Monday, August 31, 2015

Your Daily Brain by The Minds Behind Marbles

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Your Daily Brain
by The Minds Behind Marbles

ISBN-13: 9780804140119
Paperback: 194 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Released: Aug. 18, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In Your Daily Brain, the team behind Marbles: The Brain Store, a chain devoted to building better brains, shows you all the weird and wonderful ways your brain works throughout the day—even when you think it’s not working at all, like when you’re on the treadmill or picking the kids up from school.

Consider this book a wake-up call, a chance to take a closer look at and jump start your brain. From the minute your alarm clock buzzes in the morning until your head hits the pillow at night, your daily activities—everything from doing a crossword puzzle to parallel parking—are part of a process for how you evaluate the world, make choices and decisions, and reach short-term goals while keeping your eyes on the bigger ones. In each, you have the opportunity to use your brain for better or worse, whether it’s what to listen to you on your morning commute or avoiding mental traps at the grocery store.

Packed with information as well as useful tips and tricks, Your Daily Brain is the brain hack you’ve been looking for!

My Review:
Your Daily Brain is a collection of various studies about the brain which the authors summarize and explain in plain English in a casual, humorous tone. The authors also suggested things you can do to make use of these insights into your brain. It was more fun facts than life-changing insights, but I found it interesting from start to finish. Their suggestions were all do-able with minimal effort, so it's likely I'll apply what I learned in this book.

Each study was given a time-of-day heading though most also applied to other times of day. The "morning time" studies had more to do with getting your brain engaged and plans made for the day. Mid-day covered relating to people and tasks on the job. Evening times covered things like interacting with your family and how your brain knows it's time to sleep. We learn things like should you hit the snooze button? Eat breakfast and, if so, what types of foods? Aim for optimism or positive thinking? Multi-task? And what types of things help with creativity and problem solving? How does anger--or distraction--affect your judgment?

If you like brain studies, you may have heard some of this information before. Or you might have heard things that aren't actually backed up by studies (like different learning styles--using your preferred learning style won't necessarily help you learn better). But if you like learning about how your brain works and prefer the summary version of the studies, you'll likely to find something new and interesting in this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Georgian Menagerie by Christopher Plumb

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The Georgian Menagerie:
Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century London
by Christopher Plumb

ISBN-13: 9781784530846
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: I.B.Tauris
Released: June 30, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
As the British Empire expanded and seaborne trade flooded into London's ports, the menagerists gained access to animals from the most far-flung corners of the globe, and these strange creatures became the objects of fascination and wonder. Many aristocratic families sought to create their own private menageries with which to entertain their guests, while for the less well-heeled, touring exhibitions of exotic creatures both alive and dead satisfied their curiosity for the animal world.

While many exotic creatures were treasured as a form of spectacle, others fared less well: turtles went into soups and civet cats were sought after for ingredients for perfume.

In The Georgian Menagerie, Christopher Plumb brings us face to face with these exotic animals. Scandals were caused by ‘erotic electric eels’ and decades of jokes spawned by the rudely named ‘Queen’s Ass’, the resident zebra at Buckingham Palace. An enlightening and entertaining series of tales reveal how the exotic creatures of the menagerie that was Georgian London captured the imagination of the age, and influenced society in a surprising number of ways.

My Review:
The Georgian Menagerie is a history of exotic animals in England, mainly from 1700 to 1832. The author used diaries, letters, ads and handbills, court cases, wills, insurance policies, and poems to get a first hand account of exotic animals in England, especially those in London. This provided a wonderful sense of what life was like at the time and people's attitudes towards exotic animals. He followed the trade from the importers and sellers to the private owners and menageries.

He covered exotic animals like canaries, parrots, cranes, tigers, leopards, lions, bears, monkeys, snakes, seals, llamas, zebras, hyenas, camels, and rhinoceros. He talked about how they were feed, their living conditions (and how that changed), how much it cost to see them, traveling exhibits, what happened to the animals after they died (which usually meant being studied then stuffed and displayed), how people treated and interacted with the animals, and what associations were made with various animals (especially electric eels, the Queen's zebra, and parrots). He also talked about uses of exotic animal parts, like bear grease for hair styling, civet in perfume, and turtle meat for soup.

The information was presented in an interesting way using the stories of those involved with exotic animals in some way. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in 18th century London or in how zoos developed from private and commercial menageries.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators by David H. Ross

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Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators
by David H. Ross

ISBN-13: 9780385346238
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: July 28, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
For comic creators, animators, video game artists, and concept designers, being able to quickly draw the human figure in a variety of action-packed poses is a requirement. But what do you do if you don’t have models or photographic reference readily available? In Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators, artist and instructor David H. Ross shows how to block out actions and poses using a basic or advanced mannequin form. He illustrates basic poses (standing, running, jumping) to extreme motions (throwing punches, high kicking).

My Review:
Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators would be better titled "Mannequin Figures from Any Angle." The book mostly provided reference illustrations rather than detailed instructions on drawing a figure without any reference. If you don't have a live model or photo reference, you can use this book to look up a variety of poses from a wide variety of angles (front, back, 3/4, high, low, etc.).

The author provided many reference illustrations: mannequins and parts of mannequins from different angles and anatomy labels for the ear, hand, foot, a full skeleton, and major muscles. He described in step-by-step detail how to draw a head, hand, and foot. He also described in a generalized, "it'll be about here" way how different angles affect the apparent placement or size of various features.

The author assumed a certain amount of previous experience in drawing figures. For example: in his first section, he explained perspective and how to draw a box in perspective. He then gave a two-step lesson: (1) a rotated box viewed from low perspective (2) a fully rendered figure in that box. I was hoping for help in drawing a mannequin correctly into that perspective box or through using perspective lines. That help is never provided beyond a few, brief tips.

The mannequins were all super-hero types (skinny women or muscled men) and many of the references were from extreme angles or of exaggerated movements. From this, I assume the book is really targeted at superhero comic illustrators. I'm more interested in drawing normal humans in natural poses. I got some useful tips, but it's not really geared toward my interests.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Noah Webster by Catherine Reef

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Noah Webster:
Man of Many Words
by Catherine Reef

ISBN-13: 9780544129832
Hardback: 224 pages
Publisher: Clarion Books
Released: August 25, 2015

Source: ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description from Amazon:
Noah Webster may be best remembered the enormous and ambitious task of writing his famous dictionary, but for him, this accomplishment was a means to an end. His true goal was to streamline the language spoken in our newly formed country so that it could be used as a force to bring people together and be a source of national pride. Though people laughed at his ideas, Webster never doubted himself. In the end, his so-called foolish notions achieved just what he had hoped.

Here, in the only account of Noah Webster for teens, the seasoned biographer Catherine Reef guides us through Webster's remarkable life, from boyhood on a Connecticut farm through the fight for American independence to his days as a writer and political activist who greatly influenced our Founding Fathers and the direction of the young United States.

My Review:
Noah Webster is a biography of Noah Webster for teenagers. The author told about Noah Webster's life, but she also explained enough about what was going on at the time that someone unfamiliar with it can understand how Webster's actions met a need and impacted the country.

Webster had political opinions and tried to influence people to support a strong Federal government through his writings. But he also loved words, and he wrote educational material (a speller, reader, etc.) before he wrote a dictionary. It was interesting to learn the political and social backdrop behind things we take for granted today, like how spellings differ between American and British English.

There were some illustrations of people, events, and books mentioned in the text. The book moved quickly and kept things interesting, which should appeal to teens. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting biography to those interested in history and words.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting by Suzanne Brooker

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The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting
by Suzanne Brooker

ISBN-13: 9780804137553
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: August 18, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through

Book Description, Modified from Amazon:
Noted instructor/painter Suzanne Brooker presents the fundamentals necessary for mastering landscape oil painting, breaking landscapes down into component parts: sky, terrain, trees, and water. Each featured element builds off the previous, with additional lessons on the latest brushes, paints, and other tools used by artists. Key methods like observation, rendering, and color mixing are supported by demonstration paintings and samples from a variety of the best landscape oil painters of all time. Oil painters looking to break into landscape painting or enhance their work will find all the necessary ingredients for success.

My Review:
The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting is a "how-to" instruction book for oil painters who want to improve their landscape painting. The author broke the process down into the most basic steps, like closely looking at the subject, the different types of brush strokes used to make different textures, and choosing toned grounds that enhance the colors used over it. Since she went into detail before the demonstrations, I found them more useful than art books where it's more the artist vaguely explaining the colors and order that he used. Her demonstrations show how to put all the previous information together.

She started the book with the typical materials section. She assumed the reader has a certain familiarity with oil painting. For example, she did describe how to apply a toned ground but didn't provide a picture of the process. She gets basic with the landscape painting sections, and she devoted a chapter each to sky, terrain, trees, water, and then putting it all together. Within each section, she discussed observation, brush strokes, and colors, and then did demonstration paintings showing step-by-step how to put this information to work.

I felt like the author was both a good painter and good instructor. I'm still a beginner at landscape oil painting, and information in this book has helped me to improve my landscapes. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those--like me--who are trying to learn landscape oil painting without an instructor.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.