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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

“This book about rivers is as fascinating as it’s beautifully written.”—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and Upheaval


A “fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring” natural history of rivers and their complex and ancient relationship with human civilization (Elizabeth Kolbert).

Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of human civilization. They have opened frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions. They promote life, forge peace, grant power, and can capriciously destroy everything in their path. Even today, rivers remain a powerful global force — one that is more critical than ever to our future.

In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith explores the timeless yet vastly underappreciated relationship between rivers and civilization as we know it. Rivers are of course important in many practical ways (water supply, transportation, sanitation). But the full breadth of their profound influence on the way we live is less obvious. Rivers define and transcend international borders, forcing cooperation between nations. Huge volumes of river water are used to produce energy, raw commodities, and food. Wars, politics, and demography are transformed by their devastating floods. The territorial claims of nations, their cultural and economic ties to each other, and the migrations and histories of their peoples trace back to rivers, river valleys, and the topographic divides they carve upon the world.

Beautifully told and expansive in scope, Rivers of Power reveals how and why rivers have so profoundly influenced our civilization, and examines the importance this vast, arterial power holds for our present, past, and future.

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our WorldRivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Loved the opening. This book was super insightful and covered a wide variety of influences and the impact that rivers have on the world. There was so much I learned from this book and I liked the amount on detail overall.

This book was very well-researched which I really appreciated.

There were times I thought the organization was not as strong as it could have been. But I could see the challenge in deciding how chapters/concepts would be organized. Choosing from chronological, geographical region, topical, etc… There was much overlap to work through, also my feelings about the order may be in part because of the ARC I received.

Sometimes the writing took on a journalistic approach, sometimes a personal opinion piece, other times some facts and connections read sort of like an 8th grade book report. The facts and personal experiences themselves were certainly compelling, but the writing kind of droned on sometimes. Like the writing got away. Away on some bunny trails. Facts were interesting but a tad misplaced on occasion as it went into the depths of history/current events that were somewhat related but contained unnecessary supporting information/random associations that I was less inclined to care about for what I really wanted to read about in this book as far as the continuation of the topics go.

However I most definitely discovered some fascinating information about rivers and I think anyone would enjoy learning about these rivers of power and how they have shaped and continue to shape our lives.

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ARCs Art Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

You Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green

A few years ago curator Sarah Urist Green left her office in the basement of an art museum to travel and visit a diverse range of artists, asking them to share prompts that relate to their own ways of working. The result is You Are an Artist, a journey of creation through which you’ll invent imaginary friends, sort books, declare a cause, construct a landscape, find your band, and become someone else (or at least try). Your challenge is to filter these assignments through the lens of your own experience and make art that reflects the world as you see it.

You don’t have to know how to draw well, stretch a canvas, or mix a paint colour that perfectly matches that of a mountain stream. This book is for anyone who wants to make art, regardless of experience level. The only materials you’ll need are what you already have on hand or can source for free.

You Are an Artist brings together more than 50 assignments gathered from some of the most innovative creators working today, including Sonya Clark, Michelle Grabner, The Guerrilla Girls, Fritz Haeg, Pablo Helguera, Nina Katchadourian, Toyin Ojih Odutola, J. Morgan Puett, Dread Scott, Alec Soth, Gillian Wearing, and many others.

You Are an ArtistYou Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a fantastic book! I’d recommend it to anyone, any age. It would make a great gift.

Especially during these times of staying at home, for homeschool parents, teachers, as well any individual experiencing creative blocks within any type of media, anyone looking to exercise their artistic mind and skills, really anyone who wants to tap into an expression of themselves through art, whether you’re feeling super creative or going through a creative block, even a dry spell.

As far as content was concerned, it was out of the box, almost quirky, sometimes the bizarre, the peculiar, the types of art and art exercises I wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to make or decorate my house with or be typically drawn to. With that said; however, the art exercises focused on the actual doing of challenges, rather than an in-depth review of art interpretation which I think was unique to the world of art books and one that I definitely could use more time learning to appreciate and enjoy. And I had a blast doing them!

I found the projects in this book bringing out my imagination, much more hidden and less explored areas of my art perspective and a great creative outlet for my life in general.

I should also mention, and it was a real plus to the projects contained in this book, that you wouldn’t have to go out and buy tons of art supplies to complete the projects. You can pretty much use any items you’d typically find in any junk drawer in the kitchen. Paper, scissors, pen/pencil, and also easily use your phone for any of the photo activities.

The activities brought out ideas, rich sentiment, variations of emotion, which would otherwise be unexpressed. Some of the more unconventional projects contained in this book, combined with the background of select artists, made each exercise thoroughly enjoyable, insightful, and stimulated my mind.

I enjoyed the facts about each artist who was mentioned. Somewhat of an encyclopedia-type approach, such as demographical data, like when and where they were born, but it did not discuss their influences, accomplishments, or personal/artistic challenges in-depth. Which was fine. Perhaps we will see some of this in a subsequent book, which would be awesome, along with some of the psychology behind the routes toward finding self-creativity/reflection for those who may want to explore personal style and what types of media may express or suit an artist’s voice in the way they’d like to achieve. Or which ones would be the best exercises for them to do on more than one occasions and how to vary them to bring out even more of the elements behind the reasoning of including them in the book.

I hope you get to check out this wonderfully fun book! You can see some of the exercises I did on my website and I will be adding more over time. Be sure to share which ones you did in the comments, I’d love to see your project creations!

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A select few exercises from the book.

Blindfolding myself and drawing my home. This, my childhood bedroom.

I had several decorative phases and I rearranged my furniture a lot as a child. Taking out drawers of clothes to lighten the load, lying on my back, and pushing everything around with the strength of my legs and feet.

I had a heavy furniture set. A 4-post Oak wood twin bed with matching dressers. One tall, one shorter with a huge mirror. The black, metal pulls were a decorative, almost whimsical, paisley type shape, hanging down like an elaborate door knocker. They rattled ridiculously every time a drawer was opened.

During my purple phase, I had lavender carpet. The bedspread, the pillows, the curtains, all matching flowy, almost sheer, lightweight, white background with tiny lavender heart print. It was my dream bedroom decor, one I had picked out from the Sears magazine. Barbie and Popples wall decals. The 80s were great years to be a child. My drawings haven’t changed much since then.

Blindfolded left, open-eyed right.

Which one is more expressive?

Perspective exercise.

These are photos of my mother’s purple irises in a few different perspectives.

Raiding the fridge.

Jalapeño poppers, need I say more? Oh my goodness these things are the best. My recipe for Stuffed Jalapeños (otherwise known as Jalapeño poppers, though this version is not battered and fried), can be found here.

So for the artistic exercise, I’d say the dramatic potential to everyday surroundings is captured in the photograph of which I took of two of them (I ate the 3rd early, leaving an oily rainbow glistening in its absence) and cooked them in the oven using a shallow variation of the classic cast iron dish.

DSC06444

Let’s take a moment to talk about cast iron pans.

If you’ve ever had a set of well-seasoned cast iron pans, you’ll know how they speak for themselves. Passed down from generations. From grandparents or a good yard sale. Shiny, the dark color of iron, consistently uniform and smooth. Distributing heat so evenly for cooking through and better browning which is the mastery of cooking. Fried fish, chicken, sautéed asparagus, pancakes, cornbread, anything tempura. Stove to oven, oven to stove. The best ones you can fry an egg on, flipping it over with ease. No catching, no broken yolks, no messy unintentional mix of crispy edges and mushy scramble.

They are the embodiment of a sincere human quality.

Well-loved, they’ve seen a lot. As individuals, they get better with time and their true contribution to this age’s wisdom is that as a whole, they also have collective longevity, having been in production since the 5th century B.C.

The context is the yummiest thing one could ever eat. The aroma of peppers and sharp, richness of baked cheese. Opening the oven door with a whoosh, a hot puff toward my face. The best comfort food on the planet. Golden tops of filled depressions, surrounded by slightly shriveled edges. Backlit by the jarring oven light, carefully sliding them out from the center rack. Oh the anticipated heaviness of iron, I gently tip the pan to let them settle on my plate.

“So unbelievably scrumptious” I say.

The heat from the ribs and seeds I left in each half. Tender roasted pepper flesh and more bite effort into the tougher, almost earthen skin. Such a contrast with the mingling creaminess, the tanginess of cream cheese, bits of fresh, pungent garlic, a sprinkle of parmesan, the perfect delicate balance of saltiness.

A path I’ve never been on before.

Here is a photo of a nearby pond from an edge I had never been on before. The quietest place possible. Absorbing the silence.

In the center of the flower, farthest back, crouches a metallic-turquiose fly. It flew away before I could get it in focus. I love the beautiful sheen of these common green bottle flies.

DSC06459

And just for fun, a photograph of a winged-insect I saw in my mother’s yard.

I just love morning light and the shapes I was seeing.

DSC06440

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Art Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Mastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for Photographers by Richard Garvey-Williams

What makes a great photo? Flicking through the pages of most popular photography magazines you might get the impression that there’s only one rule of importance – ‘the rule of thirds’. Indeed it appears that some will judge the merit of a photograph based almost solely on this. Rarely do you hear discussion about ‘visual weight’, ‘balance’, ‘negative space’, ‘depth’ and so on.

Author and professional photographer Richard Garvey-Williams argues that success lies in a combination of four elements: an impactful subject; dynamic composition; effective use of lighting; and, perhaps the most crucial, ability to invoke an emotional response in the viewer.

Citing examples gleaned from a study of history – the Ancient Greeks’ Golden Rule; Fibonacci’s mathematical ratio; and the principles known as the Gestalt theory – the author analyses the concepts, rules and guidelines that define successful composition in photography and offers practical guidance to achieving great results.

Mastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for PhotographersMastering Composition: The Definitive Guide for Photographers by Richard Garvey-Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book on photography. I read this one for The Bite Shot Bookclub and really gleaned a lot from it.

It was super comprehensive which I devoured every morsel of, especially since it included vocabulary such as emergence, reification, multistability, amongst others, which I had no idea how to construct certain elements to make them come together to tell such a meaningful story.

I like how it showed side-by-side examples of cropped and uncropped images. The theoretical concepts were well explained. I really liked how it pointed out that in some instances, neither style was wrong but may be dependent on whether the photographer wanted to convey sense of space or sense of depth.

I enjoyed the bits about image manipulation and how to relate them to the interesting concepts of right and left, balance, and overall shape.

I think I would like to try photographing more shadows. The ideas explored about them in this book was great.

There is a lot packed into this book and I’d say this would be a foundational read for every photographer.

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ARCs Art Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Photography Rules Essential Dos and Don’ts from Great Photographers by Paul Lowe

Over 150 essential mantras for anyone interested in taking good pictures. 

In Photography Rules, Paul Lowe (expert photographer and lecturer) guides you through over 150 bite-sized dos and don’ts from the likes of Dorothea Lange, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Rankin and Richard Avedon. Whether you’re a complete beginner using your iPhone, looking to improve your DSLR skills or are already a professional, this book will give you insider tips inspired by the greatest photographers from history as well as original pieces of advice from some of the most well-respected living photographers.

Each of the pithy entries will combine a specific rule and a supporting photograph or quote with commentary from the author on how best to put the advice into practice. Chapters include:

Making Photographs: Practical tips for taking great photographs, covering genre, composition, operational function, working with your subject, lighting, post-production and printBeing a Photographer: Insider guidance on attitude, creativity, understanding photography and finding your purposeProfessional Practice: Dos and don’ts about being a professional, working with clients, marketing yourself, developing your career, making money and collaborations With succinct, accessible and engaging entries, expert advice from the author, and original quotes from the some of the greatest living photographers – readers can either dip in at random or read religiously for lessons in how to produce photographs they’re proud of. This is the perfect book for students, amateurs or professional photographers looking to improve their skills and find inspiration. 

Photography Rules: Essential Dos and Don'ts from Great PhotographersPhotography Rules: Essential Dos and Don’ts from Great Photographers by Paul Lowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was the perfect book for me. It met me right where I was at. I’d recommend it to any photographer with similar sentiments to me as it provided a unique, thoughtful compilation of the great advice and a well-tailored focus of image examples out there.

It was refreshing to read and brought a distinguished and inspirational element to the photography section of my bookshelf.

It wasn’t a sell on equipment branding and specs, or a historical timeline of photography through the ages, an exhaustive technical how to, a recycled earrangement of seen all, heard photography aspects, nor was it just exclusive insight into one author’s personal experiences.

Those things certainly all have their place in photography but I found this particular book to be an insightful, accessible compilation piece, having taken the main rules of photography (both creative and technical) and concisely honing in on the main driving points, taking the best of each concept as it displayed advice and an image example of each.

From that standpoint, the author’s foreword discussed the meaning and principles behind the rules as incorporated into the title and content which I really appreciated since it clarified questions that I had. I think it was excellent advice to recommend integrating rules into your practice and break them one at a time to see what new things you can create.

So from that, each rule was thoughtfully curated, showing how they may or may not be broken to create compelling images.

I myself, feel I haven’t taken the time to be able to admire and understand the works by photographers. So I really enjoyed the quotes, the discussions, the theoretical concepts explained by each as they showcased some of their most powerful and iconic photos.

Perhaps it may be easier for readers to decide if this book is for them by telling about me.

To give some perspective, I have been taking photographs on and off for the better part of my life, mostly at my own amusement. I’m familiar with film and digital. Shooting mostly scenes of landscapes, wildlife, flowers, books, and recipes.

I have had limited formal training and never really kept up with the digital era and post processing achievements of today. I also haven’t kept up with the notoriety and skillset of photographers in recognition of their most famous works and the artistry/techniques they bring to the table.

However for the past year and a half I’ve sought to better my photography and challenge myself.

Concepts I really took away: not shying away from motion blur and better celebrating the movement to show the energy of a scene, choosing a subject regardless of figures, and definitely paying attention to lines and lighting more.

Also to break some terrible habits I’ve developed. Since not having been on social media for 6 months, especially not having been on Instagram, I feel more compelled not to tailor images to the constraints of the platform anymore. I guess I didn’t realize how much I catered my images to it with its square tiling, cutting off of margins, leaving me to frame images with an extra bumper of a gap and dead centering.

Techniques I’d like to try as a result of reading this book include: using the tripod more, practicing more slow shutter techniques, and trying a hand at photo composites.

I also liked the vast overview of concepts especially from a journalistic point of view since my knowledge and experience with that is minimal. I also liked how this book was organized and was easy to understand. Tidbits on referential connection, work submissions, publishing, ethics, captioning, working with models, even working in traumatic situations and image management were wonderful bonuses in this book.

Very enjoyable, I learned a lot!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.’ – Benjamin Disraeli

Today we are aware of the habits, thoughts and feelings of the rich, because historians write about them endlessly. The poor are largely ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are forgotten.

Here, skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the ordinary people who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Born into poverty, their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death – the last usually premature.

Wryly told tales of deprivation, exploitation, sickness, mortality, warfare and religious oppression all fill these pages. Discover the story of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays before putting them to work. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the clutches of the Black Death only to be thwarted by lordly landowners. Follow as hundreds of children descend into the inky depths of hazardous coal mines.

On the flip side of this darkness, discover how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building, how sparrow’s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews, and how extra money was made by mixing tea with dried elder leaves. Courtship, marriage, sport, entertainment, education and, occasionally, achievement briefly illuminated the drudgery; these were the milestones that brought meaning to ordinary lives.

The oppressed and disempowered have lived on the very outskirts of recorded history, suffering, sacrificing and struggling to survive. The greatest insult is that they are forgotten; buried often with no gravestone to mark their passing and no history book to celebrate their efforts. Until now. The Peasants’ Revolting Lives explores and celebrates the lives of those who endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

The Peasants' Revolting LivesThe Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was fascinating! I’d recommend it to anyone. After reading this book I feel especially well prepared for a night of trivia. It was incredibly perceptive as it explored daily life and personal practices, living situations, origins of certain folklore, and social implications of peasantry, leading up to their revolt.

I loved the beginning question about choosing to live in any time in history and the answers that followed.

In referencing the Golden Age, comparing its perils to today, it was an enlightening exploration of how the impoverished experienced a certain way of life that only illuminated today’s strides in addressing social injustice, occupational hazards, sanitation, animal cruelty, entertainment, death, marriage, childbirth, child labor, legislation, literacy, technology, educational systems, captivity, and even sports.

Occupations themselves, such as matchstick girls, stood out to be one of the most shocking to me as far as risk for safety is concerned especially because of how far we have come in this world. It really gave a lot of perspective, respect, and value to our advancement in civilization.

The writing style was upfront clear and honest which I liked and further emphasized the very matter of fact tone and subject matter. The content showed a stark contrast as far as how humanity and social norms in general have come, which also lended itself to some humor since some of the concepts back in the day were quite absurd. There were bits of personal interjections that were lighthearted and confirming to my feelings which made this an amusing book to read.

I won’t comment too much on the writing in more detail or the organization itself because I did receive an ARC that was more in somewhat of an outline form than a final, cohesive piece. I do think from that standpoint the final form will likely be supportive enough to deliver such great content.

The quotes from historical figures and summarizations of points in time brought so much enrichment and credibility. References to classic literature, various philosophers, and playwrights such as Shakespeare was incredibly satisfying to me.

I think that each topic could also be expanded to provide further historical context and rationales of the time in a series type form, so I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction

Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams

From winter candy and spring quackers to summer’s scarlet farewell and autumn reveilles, noted nature writer Ted Williams invites readers along on a year-long immersion in the wild and fleeting moments of the natural world. This beautifully crafted collection of short, seasonal essays combines in-depth information with evocative descriptions of nature’s marvels and mysteries.

Williams explains the weather conditions that bring out the brightest reds in autumn leaves, how hungry wolf spiders catch their prey, and why American goldfinches wait until late July or August to build their nests.

In the tradition of Thoreau, Carson, and Leopold, Ted Williams’s writing stands as a testament to the delicate balance of nature’s resilience and fragility, and inspires readers to experience the natural world for themselves and to become advocates for protecting and preserving the amazing diversity and activity found there.

Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray WhaleEarth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Storey Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a relaxing read that gave me a sort of feeling of gratitude and peace. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially nature lovers and anyone looking to unwind and learn a bit about plants, insects, and animals in the process.

The cover and title drew me in, piquing my interest by bringing back memories of reading the Farmer’s Almanac on my grandparents coffee table. I loved learning about the life cycle of species and their contribution to the circle of life, even folklore, superstitions, the rationales behind them, and it was all well-suited to bring such awesome wonder contained in this book.

The writing was steady, poetic at times. It read like I was a nature observer on the ideal expedition where time was not pressed, allowing me to take it all in. With the organizational divide into seasons, the descriptions of critters, plant life, and their habitats allowed the content to really highlight the most interesting and sometimes humorous attributes that made each one stand out in the environment.

And I really appreciated that the author did not dwell on perilous, doomsday, global warming issues, but rather pointed out species that have since dwindled in number and celebrated ones that have made a comeback.

Loved the delicate sketches. I would have loved even more, even just simple schematics.

I would like to see another one like this, even a series, perhaps specific to region.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Childrens Educational Featured Nonfiction

Ocean Anatomy The Curious Parts & Pieces of the World under the Sea by Julia Rothman

Julia Rothman’s best-selling illustrated Anatomy series takes a deep dive into the wonders of the sea with Ocean Anatomy. Follow Rothman’s inquisitive mind and engaging artwork along shorelines, across the open ocean, and below the waves to explore the hows and whys of the watery universe, from how the world’s oceans formed to why the sea is salty. Oceanic phenomena such as rogue waves, anatomical profiles of sea creatures from crustacean to cetacean, surveys of seafaring vessels and lighthouses, and the impact of plastic and warming water temperatures are just part of this compendium of curiosities that will entertain and educate readers of all ages. 

Ocean Anatomy: The Curious Parts  and Pieces of the World under the SeaOcean Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the World under the Sea by Julia Rothman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Storey Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was a fantastic book! With beautiful illustrations, easy to read, yet adorably stylistic fonts, and organization/layout that was on spot on with fascinating facts about all the various ocean animals, terrain, types of sand, waves, and the anatomy of the beach. It even included interesting tid bits about differences and impact of fishing methodology, types of lighthouses, and ocean vessels.

It was very well-thought out. And just when I thought the book and all the comprehensiveness it covers was over, there were well-worded ocean statistics, cute little surprise “in the news” newspaper clipping illustrations, and recommended reading at the end!

I’d highly recommend it for personal and public libraries and for all ages, children through adult! I am looking forward to sharing this one during story time!

*UPDATE: The children absolutely loved it!

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Audiobooks Biography Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the total eradication of poverty from the world. In 1983, against the advice of banking and government officials, Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans. Grameen Bank, based on the belief that credit is a basic human right, not the privilege of a fortunate few, now provides over 2.5 billion dollars of micro-loans to more than two million families in rural Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of Yunus’s clients are women, and repayment rates are near 100 percent. Around the world, micro-lending programs inspired by Grameen are blossoming, with more than three hundred programs established in the United States alone.

Banker to the Poor is Muhammad Yunus’s memoir of how he decided to change his life in order to help the world’s poor. In it he traces the intellectual and spiritual journey that led him to fundamentally rethink the economic relationship between rich and poor, and the challenges he and his colleagues faced in founding Grameen. He also provides wise, hopeful guidance for anyone who would like to join him in “putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long.” The definitive history of micro-credit direct from the man that conceived of it, Banker to the Poor is necessary and inspirational reading for anyone interested in economics, public policy, philanthropy, social history, and business.

Muhammad Yunus was born in Bangladesh and earned his Ph.D. in economics in the United States at Vanderbilt University, where he was deeply influenced by the civil rights movement. He still lives in Bangladesh, and travels widely around the world on behalf of Grameen Bank and the concept of micro-credit.

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World PovertyBanker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Ray Porter which I’d highly recommend to anyone.

Super eye-opening!

This book is all about context and I loved that the author shared his life experiences and perspective with us. The entrepreneurial spirit portrayed in this book was amazing as it expanded on the ideas of seeing a need, having vision, satisfying personal curiosity, navigation of a unique academic/career path, all in the historical context of the country of Bangladesh gaining independence, human progress, and solving issues of poverty.

I really sought out to increase my social conscience with this one. It went into detail on topics that the people of Bangladesh have faced including famine, genocide, people-centered problems, misguided development, exploitation, suppressed creativity, human trust, personal relationships, behavioral change, women borrowers, how women and men differ in the socioeconomic realm, women’s issues related to hunger and poverty, the historic insecure social standing of Bengali women, and even their resiliency in natural disasters as a country.

Issues with foreign aid, the balance of economic and social power, and discussions about the quality of life were probably my most information-gaining aspects brought forth in this book.

I found points made on addressing population issues to curtail birth rates with a fear mongering approach incredibly insightful. I liked the display of supportive statistics showing how population rates doubled yet did not reflect twice as poor, but actually much more self-sufficient trends than in past times. Efforts focusing on improving economic status and quality of life became even more interesting concepts to me given that birthrates naturally fall as women gain equality and he goes into the underlying reasons for this.

It was the type of book that puts your own thoughts into words, ones I’ve pondered while serving in the developing world. Just the phrasing made about management and not lack of resources spoke volumes to me. Even if as a reader you don’t agree with some of the political perspectives, the common point problems remain, and he points out how the consequences of poverty are the same whether the poor of Chicago or the poor of Bangladesh.

Of course with the cheering on for the Grameen Bank and concept of micro-lending that it offers, it lacked a deep critical analysis of micro-lending. The personal anecdotes and struggles against opposition were there but I would have liked to have seen an expanded chapter on opposing viewpoints from a more objective point of view. Like a discussion of limitations or integration of a counter discussion just for the sake of it. This would have helped me avoid the sales pitchy vibe I got at times, especially toward the end. There also was a tendency to be narrowly-focused on the structures of society as the reason for poverty, neglecting to mention the role of personal responsibility and accountability, which I thought would have been a great subject to bring up for completion purposes.

And all-in-all, I don’t know if some of the ideas are as black-and-white or polarizing as they seem to be either. As a result it tended to be a tad over-idealistic.

I would have also liked to have had a different approach to the organization of the book. Example, what constitutes as poor criteria was not fully defined until the end. Other parts jumped around a bit, another example, phone/internet communication issues.

This would make an excellent discussion/book club book.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Butchering Chickens: A Guide to Humane, Small-Scale Processing by Adam Danforth

The space, setup, and equipment required to raise and process poultry are minimal when compared to other types of livestock, which is part of what makes chickens such an appealing choice for small-scale meat producers. Expert butcher and teacher Adam Danforth covers the entire slaughtering and butchering process in this photographic guide specifically geared toward backyard chicken keepers and small-farm operations invested in raising meat responsibly.

With step-by-step photos, detailed instructions, and chapters dedicated to necessary tools and equipment, essential food safety measures, how to prepare for slaughter and process the birds quickly and humanely, how to break down the carcasses into cuts, and how to package and freeze the cuts to ensure freshness, this comprehensive handbook gives poultry raisers the information they need to make the most of their meat.

Butchering Chickens: A Guide to Humane, Small-Scale ProcessingButchering Chickens: A Guide to Humane, Small-Scale Processing by Adam Danforth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Storey Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

An excellent resource! Whether you’re a farmer, rancher, processor, butcher, chef, culinary student, home cook, educator, or perhaps a humanitarian navigating your way through local customs and yearning to make some yummy chicken enchiladas like myself, there is much insight to glean from this book. It contains everything you wanted to know about how to butcher a chicken in the most safe and humane way with as little waste as possible. It would make a great gift!

I appreciated that this book was well-written, well-organized, and well-researched for both presentation style and content. The step-by-step guides, balance of both technical terminology and ease of reading, as well as scientific rationales were appealing for the complete range of those who identify themselves anywhere on the spectrum from novice to expert.

Supplies, safety with emphasis on proper sanitation, alternatives to steps in the butchering process, cuts for ideal presentation and culinary purposes, different cooking methods, as well as pros and cons of each storage method were discussed in satisfying detail. The glossary and resource section was a thoughtful bonus. I really enjoyed the tips on obtaining a better flavor profile and maintaining desired textures which explored interesting aspects of the bird’s diet and product preservation.

Also the photography was outstanding and the carved whole boneless chicken was impressive!

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

Gardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small Spaces by Tara Nolan

Gardening Your Front Yard is an active, inspiring resource that shows you how to treat your front yard like a backyard without sacrificing beauty, from choosing the right plants to building front patios and walkways

Gardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small SpacesGardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small Spaces by Tara Nolan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quart Publishing Group- Cool Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I love looking through gardening magazines and this book was like a lovely indulgence for me!

There were step-by-step project ideas and designs that I will look forward to creating for my garden. The instructions were clear and thorough.

I enjoyed the many ideas that were presented. It was more of a diary-style, experience-based look at front yards rather than a strict how to, which I appreciated. I was also left with wanting just a bit more.

With that said I hope to see a part 2 follow up. Perhaps it was the teaser (according to my interpretation) I found myself becoming fixated on. I would have loved to have read more about the author’s own adventures in gardening from a design perspective. Which I’m sure is the case for all of our gardens though, as projects are always under completion, but I would relish in seeing before and afters, and the rationale behind them.

I would love to see an extension about what would differentiate the front from the back a little more. It did touch on curb appeal and being mindful of HOA observances which was excellent. I would enjoy a bit more detail on layering and mimicking nature within the confines of integrating non-native plant life as well as working with different woods, metals, stones, and plastics… and more information about design principles, color options, matching or not matching housing structure, how to convey mood, etc… which are typically so important when showcasing the front yard because everyone sees it and there is less creative control when you want to be whimsical but not have it looking like an every day yardsale which I could totally see myself doing. I thought the hedge piece was the most complete at illustrating the how to concepts I was looking for as they relate to choosing a design for privacy, height, and aesthetic goals. I’d like to see more of that in the way it was presented.

All the photos and ideas were beautiful and inspiring nonetheless! And it was thoughtful to include shoutouts to wonderful resources. It introduced me to new concepts such as thriller, filler, and spiller.

This was a unique book with a lot to offer as putting edibles in the front yard is a rare find in and of itself! I am looking forward to implementing some of the designs and making some of the projects contained in this book. It would be a great resource guide for any gardener or a great house-warming gift and I am looking forward to reading more from this author.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Nonfiction

Garden Alchemy by Stephanie Rose

Garden Alchemy is a hands-on guide for do-it-yourself gardeners who want to turn their garden into gold using natural recipes and herbal concoctions (while saving both time and money!).

This gardening recipe and project book is packed with over 80 ideas to naturally beautify your garden, using organic methods that regenerate your soil and revitalize your plants. By following the processes that are closest to nature, it brings the gardener in sync with the garden, allowing plants to thrive with less effort and less cost.

Garden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and concoctions for organic fertilizers, plant elixirs, potting mixes, pest deterrents, and moreGarden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and concoctions for organic fertilizers, plant elixirs, potting mixes, pest deterrents, and more by Stephanie Rose

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quart Publishing Group- Cool Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I gleaned so much gardening knowledge from this book! I’d highly recommend it for any gardener’s library from novice to expert and anyone just looking for a leisurely book about starting and maintaining a garden.

I am more of a beginner to intermediate gardener myself and I’m always wanting to gain more insight into the how to of assessing and amending soil, growing a plant, and maintaining it for the long haul.

This was the perfect and most timely book for me. The information I’ve read online has been somewhat conflicting to me and this book does an excellent job at dispelling myths as well as reviewing personal and environmental safety concerns by employing homemade alternatives that are actually tried and true.

I loved the enthusiasm brought forth in the book along with the colorful displays, schematics, and step-by-step recipes that are easy to follow and complete, even if you begin with nothing or are in an area where resources are limited.

I will look forward to adding this one to my own gardening library and see myself referring to it time and time again, especially for the fun project ideas!

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Art Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists by Gregory Curtis

In his new book, Gregory Curtis introduces us to the spectacular cave paintings of France and Spain—to the men and women who rediscovered them, to the varied theories about their origins, to their remarkable beauty and their continuing fascination.

The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First ArtistsThe Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists by Gregory Curtis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book featured everything from the first excavations of the first expressions of art through paint as we know them. It included how people of the past depicted the celebrations of everyday life and culture as well as dispelling errors in perception, interpretation, and preservation.

I learned an incredible amount from the book and it was consistently intriguing. I feel I can appreciate art with a much more greater understanding as to how the paintings were accomplished with hard work and respect and perceive art in more depth in a more general way as well.

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