Sunday, June 29, 2014

iPads for the Older and Wiser

If you are a senior who really wants to get a tablet and are thinking about an Apple product, "iPads for the Older and Wiser" is  a great book.

I received it prior to purchasing my iPad mini and the very first chapter saved me from making an expensive mistake. I had thought that the cheapest model would be good enough for me in this learning stage. However, under the section entitled “which generation if iPad to choose” I discovered that the cheaper model did not have a Retina Display. Retina display enables text and images to be much sharper, and high definition videos can be played at their full quality on these models. Not only that, but the camera on the cheaper model is not as good as the one on the iPad mini with Retina Display. So that was important to me.

The book has an excellent selection of chapters dealing with things such as ‘browsing the web,’ ‘adding music and video,’ ‘using apps on your iPad,’ and a very important chapter on ‘finding your way with Maps.’ Apple has replaced Google Maps with its own Apple Maps or you can download the Google Maps App if you prefer. But Apple Maps works with Siri and has a great 3D view section called FlyOver that works as well.

At the end of each chapter is a Summary and a section called Brain Training, which helps to reaffirm all the information in that chapter. As you go through the book, you keep adding to the knowledge and the skills you’ve already acquired. 

As far as I’m concerned, this little manual is the best thing since apple pie. 

By Lilitik22 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Apple pie 182161 04

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Two Excellent Beach Reads for Summer

.Woman reading at the beach

I always feel a little sad when we reach June 21st. True it’s the official beginning of summer here in the northern hemisphere, but it also is the period when the sun stars it’s journey back south and the days begin to shorten. I try not to think about that, as I love these long summer evenings while the weather is still warm enough to sit comfortably outside long into twilight and nightfall.

Since this also is the time of year, lots of us head to the seaside; I am reviewing a couple of pleasant beach reads this week.

First, if you are a fan of Debbie Macomber’s inspirational women’s fiction, Blossom Street Brides is one that won’t disappoint.

In the downtown Seattle area of Blossom Street, four young women are drawn together over a mysterious knitting project. Some unknown person is leaving baskets of wool all over town, suggesting that people knit scarves for the poor while they wait. The baskets are discovered at bus stops, in doctor’s offices, and anywhere people have to remain for a while. Each basket has a card with The Yarn Barn logo written on it, but the shop owner, Lydia Hoffman knows nothing about them.

As well, each of the four ladies is dealing with her own personal problem. Lauren’s boyfriend of three years is stalling regarding a marriage proposal. Bethany’s new husband’s business is located in California, which keeps them apart for weeks at a time. Eliza is concerned that the man her pregnant daughter wants to marry isn’t right for her. And Lydia, herself, has an adopted teenage daughter whose terrible nightmares keep the whole family awake.

At the wool shop, as the women become entwined in one another’s stories, they draw together to become close-knit friends. An easy read with a sweet ending.

Seattle Skyline tiny

Now, to introduce a new writer, Nicole Dweck with her debut novel that was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel quarter finalist this year.

The Debt of Tamar is a lovely romance with hints of fantasy. A Jewish family headed by a wealthy Spanish widow escapes Portugal and settles in Turkey during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. Over time, the sultan's grandson falls in love with Dona Antonia's granddaughter but because of their different faiths, her father spirits her away to a far off land.

Jump ahead four centuries to the time when a playboy prince meets the daughter of a French holocaust survivor. Could the love of this couple set them free from an evil that has followed these two families through the ages? 

The author has come up with a unique plot that takes us into far off, exotic settings and eras with descriptions that excite the senses. Early in the book, I felt some of the narration was slightly  overwritten, but as the story continues, the writing definitely strengthens. 

Her research is superb and I learned several historical facts that I had never heard before. For example, that the Sultan Suleiman practiced religion tolerance and allowed the persecuted Jews to live unharmed under his rule.

In the end, I enjoyed the novel immensely and look forward to more of this author's work.

By Constantin Barbu _Blue_Mosque_at_sunset.The Blue Mosque at sunset

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Prime Minister's Secret Agent

Winston Churchill during Second World War

Winston Churchill in the Second World War H10310

I was very young when WWII  broke out, so some of my first memories are of a world deep in conflict.  It was a scary time for children, especially once the Japanese entered the fray and the west coast of Canada was considered a target. Both my father and brother had joined up, so many a night my mother had to struggle to get up our blackout screens made of strong tar paper which would allow us to have a small light to read by. Then to sooth me to sleep, she would read to me my favorite books by A.A. Milne. I learned early that immersing oneself in a make believe world could compensate greatly for the sadness and fear that war brings to children of all nations.

Now several generations have gone by and we are greatly distanced from the horror of that era.  Books set in the time period are very much the fashion and so I have discovered a new series by author,  Susan Elia MacNeal. She is a New York Times bestselling author who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York with her husband and son. However, she has done a great deal of research on the subject and has travelled throughout Great Britain.

I’m always excited when I find a new cozy mystery series, especially if the protagonist is a young woman of uncertain age. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy “ThePrime Minister’s Secret Agent” as much as I had anticipated. But I think this is not the fault of the author as I later explain.

Maggie Hope is a secret spy currently instructing young hopefuls in a clandestine training centre somewhere in Scotland. She is fighting her own personal demon of deep depression left over from a previous experience in Germany. One would have to have read that novel to get the full impact of why she is suffering this condition. 

There is no particular plot to this novel other than the escalation of WWII as the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour suddenly thrusts the United States into the conflict. This volume is simply a continuation of the previous novels in the series. Therefore, although the story supposedly could “stand alone,” I didn’t find it an easy read. Throughout the entire book, there are references to earlier occurrences that I knew nothing about. Almost to the point that the reader sometimes feels a little out in left field. All the sub-plots pretty much require that one have knowledge of her earlier escapades. 

I think that for readers familiar with Maggie’s past adventures, the book would be quite satisfying because it is well written and the characterizations are well drawn. As this part of the story proceeds, one begins to get some feelings of compassion for the girl’s melancholia and rejoice with her as she  regains her equilibrium. I did become sufficiently fond of her to consider going back and reading the earlier tomes. If the idea of reading the whole series appeals to you, I would suggest you begin with the first one entitled "Mr. Churchill's Secretary."

Borrodale flats - - 300965

During WW2 and Arisaig House in the distance was the SOE's area HQ. | ...Category:Coasts of Scotland Category:Images by Jim Bain Category: ...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Great Summer Read

A Parc_Monceau_Monet.Parc Monceau Monet

Summertime and the living is easy. Nothing nicer in the summer than to find a shady spot outside and settle down with a cool drink and a good book. Here's my choice this week for a great read:  That Summer by Lauren Willig

Julia Conley has inherited a centuries old house from her great-aunt in England where she was born. She hasn’t been back since her father, now a prominent surgeon in New York, whisked her away to America when she was six years old. Her mother was killed in a terrible motor accident and the rest of the family had no use for the young doctor.

Julia sets out alone to London to oversee the sale of the old house, which seems shrouded in mystery. Upon arrival, her English cousins, none too pleased that she was the one to inherit, show up to help her clean out the attic, which could contain family heirlooms. Some of its contents have been stored there for over one hundred and fifty years. They bring along a friend, a good-looking, young antique dealer to see if there is anything of value.

This modern part of the story is rather typical of romance novels. Girl meets handsome fellow to whom she’s attracted, but as is generally the case, they have a falling out. However, the attraction is still there and we wonder can they put aside their animosities to find true love? All very ordinary, but what held me spellbound was the story that begins to emerge when they discover a pre-Raphaelite painting hidden in the back of an old wardrobe. How did it get there and why was it hidden?

The author now transports us back to the year 1849, where Julia’s ancestor, Imogen Grantham is unhappily married to an older man. A gentleman, who has little interest in her other than as another pretty object for his collection. Her life is boring and drab. However, when the husband hires a young artist of the aforementioned pre-Raphaelite movement to paint her portrait, he sets in motion a chain of events that changes the whole course of the family’s history.

Ms. Willig does an excellent job  of interweaving the two stories and towards the end of the novel; I found myself so under its spell that I could no longer put it aside until I knew the outcome.

That Summer is well written with an intriguing plot and great characterizations. A great summer read! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"By Unknown Artist 116, active 1824. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" 
Looking South from the Citadel, Montreal, Lower Canada
Looking South from the Citadel, Montreal, Lower Canada

For anyone interested in the early history of Canada, Author Joseph Boyden has a new book just released this month titled "The Orenda." As I mention in my review, it's not an easy read but it will definitely give some idea of how difficult it was to tame this savage wilderness.  Here's what I have to say about it.Looking South from the Citadel, Montreal, Lower Canada

Christopher is a French Jesuit priest who ventures alone into the Canadian wilderness in the early part of the 17th century. A Huron warrior captures him and takes him to a large native village in the area north of what is now Lake Ontario. He is there to bring the Christian faith to the heathen aboriginals. However, the Hurons have their own plan to use him as an envoy to Champlain, the Governor of New France.
The story is told in three distinct perspectives: that of the priest himself; Bird a Huron elder; and Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl captured by Bird to replace his murdered daughters. At first, there is enmity among these three individuals but through time and adversity, they come to trust each other as priest and Huron join together against the warring Iroquois nation.

I found the novel rather slow going. It is written in present tense, which I am not particularly fond of and always slows me down. Not that it is boring but it does take time to pick up all the nuances of the differing points of view of these three characters as well as the strangeness of the native customs. It’s a prize winning novel, so of course, the language is beautiful; but it’s almost more like reading a history book than a novel. However, the descriptions of the Canadian forest and its inhabitants are exceedingly well done. If you are not looking for a page-turner, and take some time to savour it, then this is a very satisfying read.