Saturday, March 30, 2013

Popped Off by Jeffrey Allen

In Popped Off, stay-at-home dad Deuce Winters, is the head coach of his 5-year-old daughter's soccer team in a small town in Texas. When Moises Huber, the president of the soccer association, disappears along with thousands of dollars of the association’s registration fees, Deuce is determined to find him and save his daughter's soccer season. This investigation leads him into the different worlds of gambling, smuggling and mega-churches.

I enjoyed this book. It offers a refreshing male perspective in the world of cozy mysteries. Since many cozy mysteries are written by females and written about female protagonists, I wasn't sure if it was going to work, but it did! This is the second book in the Stay at Home Mystery series, but the first one I've read.

Both the overall story and mystery were likeable. The author threw in a couple of twists and turns to keep me guessing and to keep it interesting. Even though the investigation takes Deuce into some dangerous situations, the story doesn't stray from the cozy mystery genre. It remains light and humorous.

I liked Deuce. He was a down-to-earth, caring father and husband, who had his priorities straight. He did lie to his wife, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. A few of his actions or reactions, however, seemed uncharacteristic. He came across as mild mannered (at least to me), but got extremely agitated, when two men in suits approached him at the blackjack table. Deuce knew they were from the casino, yet he refused to cooperate with them. I couldn't figure out why. The whole scene was just odd and didn't come across as believable. Also, the ribbing he gave his partner, Victor, was funny, to a point, but got old fast. In my opinion, some of it was mean, over the line and uncalled for.

Overall, Allen presents a good mystery with a sound resolution and satisfying ending.

I haven't read the first book, Stay at Home Dead, but I'm going to keep my eyes open for it.

Recommended. I enjoyed this one enough that I'd probably read the next one, Father Knows Death.

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

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

Popped Off by Jeffrey Allen, Kensington Books, ©2012. ISBN 9780758266903(Mass Market), 281p.

The Univited Guests by Sadie Jones

In The Uninvited Guests, it's Emerald Torrington's 20th birthday and preparations are underway at Sterne, a grand old manor house in the English countryside. When a train accident requires the partiers to make room for the survivors, the whole household is thrown into chaos. The dinner guests are determined to make the best of it even though the evening isn't turning out as they had hoped.

This book started out quite good. I loved the setting and the time frame: English countryside in the early 1900s. The manor is run down and the family is eccentric, but that just made it all the more fun to read about. Or so I thought.

I'm not exactly when it happened, but at some point the story took a turn that can only be described as peculiar. At first, I wasn't even sure what was happening. I had a hard time understanding the actions of anyone; the family, the guests, the survivors. Were they in shock? Overly eccentric? It's hard to describe it, without giving too much away.

The book contained a few words that were unfamiliar to me:
stoat (page 130): small thin brown furry animal
parvenu (page 165): someone with new wealth or social status, but still considered inferior
maenad (page 217): wildly excited woman

Even though my interest in the story line waned at times, I was determined to finish it. I can't say I understood it fully, though. The comments by two leading authors on the cover of this advance reader's copy lead me to believe that I really misunderstood this novel. Neither the dark British humour nor the social commentary on class registered with me.

I'm sure there's an audience for this type of book somewhere, but I don't think I'd recommend this book to anyone I know.

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 Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, Harper (HarperCollins), ©2012. ISBN 9780062116505(Advance Reader's Edition), 260p.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Last Good Man by A.J. Kazinski

In The Last Good Man, disgraced policeman Tommaso di Barbera in Venice, has discovered that righteous people, those who are known for their good deeds, are dying all over the world. Each of the bodies has the same mysterious mark. In Copenhagen, Niels Bentzon is also investigating, but he and Barbera don't speak the language. Communicating and passing information is difficult at best. With the help of Hannah Lund, an astrophysicist, a pattern emerges and if she's correct, someone is out to kill the 36 righteous people who, according to the Talmud, protect all of the other people on the Earth. From this pattern they can determine the time and location of the next death. It's up to them to save the last good man.

I loved this book. Although it was over 500 pages, it didn't feel like that at all. The author's use of short chapters and multiple storylines made the story suspenseful and fast-paced. At times I felt breathless just trying to keep up. The whole story was so well thought that there wasn't one dull minute.

The story is translated from Danish. I sometimes worry that translated books, especially ones from faraway places won't be accessible. However, with this one I couldn't have been more wrong. It was awesome!!

The storyline was intriguing. I've heard a little about the Talmud, but nothing at all about the 36 righteous people, who keep the rest of us safe. I thought that it was extremely interesting. To read a little more about the 36 righteous people mentioned in the Talmud, see this Wikipedia entry for Tzadikim Nistarim. The out-of-body experience in the book was also intriguing. Because it was presented as a scientific study, it came across as believable.

The miscommunication or lack of understanding between Bentzon and Barbera added another dimension to the story. Because Bentzon was afraid to fly and unable to travel very far put him in a unique position that the author was able to capitalize on later in the story. I loved Hannah and what she brought to the story. Her expertise in math and science was fascinating. There's one diagram in the book that was supposedly drawn by Hannah. It looked hand drawn which added to its authenticity, but the size made it hard to make out and read. Perhaps if it were larger, it would have been easier to see.

The one weak point in the whole book was the ending. It was exciting and suspenseful until the very end, but the "solution" fell flat. Perhaps it was just too simple for an involved lengthy story like this. It didn't ruin the book for me, I just wish it had ended a little differently.

A.J. Kazinski is a pseudonym of Anders Rønnow Klarlund and Jacob Weinreich. This is their first collaboration. This book was translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally.

Highly recommended. I hope these guys write more books.

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

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

The Last Good Man by A.J. Kazinski, Simon & Schuster UK ©2012. ISBN 9780857205803(Trade paperback), 522p.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

In Rage Against the Dying, Brigid Quinn, a retired FBI agent is settling into early retirement with her husband and her dogs. Her previous life and cases are behind her. That is, until Floyd Lynch confesses to one of Brigid's unsolved cases. He knows things only the killer would know and has offered to lead the FBI to one of the bodies. The new agent in charge, Laura Coleman, is convinced that the confession is false while Brigid discovers that she has some unfinished business to attend to.

I really enjoyed this fast-paced page turner. The storyline was compelling, gripping and filled with twists and turns. Just when I thought I'd figured out the direction the author was taking, she'd veer off in another direction.

The opening packed a huge punch, but some of the sexual deviancy details in the opening pages might scare some people off. It does become a little tamer, but this is no cozy mystery. The violence and graphic details of the murders are up front and centre. It's definitely not for those who are squeamish or those who would rather not know or read about the evil that exists out there.

Brigid is such a great character. She definitely not like any other FBI agent I've read about. She's older, fit, short, and sarcastic while sometimes being irrational, impulsive, and aggressive. She still possesses the physical skills of a much younger agent, which makes people underestimate her. It's a shame that she felt the need to hide parts of her past from her husband Carlo. However, past events have lead her to believe that it's for the best. Her situation seemed plausible, but I didn't quite believe that she missed some key clues at first because she was "seeing what she wanted to see". Aren't law enforcement people supposed to be more observant than that?

These are my favourite quotes from the book:
...they say never trust a woman who tells you her age; if she can't keep that secret, she can't keep yours. (page 9)
If Arizonans want Mexicans to stay out of the country, why do they give everything Spanish names? It kinda sends conflicting messages. (page 208)

New word:
arroyos (page 36): dry gulch

Highly recommended. This is a terrific debut thriller for Masterman. I hope to read many more books by this author.

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

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

Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman, Penguin, ©2013. ISBN 9780143182665(Uncorrected Proof), 307p.

Needlework Tuesday - Pink Afghan Done.

I finished my pink afghan. I'm really glad I'm done, but it didn't turn out like I expected.

The afghan was supposed to be 49" wide, 60" long. Instead, mine measures 68" wide, 42" long. The overall measurement is close, but the width and length are reversed. I also used a bit more yarn that was called for. The pattern called for 31 oz..  Even though my yarn was labelled 34 oz.,  I ran out with 1/2 bind off row to do. Instead of ripping out a row and a half, I finished it up the last half of the bind off row in a darker pink. I really just wanted to be done and I don't really care if it's not perfect.

I guess it could have been a tension thing, but I didn't check my gauge, so I'll never know.

Anyway, it's done. Here are the photos:
Pink Afghan
I hid the bind off edge that was finished with a darker pink.

Pink Afghan - Detail
Close up.

I also worked on setting up/sorting out my craft area...putting more stuff away and sorting out the yarn. I actually got quite a bit done, but not as much as I'd hoped. I'll probably do a bit more before posting any photos.   There are some issues now with having all of my stuff in the basement, but I won't go into those now.   Perhaps at a later time. 

I also reviewed three craft books this past week and did a craft or two from each one:
Craft Techniques and Projects
Beaded Jewelry
This Book Made Me Do It

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

In Into the Darkest Corner, Catherine's passionate relationship with Lee takes a nasty turn when she discovers his dark violent side. Things go from bad to worse when she tries to break it off with him. When her friends don't believe her and she can see no other options, she plans her escape. Four years later, Lee is in jail and Catherine, now going by Cathy, is trying to start over. She tries to keep her constant fear at bay by checking and rechecking that her apartment is safe and secure. Eventually, she befriends her new neighbour, Stuart, who encourages her to deal with her fears in other ways. As time goes by and their relationship deepens, she starts feeling a little better and is beginning trust him. It's then that she gets a phone call that changes everything.

I loved this psychological thriller.  It was so good. It that had me on the edge of my seat from the beginning to end...right to the very last page. There were a couple of holes in the story, but I was willing to overlook those because I loved the premise and the style in which it was written.

The story alternates between two time frames: 2003/2004 when Catherine was in a relationship with Lee, and 2007/2008 when Lee is in jail and Cathy is suffering the consequences of his abuse, but trying to move on with her life. Haynes, the author, jumped between the two time frames quite frequently, so it always felt like the story was moving along. I loved this format. It took a little while to get used to it, but it was awesome once I figured out what was going on. This style made the story extremely intense, scary and very suspenseful. I got totally engrossed in the story to the point where I was anxious and nervous while I was reading. It even gave me nightmares. I believe this is the first book to ever do so. Despite that, I didn't want to stop reading and I couldn't wait to get back to the book each time I put it down.

The story highlighted some key issues that are unfortunately current and relevant in our society: domestic violence, obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That made the story hard to read at times, especially because the violence was so graphically portrayed. I don't know anyone who's been on either end of domestic violence (at least as far as I know), but it was horrible just reading about it. I think the author did a good job of answering some key questions, such as "Why didn't she just leave?", "Why didn't she tell someone?". The OCD was interesting. I don't know how Cathy was able to hold down a job without serious repercussions; I'm not sure the author explained that well enough.

The one part that bothered me in the story was that Cathy's recovery seemed a little too perfect. When she suspected that someone has been sneaking into her apartment and moving things around, she took it too calmly. I was still scared of what was going to happen, so why wasn't she? I don't want to give too much away so I'll leave it at that.

Highly recommended. I hope to read 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.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, HarperCollins, ©2011. ISBN 97800622000457(Advance Reader's Edition), 397p.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Craft Techniques & Projects by DK Publishing

DK is celebrating Spring Break with its "Time to Play" promotion. This week I'll be featuring three books from their Time to Play boutique. If spring break has already passed in your area, these books can be used for family time or other times when the kids need something to do. Click here or on the photo on the left to see some other books.

Craft Techniques and Projects offers more than 50 contemporary projects, which can be done at home using different mediums and tools.

I loved this book. There's such a variety of projects it's hard to choose which to do first. So many of the projects gave me ideas for other projects. It was so inspiring. I could really get carried away with this book.

The projects are separated into 6 groups: Textiles, Papercrafts, Jewelry, Ceramics and Glass, Candles and Soaps, and Eco Crafts. I've dabbled in many of these, which is great because I'm always looking for new projects to do. I especially love the Eco Craft section: turning trash into treasures. It's better than the landfill, right?

Each chapter starts with an introduction followed by tools and materials needed for the various techniques and projects in that section. There are plenty of photographs and labels so the reader/crafter will know exactly what to look for when they go shopping.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to techniques and projects. For the techniques, the book shows the steps with photos and explanations. Each technique is followed by a project, so that the reader/crafter can practice the technique shown. The projects are nicely laid out with a list of materials needed, step-by-step photographs and explanations, as well as a large photograph of the finished project. The back of the book contains templates for several of the projects.

There are a few projects I loved, but will probably never make. The sparkly tiara (page 164-165) is adorable. If I had a little girl, I'd make her one of these so she could feel like a princess each time she wore it. It doesn't say it's for little girls, but I don't go to any fancy parties where a tiara is mandatory or even appropriate. It's still a gorgeous accessory, though. I might use the technique on another piece of jewelry.

For the purposes of this review, I made one of the projects from the book. For details and photos, please see below. I was hoping to do at least one more, but in the interest of time I decided to stick with this one for now because I had all of the materials and tools.

Other projects I'm hoping to do in the next little while:
Flowerpots (mosaic, pages 216-217)
Trivet (mosaic, pages 218-219)
Eggshell Picture Frame (eco-craft/mosaic, page 282-283)
Tin Can Lanterns (eco-craft, page 290-291)

The back of the book lists the authors of the various crafts along with their websites. There's also a list of resources for supplies.

The table of contents lists the major sections along with the techniques used in the book. However, it doesn't list the projects. I found this a little odd. The index is ok, but I didn't find what I was looking for right away. It took a little deducing and hunting before I found it.

Highly recommended.

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.

Craft Techniques and Projects by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756692704(Hardcover), 320p.

My project

I love making homemade cards, but haven't tried a pop-up one yet. So I decided to try the Pop-Up Card (page 136-137). This was such a fun project to do. The instructions were fairly straightforward and easy to follow so the project didn't take that long to complete. I'm really happy with how it turned out, with one exception. It looks good when it's open, but when I close the card part of the cake sticks out of the card. I thought my measurements were right, but perhaps they were out just a little. Now that I've learned the technique of making pop-up cards, I can make more. I'll be sure to double check my measurements. ;)

Here's the front view:
Pop-Up Card
...and the side view:
Pop-up Card

Beaded Jewelry by Maya Brenner

DK is celebrating Spring Break with its "Time to Play" promotion. This week I'll be featuring three books from their Time to Play boutique. If spring break has already passed in your area, these books can be used for family time or other times when the kids need something to do. Click here or on the photo on the left to see some other books.

Beaded Jewelry offers tips and techniques for making beaded jewelry at home. There are designs for earrings, bracelets and necklaces in varying styles for all levels of expertise.

This is a great book for those interested in making jewelry at home. I loved it! The format is wonderfully laid out and contains lots of large gorgeous photographs. The instructions are fairly easy to follow, but it does take a little practice to get the techniques right.

The first part of the book goes over the basics of beaded jewelry. It covers choosing beads, the different bead materials (resin, metal, glass, gems, pearl, etc.), the findings, and the tools needed. Before launching into the projects, the book goes over some basic techniques which will be used again and again in the book.

The book features 30 projects for different styles of jewelry. They range from fun and funky to elegant and classic. Eighteen of them are designed by the author, Maya Brenner, while the remaining one are designed by Gunilla Johansson.

Brenner's designs are grouped into three sections: earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Each of the sections starts with an introduction about the different styles in the group. It also features small photos of each of the projects along with a label to indicate whether they are easy, intermediate or harder.

For each project, there's a list of materials and tools needed as well as step-by-step instructions with photos. Sometimes the instructions say to refer to a technique presented earlier in the book. While I don't like flipping back and forth, in a book like this it really cuts down on the repetition. There's also a full page photograph of the finished project, so you can see what it's supposed to look like.

The author also makes suggestions for variations on many of the projects. These are presented in a large annotated photographs, which makes them easy to see. I found these particularly inspiring because I could make the project as is, or I could make the item using the beads I have on hand while using the instructions and techniques in the book.

Johansson's designs are all quick and easy. This section features 4 projects for earrings, 4 for bracelets and 4 for necklaces. All are based on Brenner's designs and are simple, yet very pretty.

I found it a little odd that the designs separated like this (by designer), especially since the majority of the quick and easy ones were at the back of the book. I can guess at some of the reasons, but it's still odd. I would like to see them all arranged by type (earrings, bracelet or necklace) or difficulty.

After all of the projects, the next section is all about colours, themes and how to achieve that theme. For example, for the "Vixen", chose a combination of black, red and metallic beads. For the "Angel", it's white, cream, gold, pearls and crystals. The photographs in this section featuring all of the different themes and colour combinations are stunning. Very inspiring.

The final section features a troubleshooting guide for cleaning and mending beaded jewelry.

The table of contents lists the major sections, but not the individual projects. The index is terrific. It lists tools, projects by name, bead types, findings and much more. There's also a resource list with addresses, phone numbers and websites for beading resources around the world.

For the purposes of this review, I made two projects. See below for photos and details.

Highly recommended.

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.

Beaded Jewelry by Maya Brenner, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756693947(Softcover), 224p.

My projects

The first thing I made was a pair of earrings. I couldn't believe how quick and easy they were. Really nice, too. I didn't time it, but I believe I had earrings done within 5 minutes. That is, once I got all of the supplies together and laid out. One of the steps was a little hard to follow, but I figured it out quite quickly.

Here's a photo of those:

The other project was a triple-stranded necklace. It's my take on the elegant twisted pearl one from the book. I liked the monochromatic theme and twist, but didn't have the pearls to make it. I did, however, have a bunch of bluish/aqua beads to use up. I also didn't have the right clasp to make it permanently twisted. I'll have to twist it each time I wear it or I can wear it untwisted, which looks good, too. It was definitely more complicated than the earrings, but still quite easy to do. All of the steps were easy to follow.

Here's a close-up of the necklace strands:

...and one of the necklace and earrings together:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wingfield's World by Dan Needles

In Wingfield's World, Walt Wingfield, former Bay street stocker turned farmer, writes a weekly letter to the editor of the Free Press and Economist in the town of Larkspur. In these letters Walt details his small successes, his disastrous failures and introduces the reader to a host of eccentric characters that inhabit the Persephone township. This collection is based on the one-man stage plays written by Dan Needles.

I loved, loved, loved this book! It was such a refreshing change from all of the mysteries, thrillers and historical fiction that I've been reading. It's Canadian, wholesome and invokes many emotions. At times, it's touching, other times it's sad, but mostly it frickin' hilarious. Walt has traded his life at the firm for life down on the farm. At least partially, anyway. He knows very little about farming, but really wants to succeed. He applies his business know-how to chores on the farm and while he doesn't always do it the most efficient way, he gets it done, sort of.

The book is broken down into chapters, presumably matching up with the plays. While each is made up of only the letters to the editor with an occasional note from the editor, the book very much reads like a whole cohesive story.

Walt is such a great character. His deadpan delivery is sensational. That and the fact that Needles makes all of the situations so believable are probably what makes this book (and stage plays) so successful.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of seeing one of the "Wingfield" one-man stage plays at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. I think that made this book even more enjoyable for me. I could imagine the brilliant actor, Ron Beatty, acting out these letters and changing his voice, body language and speech patterns to become the different characters. If you ever get the chance to see one of the plays, I encourage you to do so. I've only seen one play, but it was great.

Favourite quotes:
Dry Cry once sold Don a flat of eggs that were so old they started to hatch on the way home on the seat of the truck. Then [Dry Cry] accused Don of stealing chickens. (page 145)
There's a difference between not needing to know and needing not to know. (page 299)

Many of Walt's letters are funny, but a few of them had me rolling on the floor hoping not to pee my pants. Ok, that's probably too much information, but they were hilarious! These include:
- October 27 (page 323-326), regarding the skunk raiding the hen house
- August 27 (page 98-104), about the condominium's open house, where Walt and the neighbours try to dissuade would-be buyers
- November 5 (pages 337-344), about the burning down and potential rebuild of the Orange Hall

I also loved the "Note to the Reader" at the end of the book. It was a wonderful way to finish off this collection.

Highly recommended.

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

Dan Needles doesn't appear to have a website, but for more information about Wingfield, please visit the Walt Wingfield Official Homepage. (While the information appears to be up-to-date, the "style" is seriously outdated. Time for a makeover, webmaster.)

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

Wingfield's World by Dan Needles, Vintage Canada (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780307360847(Trade paperback), 435p.

The Salt Road by Jane Johnson

In The Salt Road, Isabelle (Izzy) Treslove-Fawcett has inherited an amulet, along with a mysterious note, from her father. It leads her on a journey to Morocco to find the amulet's origin and solve the mystery that her father eluded to in the note. Once there, she meets an antiques trader, Taïb, learns about the history of the Tuareg people and uncovers the amulet's amazing past.

I had read Johnson's other book, The Tenth Gift and really enjoyed it, so I was really excited when I first heard about this one. However, this one took me a couple of tries before I got into it. The first time I got about 1/4 of the way through before I lost interest. The second time I persevered even though my interest waned periodically. All of that left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I loved the history in this story. Johnson gave vivid, gorgeous details about the area, the history and the people. That was enlightening and fantastic! However, the story didn't move along fast enough for me and a few of the details were bothersome.

Like The Tenth Gift, this book is set in Morocco, a beautiful area with a rich history. The story involved and highlighted a injustice that plagues the Tuareg people. While it was sad, yet fascinating, I felt that Johnson came on a little too strong at times. It bordered on preachy.

The story is told using two different storylines, one in the present featuring ; Izzy and Taïb; the other Mariata and Amastan in the past. This format was pretty good fit for the story. However, other than their common location, I had a hard time seeing any connections between the two stories. Eventually, a connection becomes apparent, but it's really late in the book and it's fairly simple. Maybe I read too many mysteries, because I was expecting a more complicated link.

I was also confused about time frame for the storyline set in the past. Because I didn't know about the Tuareg people and their "traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle", I had assumed that those crossing the desert on foot (for days and days and days) or using camels as their main mode of transportation had done it a very long time ago. I was thinking a century or so ago. Because of this assumption, parts of the story didn't seem to fit and confused the hell out of me. Now that I've finished the book, it makes more sense, but it didn't while I was reading.

A couple of other things about the story bothered me. Once Izzy became involved with Taïb, she totally lost contact with her travelling/climbing partner, Eve. Of course, at times she couldn't contact her, but there were times that it seemed like she forgot about her entirely. To me, that seemed weird, inconsiderate, and not believable. Also, Izzy had the feeling that she didn't belong in her parents world, but once she got to Morocco, everything started to feel right. I can understand that, however, Johnson's description of it felt a little wishy-washy and too romanticized for my tastes.

The book contained some new-to-me words. I didn't bother listing the ones that were defined in the glossary. Here's a sampling: friable (page 1): crumbly
louche (page 7): disreputable
inimical (page 10): adverse
susurrus (page 26): whisper
palanquin (page 52): seat carried on poles
acrostics (page 73): written lines with certain letters forming a new word
alacrity (page 75): swiftness
col (page 81): low point of mountain ridge
lugubrious (page 88): sad
abseil (page 106): rappel (descend by rope)
sigil (page 159): seal or signet
suffusing (page 174): permeating
obdurate (page 317): stubborn

The glossary at the back of the book was nice to have, but I didn't know it was there until well after I started the book. Once I found it, I referred to it often. I love learning new words, but having to look up so many annoyed me a little.

Johnson also included a list of "sources and bibliography" as well as other information which inspired this book. It's pretty interesting. It was obvious that she'd done a tremendous amount of research.

I've also read Johnson's The Tenth Gift (my review) and really enjoyed it.

Even though I had a few problems with the story, I'd still recommend this book to others, who are looking for a story set in that part of the world.

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

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

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

The Salt Road by Jane Johnson, Doubleday Canada (Random House), ©2010. ISBN 9780385669979(Hardcover), 386p.

This Book Made Me Do It by DK Publishing

DK is celebrating Spring Break with its "Time to Play" promotion. This week I'll be featuring three books from their Time to Play boutique. If spring break has already passed in your area, these books can be used for family time or other times when the kids need something to do. Click here or on the photo on the left to see some other books.

This Book Made Me Do It is filled with activities, crafts and how-tos for the whole family. Whether it's baking a cake, learning to knit, nailing a free throw, or learning how to use your watch to find your way, this book shows you how to do it.

I love this book! It's great that the authors chose to include activities from so many different areas and ones of varying degrees of length and difficulty. It's geared towards 10-17 year-olds, but I think the younger ones in this range will get the most out of it. Who can tell with teenagers?

The book is divided into sections. The groupings are ok, but some of them seem pretty arbitrary. The "Amaze Your Friends" chapter, features activities that involve magic, dance, astrology, even landing a plane! The "Exploring the World" chapter features stuff like finding constellations, growing crystals, sprouting a bean, and panning for gold. The "Survive in the Wild" section includes activities like making a compass, cooking, fishing, lighting a campfire, plus a lot of other stuff you hope you'll never have to use, like surviving an avalanche and first aid. Other sections include a food section, a creative/crafty section and a sports section; all pretty self explanatory.

I'm just amazed at the variety of activities. Some take specialized equipment, others no or very little equipment at all. Some are quick and easy, others are more involved. There are others that are quite practical, while others are whimsical. It's all very cool. Of course, there are some things you probably won't be able to do or try out (land a plane, climb Mount Everest), but it's fun to learn about the steps you'd have to take in order to do so.

For the purposes of this review, I decided to do a couple of the activities. The two that I chose: make origami animals (page 72) and cook for birds (page 98). Overall, it was a lot of fun. However, the origami instructions were a little confusing and the bird food didn't have amounts. See below for more photos and details. I'll probably be doing a few more of the activities if spring and summer ever get here. These include: making a weathervane (page 108) and planting some sunflower seeds (page 101).

Other than the small complaints above, I found that a few of the pages were hard to read, especially those printed on polka dotted backgrounds, like the index. Maybe it's just my old eyes. ;)

The table of contents is extensive. It lists the section heading along with all of the activities in that section. The format could be improve a little by somehow setting the section headings apart from their contents by using a different font or font size or by using the Italics or bold typeface. The index was good, even though it was a little hard to read.

Highly recommended for the whole family.

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.

This Book Made Me Do It by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK) ©2010. ISBN 9780756668815(Hardcover), 192p.

My Activities

Origami Animals I previously purchased some origami paper for another craft, but hadn't gotten around to doing it. I figured this was an easy one to start with. The instructions were a little confusing, but for my first attempt I think they turned out pretty good. Here's a swan and a pig:

Origami Animals
The pig can actually stand up, but it's a little unsteady on his feet. Because the paper is so thin, I kept blowing him over. It was just easier to lay him down.

Cook for birds I already have lots of bird feeders in my backyard, but I hadn't made any of the food myself. I had all of the ingredients so I decided to make my own suet treats. It turned out to be pretty easy. However, the activity/recipe didn't give any amounts, so I had to wing it. Also, one of the tips was to add a perch for smaller birds, but it didn't say how to do it. I tried, but it didn't turn out that great. I don't think it's sturdy enough for perching on. So far, the birds haven't been too interested in it. I did see 1 chickadee peck at it a couple of times, so there's still hope. Part of the problem is that I have lots of other food out there for them. Here are some photos:

Homemade Suet Ingredients
Ingredients. I used 283 grams (10 oz) of plain suet and approximately two cups of bird food (sunflower chips, dried meal worms, shelled peanuts)

Homemade Suet
All done. Now they just have to cool. I was impatient, so I put them in the freezer for a few hours rather than leaving them to cool overnight. It seemed to work ok. Who knew that dried meal worms would float, though? If nothing else, the gross factor is high.

Homemade Suet hanging outside Homemade Suet
Feeders outside. I'm pretty sure that these would melt under the summer sun on a really warm day, so I hope to use them up before summer.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

The Gods of Gotham takes a look at mid-19th century New York city and the forming of the NYPD. Timothy Wilde, a bartender, is left disfigured and homeless after a fire. His brother Valentine, gets him a job with the newly formed NYPD. While on the job, he runs into a young girl, who's covered in blood. Rather than turning her in to the House of Refuge, he takes her home. Once there, she tells him this unbelievable story about buried bodies. He makes it his mission to uncover the facts of the story and if necessary track down the killer.

I really enjoyed this story, but it didn't start out that way. It took me two tries and about 40 pages to get into the book. While it was beautifully written, the language and terminology Faye used tripped me up more than once. Even after I started getting into the book, the terminology slowed down my already slow reading pace. The "flash terminology" (glossary) section at the beginning of the book helped define some of the terms used, but having to refer to it again and again bothered me a little. I think I would have enjoyed it even more had I been able to get past all of this.

Despite that, there was lots I really liked about the book. Faye really set the scene and described what life was like in New York at that time. I haven't been there, but her descriptions were believable. Seeing how the NYPD was formed was fascinating, too. It's hard to imagine what a city that large would have been like without someone to officially keep the peace. I also found the storyline fascinating. I think that above all, made me stick with the book.

The sections about the anti-Irish sentiment were enlightening. I knew that some existed, but I didn't know the reason or the extent of it.

The maps of New York city on the endpapers were wonderful. However, they were hard to read. Because I'm not at all familiar with the layout of the city (now or then) I really couldn't make much out on them. I found some of the spots that were talked about in the book, but not all of them. I tried to follow along when one of the characters was on the move, but wasn't able to find all of the street names. As you can imagine, this also slowed me down. I still love the maps, though. Very cool.

As I said above, the book is beautifully written, right down to the acknowledgements at the back of the book. The Historical Afterward, also at the back, talked more about New York and some of the real people in the book. It's definitely worth the read.

This book contained a few new-to-me words. I didn't bother list the ones that were already in the glossary. Here's my list:
piebald (page 15): spotted
palaver (page 88): fuss
sounder (page 107): herd of wild swine
strammel (page 107): straw
aguey (page 323): feverish

Highly recommended.

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

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

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

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye, Amy Einhorn Books ((G. P. Putnam's Sons) Penguin)) ©2012. ISBN 9780399158377(Hardcover), 414p.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

In The Reckoning, the second book in The Taker trilogy, the story of Lanore and Adair continues. Two hundred years ago, Lanore imprisoned Adair, the man who loves her, behind a brick wall. She had to do that to protect herself and Jonathan, the love of her life. Now that's she's with Luke, she's decided to make up for all of her past evil deeds. All of a sudden, though, she senses that Adair has been freed and is out for revenge.

This book was so good! I loved being able to catch up on all of the characters from the first book. Unlike the previous book, this story in this book takes place mostly in the present with little forays into the past to fill in bits and pieces. This style fit so well with the story.

I don't usually read fantasy, so I'm surprised I'm enjoyed this series so much. I think it's because the characters are, for the most part, living in the "real" world, the world we live in. For instance, Adair's 200-year confinement left him ill prepared for life in the real world where everything had changed so much. Things like automobiles and the internet were foreign to him. However, those are things I'm familiar with so to have him interact with them was interesting to me.

Even though I enjoyed the first book very much, I had trouble remembering everything that happened. I remembered the characters and the basics of the story, but not the finer details. Because the story wasn't told in a linear fashion, the time frames of certain events were a bit jumbled in my head. When I got to this book and certain previous events were mentioned I had a little trouble figuring out how those events related to others and how they fit on the time line. It didn't take me long to figure it out, though, so it wasn't too bad.

When it comes down to content and storyline, not that much really happened in this book. We got a little more background information on the characters and found out what they did during those 200 years while Adair was locked away. Nevertheless it was engaging, compelling, accessible and a wonderful bridge to the third and final book in the trilogy.

I love it when fictional characters interact with real-life people. In this book, there's a brief appearance by Lord Byron, the English poet. I'd heard of him, but wasn't familiar with his work or his life, so I probably missed some of the references. However, I still found it interesting that the author chose to include him.

There was one part that I didn't like. That is, the raising of the dead, especially one with advanced decomposition. It didn't gross me out or anything. I just didn't find it believable. I know that's silly considering that the whole premise of the story. Why I can buy immortality, but not this, is beyond me.

New words:
meniscus (page 78): curved upper surface of a still liquid in a jar or tube.
laggards (page 153): someone or something falling behind.
intransigence (page 337): unreasonable refusal to change your ideas or behaviour.

I've also read the first book, The Taker (my review). I really enjoyed it.

If you are interested in this series, I suggest you start with the first book. This book is really a continuation of that one. I'm don't think it would make much sense without all of the background information on the characters, their complex relationships and their past histories with each other.

Besides all of this, the cover is absolutely stunning!!    

Highly recommended. I can't wait for the final book in this trilogy.

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

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

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

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu, Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) ©2012. ISBN 9781451651805(Hardcover), 346p.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Needlework Tuesday - The Mess

Last week, I mentioned that I was cleaning up my craft area and hoped to have some photos this week. The plan was to take some before photos, clean up and put stuff away, then take some after photos and post them here. Good intentions, right? Didn't happen. I did nothing with regards to cleaning it up this week. Nada.

I know it needs to be done, but I'm having a mental block about it. Getting it all sorted out is overwhelming and I'm not sure how I want it set up so that I'm not taking up the majority of the space. I'm not even so sure that moving it all to the basement was the right choice. If there's a possibly of another flood, stuff in the basement needs to be moved to a higher floor. I don't even want to think about that.

I guess I didn't really think this through. In my defense, my choices were limited. In hindsight, I probably should have gone with another option.  Oh, well. Maybe one day, I'll get around to straightening it all out.

Anyway, here's my craft area in complete disarray. I have no idea where anything is or what's in the boxes.  Probably stuff I forgot I even have.

Here are the wardrobes/pantry units we bought to contain the mess:

(I didn't notice it before, but that last cabinet looks like it a different colour.  Hmmm...)

On the needlework front, my pink afghan is now 36" long. I still have another 2-ish feet to do, so it'll probably be another couple of weeks before it's done. It looks pretty much the same as it did last week, just longer.

Last week, I mentioned that I'd been working on a some crafts for 3 books I received for review.  I've had a lot of fun doing them.  I hope to have the crafts finished and the reviews posted by early next week.

How's your crafting area?  Are you happy with it?   

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts. Tami over at Just One More Thing... is also participating this week. Be sure to visit both of them to see what they've been up to.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Needlework Tuesday - Pink!

I've only been doing a little needlework lately. A few days ago, I started on some other crafts that are related to three books I received for review. I'll be posting about those later this month.
In the meantime, here's what I've been doing needle-wise: Sometime ago, Wal-Mart had this big bin of yarn in 1000 metre skeins. The colours were brown, pink and cream. Because I was hungry at the time, all I could think was chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, like Neapolitan ice cream! Yum! The colours looked great together and I knew I had to buy them and make something. Since I already had lots of cream-coloured yarn at home, I only bought the chocolate...I mean brown and pink. I got home put them away with my other yarns and waited for inspiration to hit. It never did. I decided that the pink was too bright and the brown was just...well, brown. That Neapolitan ice cream was a distant memory.

So the yarn sat and sat and sat. That is, until two weeks ago.  I was going through my stash hoping for some inspiration to start a new project. I can't just buy yarn and do nothing with it, right? When I came across this pink, I remembered a pretty lace afghan in a booklet that Heather over at Books and Quilts had sent me last year. The pattern is really simple with only four rows and only one of those has something other than all knit or all purl. It's done on a circular needle, so it takes awhile to do one row. Despite that, it's knitting up fairly quickly; I have about 24 inches done in two weeks of knitting. That's pretty good for me. I still have a ways to go, but here's a current photo:

Also, I've been looking for a knitting needle case for sometime although I really wasn't making too much of an effort. No special trips; I only looked in stores I was already in. I figured my old Pringles can was good enough until I came across something better. A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Mary Maxim advertizing their sale on needle cases and bags. How lucky is that!! I ordered two: 1 for regular straight needles and 1 for circular needles. Together with shipping and tax it was under $30. I guess I didn't look closely enough at the regular one when I ordered it because when it came it was a combination case for both crochet hooks and knitting needles. I only have a few crochet hooks and barely know how to crochet, but at least I'll know where they are if I decide to take it up one day. The photos are a little dark; the cases are more pink than red. I wanted something bright and colourful so that it would stick out in the disaster, I mean my crafting area.

As you can see, I haven't put my needles in them yet.  I should have done it before I took the photos, but shovelling yesterday's 8"+ of snow this morning was not kind to my back and there were two sets of stairs between me and the needles.

I've also been trying to organize my craft area.  I recently moved the whole thing to the basement and haven't made much progress in getting it set up and usable.  We did purchase some wardrobes so that everything can be put behind closed doors.   I hope to have some photos next week. 

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts. Tami over at Just One More Thing... is also participating this week. Be sure to visit both of them to see what they've been up to.