Friday, February 26, 2016

book review: the rooftop growing guide by annie novak.

I may have mentioned this before, but I am SOOOO ready for spring. Winter and I are just not that close, you know? I enjoy winter's company for a few weeks, generally the weeks surrounding the holidays, but then? Welcome. Worn. Out. Bring on spring.

And as I recently shared, dreaming of spring means dreaming of the fun outdoorsy things I'm going to do this year with my hubby and my nearly-toddler. I'd love to improve on our outdoor space at home. That's why I decided to check out Annie Novak's new book, The Rooftop Growing Guide.

No, I don't live in an urban area. I live in the suburbs, have a decently-large yard, and don't have a rooftop that is usable for gardening. But according to the other book reviews I glanced over, this book is highly recommended for anyone who is looking to do some small-space gardening. Since I'm historically not a great gardener, and I don't have a lot of time to devote to a large backyard garden, I figured I could glean some good info to use toward strategic container gardening at home.

The photographs in this book are so pretty and full of green, growing things...I could just flip through and gaze over them all as I daydream about spring. But I guess I am also supposed to read the book, too, right? Well, luckily, I did. This book is dense with detailed information on growing things, including irrigation methods, pros and cons of different types of containers, hydroponic systems and DIY greenhouses, and so much more. There are chapters that get down and dirty on germinating seeds, planning your planting, harvesting, tools, and everything in between. Also throughout the book, the author shares snapshots of urban rooftop gardens in different cities. I loved reading about and seeing such a wide variety of rooftop gardens.

In all, I really liked this book! It is definitely a serious, technical gardening manual--no coffee table book--and would obviously be most useful to the urban rooftop gardener, but there is plenty of info for all kinds of gardeners! I plan to get out my post-its and mark many pages to refer to once spring is a little closer. Or, maybe now, so I can daydream about my future container garden!

If you'd like to know more about the author, check out these links:

**Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

book review: The 4 x 4 Diet by Erin Oprea.

Okay, so exercise and diet plan books are not exactly my usual fare. My focus tends to center around children's fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, and if I go for nonfiction, then it's generally on some sort of artsy-fartsy topic.

That said, I am in need of some help in the health department. With a ten month old baby and a 40-hours-per-week job, I am short on time. I have very little time to devote to my physical or mental health, let alone my creative endeavors. That's why I opted to read and try The 4 x 4 Diet by Erin Oprea. 

The idea of 4 areas of focus for my diet and 4 minutes per day of exercise caught my attention. Yes, I know, fad diets don't work, and you have to be willing (or able, in my case) to put time and effort into your health to see changes. But this book sounded more like a simplified common-sense strategy than an unrealistic fad diet. So I figured I'd give it a go.

I did have to think a little bit about how to proceed with this review. I can review the book, and my thoughts and impressions, without completing the 4 week plan, or I can try to follow the 4 week plan and give a legit evaluation. After a little bit of consideration, I decided to do both; I'm going to do a first cursory review of the book itself now, and share a brief follow-up post later to complete the review with my results.

When it comes to health, diet, and fitness, I tend to gravitate toward simple strategies that embrace overall wellness without being too stringent or unrealistic. This book definitely cuts the mustard in that respect.

The book starts with Erin building up by giving her background as a personal trainer and nutritionist, along with some of her personal background that has influenced her research and her ideas. Then she gives you 4 diet habits to work toward creating, but she doesn't insist that you stick to them 100% of the time. She has realistic expectations that readers and clients will allow themselves cheat meals, as she does herself, but that the new habits they create will make them want to eat well most of the time. It's all about eating healthy, clean foods, not about crazy restrictions that make you want to give up. The 4 diet habits are pretty straightforward: cut out starch in the evening, cut back on sodium, cut back on sugar, and cut back on alcohol. 

Erin does not say you have to completely give anything up. You just have to retool your diet to be smarter, cleaner, and healthier. Sounds reasonable! That said...I think I will have a hard time going fully gung-ho for a few reasons, namely: the time and cost of preparing everything from scratch that she suggests, and the tricky part of finding low or no-starch options for dinner time when we are used to eating potatoes or rice many nights per week. So, I may have to approach the diet portion of this by breaking it down into more attainable versions of what she recommends. We'll see. I will give it a shot, anyway!

Now, on to exercise. This is something that I desperately need in my life. I have so very little time and energy for exercise, but it's gotten to the point where my body is actually craving it. For someone whose natural state is to embrace the couch potato life, that is saying something. But let me whine again about how I have no time. So! I saw that Erin actually says that 4 minutes per day of exercise, in the form of simple, high-intensity tabatas, will make a difference, I thought, I'm in! THAT I can do.

Basically, tabatas are 4 minute sessions of HIIT, which break down to 20 seconds of intense exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. Simple enough for an exercise novice like me to handle. Erin breaks down exercise suggestions with small black and white photos (I wish they were larger photos, but I'm sure I can find better examples of her workouts online). [more on this]

Finally, the last portion of the book is devoted to giving the reader a nice, simple, ready-made plan for easing into the 4 diet habits and daily 4 minute workouts. I am a fan of the idea of easing in to such a lifestyle change as giving up my potatoes and forcing myself to exercise. The plan looks easy enough to follow; I'll update the blog once I've given it a shot!

I'd definitely recommend this title. I enjoy reading through the background information on Erin's strategies. She has done her research, and the nerd in me rejoices in the solid evidence backing up her claims. I do think this title is more for me, a person who is pretty much starting from scratch and needing a lot of help, than someone who is already a health food and fitness enthusiast.

For more on Erin Oprea and her 4x4 Diet, visit these links:

I'm going to start giving this 4x4 plan a shot next week, so if you're interested, check back in a month for more on how it went!

**Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

Monday, February 8, 2016

book review: Doodletopia: Cartoons by Christopher Hart.

I'm always on the lookout for tools to help me practice my artwork, and anything that seems like it might help me squeeze some sketching into my very busy life is automatically intriguing. Pair that with the fact that I have specific areas I want to focus on improving--namely expressions and movement in my drawings of people--and you'll see why I was interested in checking out Doodletopia: Cartoons by Christopher Hart. While its focus is cartooning, which is sort of the stylistic cousin of the type of drawing and art I dabble in, I still figured I could customize my use of this sketch activity book to suit my needs.

So far, I've enjoyed doodling around in this book! The drawing activities are varied, the text is cheeky, and the style tends toward a retro feel that is one element I often try to incorporate in my own drawing style. The book offers a wide range of drawing exercises, including finishing half-drawn people, objects, and animals; working on expressions (the most useful part to me!); practicing various styles of hand-lettering; and more open-ended pages that challenge you to exercise your own style and skills.

All that said, there are a few limitations to this guy if you're hoping to use him for some serious sketching practice. While the author suggests putting your own spin and style on the exercises if you want to stretch yourself beyond just copying his cartoons, the activities can still be just a bit limiting and boxed in if you are wanting to exercise your own artistic style. On the converse, a drawing novice might find the book a little bit lacking in detailed instructions to help guide them to emulate the author's style in the drawing exercises. I think this book might be best suited for older kids or teens who enjoy a good drawing book, or adults who are seasoned doodlers and lovers of relaxing art activities like the ever-popular adult coloring book trend. Perhaps more serious artists might look for something a bit meatier and more challenging to aid in drawing practice. Still, I think I'll keep going through and taking what I can from it--there's some good stuff to be gleaned, especially the section on facial expressions.

Drawing the penguin as shown, then putting my own spin on it.
Practicing facial expressions.

Does this seem like your cup of tea? If so, check out these links for more:
--more on Doodletopia: Cartoons
--more on Christopher Hart

**Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

book review: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson.

Well, folks, it's a miracle. It took me way too long, but I finished a book--my first start-to-finish audiobook, no less! I was going to do this one for an elementary school book club, but plans got changed; I was far enough into the book, though, that I couldn't not finish it. I enjoyed it, so I'm glad I did!

Without further ado: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Natalie Andrewson!

Nooks & Crannies
Cover image via Goodreads

For starters, let's talk about the audiobook experience. I'm a complete audiobook n00b, and I have to say I'm not very good at the whole thing. I'm such a visual person, and I absorb things visually with a sort of partial photographic memory thing I have going on, whereas I tend to not retain enough or maintain attention with the audio route. Also, I kind of missed out on getting to see the pictures since this was an illustrated kids' book. All that said, the narrator was fun and did a great job with the voices and the pacing and everything. It took some practice, but I managed to pick up on the ins and outs of audiobook listening. I think the thing for me to get ahold of was that you sort of have to forfeit the ability to digest every tiny detail. You're going for the main gist without every morsel; otherwise you just keep backtracking and re-listening to the same bits over and over, and never get anywhere. It's a very different sort of reading experience for me versus what I'm used to with print. I'm one to reread paragraphs and pages to reabsorb and solidify my retention of small details.

Okay, onto the story itself. I can't really tell too much without giving away the mystery and spoiling the fun, so this will be brief. It's a sort of mixture of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Clue. It stars a young girl named Tabitha Crum, who is a precocious Victorian wannabe-investigator who is mistreated and unloved by her family (re: Matilda) and whose only friend is a mouse named Pemberly. Tabitha and five other children receive a mysterious invitation to an eccentric countess's mansion, and adventure, mystery, and danger ensue. The book is a bit too-obvious at times, a bit too derivative (even though I do believe that's exactly what the author intended), and surprisingly macabre at points (though I don't complain about that juicy bit). That said, it was an overall fun read and I'd recommend it! Especially for kid lit-loving adults, teens who tend toward younger subject matter within their reading level, and precocious kiddos who can handle a bit of scary suspense and some pretty advanced vocabulary.

4 stars!