The Romanian Writers Challenge

Romanian Writers ChallengeAlly from Snow Feathers recently started with the first Romanian Writers Challenge. I don’t think I have ever written anything by a Romanian author. As it turns out it’s not so easy to find them translated into German. It seems Romanian writers are only slowly making their appearance in other countries.

Anyway, Ally suggested a few books to start with, among them “The other love stories” by Lucian Dan Teodorovici, a young and upcoming writer according to the German Amazon. God knows whether that is true, for all I know he could be a well established writer, known to everybody in Romania, just we haven’t heard about him (yet). The book doesn’t seem to be available in German unfortunately – too bad, as the title spoke to me. The ONLY book that is available in a translation is called “Dann ist mir die Hand ausgerutscht” (“Then my hand slipped” – meaning: I slapped somebody) with short prose.

However, there are quite a few books out in German by Mircea Cartarescu. There is one in particular “Die schönen Fremden” (“The beautiful strangers”) with three novellas that sound interesting. Amazon gives the original title as “Frumoasele straine”. Ally, have you read that one? I might start with it.


The Borgias–The hidden history by G J. Meyer

Cover The Borgias by G. J. Meyer


In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

An unbiased (or maybe not quite, rather a little pro-Borgia) look at the Borgias from pope Calixtus III. to Cesare and Lucrezia.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Very much

For people who: like European history, the Renaissance

My thoughts: 

When I started reading this I knew next to nothing about the Borgias. I only knew that they are said to have been an infamous family, poisoning people to the left and right, power greedy as nobody else before or after, you know what I mean. Other than that I was clueless.

G.J. Meyer set out to write a book to rehabilitate that family and he does an excellent job. He starts at a time when the first member of the Borgias, Alonso de Borja, who later became pope Calixtus III., begins his career. We then are taken on a mind spinning journey through the next 80 years or so, learning about the rise of this incredible family, their drawbacks, the ramifications of their actions as well as all the political goings on in Renaissance Italy. And there is a lot to tell.

Alliances were formed one day and withdrawn the next, warlords were usurping cities all over the place, condottieri sold their services to one baron this moment and to another one the next, foreign kings were meddling nonstop. The intermarriages between families and the various relationships were mind-boggling; this is not a book that you can read without concentrating on it. The author, however, has a writing style that just flows and he explains everything so well that it is a pleasure to follow otherwise confusing events.

After every chapter he inserts a background chapter where he explains one specific aspect of the time, for example a short history of Venice and how come it was the only city state reigned over by a council of men, what condottieri were, great discoveries of the time etc. Those chapters were breaks where one could learn about a subject in more detail before the eventful family story was taken up again.

While being pro-Borgia the author still does not sugarcoat what the Borgias did. He tells facts and does not gossip. He interprets events for which there is no evidence in the Borgias’ favour, but always mentions other points of view as well. However, his interpretations make sense.

I feel that I can hold up a conversation about the Borgias now and know what I am talking about. Next time someone mentions Lucrezia Borgia being the ultimate venefica of the last millennium, I will be able to defend her with ease. What more can you ask for?

If you even have a faint interest in history and the Renaissance and/or the Borgias, you have to read this book.

Movie tip

I could recommend the TV series from 2011 “The Borgias”, but somehow I have the feeling it won’t do justice to the Borgias, so better stay away from it.

Product info and buy link :

Title The Borgias – The hidden history
Author G. J. Meyer
Publisher Bantam
ISBN 9780345526915
I got this book from the publisher via Netgalley
Buy link Buy The Borgias – The hidden history

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


Weekend Cooking: Two greedy Italians

Cover Two greedy Italians

Today I want to share something from “Two greedy Italians”, a delightful book with a lot of delicious sounding recipes. The German title is “Trattoriaküche” (Trattoria cuisine) which indicates down-to-earth food. My recipe today is for a poor man’s meal that has obviously taken the gourmet world by storm – Testaroli.

The ingredients couldn’t be cheaper or simpler, the result is pretty delicious – even though I think I cooked mine a tiny little bit too long.




250 g flour

1 pinch of salt

2 tbsp olive oil

400 ml water


Sieve flour and salt into a bowl. Slowly whisk in 400 ml water until it is a smooth dough. Mix in olive oil.

In hot olive oil fry one ladle of dough  at a time. Each side 3-4 minutes.
Cut the slices into 8 strips each.
(A research on the net showed that usually the testaroli are cut into a diamond shape. )

Bring salted water to a boil. Add the testaroli and boil until they rise to the surface. Take out and drain properly.

Serve with a sauce of your choice, best is homemade tomato sauce or pesto.

The veggie factor of the book.

Recipe ratio (non.veg./veg.) can’t say but there are a lot of veggie recipes in there.
Worth it? Yes

Product info and buy link :

Title Two greedy Italians
Author Antonio Carluccio & Gennaro Contaldo
Publisher Quadrille Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 9781844009428
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy Two greedy Italians

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This post is part of

Weekend cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. For the other weekend cooking posts please go there.


A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela

Cover A day in the life of ancient Rome by Alberto Angela 

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

We accompany the author during his day wandering around ancient Rome, sightseeing, admiring, explaining things.

Language I read the book in: German (Ein Tag im alten Rom)

Did I like it? Yes

For people who: like Ancient Rom and history made come to life by describing daily occurrences.

My thoughts: 

If you are interested in ancient Rome this book is a must read.

Alberto Angela takes us on a guided tour around Rome at the time of Trajan. We start in the very early morning in the house of a rich man, move on to shops, insulae, taverns, tempels, the baths, banquets and the Colosseum. We explore every aspect of daily ancient Roman life, breakfast, cooking, shopping, eating out, religion, entertainment, childbirth, teaching, dying….

Everything is presented in a very digestible way, explained properly with the appropriate background and shown from all sides (e.g. slavery or gladiators).

Where possible we are told about archaeological discoveries that back up the fictional stories (for example a fight between two gladiators that was documented on a mosaic, so detailed that even the names of the fighters were recorded).

There are only a few illustrations, no models, photos or other visual helpers to conjure Rome, but that is not necessary. Every chapter was so interesting and entertaining that I finished this book in no time. The German subtitle of this book is “Common, mysterious and astonishing facts”, and it completely lives up to that. Highly recommended.

Mr. Angela has one more book on the subject of ancient Rome out and one coming out in June that I will have to track down now.

Product info and buy link :

Title A day in the life of ancient Rome
Author Alberto Angelo
Publisher Europa Editions
ISBN 9781933372716
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy A day in the life of ancient Rome

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


Weekend cooking: Cooking from above–Baking

On my quest for new recipes I stumbled upon a book called “Cooking from above – Baking” by Marianne Magnier- Moreno (Original title: Mon Cours de Cuisine – Ma Pâtisserie).


It is an absolutely beautiful baking book for visual people. The concept is that every recipe is accompanied by photographs of all the steps taken from above. Very helpful if you are not sure what the result of the various steps should look like. But whereas in most cookbooks the images of in between steps serve just an educational purpose and are often done in a rather uninspired way, here the aesthetic appeal is just as extraordinary as the culinary one.


Every piece of equipment is beautiful, vintage knifes, enamel spatulas, the stoves are just the size they need to be to fit the pot, it is just a pleasure to look at those images depicting the gathered ingredients (always neatly lined up) up to the finished product.


Apart from the visual pleasure you get a lot of delicious recipes. As it is a pâtisserie book it is not only about baking (the English title is a bit misleading). It covers desserts creams, sweet sauces, various cakes – from simple to sophisticated –, small pastry (among them maccarons and madeleines) and fruit cakes.

I recommend this to everybody who loves to browse through cook books and admire the beautiful food pictures, as well as to pâtisserie lovers. 

Product info and buy link :  

Title Cooking from above – baking
Author Marianne Magnier-Moreno
Publisher Hamlyn
ISBN 0600619982
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy Cooking from above – Baking on Amazon as a used book

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This post is part of

Weekend cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. For the other weekend cooking posts please go there.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough

Cover The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough 

In a nutshell:

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? YES

For people who: like ancient history, historical fiction, ancient Rome, political scheming, power struggles, warfare

My thoughts: 

It took me almost a year from buying this book to finishing it, exactly as I predicted in May 2012. But this is in no way a reflection on the quality of it. If you are watching my Goodreads feed then you might have noticed that reading sped up considerably a couple of weeks ago, the point when I managed to get this book as an e-book. Usually I prefer paper to e-book, but in this case reading the e-book is so much better. Carrying 900 pages around is no fun – at all.

It is impossible to talk about the plot of this novel as so many people’s lives are explored and so many things happen that, once you reach the end of this book, you are just stunned!

To mention a few of the occurrences: the book covers the efforts of Marcus Livius Drusus to enfranchise the Italian allies, the subsequent so-called Social War, the start of the war against Mithridates, the rise of Sulla and his march on Rome, the fall of Gaius Marius, his seventh consulship and the short reign of terror the follows it. And by covering I mean  covering in detail. Even though sometimes a lot of time elapses between events, everything  is told and explained carefully, what caused it, who was on whose side, what were the consequences. Once more the amount of research that went into this book just astounded me.

After you read this book you think you know all those Romans. You might not completely understand them, as their mindset is a different one, but to a certain extent you can follow their reasoning and realize why they could not have acted differently – except for Marius at the end, but then, he was as mad as a hatter.

The book ends with Gaius Marius’ death, and I am already looking forward to the sequel. A lot of the people playing a major part in the first two books are dead now, but new ones are coming up on the horizon, Pompey (whose father Pompey Strabo here dies from an illness instead of from lightning, which I found a bit strange), Gaius Julius Caesar (who received a most unwelcome appointment at the end of this book ), Cicero – and of course, Sulla has yet to fight his Pontic war and return to Rome. Exciting times are lying ahead of us!

Product info and buy link :

Title The Grass Crown
Author Colleen McCullough
Publisher Arrow Books
ISBN 9780099462491
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy The Grass Crown
More info Masters of Rome series
Still more info Gaius Marius and Sulla

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the Tea & Books Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


Ancient Rome on five denarii a day by Philip Matyszak

Cover Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Phili Matyszak

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

A time-traveler’s guide to sightseeing, shopping, and survival in the city of the Caesars.

Language I read the book in: German

Did I like it? It was quite entertaining.

For people who: would like to know a bit about ancient Rome without going into detail; would like to read an entertaining guide instead of a history book.

My thoughts: 


This is a fun little guide. Written like a contemporary travel guide it covers areas like hot to get to Rome, being a guest in a Roman household, where to find entertainment, where to shop etc. Pretty nice and enjoyable.

Interspersed are illustrations and little tidbits and trivia that add an extra touch. Want to know where certain modern words come from? About the state of Roman rented flats? You can learn a quite a lot about ancient Rome here. However, don’t expect too much depth! This book only lightly scratches the surface of what is to know, so if you want in depth knowledge you have to look elsewhere.

Two things that bothered me is that I was not sure in what time period I was visiting the city. From what is being said I assume it must be after Commodus (I think he is the last emperor that was mentioned), that would leave us at some point after 192 AD. I would have liked to know in what time I am travelling.

Also I did not particularly like the fact that often something was explained with a “and this will still be so 2000 years later” added at the end. This dulled the “contemporary” experience as it became clear that we are not in that period anymore. Of course, I am very much aware of that fact, but in a truly “fake” contemporary guide there should not be hints at what is going to happen in the future.

All in all, however, an enjoyable short read. If you are not already hooked on Ancient Rome, it might prompt you to read more about it.

You can find a small sample of the book in my Weekend Cooking post from last weekend where I talked about a delicious ancient Roman recipe that I found in this guide.

Product info and buy link :


Title Ancient Rome on five denarii a day
Author Philip Matyszak
Publisher Thames & Hudson Ltd.
ISBN 9780500051474
I got this book from the library
Buy link Buy Ancient Rome on five denarii a day

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


Crochet One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant

Cover Crochet One-skein Wonders by Judith Durant

Crochet one skein wonders is a great book for projects and ideas for experienced crocheters. Every project uses 100g yarn or less, so none of them is overwhelming or too time consuming.

The projects are sorted by yarn weight starting from thread to heavy weight with everything in between. If you feel like a quick project, just look in your stash what you have got at home and then look up a project for that type of yarn – very convenient. They range from scarves and cowls to doll clothes, baby caps or shoes, jewellery and bags to mittens and gloves. The style varies and I am sure everybody will find something they will like.

At the end there is a list of abbreviations commonly used in stitching instructions  as well as a symbol key in order to understand the charts. A guide to yarn weights and a glossary complete the book. The glossary consists of short instructions on how to crochet the various stitches and comes with a few illustrations.

All instructions are clear and easy to follow. As a bonus for non-American readers all measurements are given in cm as well as inches, which is a great help. I already went through my stash and chose a spiral mesh bag as my first project. I admit I am slow, but but will post my progress here on Crafty Tuesday.

All in all for crocheters this is a really nice book with lots of ideas to choose from, and they are all do-able with what we have at home already without additional expense. All of us have a leftover skein lying around somewhere. Let’s put it to good use!

Product info and buy link :


Title Crochet One-Skein Wonders
Author Judith Durant (editor)
Publisher Storey Publishing
ISBN 9781612120423
I got this book from Storey Punlishing via Netgalley
Buy link Buy Crochet one-skein wonders

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


Paper artist by Gail Green


In a nutshell:   


Short synopsis: Paper projects for children of all ages

Did I like it? Yes, it is inspirational and gives tons of ideas and instructions

For people who: like paper and crafting

My thoughts:   


The projects in this book cover a wide range of topics and levels of difficulty. Every (future) paper crafter can find something here that appeals to him/her. The book is divided into several chapters, from “Adorable Accessories” (definitely for girls), “Pretty Presents”, “Classy Keepsakes” to “Dazzling Decorations”.

Some of the projects are intricate and fragile; as the mother of two boys I would predict that they won’t stay intact for very long, but maybe girls are a bit more careful with paper art. If you are a beginner or you have clumsy and impatient kids, you should start with some of the easier, more sturdy items, but as you get more experienced you can try your skills with more advanced projects. And there is plenty to choose from. Tubular frames, quilled name plates, cards, photo cubes, book ends, owls, boxes, ornaments, time capsules, you name it. The techniques vary, from scrapbooking to quilling, to weaving to mosaic. Some of them easy, some of them rather sophisticated and with a lot of supplies. The instructions are always clear and easy to follow.

If you are a paper crafter and would like to introduce your child to it, or if you want to explore paper crafting together with your child, this book is something you should definitely have a look out for.

Product info and buy link :

Title Paper artist: Creations kids can fold, wear, tear or share
Author Gail Green
Publisher Capstone Press
ISBN 9781623700041
I got this book from Netgalley
Buy link Buy Paper artist (publishing date March 01, 2013)

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

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This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.


My reading list for January and December / 2012 recap


In December I

  • read and reviewed The lost art of gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith  My review * Goodreads
  • read and reviewed Just one night: The stranger by Kyra Davis  My review * Goodreads
  • Read and reviewed Murder is binding by Lorna Barrett  My review * Goodreads
  • DNF’ed Murder Unleashed by Elaine Viets  Goodreads
  • read and reviewed Chapter and Hearse by Lorna Barrett  My review * Goodreads 
  • read Fix-it and Forget-it Holiday Main Dishes and Sides by Phyllis Pellman Good  Goodreads

Additionally I

This month I am planning to

  • try to finish the Grass Crown which I hope to enter in Birgit’s 2013 chunkster challenge (in reality the challenge has a nicer name than that)
  • finish all my other “currently reading” books which would be really great. I’d love to start the new year all clean and tidy.

As for the challenges I participated in

Mount TBR Challenge:
I didn’t read all of the ten books that I first planned to read (in fact I read two), but nevertheless I reduced my TBR pile considerably. So I call it a success.

Narnia Reading Project:
FAIL! My own project, too. But, after the first book I gave up. I suppose you have to read Narnia for the first time as a kid and not as an adult.

2012 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge:
My goal was 56 book minimum and I read 62. Success.

Books read in 2012

Venice in February Reading Challenge:
Started one book and DNF’ed it. Fail.

Tea & Books Reading Challenge:
Planned to read two books and finished one. Fail.

If you would like to see what challenges I joined for 2013, go here.

My TBR pile and the book buying ban:
When I started the ban in June I had 65 books waiting to be read that I owned already. Today that number is 43. I haven’t read all of those in the meantime, but I purged the pile a bit more and got rid of some books that I know I won’t read. Apart from some gifted books and a few swapped ones I haven’t acquired a single book since June. I am proud of myself.

I additionally created a “read maybe” shelf on Goodreads which is exclusive, where I put books I might read in the future and don’t want to forget about, but I don’t consider seriously just yet. The to-read books include 22 books on my wishlist.

Goodreads status now:

Goodreads 31.12.12

I am pretty happy with this.

How about you? How did your challenges / buying bans go?


2013 Reading Challenges

I am going to keep it short and sweet next year with reading challenges. I couldn’t even finish my own Narnia project and with the other challenges I am not doing too great either.

So I decided to only join two challenges next year; two challenges that I think I will be able to succeed in. Really! Both are hosted by Birgit from The Book Garden, so this will be my one-stop challenge place next year.

The two challenges are:

Tea & Books Reading Challenge Button

Tea & books reading challenge

I signed up in 2012 for this one, read one so far and am reading the second one right now. Maybe, maybe I will even finish it before the end of the year.

Again I signed up for the chamomile lover which means two books. Do-able!

This isn’t fiction reading challenge

This isn't Fiction Reading Challenge Button

I checked with Goodreads just to make sure I could do that. I read five non-fiction books this year, yeah! For next year I signed up for the kindergarten level, which is five books again. Do-able!

What challenges are you planning on joining? Are you good with challenges or do you suck in following through (like I usually do)?


Bloggiesta Mini Challenge: Basic photo editing


Hi! Welcome to my mini challenge about basic photo editing.

If you are a blogger you most likely work with images to enhance your blog posts, at least now and then. Maybe all pictures you use on your blog are book covers that you downloaded from the net; maybe you take pictures of your own books, book shelves, book bags, library etc. It doesn’t matter where your pictures come from or whether they were taken with a cell phone, a point and shoot camera or the most sophisticated DSLR camera. Almost every photo can do with a little editing. There is not much work involved, will only take a few minutes and the result is always an improvement.

Today I want to give you some basic photo editing tips that will make the pictures on your blog look so much better than the SOOC (straight out of the camera) ones that you might have used until today.

Don’t worry we will only cover a few easy things that can be done in any photo editing software (e.g. Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro, Gimp). After that I will show you a nifty online tool that you can use if you haven’t got any editing software on your computer.
I am doing my editing with Photoshop CS2, so you might have to look around a bit in your software to find an equivalent, but I am sure it is there somewhere.

Before you begin editing, open your image and duplicate it, then close the original. You always want to work on a duplicate, so you have the original to go back to if you don’t like your editing results but accidentally saved them.



Cropping iconThe first thing you might want to do is crop your picture. Is there something on the side or in the corner of the picture that distracts from the subject and you would like to get rid of it? If you don’t need or want to stick to a certain ratio of the image, just get out the crop tool and start cropping.

I am using a photo of my Harry Potter books that I took to post for the Harry Potter readalong. I know, the quality is not the best and they would definitely look better if they were all one kind of edition, but it is how it is – I took it with my cell and it is rather grainy; that is why I am going to remove the colours later. Things that don’t go that well together in terms of colour often look better without them.

Do you see those ugly robot’s feet on the left? I used them to prop up the books, but I don’t want to show them.


Open your image and choose the crop tool in your software (it normally looks like the icon I posted at the beginning of this paragraph). Start at the upper left corner where you want your image to begin and drag out a square or rectangle until you cover all the area you want to show.


Then commit by hitting Enter or clicking on the checkmark in the menu bar.

There, now your photo is cropped and only shows what you want to show.

Cropped photo



Image sizeNow it is time to resize your image. Unless you have your camera set to the lowest image size your image is probably too big to use online.

Go to ->Image, ->Image size. Change the resolution to 72ppi which will automatically decrease your pixel size. Then enter the width pixel size that you would like to have. For my blog a width of 600 is about the maximum that is shown properly. It totally depends on the column sizes of your blog. For the main content column a width of 400 to 500px is a good medium size. For a sidebar a width of 100 to 200px maximum would be suitable.

Image size dialog

Don’t ever increase the size of the image! You might get away with a small increase (especially on a monitor) but in a lot of cases your image will look pixelated and ugly. If your photo is too small for your purpose, instead consider adding a background and /or frame of some sort to make the whole image look bigger. .

See Pedro at the beginning of this post all nice and crisp? Below is what he looks like when increased in size:

Pedro way too big

Not so pretty anymore, is he?

Whatever width you decide on, it is absolutely crucial that you keep the ratio of the picture! Make sure the checkbox "constrain proportions" (or maybe “keep ratio” or something similar) is checked. Then the software will automatically choose the proper height according to the chosen width to keep your image with the correct proportions. Of course, you can always enter the appropriate height yourself, but that involves some maths, why not let the program do the work for you?
If the ratio is not kept your image will be distorted and looks extremely unattractive.

Let’s take Pedro again. You might only have a 100px sidebar spot for the Bloggiesta button, but Pedro is 152px wide. So you go and change his width, but forget to check the proportions checkbox. Now he looks like this:

Pedro too thin

He is recognizable, but still! We can do better than that!



Color correction iconsNow that you have your image cropped and resized you can correct its colours a bit if you wish to do so.

The two basic things you can do is improve the brightness and contrast of your image, and then you can play with hue, saturation and lightness. If you use Photoshop you might want to do that as an adjustment layer. That is represented by a little button in the bottom of the layers palette. The advantage is that you can always go back and change your settings or remove the adjustment altogether. If you don’t have that option, you just change the values and they change the image for good (unless, of course, you go back with Ctrl+Z).

Go to –>Image, –> Adjustments, –>Brightness and Contrast and move the slider until you like the result. The settings always depend on your image, but do not overdo it. Just play around until you like what you see.

Brightness & Contrast

This makes my image a bit brighter and boosts the contrast. That’s ok for me because I want to give it another tint altogether.

Brighter and more contrast-y


–>Image, –> Adjustments, -> Hue, saturation and lightness is not a necessary editing step, but you might want to use it if you want to change the overall colour of your picture, give it a certain tint or desaturate it to make it black and white. There are other methods to turn a picture to black and white but this is the easiest one. Try it out, move the sliders and see what they can do.

Hue & Saturation

Above are the settings I used to make my image look like this:



This is as far as we are going today. Not hard, is it?

Now, if you do not have any graphics software, there are online tools also that will help you accomplish basic (and also pretty advanced)  editing. The one I am going to show you today is PicMonkey.




Snap_2012.09.07_21h21m07s_001I love Picmonkey. It is easy to use, it is free and it requires no registration.

All you need to do is click on “Edit a photo” and upload your image.

Edit a photo button

After you upload you image you might come across this window (which I saw yesterday for the first time when I uploaded a poor quality photo, not sure whether this is a new feature or whether it only turns up in certain cases):

Image setting choice

Since your answer depends entirely on the photo you are using I suggest that for now you just click on “Cance” and use your photo as is.

Picmonkey is rather self-explanatory. You have an auto adjust button that automatically enhances your image. Or at least it should do. If you don’t like whatever Picmonkey is doing just click on the “Undo” button at the top of the screen.

Undo button

On the left you have all the editing options, like cropping, rotating, resizing etc. Hit the apply button when you have adjusted the settings to apply the change (it can be undone with the undone button).

Editing options

But there is more. If you click on the icons on the far left, other menus open. You can add effects, can touch up skin, fix blemishes, whiten teeth and so on.

EffectsTouch up

There are many more options like adding captions, little symbols etc. . Just play around and remember, you can always undo what you have done if you don’t like the result.

Once you are finished click on “Save” to save your image. A dialog box opens on the left, where you can choose a file size, i.e. quality, of the image. The pixel dimensions are always the same, just the size of the file changes according to your settings. Mel is poor quality, Ewan decent and Russell excellent. In my example below the difference in file size is between 500kb and 1.4MB. The file size is down to the fact that I kept my image at its original size and didn’t resize it to web size. If you can afford it space wise always go for the better quality.

Saving the masterpiece

After resizing to a web size my file size difference was only between 22kb and 51kb. And here is my Harry Potter picture after applying the auto adjust, cropping, desaturating and the Lomo effect.

Edited photo

OK, we are done for today.


What is the challenge?

I would like you to go and find an image that you would like to post on your blog and edit it in some way. Crop it, improve or change the colours, resize it, add an effect, whatever you like to do in order to make the picture look better. Then post it on your blog (before and after, please) and come back here and link us up to it, so we can come and have a look.

One thing to consider: Please do NOT just take any image from the net that you come across! Always respect the copyright of people and check the terms of use of images on sites where you CAN take images from. 


What is the prize for one lucky winner?

I am giving away one copy of Ella Publishing’s e-book Real.Life.Photography by Rebecca Cooper. Ella Publishing’s e-books always give excellent advice and easy to follow instructions, plus, they look great! I know them from own experience and highly recommend them.

After Bloggiesta I will draw a winner from all participants who were up for my challenge and posted a link to their blog post with the before and after image(s) in the comments of this blog post.

Also, for everybody who did not win the book but is interested in buying it Ella Publishing was so generous to offer a 20% discount for my readers to buy Real.Life.Photography. Just use the discount code REALLIFE20 when you check out to get 20% off. The code expires on December 31, 2012.

If you come across a problem, have any questions about above editing tips or about anything else related to Photoshop or photo editing in general, please send me an email via the contact button on the left, via my Contact Me page, leave a comment to this post or contact me on twitter. I would love to hear from you and will get back to you as soon as possible.

And now, have fun with your images and with all the other fun Bloggiesta events!

You will find everything you need to know about them at It’s all about books and There’s a book.


Tea & Books Reading Challenge

Tea & Books Reading Challenge

Ally reminded me of this fun challenge that Birgit is organizing at her blog The Book Garden. The Tea & Books Reading Challenge is all about the big books that we all are a bit reluctant to tackle – at least I am.

Now that “The Museum of Innocence” arrived at my house Ally suggested I join in.

Unfortunately after signing up I realized that the book “only” has around 600 pages, not sure Birgit will accept this as an entry. We will see. Anyway, I am already reading ANOTHER real chunkster which definitely qualifies.

So, with two potential candidates I am opting for the lowest level which is called “Chamomile lover” (two books).

My books are

  • “The Museum of Innocence” by Orhan Pamuk (if allowed) and
  • “The first man in Rome” by Colleen McCullough
    We will see how it goes…

Venice in February wrap-up










February is over and I must admit that I miserably failed with the Venice in February Reading Challenge. I only had one book planned to read, “Across the river and into the trees” by Ernest Hemingway, but it seems the time is not the right one for me to read a story about war. I came to about page 25 before I gave it up for now. I will put it back into my TBR pile (far to the bottom, too) and move on.

However, I wanted to do something for the Venice theme, so I compiled a small list of quotes about that lovely city.

Have you been more successful with Venice in February?

Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go

Truman Capote

In the winter, Venice is like an abandoned theater. The play is finished, but the echoes remain

Arbit Blatas

A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him.

Arthur Symons

Images from Venice by flickr user Dr. Savage and rbhamjee

This post is part of

Venice in February








The Venice in February Reading Challenge is hosted by Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza


Important artifacts and personal property from the collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including books, street fashion and jewelry by Leanne Shapton

Important artifacts and personal property...Blurb:

In Leanne Shapton’s marvelously inventive and invented auction catalog, the 325 lots up for auction are what remain from the relationship between Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris (who aren’t real people, but might as well be). Through photographs of the couple’s personal effects–the usual auction items (jewelry, fine art, and rare furniture) and the seemingly worthless (pajamas, Post-it notes, worn paperbacks)–the story of a failed love affair vividly (and cleverly) emerges. From first meeting to final separation, the progress and rituals of intimacy are revealed through the couple’s accumulated relics and memorabilia. And a love story, in all its tenderness and struggle, emerges from the evidence that has been left behind, laid out for us to appraise and appreciate.

In a nutshell:

I read it in: English

I liked it: I loved the idea, I kind of liked the result

For people who like: Fiction that looks like non-fiction, putting two and two together without being explicitly told what happened.

My thoughts: 

I was quite fascinated with the idea of an auction catalogue to tell the story of a relationship. It sounded intriguing, interesting and different. When I started reading this book I realized how much work it must have been to put this together. There are photos of the couple (standing in for Lenore and Hal were Sheila Heti and Paul Sahre), tons of letters and notes, various items, clothes, pictures of cakes and what not. The thought that someone put a part of the lives of two fictional people together in that way is fascinating.

However, I would have liked it better if those people were a little less hip and outstandingly original, but a little closer to everyday people in everyday life. There are a few short conversations that Lenore and Hal had written on brochures during a concert etc. and the dialogue to me sounds just too much of a good thing. Listen to this (about the poodles on the cover):

I can tell you hate them/ No!/ But I love the dogs, the dogs love you, they are perfect pets, as they do not poo./ Dearest Hal, they are not our pal, their breed is a pain, a firm hand must train./ Lenore, Lenore, fear not evermore, these unbroken pups you’ll soon adore./ You win, dark knight, at least they don’t bite.

Often there would be song lyrics scribbled down in books, unfortunately I knew none of the songs, and so couldn’t relate too much. The clothes are mostly vintage clothes, the items are all vintage or artsy. Everything was just a little bit too extraordinary. I mean, who on Earth would go as a litmus test on Halloween? I just couldn’t relate to those two and frankly, I didn’t give a damn whether they would stay together or not (even though, of course, it was clear from the start, they would not). Also, I saw no reason why they would auction off the things they did. Why would you sell on your bathing suits after a break up?

Most of the hints as to what happened in the relationship of the couple we receive from notes to each other, emails, letters (who nowadays writes postal letters from the US to Europe, esp. when the other is only gone for a week or two?) either to each other or from friends or family to either Lenore or Hal. I must be missing something completely because I think that basically the same effect could have been achieved with an epistolary novel of some kind. Maybe in the style of Love Virtually. Somehow I simply expected more of that auction catalogue idea and it didn’t deliver it.

All in all I enjoyed reading this (I love catalogues in general), but the book left me a bit disappointed in the end.

Product info and buy link :


Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry

Author Leanne Shapton
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 9781408804728
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy Important artifacts….

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.


The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

The lion, the witch and the wardrobeBlurb:

Narnia…a land frozen in eternal winter…a country waiting to be set free.

Four adventurers step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia – a land enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change…and a great sacrifice.





In a nutshell:

I read it in: English

I liked it:     Kind of yes, kind of no      

For people who like: fairy tales, fantasy, good vs. evil

My thoughts: 

This was the quickest read for me in a long time. I started some time in the morning and was done in the afternoon (including the usual family interruptions, I might add).  According to the target group the story was not overly complicated and extremely easy to follow.

I liked the general idea of the children discovering another world by entering a wardrobe, moving through fur coats and leaving through the back. But there were a few things I didn’t like at all.

  • The mishmash of characters in Narnia that just didn’t go together. Giants, trolls, fauns, speaking beavers, satyrs, unicorns, centaurs, for me they don’t all belong into the same universe. What I found even more annoying was the appearance of Santa Claus. What on Earth does he do in a parallel fantasy world? And gives some useful gifts, too. Those gifts sounded more like fairy gifts than from jolly old Santa.
  • The witch was mean, but stupid. She could have gotten more use out of Edmund after he came to her castle had she been a bit nicer. As it was she made him realize how wicked she really was and he turned against her. That wasn’t something I would have expected her to do. She should have kept up her sweet, deceiving personality a little longer.
  • Aslan, well, that little trick he pulled was not very honourable. I didn’t care about the Christian aspects of that scene but what really annoyed me was that he betrayed the deal with the witch. He gave her his word (implied by his furious roar when she asked about whether she could trust the deal will be honoured) and then he comes up with the even older magic crap which the witch didn’t know about. Not fair! I admit he had to go through a fair amount of humiliation and yes, the witch would have not been honourable and honest either, but two wrongs don’t make a right (sorry about having to quote a commonplace here). Also this is not a very good example for children. I know something you don’t, so I can cheat on you easier. And that is ok, because you are evil and I am good. I didn’t like that. At all.

It was an ok start to the series as the children discovered Narnia together with me. I am curious to know what comes next. At the same time I am quite apprehensive. Will the series continue to give such dubious messages to its readers? The end justifies the means isn’t something I 100% agree with. We will see.

Movie tip

The chronicles of Narnia: The lion, the witch and the wardrobe


Product info and buy link :

Title The lion, the witch and the wardrobe
Author C. S. Lewis
Publisher HarperCollins
ISBN 9780007115617
I got this book from I bought it
Buy link Buy The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This post is part of


my Narnia Reading Project 2012.


Narnia reading project kick off


OK, it’s January at last and I want to get started on reading Narnia this month. I decided to go with the order of completion which is again a little different from the publication order. In both cases, however, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” comes first. 

This is how it goes:

  1. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe
  2. Prince Caspian: The return to Narnia
  3. The voyage of the Dawn Treader 
  4. The horse and his boy 
  5. The silver chair 
  6. The magician’s nephew
  7. The last battle

Who else is going to read in that order and who is planning on starting this month? Please, remember, we have a discussion page for each book where I also posted some questions from the reading group guide at Harper Collins. You can find the links to the pages either on the Narnia project page or in the drop down menu at the top of this blog.

Let’s get started!


Goodreads 2011 reading challenge

GR 2011 Reading Challenge I received an email from Goodreads (like all the other 153.701 participants) that I will get a 2011 reading challenge badge for my GR profile IF I reach my target in the 2011 Goodreads reading challenge. .

I want that badge!

But I am afraid I won’t get it.

Somehow I bit off more than I can chew. Of the 100 books I targeted I read 62 and that is wrong already because there is a number of DNFs included in this. I will set next year’s target considerably lower. Even though I will be participating in the Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge.

Did you participate in the GR reading challenge? How did you do?


Venice in February Reading Challenge

Venice in February

And yet another challenge…I don’t know, but there are so many tempting ones and I just can’t let them pass.

Ally from Snow Feathers and Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza are hosting the Venice in February Reading Challenge. They have even created a dedicated blog just for that challenge – how great is that? Just look at the header picture and start dreaming! You can already find reading recommendations there and it will be used to link to all the reviews.

What do you have to do? Just read one or more books about or set in Venice during the month of February and that’s it. This is what AllyVenice says about the location:

We have chosen Venice because it’s a unique city, with a dreamlike atmosphere and yet, with secrets to discover. Whoever visited Venice once still wishes to go back and this challenge may be the next best thing 🙂

I wholeheartedly agree. Venice is wonderful, even in summer when it is overcrowded with tourists.  A great location for a reading challenge.

As it happens, one of the books recommended is already on my reading list for next year. All I need to do is make sure to read it in February. It is

  • “Across the river and into the trees” by Ernest Hemingway

If I am going to read anything else I don’t know. Donna Leon would be a quick read and it would be great for Venetian atmosphere, but I really don’t care for Commissario Brunetti. He has NOTHING on Commissario Montalbano, I don’t know why so many people like him as much as they do. But I am digressing.

Do you feel like going on a short trip to Venice? Then join this reading challenge and enjoy that lovely city in February!


2012 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge


This challenge hosted by The Book Vixen is perfect. No additional books to add, nothing to buy, no specific theme. All it asks is to read a certain amount of books MORE than last year.

Seeing that my goal was 100 books in 2011 and my current status is 59 books, it is safe to say that I will not reach that goal. For next year I will be less ambitious, but still want to read a bit more than I did this year.


Here are the details from The Book Vixen’s Blog:


  • Runs January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012 (books read prior to 1/1/12 do not count towards the challenge). You can join at anytime. Sign up on The Book Vixen’s blog.
  • The goal is to outdo yourself by reading more books in 2012 than you did in 2011. See the different levels below and pick the one that works best for you. Nothing is set in stone; you can change levels at any time during the challenge.
  • Books can be any format (bound, eBook, audio).
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.
  • Grab the reading challenge button and post this reading challenge on your blog to track your progress. Please include a link back to this sign-up post so others can join the reading challenge too. You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you could track your progress on Goodreads or LibraryThing.


     Getting my heart rate up – Read 1–5 more books
     Out of breath – Read 6–10 more books
     Breaking a sweat – Read 11–15 more books
     I’m on fire! – Read 16+ more books

You will already know what level I will go for, right? I will go for the first one, no surprise here. “Getting my heart rate up” is exciting enough for me. At the end of the year I will see how many books I finished (there were some DNFs in that list of 59) and then set the new goal.

Who else is going to join this challenge?


Narnia reading project 2012

Rikki's TeleidoscopeI am sure there has been a reading challenge for “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis before but I couldn’t find a current one. I am a Narnia beginner and don’t want to join in anywhere where people are already up to book five or even re-reading.

I have NEVER read a Narnia book before, have never seen a film and am clueless about the story. But I here they are good.

I am planning to read all seven books – unless it turns out I hate the whole world or concept – and am looking for some fellow readers who are as new to Narnia as I am and would like to explore it with me and other likeminded people.

You are one of them? Great! Head on over to my Narnia Reading Project page and sign up! If you would like to grab my Narnia button, just copy the code in the box at the bottom of this post and paste it into your sidebar or your posts.

My estimated timeline is until the end of 2012. I would like to start reading in January, so we all have still time to get at least the first book, which for me will be “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. You can find more info about the reading order on the project page.

So, what do you say? Are you in?

Code for above Narnia button:


Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012

mount_tbr I have seen the Mount TBR Reading Challenge on various blogs and seeing that my TBR list is growing I decided it is a good idea to join. My list is still short compared to others, I know, but if Goodreads is right I own 61 books from my TBR pile (83 all in all). Bev at My Reader’s Block is hosting and organizing the challenge and I am sure it will be great fun.

This will be the only challenge for me next year seeing that I miserably failed on the ones in 2011. Plus, I am planning another reading project which will keep me busy as well.



These are the rules:

Challenge Levels
Pike’s Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 25 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 40 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 50 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you’re on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.
*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2012.
*You may sign up anytime from now until November 30th, 2012.
*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2012. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify–based on a question raised–the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]
*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

Especially the “counts towards other challenges” works well for me as I have plenty of books I want to read to finish off challenges from this year (better late than never). Seeing that I am bad at commitment and at sticking to anything challenge related I go for the lowest level, Pike’s Peak which amounts to 12 books. That sounds do-able.

I need to determine NOW what books to read otherwise I will not do it, I know this, so I went through my Goodreads list and here they are:


  1. Changeless by Gail Carriger
  2. Blameless by Gail Carriger
  3. Heartless by Gail Carriger
  4. Steampunk Anthology edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
  5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  6. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  8. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  9. I capture the castle by Dodie Smith
  10. The art of travel by Alain de Botton
  11. Horns by Joe Hill
  12. Men without women by Ernest Hemingway

The first 6 are for my own Steampunk Challenge 2011, the next two for one part of the One, Two, Theme challenge 2011 and the rest are random picks. An eclectic mix!

How big is your TBR mountain? Will you be joining? And what other challenges are you planning to join in 2012?


Steampunk challenge final recap


The Steampunk challenge 2010/2011 is finished and I would like to do a short recap of what went on. Please, if you read more Steampunk books, feel free to add your review links to the review page. Just because the challenge is officially over doesn’t mean that we can’t make the list grow.

Number of participants: 88

Number of reviews: 82

Number of entries for the flash fiction contest: 43

Winner of the flash fiction contest: Chris Pantazis

Number of entries for the haiku contest: 17

Winner of the haiku contest: Giada M.

Just in case you have bookmarked any of the challenge pages, I changed their location and placed them under the challenge page in the top menu, so previously created links won’t work any longer.

Thank you everybody for participating. It was great fun! And thanks to the very helpful Steampunk community for helping us out with information and reading recommendations.


Steampunk haiku contest winner

Thanks everybody who entered the steampunk haiku contest. Voting for your favourite steampunk haiku is over and we have a winner.

It is Giada M. with


To see all entries, please go to the entries page.

Congrats, Giada! I will contact you by email to get your shipping address and to find out your choice of steampunk book from The Book Depository.

Many thanks again to Kristi from Northwyke Creations and to Fox Chapel Publishing who generously sponsored the contest with a beautiful Steampunk lapel pin from her Etsy shop and a copy of Art Donovan’s “The art of Steampunk”.