Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creativ: Adventure/Art/Culture/Innovation Vol. 2 Issue 7

Summary: We showcase innovators, explorers, artists, cultural pioneers and powerful changemakers, telling their unique stories through our online hub and one of a kind publication, CREATIV magazine.

(summary and pic from creativ.com)

I was given a free copy of this magazine in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I think the most noteworthy thing—and therefore the highlight—of this fun little publication is that it is beautiful. The photography is beautiful, the featured stories are beautiful looking and very artistic, and the magazine itself is obviously well put together and very artistic itself. Although it is technically a magazine, I hesitate to call it that because this is not your standard flimsy, gloss-covered publication. This is certainly more of a tabletop book—one that you would leave out for people to browse through and think you’re hip and with it (because you would be, were you to subscribe to this). It certainly lends itself to thumbing through and appreciating the beauty of the photographs and the artistic medium that it is. There are articles to read, but they are short and succinct and it’s definitely the kind of magazine that covers a breadth of information as opposed to delving too deeply into any one topic.

Another thing I really liked about this magazine is that there were very few ads. Those that were there blended in with the publication, and it’s not like I was reading about some-random-drug-and-side-effects alongside the biography of a surfing adventure photographer (an actual article in this magazine!). I understand that magazines have got to pay for themselves and therefore sell ad space, but I was appreciative that this magazine was so streamlined and avoided big coupons for zip-top bags and ads for only-on-TV paraphernalia.

Although I loved reading and looking at this magazine (because I think that it’s strongest point is really its photography—definitely eye candy!) I found it a little unfocused. I understand that it covers a wide variety of creative…erm…creativ topics—adventure/art/culture/innovation—but there was nothing really to tie what was going on together into a cohesive whole. There were people who were artists next to an astronaut girl (probably my favorite) next to a singer next to a climber next to a motivational speaker…all from different countries with different mediums and focuses. These people are awesome and creative—no doubt about it—but I was just wishing for some theme overall. Like maybe this month’s edition would have to do with women adventurers and then go from there. Or have an issue dedicated to creatives from South America. Or an issue dedicated to men who are creating new photography mediums. You get my drift. It just seemed unfocused and like they have a very large file cabinet full of very interesting people and every month they just randomly whip out the files they have on those people, cut them down to very minimal size, jam them all together, and publish. The stories themselves were almost all very short, and left me wanting for more. I would have liked to see more detail about some of the people—their stories, their inspiration, etc. There was some of that in the longer articles, but mostly they were just really short blurbs.

Overall I really enjoyed looking at this magazine. It is beautiful. Even my nine- and seven-year-old boys liked looking through it and talking about the photos. There are some really cool people in here, very few of whom I’d heard about before, so that was fun. If you are looking for a hip tabletop book that looks really cool with a small, low-commitment description of each person and their adventures, but lots of really beautiful, inspiring photos, this is for you.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This particular issue of this magazine was clean. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The BIG Book of Color: An Adventurous Journey into the Magical & Marvelous World of Color! - Walter Foster Jr.

Summary: The Big Book of Color introduces children to the art and science of color through a fun and engaging, easy-to-understand approach. With The Big Book of Color, young artists will be treated to an in-depth exploration of the wonderful world of color through simple step-by-step projects and unique educational content. Commencing with an introduction to color basics, children will learn about the color wheel, complementary colors, warm and cool colors, color mood, and much more. Young artists will also learn how to combine two colors to create new colors. Additionally, they will discover how to use a monochromatic color scheme; pair complementary colors for impact; and all about the various tints, tones, and shades of their favorite colors. The Big Book of Color also invites children to dive into the main color groups and explore the various shades of red, green, blue, yellow, purple, and pink through a range of artwork and a series of colorful, fun step-by-step projects. Myriad creative exercises and projects throughout the book make learning color concepts fun and applicable, while perforated pages make it easy to display new masterpieces. With a plethora of fun projects, easy-to-understand concepts, and pages bursting with color, The Big Book of Color is sure to be a hit for young readers and budding artists everywhere. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: Let me just start off by saying that I have kids. Lots of them. Maybe you have more than I do, but I have four, and I consider that just shy of a small army. Anyway, I am prefacing this whole review with that because I am no kid novice. I know something of children and what they like. I actually do have one kid who is especially talented at art (and yes, I’m completely biased), but the others enjoy it a lot, just like many kids do. So I feel like I’ve been exposed to art and artsy things for kids quite a bit.

So I was ridiculously excited to get this book and guess what? It exceeded my expectations!

First off, it’s beautiful. The cover is really pretty, the colors are bright and fun, and the pictures in the actual book are a vibrant, happy mixture of real photos and drawn. It’s really quite clever and fun. Secondly, this book tackles a lot of information and it does it in a way that I think is both accessible to kids, but is not too basic. For instance, I think it’s too much for my almost-three-year-old, but in a couple of years, I know he’ll love it. My seven-year-old takes art lessons and yet I feel like it had something to teach him even though he’s had quite a bit of exposure to art and color. I read through it first myself, in fact, and although I am no artist, I have been around on this planet for quite a few years and I felt like I still learned some cool things about color while reading it. Foster does a really good job of taking what could possibly be really complex ideas about color and what they can do and how they react with one another and simplifying them to the point that a child can see and understand.

I really liked that this book would teach a concept, show the concept, and then give the kids a chance to try by providing them with places to color or fill in. My only complaint about this book comes here—I wish there was more for them to do at the end of each lesson. I don’t know about your kids, but mine always want to just colorcolorcolor and so when they learn something really cool about color (like they certainly did in this book) they want to colorcolorcolor but there isn’t a lot of places to do that in here.  It is definitely a book that a parent and a child would work on together because it’s more of a teaching than a doing book. That being said, of course they can apply it to other spaces to color outside of this book so it’s not like they’re suffering. Also, this book is pretty substantial so I think it’s a good size and doesn’t really have room for that. My kids were just so inspired! And that, of course, is the point. And a very good thing.

If you are one of those parents who buys activity books for your children (and I’m thinking of the kind that they do over the summer to prepare them for the next grade or for younger children working on learning the alphabet and shapes, etc.), then this is definitely a book I think you would really appreciate. It’s beautiful, it’s educational, and I think it’s really a lot of fun. It seems to be unique in that I haven’t seen another book for teaching kids specifically about color.

My Rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a beautiful, simple, children’s book. It is clean.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Martha Stewart's Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Dips, Spreads, Snacks, Small Plates, and Other Delicious Hors d'Oeuvres, Plus 30 Cocktails - Martha Stewart

Summary: Snacks, Starters, Small Plates, Stylish Bites, and Sips

Hors d’oeuvres made modern: Today’s style of entertaining calls for fuss-free party foods that are easy to make and just as delicious as ever. With more than 200 recipes for tasty pre-dinner bites, substantial small plates, special-occasion finger foods, and quick snacks to enjoy with drinks,Martha Stewart’s Appetizers is the new go-to guide for any type of get-together.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I received a free copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: It’s no surprise to anyone that Martha Stewart knows what she’s doing. I mean, this is not her first rodeo. I firmly believe that Martha has been cooking since she was a wee lass and that she has only gotten better with age. And experience. I mean, really. Have you ever had something of Martha Stewart’s that was terrible? No. She’s pretty much the queen of all things domestic.

This book was pretty much like you’d expect. It was a beautiful hard cover book. I have reviewed quite a few cookbooks and although this one is not as trendy and flashy as some of the others I’ve had, I would say it is definitely classy. Timeless. It’s the kind of book that I may have seen in either the trendiest kitchens or maybe my grandma’s kitchen. And Grandma knew how to cook, peeps. I’m not saying it’s old school. The pictures are nice and descriptive. They’re not bright and vibrant and photo-shopped like a lot of really trendy cookbooks, but I like the timeless look of them. It shows the food, it looks super delicious, and it looks like it’s something I could pull off.

As far as the recipes go, there are lots of classics and then takes on classics. These are appetizers that, without a doubt, will always work. The ones I tried were really good, and the variations were fun and different. The recipes are tried and true favorites, but sometimes it’s fun to have something tried and true with a little twist. People recognize it, it’s nothing shocking, but it’s a fun little twist on what they expected.

I also really enjoyed the little explanations she had before each recipe. I felt like it added to the book without being overly wordy or preachy about a particular appetizer. It also had nice tips about doing things ahead of time and about actually entertaining, which was a nice addition to a book that looks to me like basically the bible of appetizers.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars because it’s beautiful, the food is delicious, and it’s definitely a classic. It loses half a star (so it doesn’t get five stars) because I felt like it was not seriously innovative. It was pretty safe. There were classics, there were twists on classics, and pretty much everything was covered. There was nothing really different or surprising in it. However, I would highly recommend it as a good addition to any cookbook collection. One can only try so many faddy things and then you yearn for something tried and true.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is yummy, good clean fun. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

Summary: For fans of Old Yeller and Shiloh, Where the Red Fern Grows is a beloved classic that captures the powerful bond between man and man’s best friend.
   Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. It doesn’t matter that times are tough; together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks.

   Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region, and the combination of Old Dan’s brawn, Little Ann’s brains, and Billy’s sheer will seems unbeatable. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair, and that the seeds of the future can come from the scars of the past.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, is one of the best books I have ever read. I would read it whenever I had free time. By all my free time I mean half of school!
I would recommend it for a person who is wanting a hunting dog. But I'm warning you, the end made me cry.

I would rate this book a full five stars, because of Billy working for two years to get Old Dan and Little Ann by selling minnows, fur, and berries. Also because of his dogs winning many competitions including a beauty contest and a raccoon hunting championship. 

That was my son, Charlie, who recently finished this book.  Since I made him read it, I had to reread it and review it.  

My Review:  I don't care what anyone says, this book is a classic.  It's one of the first books that has ever made me cry (definitely not the last), one of the first books that changed me, and one of the first books I thought I'd shield my son from.  However, we've had a development in our family.  My son recently contracted a serious case of Puppy Fever.   It was bad.  He smuggled the Dog Bible to school and over a few days, he compiled a list of seventeen breeds that interested him.  He researched and researched, narrowed it down, and came to my husband and me with his findings -- he needed a redbone coonhound.  It was a need, not a want.  He started cleaning his room and vacuuming.  He made a bed for his puppy.  We told him that if he wanted to even consider a coonhound, he had to read this book.  So we tried to get it for him. 

In the meantime, my husband, who has had Puppy Fever for a while, found a redbone breeder a few hours from us.  She has a good reputation, and we contacted her to see if we could just expose our kids to the breed, since we've never seen one in real life before.  As you may have guessed, I lost my mind on the way to the breeder's and we came home with our own little redbone coonhound puppy.

Charlie devoured Where the Red Fern Grows once it arrived.  He'd smuggle his puppy into his room, cheat on his bedtime, and read.  He was entranced.  Without my knowing, he took it to school. And when he said he cried, he did.  He snuggled his pup, he climbed into my lap and felt all of the emotions that this stupid book inflicts upon its readers.  And then he asked me for another puppy.  (I didn't feel bad saying no.)

Can I just say, this last week has made reading this darn book that much harder?  I sat down to read, and this warm, wiggling little red doggy came and curled up against my leg to chew her bone.  I don't know if it was the presence of a coonhound, or the fact that I'm now a mother, but I cried my makeup off before the final showdown.  I love how simply written this book is.  It is so easy to imagine that I'm sitting next to a roaring fire in a cabin listening to my grandfather tell this story.  And it doesn't matter how many times I read this book, I get choked up when Billy finally gets his pups.  I get excited during their first hunt.  I want to go watch Ol' Dan and Lil' Ann do their thing.  It makes me want to explore the Ozarks.  

There's no denying that this book is a classic.  I don't know anyone who hasn't cried and fallen in love with this trio.  It's heartbreaking, it's uplifting, it's simple and beautiful and holds a more special place in my heart now that we have our own little coonhound running around.  This is a book that will never become outdated.

Rating: Five stars.  I'm with my son on this one.

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is an altercation between two bullies and Billy that ends in the death of one of the boys.  Billy has a run-in with some town kids.  And the last scenes -- you will need tissues.  It's hard to read and never gets easier.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America - various authors

Summary: Best-selling suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark invites you on a tour of Manhattan’s most iconic neighborhoods in this anthology of all-new stories from the Mystery Writers of America. From the Flatiron District (Lee Child) and Greenwich Village (Jeffery Deaver) to Little Italy (T. Jefferson Parker) and Chinatown (S.J. Rozan), you’ll encounter crimes, mysteries, and riddles large and small. Illustrated with iconic photography of New York City and packaged in a handsome hardcover, Manhattan Mayhem is a delightful read for armchair detectives and armchair travelers alike!

Summary and pic from goodreads.com

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: Back in high school (insert old fogey joke here at your own peril) I loved honors and AP English when we would reach short stories. I loved the compilation textbooks we had. Each story was so interesting and had a really succinct way of capturing life. I still remember reading those stories and occasionally I’ll run in to one of those stories and have one of those happy nostalgic moments that come from encountering something pleasant and familiar.

But somewhere along the way, I lost my passion for most short stories.

You see, I actually really enjoy reading cool short stories. There is an art to being able to say what you need to say in a short amount of time. Anyone can blather on and on about something and eventually get to their point, but there is something about being able to boil a story down to its core and still not lose the magic and the good writing. However, for the most part, I think that most people don’t do that well, and therefore, I don’t read short story compilations very often.

And then I saw this book, saw that it was a mystery writers’ book (‘cause how fun is that!) and that I recognized a lot of the authors (Mary Higgins Clark! Lee Child!) and I was intrigued. I am happy to report that I actually really, really enjoyed it. It was so fun to read all the different stories. And they are all really different, too. The only theme is that they are part of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and the stories must take place in New York, so with parameters like that, you know that it will vary from traditional to vintage to super modern to historical and everything in between. Now, as with all compilations, some of the stories are better than others. Some of the authors are better than others (although everyone in this compilation is a best seller and very prolific, so it’s not like I was reading drivel ever). With the shortness of the stories the mysteries couldn’t be too complicated, although some of them were definitely able to get a lot done in a short amount of time. The great thing about reading a book from authors of this caliber is that everyone is able to bring something to the table—the stories were interesting, they were scathing, and it was a really, really fun read. I loved being able to sit down and just enjoy a few minutes of a small little mystery. It wasn’t a huge commitment, I didn’t have to remember lots of details to figure out whodunit, and the writing was good.  I also loved that these stories all took place in New York. They were all really different, and it really showcased the diversity (both in time and place) of New York and the people there.

One of my favorite stories was “Three Little Words” by Nancy Pickard. It had a delicious little twist at the end. But don’t miss Mary Higgins Clark’s story, “The Five Dollar Dress,” either. It’s got a really fun premise. Actually, I really liked all of the stories.

Seriously, it surprised me how much I enjoyed this. I expected to enjoy it, mind you, because I like mysteries and I like many of these authors, but I wasn’t sure about the short story aspect of it. I’m happy to report that it was just a really fun ride and if you like mysteries and mystery authors, you should definitely check it out.

My Rating: 4 stars.

For the sensitive reader: This book would be rated PG. There wasn’t much language, sexual content, or violence, but it isn’t squeaky clean.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2)—George R.R. Martin

Summary: Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.
     As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard’s son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King's Landing. Robert's two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers. 
Summary from Wikipedia.org. Cover art from Goodreads.com. 

My summary/review: Holy cow! Books are NOT supposed to end the way A Game of Thrones ended!!! Good is supposed to conquer evil and the good guys, though always courting danger, are never supposed to die! Especially un-heroic though entirely realistic deaths on the chopping block. George R.R. Martin established his reputation as a serial killer of favorite characters, a reputation that he enforces through all of his published works. The reader now knows that no one is safe and everything is at stake.
     Book two picks up as Ned’s son Robb Stark reclaims the ancient Stark title of King of the North and wages war against the Iron Throne. Told alongside Robb’s war for vengeance, the story flashes over to Daenerys Targaryen’s climb to power and then to Tyrion Lannister’s apt ruling of King’s Landing. Where Eddard Stark came out strong as the obvious protagonist in book one, these three characters each effectively persuade readers to root for their conflicting causes. This is what makes me love these books so much. Not knowing who to root for, not knowing what end I should possibly even hope for.
     This book introduces two new POV characters—Davos Seaworth who is stalwart and boring, and Theon Greyjoy who is so detestable he makes King Joffrey look gallant. Another challenging and fun aspect of these books—living the life of the villains for awhile. Some villains are respectable and relatable. Some are just…vile. We get that with Theon. All in all, we’re still rooting for House Stark—will the remaining Starks ever be reunited?—though we want good things for Tyrion and Queen Dany as well.

My rating: 4.75 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book (and series) is not for you. With more baddies in the mix and with full-on war, all the offensive things are kicked up a notch—swearing, violence, gore, rape, etc.


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