The Culinary Institute of America has come out with yet another beautiful and useful book: Cake Art. If you've ever had an interest in interest in creating dramatic desserts, this is a volume for you, although I wouldn't call this a book for beginners. It starts with an overview of tools and components that I found myself wishing had a bit more to it: more individual photos of each item rather than trying to discern elements in group photos, more explanation of what to do and how to do it, and more tips.
However, it's not a paralyzing shortcoming, as you can get some of that from browsing online retailers, stores, and catalogs. Where the book really shines is in the techniques and instructions. For example, on page 31 there is a photo with three spoons of meringue, one stiff, one medium, and one soft-peaked. There are formulas for both hard and soft ganaches (Books often don't explicitly set the two side-by-side, and there's a big difference in the resulting texture and use.) as well as modeling chocolate. You can learn to make ribbons and coverings of fondant. Pipe a flower from buttercream (with a tip on how to reconstitute the mixture if it separates) or mold it from molding chocolate, marzipan, or fondant. In short, there is a lot to learn.
And that might be the big problem for many would-be cake decorators. Some of these techniques require practice, and a lot of it. If you go directly to the projects and try to work your way backward into the techniques, the results are going to be disappointing. If you want to undertake a given project (each, smartly, tells you how far in advance - weeks in some cases - to start different parts), then read through, write down the techniques that are necessary, and practice well in advance. You don't really think that pastry chefs start on this level of work their first day of class, do you? However, if you are willing to spend some time, this book should be well worth your while.