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5 Books of the Month

Books of the Month: Prodigy + Creative Books

The month is almost over and I realised that I haven't had the chance to share with you my latest reads since February. And, since I haven't done a Friday Five in a while as well, I thought I'd combine them in this post. Is that clever or just lazy? 😉

Anyway, here are the five books to cover my March and April 2013 reads:

1. Prodigy by Marie Lu

Prodigy is Book Two of the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu. I've been meaning to write about the Legend series since I first came across it last year.

The basic premise: Legend/Prodigy is in the YA dystopian genre. It is similar to Hunger Games, but not quite; probably closer to the concept of Divergent - another series that I've been hoping to share with you. It is set in a future America, where the United States is torn in to different areas and is at war with its neighbours. The main character, June, lives in the western US called the Republic. She is considered to be a "star" citizen, with an affluent background. She is being groomed for a high rank with the Republic. But, when her brother's death led her to face the suspected killer - Day (Republic's Most Wanted Criminal) - and she finds out some things that she did not expect, her life was turned upside down.

Prodigy takes off where Legend ended. To avoid giving you any spoilers, I will not give you a summary. But, let me just say that as far as sequels go, Ms Marie Lu did not disappoint with Prodigy. In fact, while I liked Legend a lot, I probably fell in love with the series and its characters more in Prodigy. Its cliffhanger ending will definitely make you wish for Book Three to come quickly!

Rating: 4.5/5

2. Printing by Hand by Lena Corwin

This is the book that the lovely Christina gave me as a birthday present early this month. Loved it from the start! It's a great present because it's a book that I've been eyeing for some time now. And, it's a great book that supports my growing love for printmaking.

It's a beautiful book with a number of great ideas and projects. There's even a set of templates that you can use, should you wish to use the author's designs that were featured in the book. I'm not sure if I'll be using the templates, as I enjoy making my own. But, it's nice to know that they're there, should I choose to use them for some projects.

I haven't really done any of the projects yet, but they have inspired me to pursue my own projects. So, I'm sure I'll refer to this book when I need some printmaking inspiration.

Rating: 4/5

3. How to Decorate by Shannon Fricke

Interior decorating is something that I wish I can be good at, but instead, I end up feeling quite inadequate. For someone who loves beautiful and creative things, this seems to be quite a shocker. My husband does not understand why I keep claiming to be hopeless at decorating. I don't understand it myself. My only theory is that it's one of the things that I end up feeling too overwhelmed. Decorating a house, a room... just seems too big a job. That's why I often opt for the safer choices. Or just decorate on an "as needs basis".

However, this year, I decided that I'm going to give interior decorating a bit of a better go. Nothing dramatic. Just learn some basic concepts and figure out how I can enjoy the process of making my house prettier without feeling overwhelmed.

That's why I decided to buy this book.

Admittedly, I started feeling overwhelmed again as I began flipping through the pages. Talks of setting up my own studio space for decorating, developing mood boards, and different types of fabric just make me start thinking of how huge it all seems.

I don't want to be an interior decorator. I just want to learn how to decorate my home in a practical, cost-effective way. This book sort of didn't meet that need. Not the author's fault. There are all sorts of lovely inspiration and interesting resources shared in the book. The styles shared are beautiful. The photos by Prue Roscoe are gorgeous. I'll probably look at it and refer to bits and pieces of it every now and then for ideas and inspiration.

But, unfortunately, it isn't the book that could help me to get over my decorating issues. I probably need a "Decorating for Dummies" book instead.

By the way, Amazon says this isn't available with them just yet. Should be out in August 2013.

Rating: 3/5

4. Creative Doodling and Beyond by Stephanie Corfee

I've had this book for almost a year or so now. I enjoyed reading through it and copying some of Stephanie's doodles. They are lovely and whimsical! Stephanie is obviously a very talented artist.

I also think that it's great that the book offered "practice pages" - although it took me a while to get over my reservation on doodling/drawing directly on the book. I haven't practiced all the projects and ideas yet, but I have played with a couple of the concepts shared in this book. It is fun, especially if you're feeling a bit uninspired. I enjoy having it in my personal library.

Rating: 3.5/5

5. Acrylic Solutions: Exploring Mixed Media Layer by Layer by Chris Cozen and Julie Prichard

I bought this book as an ebook from the publisher's website a couple of weeks ago and just loved it. It offered a number of useful and interesting techniques that I'm slowly incorporating in my art. There are no real "step-by-step" tutorials here. In fact, some of the projects laid out in the book can be a bit confusing (an artwork will appear in one section, then re-appear in another section). But, I can overlook some of the book's points because the positive things I gained from this book outweigh the little niggly things.

The artwork in the book is worth looking at over and over (and I have), for inspiration and ideas. They are real examples of the beauty of working in layers with mixed media. Some of them exemplify the type of pieces that I would love to be able to do.

In any case, if you're in to painting/mixed media work, then this is definitely worth having in the collection of art references.

Rating: 4/5

Note: Book titles link to Amazon's affiliate programme, where I may earn some commissions if you purchase using my links.

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A Storm of Swords (Game of Thrones Book 3): February 2013 Novel of the Month

A Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin

Some of you would already know this: I am a Game of Thrones fan.

However, apart from a mention here and there, I haven't really blogged about it all that much. Well, apart from mentioning it as my Novel of the Year (2012), that is.

I first heard of Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice series) by George RR Martin back in early 2010, I think. It was the recommended reading at an online writing /revising workshop that I signed up for at the time. I bought the book, started reading it on and off... But, I only finished it last year. And, I'm annoyed that I waited so long.

Since then, I finished Book 2 (A Clash of Kings), and after a quick break, I finished Book 3 (A Storm of Swords) this month. I'm already starting Book 4.

And, yes, this series is just unbelievably full of unexpected twists and turns that will make you groan and gasp. These books certainly kept me up a lot at night. And, some days, I wonder how the author can do such things to his characters. It's really teaching me a lot about the "kill your darlings" expression in writing.

In any case, yes, if you think George RR Martin can't possibly sustain the same shock and deliver stories from Book One, and then Book Two... Well, rest assured that Book Three will not disappoint.

If you haven't read the Game of Thrones series yet and you're wondering if this is for you, just need to know the following:

  • Great storylines. With plenty of layers. You can never guess what will happen next.
  • Great characters. You will love some of them (a dangerous thing to do, in some ways!). You will hate some of them. And, sometimes, it can be a challenge to keep track of all of them. But, many of them are definitely characters that will remain etched in your mind.
  • Yes, it has fantasy elements. It is billed as high fantasy. But, the supernatural elements in these series are not too in-your-face.

They are meant to be read one after the other, so it's not the sort of series you can read mid-way. Though, of course, you can 'cheat' by just watching the TV series. That's OK. But, really, the books are just much more magnificent.

Anyway, writing of the TV series, I am so glad that I managed to finish Book Three before the new TV series (Season 3) starts next month. I am really really looking forward to it.

If you haven't seen the trailer yet for GoT's Season 3, here's one that really whet my appetite:

Anyone else excited? 🙂

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Austenland: January 2013 Novel of the Month


Well, I've shared my nonfiction read of the month, now let's talk fiction.

Austenland* by Shannon Hale is another book that I've had in my books wish list for a few years now. It has always been priced a bit past what I would like to pay for a novel of this variety, so I held back. Recently, it went on sale via Kindle, so I finally took the plunge.

Probably good timing too, as there has been a bit of talk lately around Pride and Prejudice's 200th year anniversary. And yes, I am a sucker for Jane Austen's novels. I even love books and movies that are based on her works (eg, Clueless, The Jane Austen Book Club, even the movie based on her life, Becoming Jane, etc.)

Besides, I needed a bit of a break from reading Game of Thrones' Book 3 (A Storm of Swords).

Anyway, Austenland is basically modern chick lit with a Regency twist. It is a bit of a deviation from Shannon Hale's usual YA fantasy books. I've been a fan of her work since I fell in love with Goose Girl. And again, with Princess Academy. I've also been reading a few of her other books too.

The basic plot: Jane is a thirty-something single woman living and working in New York City as a graphic designer. With a string of terrible relationships, she finally admits to herself that part of the reason she can't seem to make her relationships work is the fact that she's been obsessed with the fantasy man: Mr Darcy. In a twist of fate, she ended up in a Regency-inspired resort for rich women in England as a guest. It was her last hurrah before she finally decides to leave the fantasy behind. Or, that was the plan anyway.

The verdict: It's a sweet read, albeit predictable. I mean, even naming the character Jane was a tad too obvious, I thought. And yes, we all know she would fall in love. The reader just wasn't sure who she would end up with. Well, you kind of know, of course. But, the author tries to throw curve balls as you would expect. There were funny moments. Some cute dialogue between characters. Nothing too insightful or particularly toe-curling romantic. I didn't fall in love with the characters too deeply. But, at least the resort seemed somewhat believable. It was an okay, fun read. The sort of thing that you can enjoy at leisure, if you're happy to have a bit of an escapist novel at hand. Something I am always up for.

Admittedly, if this was my first Shannon Hale book, I probably wouldn't have remembered her name - or became a fan. Definitely loved Goose Girl and Princess Academy more.

In fact, I probably enjoyed reading a similar book I read about the same time last year a bit more. The book is A Weekend with Mr Darcy* by Victoria Connelly.

At least, after this light reading, I can proceed with GoT once again. 😉

Rating: 3/5

* This is an affiliate link.

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It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be: January 2013 Nonfiction Book of the Month


One of the things that make it to my annual goals list is to keep reading at least one book a month. I’m tweaking this year’s goal a bit to add a little challenge: To read 1 nonfiction book and 1 fiction book every month. And, if possible, blog about it.

I know I tried do this before, but I’ve usually just done my book reviews ad hoc. So, I didn’t really get to share as often as I would have liked to. But then, when I started book blogging with a bit more structure through The Reading Studio back in 2010, I didn’t do too well either. I managed to do two months, but the whole thing quickly fizzled out. I didn’t do much book blogging since then, even if most of my book posts seem to go well with folks here.

I think I just complicated it too much by trying to blog about every single book I read for the month in one post through the Reading Studio. Too much pressure. Not enough time.

That’s why this time, I hope to share just one book per post. If I read more than one book, I’ll choose the best one from the lot and review that. Mention the others in the same post, if I’m inclined. But, no pressure.

I hope that with this simplified but structured version of my book blogging, I’ll be able to keep this up better. I think that Best Books of 2012 post inspired me to try this again, thanks to folks’ feedback and input.

So, on with the review of this month’s nonfiction book of the month selection:

It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be* by Paul Arden.

This has been on my wish list since I first heard of it a few years ago. It was first published in 2003 and has been reprinted several times over since. On my way back to Adelaide after a road trip with the family, I saw it at an airport bookstore in Sydney. I finally decided to buy it and read it. Finished most of the book on the flight, save for a handful of pages.

Yes, it’s a small book – only 127 pages long, with massive text and pictures. It was primarily written with advertising / marketing / communications people in mind. However, many of the concepts that were touched in this pocket-sized book can be applicable to many things.

I love the quotes featured. I love the typography. And some of the photos used.

But, most of all: I love how it fed some of my thought processes at the time.

It was a great book to read for the new year, as I ponder on goal setting and focus.

Many of the ideas aren’t new. But, a few were quite thought provoking. Things like:

  • Why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?
  • All creative people need something to rebel against.
  • Do not covet your ideas. Give everything you know, and more will come back to you.
  • Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.
  • It’s wrong to be right.
  • Do not put your cleverness in front of the communication.
  • Don’t give a speech. Put on a show.
  • Rough layout sell the idea better than polished ones.
  • Do not try to win awards.
  • Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better.

--- really made me pause a while to see how I would react to the thought. They made me wonder what they mean to me, and whether or not I agree – and why.

That’s why even though it was a quick read, I can understand why it became a bestseller.  Really glad I finally read it. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again every now and then to digest the concepts some more.

Rating: 5/5


* This goes to an affiliate link.

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Learning to Cook from the (Junior) Masterchefs

Not so long ago, I've shared that I live in a home full of Masterchef fans. And, with two young kids in the house, it was inevitable that we got lured in to watching the Junior Masterchef series too.

I never watched the first series of Junior Masterchef Australia, but my two li'l ones (ages 7 & 4) have been really keen to watch this series. Not a bad thing, really, because I love just how the kids are inspiring my boy and girl to learn how to cook and bake.

My seven year old son, for example, has just been trying to make more and more dishes. Just yesterday, he baked us his very own version of cheese puffs (using puff pastry and cheese). Not quite Masterchef standard, of course, but not bad. 😉

And, if both my kids carry on with this, I'm hoping that they would just be keen to develop their natural interest in cooking and baking.

In any case, my son's godfather is one of his best mentors in his varied interests. As a keen cook the boy's godfather was only too happy to encourage my son's interest in this area. So, he bought my boy this Junior Masterchef Australia: The Cookbook (Volume 1).

I first started reading this book whenever my son asked to be taught to cook something from the book. But slowly, I decided to give some of the recipes a go myself.

And, bit by bit, it has become my go-to cookbook for basic stuff that I wish to cook and bake. Just the other day, for example, I decided to try making pasta and pizza dough from scratch for the first time. And yes, I used this book to guide me. I kinda experimented on the pasta and pizza sauces from elsewhere, but the recipes I tried from this book worked pretty well. I even ended up making a Grissini for the first time too, using the pizza dough.

Fresh Italian Feast: Pasta, Pizza, & Grissini --- all made from scratch!

In the past, I have also tried other recipes that worked really well, such as the noodles, baked cheesecake, and jam-filled shortbread. Based on these recipes, I have learned to hack and create my own versions of them. I've made raspberry, strawberry, and mango versions of the baked cheesecake, for example.

Mango cheesecake for office family day.

So far, the only recipe I tried that didn't quite work was the brownie recipe. But then, I have yet to find the perfect brownie recipe.

In any case, I thought I'd share my "secret" when it comes to some of the dishes that I've been sharing on my Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr accounts. People keep asking for recipes and I keep pointing them to this book. So, I thought I'd finally blog about it.

Yes, all the food pics you see here are made using recipes from this book. 🙂

Oh my! My 1st jam-filled shortbread biscuits look gigantic! On the plus side: They're yummy! :-)

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