"Photoshop Elements 12" (O'Reilly 2013) is an all-around manual for learning and using Photoshop Elements 12. It's part of the popular 'missing manual...more"Photoshop Elements 12" (O'Reilly 2013) is an all-around manual for learning and using Photoshop Elements 12. It's part of the popular 'missing manual' series (where you find the software manuals no longer included when you purchase a program), so provides down-to-earth instruction, how-tos, and easy-to-understand skills that make Elements as easy to learn as possible.
I was attracted to this book because I am making the switch in my classrooms from Photoshop to Elements. I love Photoshop--don't get me wrong--but its expensive, kind of hard to learn in one grading period, and often daunting in the execution of skills. I hoped Elements would be none of these, but instead would offer easy-to-learn image editing that looks spectacular.
I was not disappointed. Included in this book are:
* understanding the porgram * how to import/manage/save, manipulate photos * quick photo repairs * artistic elements that appeal to all amateur photographers * lots of examples * lots of hints * extras for 'power users'
Most of what the average person wants out of photo editing software is included with a shorter learning curve and a smaller budget. Highly recommended.
Full disclosure: Personally, I'm sticking with Photoshop. I love the 'what's over the horizon' approach to software, the idea that there's always something more to challenge my creativity. I think that's a unique mind-set that I am not going to expect of my students.(less)
Patrick Lee's thriller, "Runner" (Minotaur Books 2014) lives up to its title. From page 1, when Sam Dryden--former Special Forces (and then some), try...morePatrick Lee's thriller, "Runner" (Minotaur Books 2014) lives up to its title. From page 1, when Sam Dryden--former Special Forces (and then some), trying and failing to recover from the death of his wife and child--starts running, he never stops. And with him, the action (enough to give you whiplash--in the words of Jesse Kellerman). Every time you think you know what's going on, you don't. The settings are well-drawn, characters believable, and the plot complex enough for a Mobius strip.
In a nutshell: Sam Dryden (hero of Patrick Lee's Sam Dryden series) can't sleep--a normal condition since he lost his entire family in a car crash. He goes for a 3am run, slams into fleeing 12-year-old Rachel, and agrees to help her escape the band of men chasing her. The fact that she is genetically engineered to be more than human endears her to him rather than frightens him (no surprise, he's a tough guy). And the race begins--across wide-open spaces, aided by satellite surveillance, a constant battle of muscle vs. mind--lots of men with vicious weapons vs. the cerebral skills of a damaged SF guy and a brilliant young girl who has lost her memory.
I love stories when brawn is matched well by brainy brilliance. Although Sam Dryden is a superman in his own right, the real star of this book is Rachel--genetically engineered to be able to exert mind control over others in very sophisticated ways. The scientific explanation is credible enough to make me want to read more.
Patrick Lee not only is a good story teller, he's a good writer. I'm always impressed by original similes, and Lee has several that caught my attention:
* town sliding past like a tanker in the fog * something flickered through Marsh's expression... He looked like a chess player assessing some new arrangement of pieces...
One trait I DON'T like in a book is when a publisher compares their writer's character to the incomparable Jack Reacher. That's like a contestant on the Voice singing a Barbara Streisand song--you'll never be that good so why bring up that level of accomplishment?
Overall, a great read. I would have finished the entire book in one day, but time just ran out. I tried.(less)
Kerry' Wilkinson's "Locked In" (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is a fun read, with an enticing detective character and a good enough though fairly common p...moreKerry' Wilkinson's "Locked In" (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is a fun read, with an enticing detective character and a good enough though fairly common plot. Brit Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel tries to track down a killer--which quickly becomes a serial murderer--who leaves no visible evidence of how s/he got into and out of the murder scene. It takes a lot of twists and false starts before Jessica can uncover the truth, which turns out to be too close to home for her health.
The best part of this story is Jessica Daniel. She's likeable, human, real, what you want a detective to be, with a dash of humor and passion thrown in. She is new to her position and wants desperately to prove she's up to the job, but runs into endless problems in her effort to do that. Wilkinson has a nice storytelling voice that's friendly and intimate enough to make readers want to follow along on Jessica's journey, despite her lack of creativity in detective work. She seems to stumble into results rather than intuit them. You'd never attribute brilliance to her bag of murder-solving tricks, but she has rigor, energy, and commitment to her job, enough that she is able to catch a big clue when it's lobbed her way.
Be prepared for lots of subplots. Besides the mass murderer, there's:
* a mole in the police station who's telling police secrets to a reporter * the reporter's love life--even a few scenes in his Point of view * Jessica's roommate's love life which skyrockets * Jessica's love life--non-existent with one aborted effort to change that * Jessica's mentor's police problems
None of these are resolved--just the main plot--so we're nicely set up for a sequel to what is clearly the start of a series (or if Wilkinson hadn't planned it that way, he missed a good bet).
Overall, the story drags a bit, with the police a bit dunderheaded (I don't for the life of me know why they didn't come up with at least a few ways a murderer could get in and out of a locked room. Their biggest effort was to track down who had keys). Several scenes I found myself wondering why they were even included (unless, of course, its a set-up for a later book in the series). More than once, there was too much retelling of events rather than putting readers in the action.
But, in the end, Jessica is a good enough character to keep my interest. I'd recommend it as an airplane read.(less)
Gao Jianqun's fascinating novel, Tongwan City (CN Times Books 2013) is the story of the end of the Hun era. It is written as a novel, but feels so clo...moreGao Jianqun's fascinating novel, Tongwan City (CN Times Books 2013) is the story of the end of the Hun era. It is written as a novel, but feels so close to reality it could rightly be called creative non-fiction. I know nothing about that era--Attila the Hun is the extent--so I had to do some research to determine if this was more fiction than reality or vice-verse. In fact, what little information is readily available supports Jianqun's recounting. What he does well is fill in the blanks lost to history.
This is the story of two seminal individuals in Chinese history--Helian Bobo who re-establishes Hun supremacy over Asia only to lose it, and the Buddhist monk Kumarajiva who spreads Buddhism throughout the land. Jianqun's simple summation of the two--one good one evil--doesn't begin to describe their affect on events that swirl around them. Knowing them now as I do, I wonder how any single era could provide temporal space to two such opposite life forces: One renowned for violence and brutality, the other for peace and tranquility, a powerful juxtaposition of their purpose on earth. Still they cross paths only once, and that time in passing. No wonder it takes half the book before we truly meet both men.
Jianqun's writer's voice, as befits a tale of this magnitude, is unique. I felt the world of Ancient China seeping into my being with each page turn until finally, I was drenched--and I got it. This is a deeply complicated culture, far different from today's worlds. Jianqun accomplishes this assault on my cerebral senses with techniques I rarely read in fiction. He includes lots of--really, much more than I've ever read in any other fiction book--authorial intrusion where he jumps into the story to discuss research on the history of the times and gives us a peak into what is going to happen later. Truly, I couldn't tell how much of this was real or his imagination. Oddly, I didn't find it distracting, more like his personal storytelling style.
Besides history and rich characters, the book has some great horse scenes (the Huns loved their horses):
"When [the horse] ran, its mane ran down its long elegant neck like a fair lady's hair. A lock reached over its forehead and hung there like bangs... Its four muscular legs, each a finely-tuned symphony of muscle packing massive energy, generated a grand impetus that propelled the strong body to move ahead."
One note: This is a stunningly noble story which at times seems poorly served by the translation from Jianqun's native Chinese to English:
"Out of respect for the new life, let us apply some restraint and get the story rolling."
Overall, though, for historic fiction fans, this is a must-read. Just open it knowing it will read like no other book you've ever read--and be ready for a surprise ending.(less)
Michael Graham's "Google Apps Meets Common Core" (Corwin 2013) is exactly what I hoped it would be. As a teacher, there couldn't be two bigger topics...moreMichael Graham's "Google Apps Meets Common Core" (Corwin 2013) is exactly what I hoped it would be. As a teacher, there couldn't be two bigger topics than 'Google Apps for Education' and 'Common Core'. Juxtaposing the two instantly caught my attention. My only question was whether Graham would be up to the task.
Graham does a great job of going through all the parts of Google Apps, showing steps with lots of pictures, so I can almost walk through them in the book without trundling over to my computer. He starts with a pithy summary of Common Core and then goes through each tool--Docs, Spreadsheet, Presentations, and more.. He also provides quick, educational uses of each piece--sometimes a full lesson plan. Then there are the nuggets that make it worth reading even if nothing else catches your attention. Like learning how to embed Google Docs into a website, blog, wiki (page 34). I used that the first day I got the book.
Graham has a good writing voice. It's clear, able to simplify what could be technical geekie points that I want and need to know as a teacher. By the time I finished the book, I felt a lot better about aligning to Common Core and using Google Apps.The only part I was a bit disappointed in was the 'companion website'--not at all up to what the book delivered. Hopefully, he'll work on that over the coming months.(less)
I was excited to read Chelsea Cain's latest thriller, "Let Me Go". Cain has a great reputation as a skillful writer in the thriller genre and has alre...moreI was excited to read Chelsea Cain's latest thriller, "Let Me Go". Cain has a great reputation as a skillful writer in the thriller genre and has already published five Archie Sheridan novels. This could be a tremendous find for me (I read approximately two books a week so it takes a lot to keep me supplied). The first line was perfect--
"Archie Sheridan had a paper birthday hat on his head and six bullets in his front pocket."
What's not to like about a story that begins that way?
In a nutshell, this is about a detective named Archie Sheridan, a murderer named Gretchen Lowell, and an undercover operation that is starting to go bad. It's become difficult for our hero, Archie, and his fellow police to tell if who they think are good guys are really good and if the bad guys are as bad as they seem. All very confusing because people are dying and others in the crosshairs are Archie's friends. What makes it more intriguing is that Gretchen, who Archie put away after she captured and sliced him up, has escaped and is headed Archie's way. She has a 'thing' for him. Sure, she might torture him to within inches of death, but she won't kill him. Which in the end is what saves his life (I don't think that gives anything away--you probably don't think the hero of the series gets killed off).
In my experience, there aren't a lot of series with such unique main characters. Archie is a detective and Gretchen is a brilliant, bombshell beautiful serial killer. Have you ever read a series like that before?
If that doesn't get your attention, how about romance? Steamy romance, a lot of it for a thriller. To me, it was almost gratuitous, irrelevant to the plot, there to up the ratings and get readers to buy the book. You know that old saying about action stories--if the plot slows down, throw in a fight? Chelsea Cain throws in a lusty scene. If you like Danielle Steele, you'll like this approach.
Distractions aside, the story is well plotted, characters well-developed, and the ending is macabre. That's what earned the 4 stars.(less)
I loved Rachel Abbot's thriller, The Back Road (Thomas & Mercer 2013). It's the story of two girls (Ellie and Leo) thrown together as siblings of...moreI loved Rachel Abbot's thriller, The Back Road (Thomas & Mercer 2013). It's the story of two girls (Ellie and Leo) thrown together as siblings of a polygamist father. When Leo's mom dies, Ellie's mom is forced to raise both girls which she does in Leo's case with hate and anger, an attitude that gets even worse when the Dad disappears. Leo leaves as soon as she can manage it, returning to the house only after her step mother's death. Both sisters attempt to move on, but are haunted by a miasma of memories. Life refuses to be easy for them. By Chapter One, we know Ellie is being stalked by a man who thinks she loves him, His unwanted attentions begin to unravel the carefully constructed worlds both girls have created to protect themselves from their past.
The story has lots of damaged good people, intrigue, the de rigeur damaged ex-cop and woman-who-swears-off-men-who-falls-for-handsome-ex-cop. It has enough sub-plots to keep even the most distractable reader entertained.
But it took me a while to get to 'love it'. It starts powerfully, but depressing, with two unnamed girls hiding in a closet while their mum takes care of business in the bedroom. When one sister starts choking, the other decides it's better they are discovered than one of them dies. The next scene is with Ellie, paralyzed with fear over her stalker. Do you see what I mean? Depressing, all of it. But, Rachel Abbot is a powerful writer, deft with words and a master at unpeeling the plot little by little. I kept reading. Soon, around page 100, despite my natural misgivings about change and new authors, I'd reached that literary tipping point where you either love a book or toss it. I was hooked and remained so for the balance of the 470 pages.
Not to say Rachel Abbot was perfect in her delivery. The setting is Britain, but too often the character's voices are decidedly American. I just finished Val McDermid's Tony Hill series and fell in love with Brit speak and their colloquialisms. Rachel Abbot has enough to tell the story, but not enough to keep me in the setting. And one other nit-pick: Abbot spends a bit too much time summarizing past plot points. She's afraid we readers will forget something important, but we won't, at least not enough to justify the constant retelling. That's what earned it 4 instead of 5 stars. The reviews noticeably slowed the plot down, something that isn't good in a thriller.
That's it, though. Believe me, I'll be reading the rest of her books. You should too.(less)
Emma Jane Holloway's mystery/thriller, "A Study in Silks", is fabulous. Thank goodness it is the first of three in the Baskerville Affair. The plot is...moreEmma Jane Holloway's mystery/thriller, "A Study in Silks", is fabulous. Thank goodness it is the first of three in the Baskerville Affair. The plot is common enough--murder in a wealthy home, police are stumped (or ignore it), powerful enemies want the murder to stay hidden, amateur detective digs around until it's solved--at the risk of her own life, girl falls in love with TWO boys. Yeah, you've read dozens like that.
Here's what makes Holloway's story different:
* the amateur detective (Evilena Cooper) is Sherlock Homes' gorgeous niece, which means he makes a few critical cameos * Evilena has a storied past--which includes, magic, common roots, secrets that could ruin her in the wealthy society she wishes to be part of * Evilena has magical powers, part of which are a cute mouse and a sharp-tongued bird who add comic relief at just the right times * it's set in Victorian England in a bit of an alternate reality where Steam Power is King
From the beginning, I can feel 1800's England--the clothing, bustling life, speech style. Holloway puts me there. The characters are multi-layered and believable. The plot is richly-woven and intricate. And then she mixes in a touch of sci fi with futuristic devices, and a sprinkle of magic, to create a hybrid genre that Amazon settled on classifying as 'mystery-thriller.
The only part that annoyed me was the temporal arrangement of the early chapters. The story kept jumping around as Holloway tried to share the actions of the various main characters. I didn't so much get used to it as it ended when the plot was in full swing.
Although the story takes 549 pages to tell, the last few pages make it clear this is only part one. Thank goodness. I need to see what happens to Evilena. And Mouse. And Bird...(less)
If you are tired of the typical thrillers from the usual voices, read Alaric Hunt's debut novel, "Cuts Through Bone" ( Minotaur Books 2013). Aside fro...moreIf you are tired of the typical thrillers from the usual voices, read Alaric Hunt's debut novel, "Cuts Through Bone" ( Minotaur Books 2013). Aside from the fact that the story deals with detectives, murdered innocents, and the good guys are flawed, there's nothing usual about this book.
The story deals with a gritty older detective who's breaking in a raw new female partner. As luck would have it, a serial murder falls in their laps so her learning curve accelerates and we get to see the many tricks of the trade that made our seasoned PI--Guthrie--survive as long as he has. He is sharp, school-of-hard-knocks smart, which he probably got from the author himself who's serving a life sentence in South Carolina. The plot, too, is smart, and complicated. Hunt cleverly peals it away like an onion, never too fast that you miss the fun or too slow that you want to stop.
That's not what will make you read this book, as appealing as the two characters and the plot are. It's the author's voice. It's so authentic, I don't know what he's saying 10% of the time. His scene descriptions put me right there, crawling through the sewers, sweltering in the New York heat.
So what don't I like? There are a few complaints I could make about most young new writers. First, the story's choppy. Part of that is because Hunt's writing style is jumpy. Not stream of consciousness, but definitely not smooth. He tries to weave the backstory into the plot and runs into a few bumps. Second, Guthrie has an astounding number of friends who owe him favors. Every time the story hits a snag, Guthrie comes up with a friend in high places who bales them out. Is that realistic? Maybe. Not sure. Third, there are oddly-phrased sentences. See if you agree:
* Guthrie's shot squeezed in between the lighter bullets like a zesty piece of roast beef sandwiched between two slices of plain light bread * "You were doing something there that could get somebody shut up." * As the afternoon declined... * Steady running earned grudging passage from the trees...
By the way, I love the backstory on the title. I won't give it away, but think 'rich', 'historic', and 'worth waiting for'.
Because of newbie mistakes, I'd probably give this 3.5, but that's not available, so I'll round up. Alaric--you owe me half a point in your next book.(less)
No Show (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is Simon Wood's sixteenth (or so) thriller. This is the third I've read (including Paying the Piper and Terminated)...moreNo Show (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is Simon Wood's sixteenth (or so) thriller. This is the third I've read (including Paying the Piper and Terminated) and they're all fast-paced with appealing characters and clever plot lines. His voice is always friendly. You feel comfortable with his characters. They seem real, like you could have a drink with them or trust them with one of your problems. This is no exception.
No Show is the story of Terry Sheffield's nightmare. He's a Brit who weds an American after barely knowing her, moves to the US to start their life as a couple only to have her stand him up at the airport. The story deals with his efforts to maneuver through this strange land while searching for the woman he married, along the way wondering if he really ever knew this beautiful, passionate woman.
Who could not be grabbed by the terror of arriving in a foreign nation where people drive on the wrong side of the street, measure in inches rather than the world standard of centimeters, and speak with a quirky toneless accent? Where do you start when you have no idea that the DMV is a rat race (in Britain it's done online), police are suspicious of guys with green cards and you have no idea who to trust and who to kick to the curb? That's all in Terry's first day. It gets worse as the plot races forward.
My only objection is the ending is kind of weak. The 'why' is a tad mushy and too shallow for the depth of the story. Don't get me wrong though--that won't stop me from buying Wood's next book. But it is the reason I gave it four stars instead of five. Overall, you won't confuse this book with what Oprah would define as a life-defining moment, but it will be worth the time you commit and you'll come out with a few new ideas on what to do if you are ever stranded in a foreign land without friends, a phone, or a car key.(less)
Dan Mayland's sequel to "The Colonel's Mistake", "The Leveling" (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is a worthy follow-up. The plot follow a favorite thread of...moreDan Mayland's sequel to "The Colonel's Mistake", "The Leveling" (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is a worthy follow-up. The plot follow a favorite thread of mine--spy/agent/SEAL struggles to start over as a professor/shop keeper/loving mate, only to be wrenched back into the treachery of his former life by forces beyond his control. In this case Mark Sava is a CIA agent-turned-professor living in the questionable city of Baku, Azerbaijan. He thinks he's done it--remade himself complete with serious girlfriend ignorant of his past, non-CIA friends, and memories that don't include blood and butchery.
Until fate intervenes and he is thrown out of his adopted country about the same time John Decker, a friend from his spy days, goes missing, presumably kidnapped. No one is trying to find Decker so Sava teams up with another ex-CIA operative to find him.
The plot isn't terribly original. What makes this a five-star read is how Mayland writes--the plot twists, character development, and setting knowledge that no one short of a man who's lived that part of the world in too-close relief would know. Tell me that you don't see exactly what Mayland wants you to with this perfect collection of words:
"Beyond the windows, daily life in the city of Baku played like a silent film [through soundproof windows]. A dirty minibus belching diesel fumes and packed with people lurched by. An old man in a three-piece suit slowly painted the trunk of a sidewalk tree white. A lady in high heels and a miniskirt chatted on a cell phone while a withered Gypsy woman in bright clothes swept the street."
What a masterful job of building Mark Sava's character--caring, intelligent, ex-CIA so notices everything, empathetic for the world he inhabits. Or how about this:
He thought about how Buddhist monks would spend days constructing an intricate sand painting, only to destroy it right after they'd finished. The exercise allegedly helped them embrace impermanence. Which was exactly what he needed to do.
This description shows up on page 51. Tell me you can resist a character who knows how Buddhist monks train?
One detractor: Lots of flashbacks, early in the book. Mayland makes them work because they aren't narrative and reflective. They're action-packed and pithy. I can handle that.
Overall, if you're crunched for time over the summer, this is not the book you want to skip.(less)