All books but the phonebook are worth reading

Nature Art Workshop: Tips, techniques, and step-by-step projects for creating nature-inspired art

Nature Art Workshop: Tips, techniques, and step-by-step projects for creating nature-inspired art Book Cover Nature Art Workshop: Tips, techniques, and step-by-step projects for creating nature-inspired art
by Katie Brooks, Sarah Lorraine Edwards, Allison Hetzell, Mikko Sumulong
Arts, Crafts & Hobbies
Walter Foster Publishing
September 18, 2018

I spend a lot of time outdoors - it is my favorite way of relaxing. I simply go for a walk, perhaps take my camera and do some photography on my way. When I picked up "Nature Art Workshop", I got excited about a possibility of finding another creative outlet relating to my time outdoors, allowing me to preserve some of my experiences for the days when the weather or other activities keep me indoors.

The projects in "Nature Art Workshop" are of great variety. They are either based on collected items: stones, feathers, petals etc. or are only nature-inspired. Or are a combination of both. They vary in their difficulty. Some consist of simply arranging objects like shells or flowers, on the surface to create a display or a unique centerpiece. More elaborate involve painting on small surfaces like shells or wood slices. Although the step-by-step instruction allows following almost as paint-by-the-numbers.

Although wood carving is a more elaborate technique and not broadly known, the related projects take the disproportional amount of space in the book. The technique, tools, and other materials are described in detail. It caused a few of other projects not make it into the final book- but no worries, they can be downloaded separately, for free, on the book website.

The one thing I found missing from the book was some kind of Resources section. I could use a list of numerous art supplies used in proposed projects, like brushes, palettes, paint (what kind of paint? is there only one kind?). For beginners, who do not have the most basic art supplies at home, going to the art store can be a daunting and discouraging task. Another thing I found useful in similar books was a template section, allowing the more involved shapes to be copied, preferably at the correct scale. After all, not everybody can sketch even such a simple thing as a bunch of herbs.

While I can not wait for spring flowers to try some of the easy projects in "Nature Art Workshop", I am excited that I was reminded of simple roses made of colorful fallen leaves. I suppose many people are familiar with this one from their Social Media streams. I still cannot wait to do it again this year, following the steps in the book. Perhaps I will do another project with remaining leaves?

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from NetGalley. The links in this post contain affiliate code.

New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living

New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living Book Cover New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living
Cary Telander Fortin & Kyle Louise Quilici
Sasquatch Books
January 2, 2018

I reached for "New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living" looking more for how to do decor in newly rearranged living room than decluttering. I had read at least 5 decluttering books in the last few months, and I did not think there is any more to say on the subject. And perhaps the authors did not intend to say more, but they succeed in doing it their own way. Sure, almost any book on the subject will encourage you to figure out your "why", why do you want to start living minimally and declutter your house. In "New Minimalism", however, you will also find the generalistic, but nevertheless useful analysis of four types, or archetypes of how we interact with our belongings - and how to address each one when it comes up.

Another way the authors manage to put their own spin on decluttering craze are their environmental concerns and tips to do things in the Earth-friendly way. Some of the things I never thought about was, for example, to donate your items, thus allowing others to use them rather than end on landfill, but then pack your donations in paper bags that can be recycled.

On that note, however, the authors go a bit too far in their criticism of the cleaning supplies as "toxic chemicals". I am sure there are compounds not good for us in some of the cleaners, but just because acetic acid is called vinegar and you use lemon as a source of citric acid does not mean you avoided chemistry altogether. And while many chemicals are indeed toxic, there are also so-called natural sources of toxins. Cyanide with your almonds, anybody?

While I was disappointed the authors did not spend all that much time talking about the decor overall, the few tips they provided were quite useful. Enough to distinguish it from all other decluttering books out there, starting from the Marie Kondo "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" to "Unf*ck Your Habitat" by Rachel Hoffman. And if you never read any of those, "New Minimalism" is definitely a good start.

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from NetGalley. The links in this post contain affiliate codes.

“Last Stop in Brooklyn” by Lawrence H. Levy

Last stop in Brooklyn Book Cover Last stop in Brooklyn
Mary Handley
Lawrence H. Levy
Mystery & Suspense
Broadway Books
January 9, 2018

It is hard to say "no" to a good mystery. While I am not a big fan, I have been known to read Anne Perry, so just the thought of picking up a period mystery was not discouraging. I went for "Last stop in Brooklyn".

The book tells a story of female private detective, Mary Handley. In this story, she works on two cases, one what looks like a marital infidelity and another, of an unfairly convicted immigrant. The world of New York richess like Rockefellers and Carnegies meets dark alleys of night and day entertainment of Coney Island. Terrorist attacks and ideology and serial killer, murdering prostitutes. With a dose of corrupted police and justice system. Really, an interesting combination of current social issues, set over 100 years ago. I guess some things are universal to humanity thought a history - and this was one of the messages you can take from the book.

Really, my only complaint about the "Last stop in Brooklyn" is that, while set in 1894, the story does not have the real feel of period novel. The language, the characters, it all feels too contemporary. Sure, if you doubt the authenticity of the facts, there is an "Author Note" at the end, explaining which facts were historical. And yes, you can imagine the Coney Island over 100 years ago, with non-existing buildings and atmosphere. Again, the characters, how they act and how they speak falls short.

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

“Understanding color in photography” by Bryan Peterson

Understanding color in photography Book Cover Understanding color in photography
Bryan Peterson
August 29, 2017

I grew up, photographically, on Bryan Peterson books. "Understanding exposure" and "Understanding shutter speed" were one of the first photography education books (right after "Lightroom", at that time version 1, by Scott Kelby) that I read after I got my first dSLR. When I saw it for the first time on Amazon, I was really looking forward reading "Understanding color in photography".

Part of my evergreen willingness to read Bryan Peterson's books is his light, conversational style with a large dose of common sense. For example, calling f/11 "I don't care aperture". Or my favorite quote from "Understanding color in photography":

Great chefs can't prepare great meals without cutting, squashing, mixing, steamin, peeling, cutting, simmering, boiling, stirring, and blending the food, and ten arranging it on a plate in a compelling fashion. So, if you want to create truly compelling images, start "cooking"!

In "Understanding color in photography", Bryan Peterson explains how to create compelling images using color. He talks about technique of under (or over-exposing) the image, depending on the main color, to make this particular color pop. He discusses analogues and complementary colors to create strong compositions.

The next, largest section of "Understanding color in photography" comprises of what I would call: color monographies. Each section has a brief discussion of the color at hand, including black and white, followed up by what kind of mood the color creates, and then many examples of photographs where the color discussed is the main element. This really is a treat, part of the book that qualifies it for a coffee table section. The larger format and beautifully rendered color pictures are printed on glossy paper. Really, you can just take pure pleasure from browsing through the pages.

Since post-processing is becoming the important part of the photography process these days, it is not surprising to see it mentioned in "Understanding color in photography". However, Photoshop tricks take only a few pages out of 136 of the book, so it clearly is not the main focus.

One of the most puzzling things about "Understanding color in photography" is co-author Susana Heide Schellenberg. I do not see her contribution to the book coming through, other than occasional image here and there.

I learned few interesting tidbits about of color in photography from "Understanding color in photography", things I never realized before. For example, do you know if dark color should be on top or on the bottom for a natural look? Do you know if a warm color advances or recedes? Read the book to find the answers, but most importantly, using the knowledge and creative exercise, apply those concepts to take your photography to next level.

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

“Yellow Owl Workshop’s Make It Yours” by Christine Schmidt

Yellow Owl Workshop's Make It Yours Book Cover Yellow Owl Workshop's Make It Yours
Christine Schmidt
Clarkson Potter
March 28, 2017

If I were to summarize "Make it yours" in just a couple of words, I would simply call it the printing project guide. Which probably does not do the book enough justice, considering how broadly printing techniques were considered by the author. In fact, you are going to find here projects varying from "traditional" stamps (block printing) to making patterns on paper or fabric, but also fabric dyeing and even stenciling or drawing with chocolate. The author, Christine Schmidt talks about what she knows best for which a proof is her web site Yellow Owl Workshop, selling original, made by her stationary products as well as crafting supplies (stamps etc.)

The book is, interestingly, not organized by the printing technique or by the type of material owhich gets decorated. The astonishing variety of the projects come as a bigger surprise in the book organized by... the motif type. Thus, it starts with abstract and geometric shapes, through everyday patterns, occasions and celebrations, flora and fauna, to travel inspired motifs. At the same time, I feel like the projects are organized from the easiest to the more involved.

Each project is described in step-by-step instructions, well illustrated and easy to follow, if you decide to use the book as the handbook. To make it easy, one of the appendices contains all the templates, which you can use if you want to decorate your home with exactly same patterns as shown on pages of "Make it yours". Now, if you think that using patterns templates is cheating? Perhaps, so just draw your own! You can use the book just as a source of inspiration. To help you create your own projects, another appendix provides a comprehensive list of supplies and additional details about techniques and some basics of design.

The projects in "Make it yours" vary from golden decorated dresser, to tote, scarfs and other garment, stationery - all the way to decorating a cake with chocolate. The interesting range of project has one thing in common, putting personal touches on ordinary everyday objects. Considering that the patterns can then be applied to fabrics, leather, paper, wood, ceramics, even cakes- there is some great variety here!

My favorite part of the book? The designing logo tips in the project "logo stamp". I would rather use the book as the inspiration than follow strict outline, so this chapter helps organize the thoughts and design something really personal and mine. I would strongly recommend it to anybody thinking of doing some crafts, maybe during long evenings this upcoming winter!

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

“How to Pack. Travel smart for any trip” by Hitha Palepu

How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip Book Cover How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip
Hitha Palepu
Clarkson Potter
March 7, 2017

When I ordered the book, I did not expect how quickly I will have to put all the knowledge from the book in practice. Now, getting ready for a new adventures in my life, I am happy with gained confidence in packing for five days away from home each week...

Do not get discouraged by the size of the book. It is a small format and "only" 128 pages. Within those constraints, the book has all the information you need - and more, on packing and surviving the trip, organized by travel timeline.

It starts about a week in advance your travel, from choosing the luggage and additional "packing accessories". I never heard of "packing accessories before, but I learned a lot from this section. And it comes with added bonus - recommendations for tried products!

Next, the book goes into creating your perfect packing list and selecting wardrobe, tips for packing cosmetics, electronics and other essentials, actual packing it all together (folding vs rolling) and how to refresh your clothing on the go. It ends with gives plenty of travel tips for various stages of your actual trip. Just keep in mind the all the travelling tips are highly relevant only to air travel, though.

The material in the book is very logically organized, very visual way, with illustrations, tables, flow charts and, of course, templates of packing list for various occasions.

I strongly recommend not only to those who often travel for work or take plenty of far-away vacation, but also those who need just struggle with putting together work outfits during the week!

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

“Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants” by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis

Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants Book Cover Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants
Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis
crafts, gardening
Ten Speed Press
Feb 07, 2017

Just few months ago, I have reviewed “Natural color” by Sasha Duerr. In some respects, "Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants" Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis is similar, and in some, those are two totally different books. Both are beautifully photographed and printed coffee table books in hardcover. They are perfect for a gift. But where "Natural color" was focused on collecting plants for dying fabrics, "Harvest" promotes planting your garden to have plant material available for all kinds of home projects. And utilizing the plant "from fruit to root", in many cases.

In "Harvest" you are going to find ideas and recipes for all kind of projects: for making food and beverages, skin care products, home remedies and flower arrangements (with all the details on how to arrange the branches for those who like me know nothing about good design!). And these are not the most obvious ideas, for example blueberries are used for natural dye and artichoke for a bouquet. Plants you would not normally think of eating are used as teas, or in butters or vinaigrettes! And of course there is plenty on edible flowers and ideas how to incorporate those into salads.

The plants in the book are organized by season: early, mid and late. Each plant craft or use idea is preceded by plant description, including gardening requirements like hardness zone, sun and moisture needs.

I really enjoyed reading the book, and I am glad I found it just in time to start planning my home garden for this season. I should be able to try many ideas soon!

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

Click on any example book spread to see larger version!

“Just Breathe” by Dan Brulé

Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork for Success in Life, Love, Business, and Beyond Book Cover Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork for Success in Life, Love, Business, and Beyond
Dan Brulé
Atria/Enliven Books
March 28, 2017

I have a lot of mixed feeling after reading "Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork for Success in Life, Love, Business, and Beyond" by Dan Brulé I have very mixed feelings about the book.

The book contains an extensive review of various breathing techniques, organized by "application": healing, motivating, developing spirituality. It is accompanied by stories of yogis, soldiers, doctors - those who invented the techniques and those who breathing helped in some way.

At the same time, by the third chapter you get overwhelmed by all those techniques and start wondering what is actually right choice for you? On which one one should you focus on?

Sure, you can boil all of the breathing approaches down to two types: Conscious Breathing and Breath Awareness. And perhaps just focus on practicing those two daily, as described in the first chapter. Or... you can decide to spend 21 days to work on a larger selection of breathing techniques, different one each day. Luckily, this 3-week challenge at the end of the book summarizes the knowledge for you in a more practical way than all the preceding chapters, which are really overloaded with details.

However, if you are interested in exploring breathing to help you in everyday problems, give "Just Breathe" a try. I am sure you will find a helpful tidbit...

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Goodreads. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

“32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line” by Eric Ripert

32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line Book Cover 32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line
Eric Ripert
Random House Trade Paperbacks
March 21, 2017


I have read recently a whole series of celebrity chefs autobiographies. Encouraged by Anthony Bourdin's "Kitchen Confidential", Marcus Samuelson's "Yes, Chef!" and Gabrielle Hamilton's "Blood, Bones and Butter", I reached for Eric Ripert's "32 yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line" with great confidence. I was ready to learn about his story to become a chef. Unfortunately, in the case of this book, it was largely a disappointment.

First third of the book focuses solely on Eric Ripert's miserable childhood in Southern France, between divorced parents, bully stepfather and grandparents - and great tragedy of premature death of the father. While providing a lot of personal background, hardly any of this talks about food and cooking! It does not feel to me like any of those stories, as moving as they are, influenced much of Ripert's career as a chef.

Luckily, it gets better around chapter 10 or so. Finally, when the anecdotes from culinary school pour in, it gets really entertaining. And it becomes about food! Then there are stories of hard work on the line in La Tour d'Argent and Jamain restaurants, summer vacation on the farm, cooking with fresh, local ingredients.... and when you are ready for a big adventure oversees and a start of great career... the book ends. Right at the point Eric Ripert boards the plane to go to take job at Watergate Hotel's restaurant of Jean Louis Palladin. Why?

Perhaps "32 yolks" is just not what I was expecting, compared to other chefs stories. For celebrity chef autobiography, it misses much of the food, for coming-of-age book, it misses depth and reflection.


I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.

“Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World” by Art Wolfe

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer's Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World Book Cover Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer's Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World
Art Wolfe
Amphoto Books
September 20, 2016

I have admired Art Wolfe and his photographs for a long time. He is one of the kind - a pre-Internet (before Flickr, 500px and Google Plus) photographer who build very successful, independent career. While his work was published in well known magazines, he never was affiliated with Life or National Geographic or others. On top of that, he has very strong background in visual arts, which helped him create strong compositions with focus on color contrast, pattern and texture. His images are just stunning.

"Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer's Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World” is a summary of almost four decades of Art Wolfe careers. And the book is so much more a coffee-table style collection of beautiful photographs. Each image is accompanied by the story. In fact, there is a photographer story, telling something about unusual location, and other circumstances surrounding the image, sometimes related to photographic process itself. There are also two smaller tidbits, written by co-author and acclaimed photographer himself, Rob Sheppard. One is  “The nature of the photo” providing a bit more cultural or geographical context. The second one, the “Photo tip” - is short lesson in photography, with advice on things like light, filters, use of shutter speed and similar. Sometimes, when you read all the text in sequence, those short tips seem to break the flow of the book, though, I oftentimes found them distracting and overly simple.

One of the very first advice a new photographer gets when he asks how to improve on his photography is to study the photographs of the masters. It seems like "Photographs from the Edge” is the perfect book for the task - and it comes with cheat sheets in forms of stories and insights. I would recommend it for every aspiring nature and travel photographer, for learning and for pleasure.

I have received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review from Blogging for books. The links in this post may contain affiliate codes.