle around the yolk, looking for all the world like the planet Saturn with its rings poisoned". She's just brilliant.

Bradley always seems to use a few words that are totally foreign to me. I love learning new words, so I love when I come across a new-to-me one and I can look it up. Here are a few from this book: judder (page 72): vibrate, shudder
bombazine (page 98): twilled material
crosier (page 114): rod carried by a bishop
encomium (page 126): high praise
squalene (page 149): substance (a hydrocarbon) found in the liver
diapason (page 162): pipe organ's main stop
pervigilation (page 192): careful watching
deleterious (page 195): harmful
shandygaff (page 304): a drink made of beer and ginger beer

I absolutely loved the ending. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that it will leave fans of this series simply breathless. A perfect lead up to the next book in the series.

Just because of the ending, I'm going to say that if you are new to the series, this might not be the best one to start with. The mystery itself is standalone, but other things that happen in the book, including the ending, needs some background information to be truly enjoyed. In fact, if you are at all interested, do yourself a favour and start at the beginning with book one. You won't regret it.

Highly recommended. I'm anxiously waiting for the next book.

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

For more information about the author, Flavia de Luce, and other books in the series, please visit Flavia de Luce's website.

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

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, Doubleday Canada (Random House), ©2013. ISBN 9780385668125(Hardcover), 358p.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Anatomist's Apprentice by Tessa Harris

The Anatomist's Apprentice is a new historical fiction/mystery novel that takes place in 18th-century England. After the death of her brother Sir Edward Crick, Lady Lydia Farrell enlists the help of anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone from Philadelphia hoping to squash some of the gossip about the death that's been running rampant through Oxfordshire. With some reservations, he agrees to look at the body. He'll need to call on all of his skills to not only examine the dead, but also suss out the killer.

I really enjoyed this book. It's not action packed, but it's got a great story and a fantastic protagonist. The story was intellectual, very compelling and wonderfully researched. Harris really gave me a sense of what 18th-century England was like. I felt like I was transported back to that time period. She also laid out vivid details about Dr. Silkstone's job as an anatomist, which emphasized how different their understanding of the human body was at that time.

With the language Harris used, it all felt very British and proper. However, some of the actions of the characters were anything but. There's also a little romance/seduction/lusting included in the story, but I don't think it was overdone. It was all good.

I loved Dr. Thomas Silkstone as the protagonist. He was methodical and looked for supporting facts before drawing conclusions. I loved that the author showed his tougher side when it came to death and his investigations and his softer side when it came to Lydia. Just when you think that Thomas has solved the case, there's yet another twist in the storyline. He was tenacious and just wouldn't quit until he had no nagging doubts about the case or loose ends to tie up.

Favourite quotes:
The body holds within it many secrets,. Each organ stores its own particular mysteries, ensconced deep within its membranes, hidden in tissue or stored in beefy cliffs of muscle. (page 188)

The book had quite a few new-to-me words. Here's a sampling (those marked with an asterisk are taken from the glossary): addlepated (page 20): stupid, confused
espaliered (page 60): tree growing against a wall
paphians and doxies (page 123): women of ill repute*
calumny (page 129): defamation
whisket (page 149): a basket
didicoy (page 150): a traveller with mixed Romani blood
suppurating (page 151): ooze pus
cutpurses (page 171): pickpocket
gallimaufry (page 191): hodgepodge
sobriquet (page 201): nickname
nostrum mongers (page 201): quacks who peddled false remedies for ailments*
mortsafe (page 261): an elaborate tomb to foil any attempts by grave robbers*
phaeton (page 310): a carriage drawn by a single horse or a pair*

I appreciated the glossary (ordered and separated by chapter) that the author included at the back of the book. I took full advantage of this and found definitions to many of the new-to-me words I encountered.

Highly recommended. I hope to read many more books by this author.

For more information about this book or to read the first chapter, please visit the Kensington Books website.

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

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

The Anatomist's Apprentice by Tessa Harris, Kensington Books, ©2012. ISBN 9780758266989(Trade paperback), 310p. includes glossary.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma

In The Map of the Sky, alien cylinders appear in 19th-century London, just like in H.G. Wells's book The War of the Worlds and Wells thinks that it's been staged by a man trying to win over a woman, who's reluctant to marry him. Even though Wells just recently saw some alien artifacts that were recovered many years ago in an expedition to the Antarctic, he still thinks it's a hoax. However, it soon becomes apparent that this isn't a stunt, but a real Martian invasion. Just when all seems lost, some of the survivors along with Wells himself strike back in an effort to save their city.

I loved this book! Absolutely loved it. Even though it was almost 600 pages long, I wanted this book to go on forever. I loved it that much. There are just so many wonderful bits to love in this story. It's so cleverly executed. Soon after I started this one, I remembered why and how much I loved the first book, The Map of Time (my review). I was happy to "touch base" with some familiar characters from the last book.

I don't usually read fantasy or science fiction, but for some reason I'm finding this series extremely compelling. I'm sure it has to do with the author and his writing. It's so well written and so skilfully constructed it's hard not to like. I also love that Palma acknowledges the reader by inserting brief interjections as if he himself were sitting before me telling me this story.

I loved that the characters interacted with real life people, like H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe. It gave the whole story some credence, even though it's fantasy. Palma created events in the book to coincide with events in the real life people's lives, so it looked like events in the book shaped their lives. For example, in the book Poe joins an expedition to the Antarctic. His experiences inspire him to pen The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. There are also a few other examples of Palma's clever imagination that are absolutely brilliant. Of course, I'd be spoiling the story if I revealed those.

This book is the second installment in a planned trilogy. Even though Palma's website says they can be read in any order, I would suggest reading the first one (The Map of Time) before this one. It's not absolutely necessary, but it'll make this book more fun to read. Palma fills in the story a little bit for new-to-the-series readers, but there are things that happen in this book that will have much more impact if you know the back story and a little bit about the characters beforehand.

While I haven't read any books by H.G. Wells, I think it would be really neat to read the book by Wells just prior to reading the corresponding one by Palma. I'm sure it would change the whole experience. While I didn't read Wells's The War of the Worlds, I did see the 2005 remake of the movie. That gave me the basics of that story and I believe it enhanced my enjoyment of this book. When I read the first book, The Map of Time, I had no inkling what Wells's book was about. I still enjoyed that book, but not as much as I enjoyed this one. I'm not saying you need to read Wells's book before these ones, I'm just saying that in this instance it helped me. I also think these books would be a real treat for those who have already read or are familiar with Wells's work.

While most of the story was light, amusing and fun to read, I was moved to tears by Charles's story in the internment camp. I felt so bad for him, but was consoled a little when Captain Shackleton gave him the peace he needed. I had to put the book down for awhile after that section. It was so sad that it haunts me even as I write this.

At first, I didn't really understand the ending. It was really good, but I didn't really get why Palma chose to end it that way. It didn't hit me until later when I was trying to write some notes for this review. Now, it all seems to clear. I'm totally in awe and can't wait for the next book.

Favourite quotes:
It was as though a tear had appeared in every book on the planet, and the fantasy had begun seeping out, engulfing the world, making it impossible to tell fact from fiction. (page 253)
...the most terrifying thing is sometimes not what we see, but rather what we are forced to imagine. (page 346)
The book contained a number of new-to-me words. Here's a sampling:
effrontery (page 3): nerve
excoriating (page 4): criticizing
jingoistic (page 6): fanatically patriotic
titular (page 39): supposed
obdurate (page 78): stubborn
petrels and skuas (page 88): seabirds
perorations (page 97): speeches
dissoluteness (page 155): depravity
pyrrhic victory (page 157): a victory that is won by incurring terrible losses
peripatetic (page 175): nomadic
grandiloquent (page 218): verbose, pretentious
entablature (page 225):lintel on a classical building
pecuniary (page 251): financial
temerity (page 301): nerve, gall
pusillanimous (page 425): timid
salubrious (page 470): hygienic

I really looking forward to the third and final installment in this series, which features The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. I haven't read that one either, but I'm hoping to, since I do have some lead time before the next book comes out.

Besides all of that, you've just got to love a book that comes with 3D endpapers and a pair of 3D glasses!!!! So very cool! I'm such a geek.

Highly recommended. This will definitely be on my "Best of 2013" list at the end of the year. It's also earned a spot in my top 3 all-time favourite books.

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

For more information about this author and his other works, please visit Felix J. Palma's website. It's in Spanish.

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

The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma, Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) ©2012. ISBN 9781451660319(Hardcover), 591p.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Footprints in the Sand by Mary Jane Clark

In Footprints in the Sand, Piper Donovan is in Sarasota, Florida for her cousin's wedding. Not only is she making the wedding cake, but she's also the maid of honor. When one of the bridesmaids disappears and some other incidents threaten to postpone the wedding, Piper steps in to solve the mystery and save the day. She's got her work cut out for her though, because everyone's been keeping secrets and even the most innocent actions are suspect.

I really enjoyed this 3rd installment of the Wedding Cake Mystery series. Even though it's part of a series, I think it can be read as a standalone book. I'm not totally caught up on all of the books; I've only read one other one, the 2nd. In this book, I don't remember many (if any) references to previous mysteries, so anyone new to the series shouldn't have any trouble starting here.

The short chapters and the way in which Clark skipped amongst the different story lines really added to the suspense. The author had me reading as fast as I could and rapidly turning the pages, just to see what would happen next.

As usual, Clark has put together a great mix of eclectic characters. Piper is always fun to read about. She definitely has a unique set of skills. I wasn't sure I liked her postings on Facebook, but that's individual taste. I also liked reading about Isaac, who left the Amish life behind to become a wedding planner.

The location specific details really made me feel like I was in Florida. Clark presented some fascinating information about the sea turtles and a little about the invasive Australian pine. I loved reading all of that new-to-me information. However, I'm not entirely sure the mystery itself hinged on any of it. Change a few details and the mystery could easily have taken place on another beach halfway around the world.

By having a few Amish characters, Clark is able to touch upon some Amish traditions, such as Rumspringa and shunning. She was also able to insert some charming Amish proverbs. Like the sea turtle information, it was interesting and added another dimension to the story, but I don't think it was a natural fit with the rest of the story. Clark definitely made it work, though, and I enjoyed learning a little more about the Amish.

New Word:
netsuke (page 23): a carved wooden or ivory ornamental toggle on a kimono cord.

As I said above, the author included some Amish proverbs. My favourite appears on page 289:
Even a saint is tempted by an open door.

I've read a number of other books by Clark, all of which I enjoyed. My review of The Look of Love can be found here. The first one of the series is on my eReader, but I still haven't gotten to it. Clark also writes the KEY News Thrillers series, which is also good. I've only read the last three. For those reviews (and more), visit my Reviews by Author page and scroll down to Clark, Mary Jane.

Recommended. Despite my small complaints about this story, I'd definitely read another book 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.

Footprints in the Sand by Mary Jane Clark, William Morrow (HarperCollins), ©2013. ISBN 9780062222824(Uncorrected Proof), 367p.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Arctic Fire by Stephen Frey

In Arctic Fire, Troy, the adventurous globe-trotter, seems indestructible while his brother Jack is always playing catch up. When Troy dies on the crab boat "Arctic Fire" in Alaska, Jack heads to Alaska to find out what really happened to him. On the way, he uncovers a link between Troy and a secret intelligence organization, Red Cell Seven. As Jack learns more about the RCS and Troy's death, the situation becomes more dangerous and Jack could lose more than his brother.

I had mixed feelings about this book. It started off really good, but by the time I was halfway through, I wasn't that thrilled with it. On one hand, the premise and overall story was good. Many times I was anxiously turning the page to see what would happen next. The author added tons of suspense by having several different storylines going and skipping back and forth amongst them. However, after awhile I came across a few of the conversations and situations that didn't seem believable or natural. I know that with stories like this you have to suspend your belief a little, but it still has to make sense in the grand scheme of things.

I liked both Troy and Jack and thought their relationship was interesting to read about. However, I didn't understand Jack's complacency when he found out the truth about his parents. I don't want to go into too much detail and reveal part of the story, but I didn't get that at all. I also didn't quite understand the extreme patriotism exhibited by Shaun Maddux. Then again, we Canadians tend to be more laid back when it comes to things like that. At least, the ones I know. I would have thought that self-preservation would come before anything else.

So, overall the idea was good, it just missed a couple of times in the execution. It's still a pretty good story, but there are better ones out there.   

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

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

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

Arctic Fire by Stephen Frey, Thomas & Mercer, ©2012. ISBN 9781612183480(Trade paperback), 346p.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Danger! by DK Publishing

Danger! presents page after page of information on things that are dangerous in this world and out of this world. These things exist in nature, our environment, space, science, our own bodies and much, much more.

This is a very cool book! It's similar to other books published by DK in that each 2-page spread tackles a different subject with using eye-catching designs, colourful and interesting graphics/illustrations, as well as informative text. Even though it's written for 10-17 year-olds, I learned a lot about the dangers surrounding me. Mind you, I think I'm pretty safe from some of them (I don't plan on taking up extreme sports or going into orbit anytime soon), but it's nice to know what's lurking around the corner.

The book is grouped into chapters featuring items from nature, such as sharks; the planet, the Bermuda Triangle for example; space, wouldn't be complete without an alien encounters; science, like radioactivity; the human body, featuring epidemics and pandemics; places, such as dangerous foods and extreme sports; and dangers of the past including weapons of war. Each one of them had some pretty exciting, yet dangerous, topics.

There are many very cool pages in the book. My favourites include:
• "How to Survive a Horror Movie" (page 158-159) is hilarious.
• "Horrible Handscape" (page 116-167) describes all of the bacteria and viruses that can be picked up on your hands. Yuck!
• Typhoid Mary (page 134-135) tells the "gruesome tale" of Mary Mallon in graphic novel form.

The material is presented in an entertaining way so that it's not too scary. However, it much be a little too much for younger readers or really sensitive ones. When grouped together like this, all of the dangerous things out there could get a little overwhelming.

The table of contents lists the chapters as well as the contents of each chapter. I love being able to see at a glance what topics are covered. The index is quite extensive and should help the reader find specific items in the book.

Highly recommended.

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.

Danger by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2010. ISBN 9780756667399(Hardcover), 192p.