Saturday, June 30, 2012

London Under - Peter Ackroyd

London Under by Peter Ackroyd
London Under
Peter Ackroyd
Nan A. Talese
Copyright: November 2011

The product description:
London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imagina­tive, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheaters to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts, and modern tube stations. The depths below are hot, warmer than the surface, and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, real and fictional, that dwell in darkness—rats and eels, mon­sters and ghosts. When the Underground’s Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864, the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulfurous fumes, and named their engines after tyrants—Czar, Kaiser, Mogul—and even Pluto, god of the underworld.

To go under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hid­den world. As Ackroyd puts it, “The vastness of the space, a second earth, elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure.”
Ever thought that there was a world beneath the London we see today? Hidden, but just as alive and busy? No, I'm not describing another fantasy novel here, it's the world that Peter Ackroyd delves into in the book London Under.

For a fairly short book (240 pages), he covers a lot too. The book starts with the geology of London, some of the noted prehistoric finds and goes forward through time until the present. At the same time, he narrows in on specific aspects of London's underground history such as the various rivers and canals that have been covered over through the years.

Much of the book covers the medieval era to the present, although there are mentions of some of the prehistoric and Roman era discoveries that were made during the building of the sewers and the Underground (Tube) tunnels.

After the rivers, Ackroyd looks at the various sewer tunnels that were built during the middle ages to the eighteenth centuries and the effects they had on London, followed by the earliest versions of underground transport right up to the modern-day Underground system.

I'd be willing to bet that this book goes extremely well with Ackroyd's other book London: The Biography, which leads into my main complaint about London Under: the lack of maps. This book seems to be assuming that the reader is fairly familiar with London and it's geography. I for one am not, although I have visited a couple of times. Therefore, I found it rather hard to visualize the streets and intersections as Ackroyd mentions and follows them through the pages.

In spite of that, this is a book I have to recommend. It's fascinating, hard to put down and makes for a very different view of London and the history of that fine city. It also made me wish I could see some of the sights that the author mentions, such as the abandoned Underground stations where the posters are still on the walls, and have been since the early 1900's. The whole thing is written in a way that captures the imagination. I could see writers being inspired by reading London Under and setting up whole civilizations using what Peter Ackroyd set out.

That's something else that he focused on in this book. Peoples's views and stereotypes about the underground and tunnels as well as the people who used them and lived in them, as was the case for some people. It's interesting, the way it all ties into ideas about things like underground movements, religion, and class.

Overall, London Under is a book that definitely peaked my curiosity about London, it's history, present and future. I just wish there is a way I could see some of the things he described - most of it is closed off for various reasons, and of course, I live far too far away to get there. Definitely worth the read - and a fairly quick read too. Might be worth reading before the London Olympics to get a different view of the city.

Foundation: Collegium Chronicles One - Mercedes Lackey

The Collegium Chronicles: Foundation
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 2008

The product description:
In this chronicle of the early history of Valdemar, a thirteen-year­old orphan named Magpie escapes a life of slavery in the gem mines when he is chosen by one of the magical companion horses of Valdemar to be trained as a herald. Thrust into the center of a legend in the making, Magpie discovers talents he never knew he had-and witnesses the founding of the great Heralds' Collegium.
I started re-reading this series the other day, Foundation, Intrigues and Changes so far (I'm onto the third book now) and what I'm finding is that the three books do really well when you read them back to back. It's more like one story in several volumes so far - rather different than her other story sets (Last Herald Mage, Heralds of Valdemar, Mage Wars etc.). This series the story picks up immediately after where it left off in the previous book. My last review for Foundation can be found here.

Mags is the typical character-type for a lot of the Valdemar books, reminding me of Skif and Talia, although even more so than they were. Even so, the story is interesting, though rather quick-reading. The time-period is about three generations after the time of Vanyel and Stefen, and it's a time of change, because the Heraldic Collegium - familiar to us from all of the later books, especially the Arrows trilogy, is being set up and formalized.

The main thing I found frustrating about reading Foundation is that the story built up very quickly at the end and then ended almost right after. It just didn't feel like anything was really resolved - instead being left until the next book in the series: Intrigues. Even so, I still enjoyed the read.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Favourites: Your Favourite Book Meme?

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite book meme is. There are too many of them to count too: Library Loot, Booking Through Thursdays, "Waiting On" Wednesdays, Teaser Tuesdays, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? etc, etc.

What's your favourite, or do you have more than one? What draws you to a particular meme week after week? Memes about reading in general (Booking Through Thursdays)? or about a specific book each week ("Waiting On" Wednesday)?

My answer:
I seem to phase in and out of participating in the different book memes. I used to participate in most (all) of the memes I listed there, but not so much any more. Of them though, I'm going to have to say that my favourites are Library Loot and It's Monday! What Are You Reading?. Library Loot is the main one I participate in though these days, but I'm not all that regular a library user - hazard of working in a bookstore I think. It's Monday is one I want to participate in more often, but just don't seem to actually do.

Even with my track record, I'm always on the lookout for new book-related memes to read up on and try out.

What's your favourite?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beyond Snapshots: How to Take That Fancy DSLR Camera Off "Auto" and Photograph Your Life like a Pro - Rachel Devine and Peta Mazey

Beyond Snapshots: How to Take That Fancy DSLR Camera Off "Auto" and Photograph Your Life like a Pro
Rachel Devine and Peta Mazey
Amphoto Books
Copyright: March 20, 2012

The product description:
Ready to Capture Your Story with Beautiful Photos?

Let professional photographers Rachel Devine and Peta Mazey show you how to use that fancy DSLR to photograph the story of your life, from falling in love and having a baby, to the everyday moments that are no less precious. You’ll learn:

   • Common beginner mistakes and how to avoid them
   • How to take portraits of your children, friends, pets—even yourself
   • How to capture light to make your photos more dramatic
   • How to make colors pop, eyes sparkle, and skin tones more realistic
   • How to capture the uniqueness and wonder of your family, friends, and world

After all, why trust your memories to regular snapshots when with just a little knowledge, you can create beautiful photographs?

Be inspired to see the beauty around you, every day.
I got this book through NetGalley, back when it first came out. And, I have to say, I'm contemplating buying a copy of my own now that my NetGalley access has run out for this one. Beyond Snapshots is exactly what the beginner needs. I could have used it three years ago, but better late than never.

Rachel Devine and Peta Mazey have collaborated on the perfect book for someone who's just gotten their first DSLR camera. I know that when I was going through the manual for mine (an Olympus E-410), I found myself thinking "so what does that actually mean for my photos" when it pointed out the different controls and how to adjust them. Aperture, ISO, etc. all of that is thoroughly and clearly explained in the first half of this book. There are even a whole ton of things I haven't played with yet - different metering modes etc that they discuss.

The second half of the book though is where my interest faded a bit. It seemed to be geared mostly towards family photos and portraits in terms of subject matter and the how-to's. I'm sure it's easy enough to transfer the knowledge and techniques to other subjects, but I just didn't find the ideas that inspiring.

On the other hand, the first half of the book was so useful that I think it's worth it anyway. ISO charts, discussions of lighting and how the time of day changes the lighting quality - my copy was an e-book, but I want that half of the book in print just for reference!

One aspect of their approach that I found to be interesting and useful is that they both took each of the photos - one with a Canon camera and the other with a Nikon and the instructions are given for each. Not the most useful for me personally - my camera is an Olympus, but I believe that those two brands are the most popular and common.

Overall, I have to say that I found Beyond Snapshots to be a very useful book - as I said, it's perfect for those who are just switching from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR camera - and even with the former, I'd bet you'll find some handy tips to improve your photo-taking. Keep in mind though, I'm just an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to my camera.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mud, Sweat, And Tears - Bear Grylls

Mud, Sweat, And Tears - Bear Grylls
Mud, Sweat, And Tears
Bear Grylls
William Morrow Publishing
Copyright: May 2012

The product description:
Bear Grylls has always sought the ultimate in adventure. Growing up on a remote island off of Britain's windswept coast, he was taught by his father to sail and climb at an early age. Inevitably, it wasn't long before the young explorer was sneaking out to lead all-night climbing expeditions.

As a teenager at Eton College, Bear found his identity and purpose through both mountaineering and martial arts. These passions led him into the foothills of the mighty Himalayas and to a karate grandmaster's remote training camp in Japan, an experience that soon helped him earn a second-degree black belt. Returning home, he embarked upon the notoriously grueling selection course for the British Special Forces to join the elite Special Air Service unit 21 SAS—a journey that would push him to the very limits of physical and mental endurance.

Then, disaster. Bear broke his back in three places in a horrific free-fall parachuting accident in Africa. It was touch and go whether he would walk again, according to doctors. However, only eighteen months later, a twenty three-year-old Bear became one of the youngest climbers to scale Mount Everest, the world's highest summit. But these were just the beginning of his many extraordinary adventures. . . .

Known and admired by millions as the star of Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls has survived where few would dare to go. Now, for the first time, Bear tells the story of his action-packed life. Gripping, moving, and wildly exhilarating, Mud, Sweat, and Tears is a must-read for adrenaline junkies and armchair explorers alike.
This is the first of Bear Gryll's books that I've not enjoyed absolutely. Parts were really good - the parts about his youth and his family especially, but also the section on his testing, training and time in the SAS, but most of the book was focused on Bear's Everest expedition. O.K., now you've got to be saying that I'm nuts. I'm complaining about most of the book being about such an unusual and life-changing event. Why?

Facing Up - Bear Grylls
Simply put: it felt like duplication. The book Facing Up, which came out a few years ago was entirely about Bear's Everest expedition, so it's like I'd already read about half of Mud, Sweat, And Tears.

For the rest of the book, as I said, parts were great, but I guess I was just expecting something different. I wanted to know more about Man Vs. Wild, the T.V. show, as well as some of Bear's other adventures - some of which were shown in the photographic inserts. But those were barely mentioned in the text.

Still, it was well-written and engaging. As I said, I enjoyed learning more about Bear's family - both as a kid and now his family and children. I guess Mud, Sweat, and Tears just had a set of expectations around it that it didn't meet for me. Not my favourite, but still, I'm glad I read it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kobo Vox Update - Android Marketplace (Google Play)

The biggest news involving the Kobo Vox in recent days is the latest system update. This one was big enough that Kobo sent out a mass e-mail a few days ago to announce it: access to Google Play, which also includes the Android Marketplace.

On turning on my Kobo Vox after the update was applied, I discovered that the GetJar marketplace icon which had originally come with the Kobo Vox was replaced by one called Play Store, which brought up the Google Play site. That's where the apps market is now.

At the same time, the Vox has added more Google integration to the system: the "Notifications" bar across the top now has a little e-mail icon, and on swiping it to see the notifications, it now states how many new e-mails I have. There are probably other integrations too, but that is the first one that came to my notice right off the bat.

A quick search discovers that my work-around for adding the Kindle app to the Kobo Vox is no longer needed. It's right there in the app-market at the top of the results list from a search for "Kindle for Android". I suspect the same thing is true for a lot of the work-arounds people have been using to date as well.

It may well be possible to read NetGalley titles easily on the Vox now. Aldiko Reader is easy to find and install, which is what NetGalley says to use with Android. I'd check it out but at the moment I have no titles requested.

I think this update is something that a lot of people have been waiting for. I know I have, if only so I don't have to say to people that the Vox doesn't have access to the Android Marketplace anymore.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Favourites: Your Favourite Non-Reading Hobby?

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite non-reading hobby is. I'm sure that in terms of hobbies, reading takes the top slot :), but other hobbies are lots of fun too.

My answer:
I've tried a lot of hobbies, and they have tended to shift in terms of favourites and the amount of time I allot to them. In the past were hobbies like cross-stitch, drawing, calligraphy etc that are all year-round and engaging. All of which I still enjoy to an certain extent, but rarely do much of any more. Then there are the seasonal hobbies: gardening, snowshoeing, hiking etc. They're great, but you can only really do them at certain times of the year.

Right now, my priority (aside from reading) hobbies are those involved with yarn-craft. Mostly in this case, that refers to spinning and crochet, although I'd like to try dying some day, and I want to teach myself to knit. It just seems somehow that I have trouble figuring out the instructions for any particular stitch, and the motions don't feel as comfortable as crochet did immediately.

Of those two, I'm honestly not sure if spinning is more a favourite than crochet, or if it's the other way around. They're equally as portable - at least if I'm using the drop-spindle and not the actual wheel ;). I know one thing I love about them is the feeling of accomplishment I get from finishing something. And it doesn't tend to take forever to complete a project.

Spinning is, like photography, one of those hobbies I've stuck with. It has to have been five years or so now since I started using a drop-spindle and thane the wheel, and I'm still going strong. Other hobbies I've picked up for a while and then abandoned more or less completely, such as the time I did some soapstone carving. After a few months, it just got left.

That length of time in itself justifies spinning as being a favourite. Crochet is a more recent addition, but it's definitely got my interest. One of these days I'm intending to combine the two and actually do some crochet with some of the yarn I've spun. To date, I haven't had the confidence to try much crochet with my handspun. I've been sticking with the commercial stuff, at least partially because it's more predictable.

So, what's your favourite non-reading hobby?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Favourites: Your Favourite Book for May

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite book from last month was.

My answer is, after some thought, True Strength: My Journey From Hercules To Mere Mortal - And How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo. My full review is here. Having been a fan of the show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys since it was on the air - I still watch the DVD sets on occasion, I picked up the book out of curiosity.

I've never been a big fan of actors' biographies and autobiographies before, but this one stood out as being downright inspiring to read. What Kevin Sorbo went through, and the process to his recovery was amazing, and the way he held up to it all...

True Strength is, to me, a book that anyone going through a tough spot in their life might gain some benefit from, be it thanks to illness or bad luck, it's bound to make you appreciate just how wonderful life is.

What was your favourite book from the month of May?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Favourites: Your Favourite Period in History?

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite period of history is.
Please leave either your response in the comments or a link to your response.

I picked this question for this week based on both the movies I've been watching lately (War Horse and Last of the Mohicans) and the last book I finished (Diana Gabaldon's Outlander). However, the question itself isn't specifically about what time periods you like to read, instead it's more general, about your favourite period of history in general.

For myself it's about an even split between Classical (Roman and Greek) and Medieval History. I know for medieval history it was an interesting start - I was inspired to take a couple of general Medieval History courses because I'd been reading some historical fiction and and wanted to find out how much of the story was based on truth. I think the novel in question was Katherine Kurtz's The Temple and the Stone, or perhaps the sequel, The Temple and the Crown. I was lucky enough to have a really good teacher who really sparked my interest.

I don't remember what caught my interest in Greek and Roman history though, but that was what I decided to major in, and I've found it fascinating ever since. I'm still buying books on the subject, along with medieval history as well as borrowing them from the library.

All I know is I find reading about and researching both periods to be absolutely fascinating even after getting a degree in the subject. What really catches my eye with both is the little details about every-day life, crafts, food and the like.

What's your favourite period of history, and why is it so fascinating to you?


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