Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Leonardo's Art Workshop by Amy Leidtke

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a companion to the other book I reviewed today (Leonardo's Science Workshop), and is aimed at the arts, again through the lens of Leonardo of Vinci's accomplishments, and often referring to his own art and notebooks, of which he left many - although nowhere near as many as he wrote, it appears.

Leonardo never saw any separation between the topics of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, commonly referenced today under the acronym STEM (not STEAM, as these books term it). Leonardo always went deep into a subject if he went at all, wanting to understand not the superficial, but the integral, and this book follows his example, offering fun and delightfully messy topics like creating paints and dyes from food, as well as beautiful ones, such as working with prisms, and other aspects of using light for art, such as building a camera obscura, as well as understanding what light is.

Art of the past is explored in entertaining and practical ways such as in contour drawing, and to keep things in perspective, there's also a discussion of one-point perspective drawing. Science and art are brought together, in much the way Leonardo himself did, by exploring ideas and work by such artists as Sandro Botticelli and Paul Klee, and such scientists as Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo Fibonacci.

There's a bad error on page 95 where an eight inch diameter circle is determined to have an area of fifty square feet! I think they meant fifty inches! Also page 109 on 'Spectacular Spans' has a color key which shows valley folds blue, but image shows them green. Whether this was just in my electronic copy I do not know, but if it's in the print version it needs correcting.

If you have time (and who doesn't?!), you can make your own sundial using information in this book, or even an infinity scope which sounds a lot more dangerous than it really is! The sundial isn't just a project. You learn in reading about it, not only how it was made, but why it was made the way it was - so please, do touch that dial! This is the approach throughout the book and is an excellent learning opportunity for any young child. I commend this book as a worthy read.

The Missing Activist by Louise Burfitt-Dons

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This story had sounded interesting from the book blurb, but it turned out to be just the opposite in practice, and it moved so slowly that I gave up on it after about twenty-five percent. It didn’t engage me, and it felt a bit like it couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be a mystery or a romance, or something else, and tripping itself up in indecision.

The characters were not really very interesting to me either. I didn't meet anyone I particularly liked, much less someone I’d want to root for. The book switched between characters every chapter so it felt very disjointed and fragmented, and we never really got to know anyone. The activist of the title never was properly introduced to the reader, so the fact that he went missing was not an impactful event. I didn't miss him at all, and apparently neither did anyone else, since there was no real concern evident from anyone over his whereabouts - at least not in the portion I read. It seems to me that there would be political points to be scored here over an episode like this, but it was a non-event.

The book had an overall feel like it was not quite ready for prime time. The writing technically wasn't bad in general terms, but there were a lot of instances where I felt the author had written one thing, then later changed it, but never re-read it for coherence, so there were many instances of writing like this “...when she own heaps..” where the author clearly ought to have written "...when she owned heaps...." There was another such instance where I read, “But they also agreed start somewhere just in case" which needed to have read, "to starting somewhere" or "agreed: start somewhere" or something like that.

At another point I read, "When Hailey’s flatmate there, Karen assumed Hailey would be somewhere behind him." Clearly something is missing from the first clause - like maybe a verb? Another instance was "He tried Miller’ number." Clearly there's an 's' missing after the apostrophe. Another instance was where a sentence had evidently been re-arranged but some words were not deleted and ended up repeated; “Karen had even discovered there’d been a woman, wearing a full burka, sighted around the Cardiff Hotel the night Alesha Parkhurst died wearing the full burka.” I don't think we're meant to understand that Alesha Parkhurst died wearing the full burka! Or maybe we are?

Sometimes the wrong word was used, such as where I read, “But soon they were both woofing it down...” where the author ought to have written, "wolfing it down." Occasionally there was an unfortunate juxtaposition, such as in “Karen clenched teeth until she finally had the chance to put her bit in.” Was Karen a horse No! She didn’t actually want to put a bit in her mouth; she wanted to, as Americans would say, put her two cents in. I'm not sure what the Brit equivalent of that is these days. It’s been a long time since I lived there!

On other occasions the description of something was off, such as when I read, "A recent story in Google..." when the situation is that Google doesn't publish news stories - it merely facilitates you finding them, so a better turn of phrase would have been, "A recent story on the Daily Mail's site" or "a recent BBC news article said..." or something like that. What really made me decide to quit this though, was reading a sentence like this: “...Bea, the second wife of James Harrington MP was petite, lively and still pretty for fifty-eight.”

Now if a character in this story had said that, I would have no problem with it, because people really can be that shallow, judgmental, and determinedly pigeon-holing of women, making them both skin-depth and the appendage of their husband, but when the actual narrative of the story says something like that, I have to take issue once again with a female author reducing a female character to nothing but shallow looks and diminished status. If this had been a novel about a beauty pageant or something like that, then looks would certainly enter into it, rightly or wrongly, but this is someone who is for no narrative reason, not only reduced to a male appendage, but to skin depth only. Her role in this novel has nothing to do with beauty or looks, so why is whether she's pretty or not even remotely relevant?

Instead of how she, surprisingly, wasn't a wrinkled crone at fifty eight(!), could we not have her described as a "respected activist" or "an intellectual powerhouse" or "a stalwart campaigner for women's rights"? Something - anything but reducing her to a pretty appendage. You know, I have no problem with a radio station playing "Baby, it’s Cold Outside" and especially not when that same station plays songs far more abusive to women than that old and misunderstood song ever could be. I do have a problem with female authors routinely reducing women to their looks.

I understand this author has an admirable life working against abuses of children and doing good work in other endeavors too, but this review is not about the author, it’s about what was authored, and while I wish the author all the best in her writing, I cannot commend this novel for the reasons I've listed.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

How Rude! by Clare Helen Welsh, Olivier Tallec

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book for young children, illustrated simply, but colorfully and effectively by Tallec, describes a tea party organized by Dot. She invites Duck, who has no social graces whatsoever. Why? I'm, going to duck that question....

He (or perhaps she!) knocks things over, tosses clothes on the floor, takes things without asking, drinks from the vase of flowers, and on an on, until suddenly, in a magical moment, duck gets it and realizes that misbehavior has been perpetrated! I see this book as a great opportunity to talk with young children about what went wrong on each page, and how it could have been avoided, or fixed if it couldn't have been prevented. I consider it a worthy and educational read for young children.

Watersnakes by Tony Sandoval

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an entertaining fantasy story - which had a hint of gothic horror to it - and the irresistible call of the sea. I really enjoyed it.

Mila is out swimming one day when she hears someone call out a warning, "Water snakes!" and realizes that this new girl, Agnes, has played a joke on her. The two are immediately attracted to one another despite Mila's slight shyness and Agnes's definite weirdness. She claims her teeth - the selfsame teeth which completely fascinate Mila - are really ghosts that go out on adventures every night.

The two begin spending time together and Mila has an odd feeling of repulsion and attraction at the same time. It does not help to stabilize things when she discovers that Agnes is a soldier trying to protect her king, and that there is an army of Angnes-like soldiers and an opposing army they must fight.

I though this was fresh, original, engaging, well illustrated by the author, and entertaining, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Summit The Price of Power by Amy Chu, Federico Dallochio, Will Rosado, Marika Cresta

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've casually followed this series from its inception and while it started out well, it quickly fell into the routine for such stories, offering nothing spectacular or even new. Put together by a variety of writers and a plethora of artists, the stories have been patchy at best, and the more I read, the less thrilled I became with it.

It's always tempting to read one more in the hope that it will turn around, but whenever I do, it fails to impress, so I think with this particular volume I'm done with the series because it really did not bring anything new, exciting, or even interesting to the table, and the series now has a strong odor of repetitiveness and lack of fresh ideas. On top of that, when you marginalize and diminish your main character, you have to see that this isn't a good thing for your story.

In this volume we had the potential for a strong female character in the form of Val, and with that and a female writer, I really had hoped for a lot more than I got. Val wasn't given anything to do. She was more like a tool or an experiment than a hero, so instead of super-heroics, we got a lot of sitting around and talking, with Val being sent out a couple of times like a soldier with new body armor to see what would happen if she got shot. I saw no entertainment value in that, and I can't recommend this as a worthy read.

Cellies by David Scheidt, Joe Flood, David Steward II

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Drawing very much from the 1994 Kevin Smith movie, Clerks for its inspiration, this graphic novel written by Scheidt (issue 1) and Flood (issues 2 - 5), and illustrated throughout by Steward, tells the tale of an evidently way over-staffed cell-phone store and the oddball events that occur there from day to day. Some are hilarious, others boring. The book does have the advantage of a diverse cast (which Smith's move was sadly lacking) and is well-written and illustrated, and while I enjoyed this volume and consider it a worthy read, there really wasn't anything in it to persuade me to read any more beyond these covers.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

101 Textures in Oil and Acrylic by Mia Tavonatti

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled 'Practical techniques for rendering a variety of surfaces' this book of well-over 100 pages demonstrates, with illustrated steps, how to achieve an amazing variety of realistic artistic effects, from creating skin, hair, feathers and fur to rock, pebbles, fabric, glass, copper, thatched roof, water, fruit, plants, and on and on.

To be honest, one or two of the results looked a little off to my admittedly un-artistic eye, but the overwhelming majority of them were quite stunning and highly impressive. That's more than likely because this artist teaches her subject and has been painting and teaching for some two decades, working multiple professional jobs for a variety of well-known commercial employers, and winning awards. I've seen her described as "internationally acclaimed and sought-after muralist, illustrator, painter and mosaicist." and after reading this book, I have no problem not only believing that, but also understanding why.

Each page covers a different topic, but is set up in the same easy-to-follow style, with an illustrative image from the author's own work, accompanied by detailed step-by-step instructions for achieving the end result, and I guarantee if you can follow these steps, you can achieve the same kind of result, and improve your work immensely, if these images are anything to go by.

If I were less into writing and more into art, I would definitely have an easel up and be practicing these techniques. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, so until I can move to a planet that has a longer day, I'm happy to learn something from a master and perhaps use what I've learned to bring a character into a more sharply-focused life in a novel somewhere. For those who are into their art and have the time to work it, I commend this book as a worthy addition to any artist's library of resources.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Who are You Calling Weird? by Marilyn Singer

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a treasure trove of joyful illustration and rewarding information about weirdoes among the animal world. I'm quite well read about the natural world, and especially about oddball critters, but this book held some surprises for me. Some of these animals I had never heard of before; some I am quite familiar with, such as the narwhal, and the pangolin, but I'd never heard, for example, of the Pacific barreleye which is a startling creature to say the least. If someone had invented that for a sci-fi story you would never have believed it.

The book covers over twenty animals, including humans who are in some ways the weirdest of all. The illustrations were colorful and amusing, and the book very educational and eye-opening (barreleye-opening in my case!). I thought it was wonderful and a great way to fascinate a child with the wonders of our natural world, and how delicate and rare they are, and how much they need our love and protection. I commend it unreservedly.

Ella Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancocks

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a very short book - effectively only thirteen pages - aimed at a children's audience, to introduce them to a true diva, but for me it missed the mark. I don't lower my expectations for children's literature, but this book seemed to, and the ebook version - which as an amateur reviewer was the only one I had access to - was missing text on at least two pages as far as I could tell. Hopefully the print version is complete!

Ella Fitzgerald was known for her singing talent and in her earlier years for her love of dancing, but I didn't get any of that feeling for her out of this book which seemed more like it was interested in telling the tale of a struggling artist than telling that and the much more joyous success story - with a huge love of singing - that she became. Her career began when she wanted to enter amateur night at the Apollo theater, but was intimidated with regard to her dancing, so she chose to sing instead. She won first prize.

That pivotal moment was completely bypassed in this book, which began when she was already a mature performer. The first two pages which were, I assume, double-page spreads in the print version, simply showed her singing, with neither words nor descriptive text. The pages were not numbered, but the e-numbering at the bottom of the screen showed the first text appearing on page 'seven' where it began, "Before long, Ella was taking her music up and down the country" - so, story already in progress. It was a bit of a sour note for me.

While the illustrations were colorful if nothing extraordinary, and the text did tell her career story in brief, nowhere was there a song lyric. I know to quote whole lyrics demands all kinds of permissions, but to fail to quote even a line here and there, which is entirely permissible, was unconscionable for a story about someone of Fitzgerald's pedigree and contribution to music. We learned nothing of her childhood or influences, but first encounter her on the road, running from one gig to another.

There's a brief mention of how Marilyn Monroe helped her get a gig at a venue where 'coloreds' were typically not welcomed, and this boosted her career too, but then the story is pretty much over. On the 'Marilyn' page there were two speech balloons which contained no text. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but after the obviously missing text earlier in the book, it was irritating to be left in the dark about whether this was purposeful or not. Keeping Marilyn's name secret for a couple of pages previously seemed fatuous. I don't imagine for a minute than any child reading this has a clue who Marilyn Monroe was. Well, she was Norma Jean Baker! But kids today won't know that either so the reason that this section was written this way was obscure.

I felt this was a chance to really talk about a powerful and influential woman of color, and it was lost. I know for a book for young children, you can't go into huge amounts of detail and technical matters, but for a book for children, it helps to connect to them by showing that Ella was herself a young child at one point who came from poor circumstances, but who loved music and dance, and who overcame setbacks to reach success on her own merit. It could have been so inspirational, but to me it did neither her nor the young reader any favors. It essentially told a rather plodding story of how a white woman 'saved' a 'helpless' black woman, and it felt patronizing. Consequently I'm not able to commend this as a worthy read.

Planet Earth by John Farndon, Tim Hutchinson

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Don't tell me you didn't want to know this 'Stuff you should know about'. There are adults who could learn a lot from this, but it's aimed at younger readers, with dazzling, full-page (and multi-page!) illustrations and quite a bit of text. It explains Earth, from the core to the sky, and from dusk until dawn, and from north to south, and from dry to wet - in short, everything that goes on with Earth as a planet is in here: How does the Earth move and orbit, how night and day work, why the moon seems to change over the course of a month, what's under the Earth's crust and how does this make continents move? It covers volcanoes and mountains, rocks and water, air and clouds. It digs into caverns and ocean trenches, and discusses storms, rain and the wind, and offers tips on becoming your own weather forecaster!

Designed from the ground up as a print book, this doesn't work too well as an ebook which is the only version I had access to, and especially not on a smart phone! Even on a decently-sized tablet though, the illustrations need to be stretched to read the text. Some of the pages were single screen, but most were a double-page spread, and some were multipage spreads - I imagine the actual book has some pages where a leaf on one page or both folds out to double the size of the illustration.

I'm by no means a scientist, but I am well-read in the sciences for an amateur and I saw no problems with any of the information here, so I commend it as a worthy and very educational read which will answer pretty much any question a younger child has, and stir up a passion to go find out more detail in older children.

I don't know if the ebook review version, which is the only version an amateur reviewer like myself ever gets access to, was abridged, but mine was in two different downloads. The book is numbered through page 80, where the index begins (there's also a glossary), but the ebook numbering on the bottom of my screen went only to page 21! Now some pages where multi=page spreads, so for example what was listed as page 10 by the ebook reader was numbered on the pages form 20 through 23, but even so, the page numbering went only to 57 on my ebook, so I was missing about a third of the book.

It was also difficult to maneuver in the ebook version - hard to swipe from one page to the next, and troublesome to stretch the pages to read some of the text. Also, it was a bit slow to load the next page. I commend this book as a worthy read (assuming the print book has all the pages!) and based on reading only about two-thirds of it, but I cannot commend the ebook version (assuming that there is one, based on my experience of this review copy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dan Zane's House Party by Dan Zane, Donald Saaf, Claudia Eliaza

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is one party that got my vote! It's a fun and educational look at folk songs from a wealth and variety of origins, from the 'A' landmasses: Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia, and they even let in the 'E' landmass: Europe, along with some island nations, so that pretty much covers everywhere. Curiously, Antarctica didn't get a shout. I don't know why!

There is a brief, but interesting introduction by the author, followed by the song discussed, and accompanied with music notation by Claudia Eliaza, and cute illustrations by Donald Saaf. The list contains songs you have undoubtedly heard of, some of which have become popular hits in the west, along with many you probably haven't heard of, some of which have been hits in the past or in non-English languages.

The collection is extensive and is backed by an index, but since this is evidently designed as a print book, that index isn't tappable, to take you to the song listed. Neither is the contents list, but the search function in my ebook reader works well! The book also has chord diagrams. The songs are divided into interestingly-named categories:

  • Songs of Wonder & Waves
  • Songs of Dust and Sunshine
  • Songs Heard From Open Windows
  • Songs of Gusto and Celebration
  • Songs of Love and Community
  • Songs of Childhood and Morning Dreams
  • Songs of Mystery and Miles

This was a fun read and I am sure you can find many of these songs on You Tube or some other online venue to get a feel for how they sound and for the tempo and rhythm, although there are no links in the book. Such links would have been useful. I was able to find pretty much every one I looked for although I only looked for a random sample of them.

One other thing I thought would have been useful was translations. Some of the songs are not in English and no translation of the words is given. While they no doubt sound great in the foreign tongue (a couple that i listened to did, particularly Pigogo, I felt it would have been nice to know what those tongues are saying!

That aside, I think this is a fun and instructional book, and a worthy read for anyone interested in the history and sound of folk songs and I commend it.

The Little Book of Cartooning & Illustration by Maury Aaseng, Clay Butler, Jim Campbell, Dan D'Addario, Alex Hallat, Joe Oesterie

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a book I could only review in ebook format whereas the book is clearly designed as a print book, having prepared pages for you to practice the very lessons which are taught here. nut 'lesson' makes it sound much more formal than it really is, and much less fun!

The book begins with some simple rules for drawing and then tells you how and when to break them! Can't argue with that! The first topic is heads and faces, and all that go with them: eyes, ears, noses, expressions. After this it moves on to drawing hands and feet and then whole bodies, and adding color. It goes on to discuss animals and inanimate objects, scenes and gags, and caricatures; in short, everything you'll need to get started - assuming you're willing to take the bit between your teeth, say 'the heck with detractors', and actually get started creating your own images!

The written advice is short, simple, and broken into easy-to-follow steps, and the steps are accompanied by drawings illustrating how the drawing will progress. I found this book illuminating and instructive, and I commend it as a worthy read for anyone interested in cartooning or art in general for that matter.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Egypt Magnified by David Long

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Technically this is Ancient Egypt Magnified, but I'll let that slide! I have no idea how much work it took to create this picture book for children (and even a few adults, I'll be bound!), but I will testify from my own experience that it had to be a heck of a lot.

The patience involved in this kind of detailed work is stunning. In a small way, it's reminiscent of the Where's Waldo books, but other than a superficial resemblance, it's a very different book. It does involve some spotting of people among a crowd of similar-looking people, but the underlying power of this book is educational, and in that as well as in visual appeal, it runs like an Egyptian Mau (which in case you don't know, is a very sleek and fast domestic cat and a descendent of African wild cats).

Each double-page covers an aspect of ancient life or history in a country which is replete with historical depth. The pages show hundreds of ancient Egyptians living, moving and having their being, involved in all kinds of activities from farming, to pyramid construction, to parades, to mining, and on and on. I don't think there's anything that isn't covered.

Note that this is designed as a print book so even on a tablet computer, the text is very small. You'll need to stretch it to read it, or buy the print version. It's not designed to be an ebook, unless you own one of those television-sized super pad devices, but the ebook is the only version I had access to for this review.

Note also that the author encourages the use of a magnifying glass (hence the title!) to spy-out the 'search' items on each page, which sounds like fun for a young kid. On a tablet, you really don't need one, since you can splay your fingers and enlarge the image, but if your kid isn't up to that, a magnifying glass would work too. The images in the ebook version were a bit blurry when enlarged. I assume that's because the images were low-resololution to keep the file size down, and that the print version will be sharper, but this is only a guess on my part.

Each page contains a couple of short, but information-packed paragraphs about life, as well as a key to ten things or people you can find in the picture, and what those particular things and people represent. There's also a quiz at the end to see if you recall where you saw certain images. On top of that's a primer on hieroglyphics, a glossary of terms, and a timeline of Egyptian history, highlighting the highlights! In short, it's perfect.

I had to do some research on Egyptian ancient history for a section of my novel Tears in Time and also for the more recently released Cleoprankster so I know without even having to look anything up that this author knows what he's talking about.

There are some areas of Egyptian history that are obscure - such as exactly how those huge stones were hauled up those even huger pyramids. I can pretty much promise you it wasn't up a long straight ramp like the one depicted in the fanciful movie 10,000 BC! Such a ramp would require hauling more material than the pyramid itself! Whether it was by an encircling ramp as is depicted here or some other method, such as levering the stones up the stepped outside of the pyramid, or by my personal favorite of maneuvering them up an internal ramp (at least in the later, larger pyramids) is hard to say without further research or discovery.

There's no de-Nile - everything a kid could ever want to know about ancient Egypt is most certainly here for their enjoyment, from ankh to Zoser (okay, Djoser, gimme a break!), and from mummy (which is a bit graphic be warned!) to sun worship, and everything in between. I commend this as a fun and education read for children of all ages.

The Not-So-Brave Penguin by Steve Smallman

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was designed from the outset to be a print book (there's a page toward the beginning which has a space for the owner's name to be written in!) so it lacks the same force when viewed as an ebook which is the only format I had access to. I wouldn't recommend trying to read this to a kid on a smart phone, but on a tablet computer it's a decent size, unless the pad is one of those really small pads.

Instead of being presented as a double-page view, it featured only single pages which made it hard to appreciate the layout as it was intended to be seen. I don't know why ebook versions do this - some which ought to be seen as single page images are instead presented as double, and vice-versa. It makes for an irritating read in some regards, and not something suitable for a small screen, but once I got past that, I appreciated this book for young children which talks of fear and bravery and friendship.

Percy Penguin is a tear-away, whereas Posy Penguin is timid and reserved. This might be seen as a bit genderist, but it does comport with how many boys and girls tend to be, although it by no means is true in every case. There's a moral to this tale however, because Percy's passion for daredevil activities is what gets him into trouble when he goes off to explore a passing iceberg. Posy seems to be the only one who thinks there might be something wrong, and like a guardian angel, she steps up where others fear to waddle, heading over to the iceberg to see why Percy didn't come home.

She learns that she can do anything Percy can - and do it better since she doesn't get herself into trouble, and she learns some self-sufficiency and garners the strength to overcome her fear of the dark to boot! It would have been nice to have had the point raised about running-off without telling your parent/guardian where you're going (parents here seem to be alarmingly laissez-faire!), but that aside, I enjoyed this book carrying a lesson in a fun and colorful story, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

En Plein Air Watercolor by Ron Stocke

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is the second of two complimentary books, the first dealing with acrylic, this one dealing with watercolor, a medium that is often taught first to young students, when perhaps acrylic ought to be taught instead. This artist has three decades of experience in the art world and specializes in watercolor.

This doesn't prevent him from conveying the important message that if you want to paint, you should learn to draw. Drawing is another way of seeing - a more concrete way in some regards, in that it captures the important details - not every detail, but the ones that made that big impression on you - on paper, so the importance of having a sketchbook to hand, of seeing what it is you want to paint, and reinforcing it in a sketch is invaluable.

Watercolor paintings start not with water or with color, but with that sketch: rough out the pictures you think you might want to paint. Paint only those you want! Keep sketches simple. This advice comes out of the first few pages of this book and seems like a sound beginning to me!

The author opens with this and with a discussion on perspective and subjects for drawing, before it heads into a discussion of equipment followed by a section on tension in pictures and how to avoid it, subject placement and so on. The details are paradoxically brief, but quite in depth and very educational.

The book contained a wealth of tips and suggestions about things people starting out may not consider much - such as how to paint windows, how to make shadows realistic and what separates a shadow from a reflection (other than the seemingly obvious!). These are the truly useful benefits of an author's long experience and while an artist is always growing into their own, it does no harm at all to pick up advice along the way and adapt it to make it your own.

As with the other book, the art is different for each person who sees it: some we feel is great, some not so great, some unappealing, some brilliant. Some of the paintings in this book are quite startling and made me see watercolor in a new way. I particularly liked English garden on page 52, Elliot Bay Marina on page 92 (the depiction of the water was masterful) and Solo in Paris on the next page, both of which were used in illustration of capturing realistic reflections.

Like the acrylic book, this one is also designed as a print book and the ebook version on my tablet did not allow viewing of the entire image on some of the images (particularly toward the end of the book) that ran across more than one page. This is a problem with ebooks. Some I have seen presented as two-page images when they should have been shown as single pages. In this case, the opposite applies: it really should have been viewable as double-page images otherwise the educational power and import of what the artist is trying to show us is diminished annoyingly.

But that did not rob this book of its value. I know a lot more about watercolor now that I did before and I find it a fascinating medium! Consequently I commend this book as a worthy read! The author's website is at

En Plein Air: Acrylic by Mark Mehaffey

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm not a painter or artist of any kind notwithstanding my The Little Rattuses children's book series which is far more cartoonish than ever I'd label it art, but like they say: I may not know much about art but I know what I like, and it is a truism! Art, as a form of beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.

That doesn't mean we can't learn to better appreciate more of it, and to me that's why it's always useful to read a book like this one, which is not so much about art appreciation, but very much about art creation, particularly in the outdoors (the En Plein Air of the title) - and importantly how to travel light when you're on an expedition to find a locale and capture something there on canvas.

It occurs to me that there's no better way to appreciate art than to understand from an artist's perspective, what it takes to put together an eye-catching painting. This is the first of two En Plein Air book I shall be reviewing. The other is about watercolor - a medium that is often taught to kids in primary school, which is probably a bad idea, but while on the one hand it is an unfortunately cheap and favored solution, on the other, it is an introduction to art, and any such intro is better than none, I guess!

I have to say that the book is aimed at a print book audience, so the ebook version I had to review sliced up some of the paintings, and failed to show pages in juxtaposition, thereby diluting if not derailing the author's message and making it harder to compare one with another when you had to keep sliding the screen back and forth instead of sliding your eyes back and forth.

I've seen some ebooks that did present as a two-page view and I typically found that annoying since there seemed to be no reason for it, but in this case, there really was a valid reason to show the book in this format and it was viewable only as single pages, which downright spoiled parts of it. But as an amateur reviewer, ebooks are the new print copies, I'm sorry to say!

But anyway! The author starts out by briefly introducing the medium and the tools by which it is applied, talking about acrylic paints, and about canvases, brushes, and techniques for bringing all three together into a harmonious result. It's a bit like magic, isn't it?! The brushes are the wands, the medium is the spell and the painted canvas is the result.

Referring often to his own long experience, the author discusses lighting, paint hues, tints, tones and shades, paint temperature (and no it's not about freezing your butt off while sitting outdoors painting!) and about differences between acrylic and oil - and it's not just the price! There are even differences within acrylics which are well-worth knowing. There are many photographs - of paintings! - which admirably illustrate the points he makes in the brief, but highly illuminating text sections.

I have to say that some of the pictures did not look great to me, but many of them have an impressionistic element to them and I am not a big fan of the impressionists. I can't say how this author (who was a public school art instructor for some three decades) would describe his own work; I can only speak to how it appears to my amateur eyes, but to them, other paintings looked wonderful.

Talking of impressionism, two of these really made an impression on me. My favorite was the Morning Glow which he included on page 98 in a discussion of temperature blending. That painting was great and truly captured its subject. The two paintings on the next page, Corner in Winter and Deep Woods Violets were worthy of a special mention, too.

The other painting was revealed in stages starting on page 84, as the artist walks us through putting together an entire painting from scratch: how he does it and what his thinking is at each stage. This was very educational. The interesting thing for me though, was that I considered the painting to be perfect and highly atmospheric on only step three, and liked it less well as other elements were added to complete it in step 6.

It just goes to ask that old question: if a work of art ever really complete, and how do you know if it is? Eye of the beholder again! Another example was when I thought the pencil sketch made to assess values for a painting on page 82 was more impressive than the painting which is led to, but maybe that's just me! I'm sure you'll find your own likes, dislikes, and loves here as anyone would.

So I thought this book was well-worth the reading and if you don't find fresh inspiration and a renewed drive to go out there and do it after reading this, then it's all on you - right next to those paint splashes! I commend it as a worthy read. You can find the author's website at

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

The blurb promised this to be "A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup." It was not. Once again we see 'beauty' rear its ugly head in a novel about a woman, like beauty is all a woman has to offer. It's not.

I know we live in a shallow and very visual world, but beauty shouldn't even be on the table when you're considering someone's qualities, not even in a novel unless the novel is specifically about someone's looks. I don't care if a character calls someone 'beautiful' or focuses shallowly on looks because there are people like that in real life, but in the book blurb? It's not helping things in a #MeToo era - and from a female author too.

I know you can't hold an author responsible for the book blurb unless they self-publish, but seriously? The main character here was supposed to be a sensational star, but the word 'talented' failed to trump 'beauty'? 'Charismatic' never made it? Enigmatic? Anyone? Bueller?

I decided to overlook that because it was only the blurb and I'm intrigued by this subject, but inside the book was just as bad as the outside if for different reasons, and it was far from being gripping and well into boring territory. Neither of the two main characters, Daisy Jones or Billy Dunne, were remotely interesting to me.

The first problem as that all attempt at writing an actual novel was abandoned, thereby giving the lie to the qualifier 'A novel' on the cover. There was no descriptive prose here setting location or atmosphere, or anything for that matter. It's not even a script.

There were only character names and their spoken words, like we were getting one side of a very sparse interview, which made it more unrealistic. If those words had been compelling and entertaining, or had offered something revealing, or even new and original, that might have been something, but there was nothing here that hasn't been done before.

That she "... devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it..." might speak volumes about Reese Witherspoon, but it leaves me completely unmoved. This is the actor who April 2013, was arrested for disorderly conduct in Atlanta after her husband, was pulled over and arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence.

Witherspoon played the crass "Do you know who I am?" card, and was obnoxious to a police officer who was admirably and patiently doing his job in keeping the streets safe. I haven't liked her since. No recommendation from someone who has behaved so inexcusably badly under the influence is going to influence me. I think it was a poor and frankly a rather desperate choice to use a quote from her in a book blurb.

Anyway, what all this (in the novel) meant was that we knew nothing about these fictional characters at all, and what that meant for me was that I did not care about them or why they broke up, or what happened to them subsequently. Consequently I stopped reading this about a third of the way through and I did not miss it at all when I put it down. On the contrary, I felt relief that I didn't have to read any more and could move on to the next title which inevitably had to be better. Based on what I read and the overall style and format of this novel, I cannot commend it as a worthy read nor am I interested in reading anything else by this author when there are so many others out there worthy of reading.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What Does a Princess Really Look Like? by Mark Loewen, Ed Pokoj

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written by psychotherapist Mark Loewen and illustrated in fine entertaining style by illustrator Ed Pokoj (sorry there's nothing I saw on his website to illustrate how that last name is pronounced! Oy? Odge? Something else? Is he playing Ed games with us?!), this story tells of Chloe!

Chloe is an enterprising young woman who is having a creative quiet time in her room, inventing the perfect princess - and she's quite inventive in doing so. She works long and hard, adding more paper to the small piece she began with for the head, and drawing a complete princess - and not forgetting to dress her in a fine dress made from colored paper. But is she perfect with a wonky dress? What makes her perfect? Chloe has some good ideas about that, and her two dads are happy to help out at the end.

I thought this book was charming and inventive and perfect for young readers. I commend it. With the Mark Loewen hook, and the Hocus-Pokoj drawing lines, this book won't sink!

Who Will Roar if I Go? by Paige Jaeger, Carol Hill Quirk

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Illustrated beautifully by artist Carol Hill Quirk, and written poetically by the author with the highly appropriate name of Paige Jaeger (Jaeger in German means 'hunter'! Page Hunter? Great name for a writer! LOL!), this book highlights some of the endangered animals on the planet, and we really need to start paying close attention.

We need to focus not just on the species charmingly depicted in this book, but to entire ecosystems that we are despoiling not only through hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction, but also through climate change, which notwithstanding our idiot president's delusional view of science, IS caused by humans, IS happening right now, and IS dangerously affecting the entire planet.

The lion is considered a 'vulnerable' species, which is only one step up from endangered. The gorilla is critically endangered, which is one step below 'merely' endangered. Well over a thousand rhinos were killed by poachers in 2015. Their population cannot remotely sustain such wanton murder. The western black rhino and the northern white rhino are already extinct along with a sub-species of the Javan rhino. We will never see their like again. The rest of the Javan, and also the Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, and the Indian rhino is vulnerable.

In the mid-nineteen thirties - Ernest Hemingway's puffed-up 'Great' White Hunter era - there may have been as many five million elephants in Africa. Now there is far less than a million. The tiger is Asian, and it's endangered. There is much less than four thousand of them left in the wild. Most zebra species are endangered. One of them, the quagga, is already extinct.

The quetzal bird is much better off, being 'only' near-threatened, while the Chinese giant salamander is critically endangered because the idiot Chinese hunt it for food and medicine. The North American Karner blue butterfly - which I have to be honest and say the art in this case does not do justice to (sorry, Ms. Quirk!) - is vulnerable, and all eight species of the pangolin - which live across the southern hemisphere and which are utterly adorable - are threatened with extinction. Despite China doing the right thing (but perhaps only because it's a national treasure) the panda is still considered vulnerable.

This gorgeous picture book is the beginning of what I hope will be a successful and informative series because it has a lot of potential not only to do good, but to be inventive in how it informs readers. This first makes a colorful statement and a plaintive call for help.

There's a glossary of long words in the back. I would have liked to have seen a short section giving some details - for the grownups! - in the back along with some ways they could help - for example by means of listing URLs of conservation and wildlife protection organizations, but any enterprising adult ought to be able to find those for herself these days. Other than that I though this was a treasure and I commend it for its message and its presentation.

Friday, November 2, 2018

I Don't Want to Eat Bugs by Rachel Branton

Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated rather oddly by Tim Peterson, this book for young children didn't impress me. The story is supposed to be about a young girl curiously-named Lisbon. Maybe she should have been named Lisbon-bon since she's so hungry! Reporting to her mother, the poor child finds no solace there.

Her mother informs her that dinner is almost finished (by which I assume she means it's almost ready), but instead of offering her a small snack though, or advising her to wash her hands and take a seat at the table, and having her maybe eat a little salad or fruit, mom sends Lisbon out to play?

The oddity about this image is that Lisbon looks pregnant, despite being little more than a toddler. I found that a curious illustrative style. Maybe it's part of the eccentricity of the depictions, because Lisbon also looks like she shares a condition of macrocephaly with Joseph Merrick.

When she goes outdoors, Lisbon is offered a bug by a bird and she declines. The illustration of the bird makes it look like it has a trunk. it took me a minute to see that the bird is extending a wing to offer the bug. Next her cat offers her a mouse it has caught. The dog recommends catching a hedgehog, but failing that, offers her some of its dry food. Finally she decides on ice cream which her mom promises her after she eats dinner, which is now, of course, ready. Lisbon doesn't wash her hands.

This book could have been a great opportunity to educate readers. It offers no reason for Lisbon to reject the food other than the mouse is cute, for example, but neither does it explain that there are cultures which do eat bugs, and hedgehogs, and mice, but it was wasted. It didn't really tell a story, and certainly it wasn't educational, to say nothing of unhygienic, so I can't commend this at all.