Making a Mark: A Fine Read, but Disappointing Book

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

 

I put my name in the pot for Making a Mark because it sounded like it would be a helpful resource in my life. Two of my closest friends are huge art and art history buffs, and I’d like to have a little more knowledge about the field, without revealing the total depth of my ignorance to them. So a book written by a grandmother to her grandchild sounded perfect! It would tell me a story in a way that didn’t make me feel stupid.

Making a Mark mostly succeeds at telling the story of European painting in a way that is interesting and well-informed, but fails as a book. The writing is fine and the information is clearly laid out chronologically, with occasional detours to talk more about specific techniques and styles. It’s almost what I wanted.

But it’s an art book that has no art in it.

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There is not a single picture in this book. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in finding that strange, because the day after the book was emailed out to the Early Reviewers (ebooks, yay!), there was another email from the publisher explaining that no, we didn’t get faulty copies of the book. The book really had no pictures.

They gave their reasons for this omission as a combination of the rights for showcasing the famous works being difficult to obtain; wanting users to go out and utilize free resources online to see these paintings, thereby raising awareness of these resources for people who may otherwise be unfamiliar with them; and the fact that most people reading an ebook are reading on a reader that only displays in black and white.

Here’s the thing — this is an ebook. Because it is an ebook, I expected more pictures than would otherwise be in an art book because the cost of printing was not a factor to worry about! To not get any was a huge disappointment, and one I think was wholly unnecessary.

If you aren’t going to get the rights to at least some of the paintings discussed in the book, don’t make an art book. If you want users to utilize free resources for most of the paintings, that’s fine, but at least include links or tell us what those resources are (in all fairness, this was a common suggestion, and one the publisher says they will take into serious consideration). And if someone wants to read an art book on an e-reader that displays only in black and white, that’s not the publisher’s problem. The reader needs to find a work-around.

I really wanted to love this book, but I just couldn’t. Leave this one behind.

This review has been cross-posted to my LibraryThing account.

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Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths about Being Creative

Disclaimer: I received this item for free in exchange for my honest review.

Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk is a fine little read. It’s cute and quirky with some good advice and delightful drawings. It doesn’t feature much advice that a creative person hasn’t heard quite a bit, but it serves as a friendly little reminder that lots of people struggle with the same issues. And sometimes that’s what you need.

I wouldn’t have bought Your Inner Critic for myself, since I have many similar books already, but it made for a nice gift. If you or someone you know has hit a rough patch in their creative endeavors, go ahead and pick this one up. There’s nothing mind-blowing in its pages, but there is some solid advice arranged in a pretty little package.

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(This post has been cross-posted to my LibraryThing account.)

Invasive Species

Shame on me.

I received Invasive Species for free as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program, started reading it, then NEVER POSTED THE FREAKING REVIEW. Please tell me that other people do crap like this.

Anyway, without further ado, my thoughts on Invasive Species.

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I didn’t finish it.

It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t read the description closely enough and had no idea it was the fourth book of a series. The story stood well enough on its own that I probably could have powered through and finished it, but I wasn’t feeling anything for any of the characters, since I didn’t really know them, and Bow wasn’t spending her time explaining them for me. This is no fault of hers, since she’s spent — you know — three books doing so, but it was still enough to make me not want to read. It was like jumping into the middle of a well-established conversation with total strangers.

If Invasive Species sounds interesting to you, first go back and read the first book of the series, The Case of the Defunct Adjunct.

This review has been cross-posted to my LibraryThing account.

I’m a sucker for “productivity porn.” Whether it’s looking at beautifully structured notes, pawing through articles on time management, or tweaking my own planner usage, I definitely spend more time looking at ways to do things than I do actually doing things. It is a strange affliction, and one that is made abundantly clear by the number of cheesy business help books I read.

I grabbed Working Well with Others by Ross McCammon completely on impulse. It was out on the featured shelf of the library and was on its way home with me before I even read the synopsis. I thought it was going to be yet another business book telling me common sense things under the newest guise of originality, but it wasn’t. It was a super hilarious part-memoir, part-self-help book that I didn’t realize I needed.

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image from LibraryThing.com

McCammon does an excellent job of giving sound advice without actually sounding like he’s giving advice. All of his tips are rooted in personal experience, usually with a funny story to illustrate either their implementation, or the lack thereof. It is endlessly charming, and I actually laughed out loud a few times while reading. And the advice is sound —  it just lacks the filter of over-importance that most business books tend to place over the advice they offer.

Working Well with Others is a great read that I would recommend to absolutely anyone in the business world.

This review has been cross-posted to my LibraryThing.com account.

Girl Waits with Gun

I think Amy Stewart must be something more than human. She has written a number of nonfiction books on various topics (including Wicked Plants, which I highly recommend) and now she has come onto the historical fiction scene with her powerful debut, Girl Waits with Gun.

Girl Waits is an excellent story that follows three sisters trying their best to survive in a world that does not support them, and to beat back the threat of a man who wants them dead. It’s engaging and funny, with excellent, complicated characters and a story so fantastic it’s easy to forget that it happened to real people.

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This is a case where you can totally judge a book by its cover. It’s just as awesome as you’d expect from this picture.

If you’re interested in historical fiction that focuses on the early 1900s and/or badass women taking care of business, definitely pick up Girl Waits with Gun. You’re bound to have a great time. And if you’re not interested in historical fiction or super ladies, pick it up anyway. It may just change your mind.

To Be or Not to Be: The Interactive Shakespeare Experience You’ve Been Waiting For

If you’ve ever wanted a Shakespearian choose-your-own-adventure game, then look  no further than To Be or Not to Be. TBoNtB is a visual novel in which you get to take control of the story of Hamlet. You can stick to Shakespeare’s story, or forge your own path as one of the story’s main characters.

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Playing as Ophelia is particularly fun. Screenshot from Steam store page.

The entire experience is quite tongue-in-cheek and filled with jokes and puns. It’s no serious homage to Shakespeare and his work, but rather a goofy tribute to a timeless classic. I found myself laughing out loud more than once, and played through the story a few times before putting it down. I didn’t get all of the endings, but I certainly got all the ones I wanted.

TBoNtB offers some replayability through virtue of its choice system, but the story does start to get a little stale after a while. After all, the story of Hamlet is one we’ve already heard multiple times, and playing through it has a novelty that wears off somewhat quickly. But it’s fun, and if you can get it on sale, I’d definitely recommend it.

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Always hot stuff! Screenshot from Steam store page.

I would particularly recommend To Be or Not to Be for fans of Monster Loves You!, which has a similar feel and play style.

Roshara Journal: A Snapshot of Country Life

Roshara Journal is one man’s look back upon his years spent at Roshara Farm, a plot of land in Wisconsin. Roshara Farm was once a piece of earth that many considered untameable, but through the efforts of Jerry Apps and his family, it is now a landscape filled with life.

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Roshara Journal tells the story of the land’s transformation in an interesting way. The book is arranged into the four seasons — spring, summer, fall, winter — with journal entries spanning 50 years arranged within. Apps chose to arrange these entries by the point in which they fall on the calendar, not truly chronologically. So, an entry from June 20, 1986 would come before one dated June 21, 1999, even though 1986 was much earlier than 1999. Make sense?

At first the back and forth through the years was a little jarring. This was supposed to be a book about the transformation of the land, right? How was I supposed to see the land transform if the journal entries kept jumping forward and backward through the years? It’s a justifiable question, but one that quickly became moot. Reading the short entries became less and less about following the growth of the land, and more about feeling the rhythm of the seasons and the cyclical power of nature.

Aside from the journal entries, which were short and insightful on their own, the book contains absolutely gorgeous photography by Steve Apps. Each shot is a taste of Roshara Farm’s glory, and each one brings the story to life. I mainly read Roshara Journal at night as I was winding down for sleep, and frequently lost myself daydreaming in the beautiful pictures. This is a book that would make an excellent showpiece on a coffee table or other place where it can be thumbed through frequently.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed Roshara Journal. It’s not my normal reading style, but it made an excellent bedtime companion.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review, which I have provided here, and at my LibraryThing account.

Transhuman

I can’t remember how it got there, but Transhuman has been on my TBR list for little while now. And in a rather strange turn of events, I went to the library and only got things from my TBR list. Crazy, I know.

Transhuman was a blazing fast read that was great fun and thought-provoking. It follows the story of a scientist who kidnaps his granddaughter in order to treat her terminal brain cancer with his experimental gene research. The whole thing took absolutely no time at all to read, because Bova sucks you in and keeps you there. There’s just the right amount of action to keep the pages turning without starting to feel forced, and the chapters are so short, you’ll start saying “just one more” and keep doing so for hours.

I would recommend Transhuman to anyone interested in medical research, heists, and/or action novels in general. It stays fun, while forcing you to confront the possibilities of experimental research and its implications for life in general.

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This review has been cross-posted to my LibraryThing account.

The Infinite Wait: A Peek Behind the Curtain

For our second meeting, my book club read The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz. The member who chose it was interested in having the group read a graphic novel, and of the options she suggested, The Infinite Wait won the popular vote by a landslide.

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Turns out that the group had very mixed reviews about the book. A couple people really liked it, while most found it just ok. I am definitely in the second camp.

So why didn’t we like it? I can’t speak for everyone who found the book lackluster, but I know for me, it was a question of context. The Infinite Wait is a look at some of Wertz’s life, particularly as it pertains to her start in comics. But, I’d never read anything else by her. This made the book feel like a look behind the scenes of a play I hadn’t watched. I feel that if I’d been a fan of Wertz, or familiar with her at all, I would have enjoyed The Infinite Wait much, much more.

The members who enjoyed the book quite a bit were also mostly unfamiliar with Wertz’s work, but were more heavily involved in the artistic/creator scene, so they could empathize with her struggles to get started in the comic business a bit more. If you’re in their boat, you’ll probably very much enjoy The Infinite Wait.

But overall, I’m writing this one off as a “meh.” It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t for me.

Love for Monster Loves You!

Monster Loves You! is a charming, choose-your-own-adventure game in which you play as a monster trying your best to find your place in the world. By playing through short, self-contained scenarios, you define your traits and earn the respect (or not) of your peers.

Monster Loves You! is best enjoyed in small, frequent chunks. The text-based scenarios that make up the game are all self-contained and very short, and each full-game playthrough takes less than an hour. This allows the player to try out lots of different strategies and make a wide variety of choices in a short amount of time, upping the replay value of the game immensely. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been dipping into Monster Loves You! whenever I need a hit of something cute, and I’ve gotten pretty different results each time.

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screenshot from Monster Loves You! store page on Steam

If you’re a fan of short, charming games, go ahead and pick up Monster Loves You!. It’s lots of fun and easy to come back to whenever you just need to get away from everything for a little bit.