Friday, May 29, 2020

Manga Drawing Deluxe Empower Your Drawing and Storytelling Skills

Manga Drawing Deluxe Empower Your Drawing and Storytelling Skills is a new tutorial guide for art *and* storytelling by Wedding Peach creator Nao Yazawa. Due out 2nd June 2020 from Quarto on their Rockport imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is one of the only books on manga techniques with which I'm familiar which includes good, solid, useful, practical tutorials and direction on storytelling in addition to drawing reference. The author manages to provide advice and tutelage in a humorous way without being pedantic or discouraging. (Including advice-giving manga elves). The introduction provides a good background of what manga is, why it's stylistically the way it is, and a very short background history.

The drawing instructions include poses, dynamics, movement, special effects, proportions, and more.There is relevant info available for everyone, beginners to professional artists. The following chapters give similar thorough treatment to drawing the body, pencil rough sketching, inking, proportion and perspective, effect lines, fukidashi (speech bubbles), a really good discussion on composition and storytelling narrative (introduction - development - twist - conclusion), making storyboards, and really everything to outfit the would-be manga artist from putting pen to paper through the finished product.

A very useful book. It would make a good addition to the artist's home reference library, a classroom or other formal instruction setting, or gift (with supplies). Beautifully made and one of the best manga tutorials I've seen.

Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Origami Collection

Origami Collection is a really nice traditional tutorial manual *with* origami paper (physical edition) by origami master Kazuo Kobayashi. Originally released in 2012, this edition is 128 pages and available in softcover paperback.

These are beautiful, colorful, and well sculpted folds. There are variations on classics and new sculptures as well. There are 32 in all and they range from simple to advanced. All are pictured in color and all have folding diagrams in the line-drawn Japanese traditional style.

The book is written in Japanese and English. I don't read Japanese, but I'm told it's well written. The English is...whimsical, but fully understandable.

This would make a lovely gift for an origami learner or enthusiast. It would also make a nice weekend "lockdown" activity at home for family time.

Five stars. Really pretty sculptures.

 Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Anatomy Made Simple for Artists

Anatomy Made Simple for Artists is a short introduction to simple anatomy aimed at artists. Originally released in 2004, this reformat and re-release by Arcturus Publishing is due out 1st June 2020, has 79 pages and will be available in ebook format. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an odd booklet. It presents the human body in line drawings with anatomically correct language (which is as it should be), but without any real artistic tutelage other than the drawings themselves. There are *some* tips such as identifying and analysing the spread of force when sitting or standing in particular poses, as well as some few tips on life drawing, but they are few and far between.

It's to be expected that a 79 page booklet would be bare bones (sorry, intentional pun), but this one sort of skirts the line and winds up being neither fish nor fowl. The RRP is set to be quite consumer friendly, so I can see that this might be a good choice with which beginning artists can get started.

The text is well written, and as previously mentioned, anatomically correct, but it is odd that there are so few drawings in relation to the text. 

Three and a half stars. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens is a new biography for young readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and all of them are delightful and exuberant little books which cover the lives of famous cultural, science, arts, and innovative icons while maintaining an age-appropriate level of detail.

Due out 2nd June 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Written by Isabel S├ínchez Vegara it's presented in clear, accessible, age-appropriate language.  The gentle and sweetly humorous illustrations were well done. The art by Anna Katharina Jansen is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. Both the illustrations and text are rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look (like the illustrations based on historical photos, of him being a gracious winner at the olympics, and receiving the medal of freedom).

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition.

Five stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift.  Jesse Owens was an incredibly important sports and cultural icon under incredibly difficult conditions. It's vital for youngsters to learn about racial history and for their caregivers to never forget (lest we be doomed to revisit those awful times). For completeness (mostly for children's school and public library info): there's one illustration showing Jesse waiting his turn to shower while all the white athletes were showering and obviously there are strategically placed bubbles everywhere, but there is one, single, unoffensive, caucasian butt shown.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes

A Very English Murder (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #1)

A Very English Murder is the first book in a new cozy mystery series by debut author Verity Bright. Released 7th April 2020, it's 309 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a sweet and light genteel English cozy with a young female protagonist amateur sleuth investigating the murder of one of her late uncle's acquaintances  when her reporting of the incident isn't believed by the local constabulary. There's a romance subplot, but it doesn't interfere with the puzzle. The language is very clean and there is no on-page violent content. The dialogue is occasionally a bit too precious, but overall, it's a fun read and not to be taken too seriously. 

Four stars, I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for the series as it develops. 

 Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The New Homemade Kitchen: 250 Recipes and Ideas

The New Homemade Kitchen is a comprehensive reference and recipe collection for foodcrafting by the late Joseph Shuldiner. Due out 2nd June 2020 from Chronicle Books, it's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is the magnum opus of the director of the Institute of Domestic Technology and contains a solid array of recipes and tutorials for many nearly lost kitchen arts. Covering pantry staples, coffee technology, pickling & preserving, processing grains, dairy, meats & fish, spirits, fermentation, and dehydration - it's an encyclopedic reference book and will go beside The Joy of Cooking and my Ball Blue Book. During this pandemic, when I've been stressed and longing for some continuity and normalcy, cooking and being productive in the kitchen has been a real stress reliever and source of comfort. The idea of "slow food" and of taking control of the processing of our own ingredients makes more sense than ever (and prevents the necessity of "just running out to the grocery store to buy pre-processed items).

The chapters contain techniques for making basic staples (including selecting beans and DIY coffee roasting and grinding - wizardry!). The following recipes highlight and showcase the finished ingredients. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements given, with metric in parentheses), and step by step instructions. There is no nutritional info provided. The recipes are photographed very well and clearly. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. 

The author has also included a resource list and an abbreviated bibliography and reference lists for further reading. The index is cross referenced and includes ingredients and recipes.

I adored the no-waste aesthetic of the book and the gentle, accessible, humorous voice of the author really makes me wish I'd been able to take a class or three with his guidance.

Five stars. Superlative reference book.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard, The Early Years (Hap and Leonard)

Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard, The Early Years is a collection of 5 short early Hap & Leonard stories (4 are previously unpublished) by Joe R. Lansdale. Due out 29th May 2020 from Tachyon, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Hap & Leonard are a force of nature. The stories are often violent and hysterically funny (often at the same time and with a suddenness which leaves the reader with whiplash). Lansdale is such a capable writer that I can simply go along for the ride knowing that he knows where we're going and I can just look around and enjoy the scenery. And what scenery it is. There's a real-ness and credibility to the settings and characters that *must* be from the writer's stored experiences. He's simply a virtuoso storyteller and I love his work.

These 5 stories are all worthy of the canon. High quality, spare, and fighting fit, they're of Hap alone and then later on teamed up with Leonard. The stories are introduced with an essay by fellow Texan Kathleen Kent and followed by some tie-in recipes (by Kasey Lansdale) taken from the narratives. Even the recipes are written with a wry humor. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point with American standard measures (no metric). None are pictured, all seem as if they'd be delicious (with the possible exception of texas sweet tea, I think one needs to have been born and raised there for it to be drinkable - though in the recipe collaborator's defense, she does list sugar and lemon as optional).

Delightful collection of stories with interesting introduction and bonus collaborative recipes. 5 stars. For readers unfamiliar with Hap & Leonard, it might be advisable to read some of the earlier books.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

How to Raise a Loaf: and fall in love with sourdough

How to Raise a Loaf: and fall in love with sourdough is a tutorial guide and recipe collection by Roly Allen. Due out 26th May 2020 from Laurence King publishing, it's 112 pages and will be available in flexibound format.

Although not isolating at home (I'm a healthcare worker for my day job), I've certainly traveled and eaten out much *much* less (as in not at all) since the lockdowns. This means that I've had a lot more time to devote to reading, writing, knitting, sewing, gardening, and other crafty pursuits. I was happy to receive this eARC because making a concerted effort to learn to make sourdough has been on my to-do list for years.

A very general introduction in plain language includes the basic who, what, why, when, and how to's. The author has a very down to earth and engaging manner of writing that is fun and encouraging. He does emphasize the potential physical and mental benefits of doing something thoroughly and well. Sourdough takes time. The continuity and rhythm of doing something which requires action (even simple action) over time can be a significant source of routine in world where everything feels very unsettled, upside down and backwards.  His basic starter was unusual in my experience (comparing his method to the tutorials on youtube) in that it starts by stacking the deck in favour of the microorganisms by introducing both natural yogurt and a source of fructose. The introduction includes a couple of short easy-to-follow technique tutorials as well as a solid subchapter on necessary equipment.

Extras, fancier presentations, alternate starter routines, and other artistic enhancements are covered in the following chapter. The author also includes a good troubleshooting section and commentary on different types of containers for baking as well as tips and tricks for getting the best results.

The recipes are varied and well presented. Ingredients are listed in a bullet style list. Measurements are standard (metric) with American units in parentheses. Step by step cooking instructions are well formatted and easy to follow. The loaves are beautifully photographed (including a number of photo-series tutorials to help with clarity in some steps). There are numerous wildly different loaves here (14 by my rough count). The Provencale fougasse with olives was the first we tried after a couple of successes with the starter loaves. It was chewy and "toothsome" and disappeared whilst it was still warm.

The author has included a short glossary and resource list for further reading.

All in all a very accessible guide, clearly and well written with good clear photos. I'm impressed and pleased at my success with the techniques presented by the author here.

Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Moment of Tenderness

The Moment of Tenderness is a collection of short fiction by Madeleine L'Engle. Released 21st April 2020 by Hatchette on their Grand Central imprint, it's 304 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This book is a collection of early fiction and stories which were reworked into other works by L'Engle. For readers who are only familiar with the author because of her Time series which starts with A Wrinkle in Time, the included stories have a very different (often much gloomier) feel.  I found the quality of the writing variable also, which would be expected for stories curated from several decades of the author's output.

I found the background information and introduction by her granddaughter were interesting and worth a read. The stories themselves, although often poignant and dark, were generally well written and of a high quality. I honestly think that L'Engle's more mature work suffered somewhat because she was typecast as a 'juvenile fantasy writer'.

Four stars, I enjoyed it (but fair warning, there's a lot of angst - much of it apparently autobiographical in the stories).

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping

The Shapeless Unease is a stream-of-consciousness retrospective on a year of sleeplessness by Samantha Harvey. Released 22nd May 2020 by Grove Atlantic, it's 192 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

If this had just been a flat personal recollection of a year of insomnia (with recipes and a subchapter on how to increase melatonin), it wouldn't have affected me nearly so much. The book's pace is irregular and moves with a jerky rhythm which is edgy and anxious. The author writes with devastating simpicity about the sudden loss of a family member (a cousin with epilepsy) and her subsequent difficulty with anxiety, loss of sleep, emotional changes, and the devastating far-reaching effects of sleep deprivation on her life.

The writing is poetic, sharp, philosophical, insightful, and sometimes terrifying. It affected me deeply, so much that I am seeing out her other work. She's a gifted author and worth seeking out. The writing is sublime.

Five stars.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Officer Clemmons

Officer Clemmons is a memoir by Francois Clemmons detailing his early life, education, and time as Officer Clemmons, the character he played on Mr. Rogers' Neigborhood on PBS. Released 5th May 2020 by Catapult Books, it's 288 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA and though I was slightly too old to really be a part of Mr. Rogers' target audience (I was more a Sesame St. and Electric Co. kid), I always loved watching Mr. Rogers (since it was aired on our PBS station just before my shows). The genuine warmth and respect he showed to everyone made a deep impression on me, and he has been a role model to several generations of kids.

I always enjoyed the different characters who appeared on his show and liked that there was a continuity and dependability to the show's format and actors. It's incredible to think about how long lived the characters and the actors who brought them to life were associated with the show and I've often thought about how the show and the people associated with it provided some much needed stability and positive reinforcement to a lot of vulnerable kids.

Anyhow, this is a respectful, well written memoir mostly about Francois Clemmons' early life and upbringing, his education, and his years working with Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. There's a directness and honesty to his writing that is effective and moving. I found myself so touched and sad and angry at the casual violence and racism that were a part of his early life. He talks openly about his family history, the loss of family members to violence/murder, the casual systemic racism of the southern USA in the 1950s, and on top of all of that, his growing awareness of his sexual orientation in a society which was openly hostile to non-binary people. He made a lot of difficult decisions to sacrifice emotional parts of his life in order to work in children's programming and specifically with Fred Rogers.

I did enjoy the book, and the behind-the-scenes reminiscences, despite much of it being sad and poignant. Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis: The Incredible Life of Gino Bartali

A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis is the true story of cycling legend Gino Bartali's resistance work during WW2. Originally published in Italian in 2018, this English language translation from Pen & Sword is due out later this summer. It's 192 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Looking around at so much of the behaviour of my fellow humans during the course of this pandemic, I've seen heroic and selfless actions as well as petty, racist, and violent ones. I've often found myself wondering what makes people react the way they do. From all the documentation of his life and according to interviews with his friends and family, Bartali was an exceptionally ethical man. He was well respected and decorated as an athlete, and yet decided to act on his conscience at the risk of imprisonment or worse and deliver falsified documents which likely saved the lives of 800 Italian Jews.

This book manages to discuss politics, racism, and sports without ever being strident or preachy. I found the details fascinating. My family are cycling enthusiasts and we never miss the summer cycling events (except this summer of course, and we are missing them keenly). I'd heard of Bartali but only in terms of his records and stunning career, never in terms of his wartime work for the resistance.

A lot of historical biographies have a tendency to concentrate overmuch on the dates and times and facts at the cost of the narrative flow and human-ness of the story. This author is quite gifted at emphasizing the personal story of Bartali and his family and colleagues whilst remaining true to the known facts and weaving them into historical context. I was also impressed at the quality of the translation work. It doesn't read like a work in translation and I didn't get yanked out of the story by awkwardly constructed writing.

There are black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the book which I also enjoyed seeing. Overall impression: quite interesting biography of a legendary athlete who stayed true to his conscience. He was a brilliant cyclist and a good human.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Complete Guide to Self-Care: Best Practices for a Healthier and Happier You

Complete Guide to Self-Care is a manual and guide full of attractive and attainable suggestions for taking time out to care for ourselves, and evaluating and correcting the quality of our lives. Due out 2nd June from Quarto on their Chartwell Books imprint, it's 168 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The book is split into different areas of care: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social. Each chapter includes both exercises to do, and information and tutorials to put into practice. This book doesn't contain recipes for bath bombs or cucumber skin toner; instead it concentrates on meditation, visualization, and grounding to help the reader attain tranquility and inner peace.

The book has a nice layout, with photographs interspersed with relevant highlighted text boxes. There are lots of prompts which could easily tie-in effortlessly for writing, journaling, and other creative pursuits. The book's aesthetic struck me as very feminine, though there's no reason it couldn't be utilized equally by men.

Really pretty book full of good advice (if a bit heavy on the pseudo-science woo side of the equation). Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Golden Flea: A Story of Obsession and Collecting

The Golden Flea is a weirdly charming and engaging story of collecting, collectors, and flea markets against the backdrop of the  author's particular obsession with the now-defunct Chelsea Flea Market in Manhattan. Released 21st April 2020 by W. W. Norton & co., it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is not in any way a how-to guide, there are no tips or tricks for finding hidden treasures. This is a direct and simply told story of the author's experiences with the flea market and a slice of life memoir of some of the buyers and sellers he encounters along the way. The story, I think, is indelibly American, and more specifically New York. Especially the interactions and language are indubitably New York, this story couldn't be told in this way in San Jose, CA or London, or Paris.

I'm a collector and obsessive in my (very niche) habits. I love (and restore, and use) fountain pens, embroidery samplers (especially English, 17th-18th century), and books. I understand the heartbreak and thrill of the chase and the stupendous glee of the win. This author definitely "gets it" too. 

The language is rough and often perjorative, but not gratuitous. The author has some good points about mental health and potentially obsessive collecting and the meta-narrative is well wrapped inside the story of a guy who really really liked to go to the flea market and the people he encountered on his sojourns.

I found it engaging and worthwhile. I can understand readers wanting a different book being disappointed in it. Four stars for me (one of the weirdos asking innocently, "do you happen to have any old linens or embroidered pillowcases or hankies" at the crack of dawn on a Saturday).

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Craft Lab for Kids: 52 DIY Projects to Inspire, Excite, and Empower Kids to Create Useful, Beautiful Handmade Goods

Craft Lab for Kids is a DIY manual full of fun, decorative, and useful tutorials mostly aimed at kids and their adults. Due out 26th May 2020 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

With the state of the world at the moment (in the middle of a pandemic lockdown), finding fun and constructive/engaging ways to redirect energy can be a sanity saver (for adults *and* kids). These 52 (!!) tutorial labs are arranged thematically: renewing/repurposing, artistic projects (painting and decorative crafting), self care (fizzy bath bombs and more), party themed crafts, updated traditional crafts, quickie crafts which don't require much of a time commitment, and crafting kind gifts/thoughts for others.

The introduction includes an overview of safety guidelines and essential tools and supplies. Each tutorial includes an introduction, supplies in a bullet list, and step by step directions written in clear accessible language. The tutorials also include instructive photos which are clear and easy to follow.

The tools and supplies used are almost all easy to find and inexpensive, many use recycled and upcycled ingredients which would otherwise go to waste.

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for a maker's group, home library, school or public library group (when we can gather again).

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Stolen Letter (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #5)

The Stolen Letter is the 5th Scottish Bookshop cozy mystery by Paige Shelton. Released 7th April 2020 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and available in hardcover, mass market paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

These are self contained mysteries and as such work well enough as standalones. The ensemble casts' interrelationships have developed over the course of the books, there'll be some missing backstory, but the author is adept at giving the necessary information, so it's not absolutely necessary.

For lovers of very light bookstore cozies, these will likely be a good fit. There is a historical mystery subplot and tie-in to Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart's contentious relationship and the latter's subsequent betrayal and execution. There are also several interwoven subplots concerning a modern day murder, skullduggery, and the threat of the titular bookshop's closing.

All in all, it's a diverting, very light, readable cozy mystery with a whimsical ensemble cast. Some of the plot developments are a bit over the top (including a deux ex machina that made my eyes roll into the back of my skull, but ok). 

Three and a half stars. The author is a talented and capable storyteller, and I do love bookstore cozies, rounding up for the fun story.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Rock that Quilt Block - Country Crown Block

Rock that Quilt Block is a tutorial and style guide for quilters offering step-by-step design and sewing instruction for the country crown block. Due out 1st June 2020 from Fox Chapel, it's 88 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a thorough look at how to break down one quilt block into smaller straight seam sewn units and put them together in various ways and with different contrasts to make *completely* different looking quilts. As such, the basic techniques can be used on any standard quilt block to vary and rearrange the units into an infinite number of variations.

The 10 quilts which are included in the pattern book use (mostly) similar units to make variations on the traditional country crown block pieced quilt. There are two sort of modern looking variations, and the rest are traditional quilts in traditional colorways. The authors include cutting and piecing information, so this would be a good starter guide for beginners. Templates are included.

Beautiful quilts and a perfect activity for the current world pandemic craziness. Five stars. I pieced some sample blocks from the templates and they were problem free. I did not calculate the accuracy of the given supplies needed for each tutorial, but with an experienced eyeball estimate, I found no glaring errors. Materials lists and supplies are given in both American standard and metric measurements. Each project's finished dimensions are given in the descriptions.

Simple but lovely book. I enjoyed it very much. Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Encyclopedia of Insects

Encyclopedia of Insects is a beautifully illustrated and scientifically accurate non-fiction compendium of insects aimed at middle grade readers (~grades 2-6). Due out 2nd June from Quarto on their Wide-Eyed Editions imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

After a good introduction (what are insects, what are their common characteristics, what ecological niche do they occupy, why are they increasingly in trouble) the entries are all arranged by genera with specific species listed with proper nomenclature, interesting facts, size, diet, and habitat.

The writing is accessible and engaging. The illustrations are vibrant and colorful. This would make a superlative classroom or library book, as well as being a wonderful pick for any young entomology fans in your circle of friends or family. 

Five enthusiastic stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Modern Kogin

Modern Kogin is a tutorial and project guide for Kogin embroidery. Due out 1st June from Zakka Workshop, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback format.

Kogin embroidery is a Japanese geometric surface woven embroidery, similar to huck weaving and decorative darning. This is a collection of tutorials with patterns for 24 finished projects and numerous stitching diagrams.

The projects are all pictured in color and include attractive and pretty table linens, small soft furnishings, coin purses, and accessories. All of the templates and stitch diagrams as well as construction tutorials are included. The brooches for example, are incredibly appealing and would make a gorgeous addition to hand knitted or sewn apparel or home decor whilst using up the smallest of scraps of evenweave fabric and fibres.

Really appealing book with attractive projects for an underrepresented technique. Lovely!

Five stars. Worthwhile for the fabric crafter's library. It's also very nice to see embroidery techniques outside of cross stitch getting some representation.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus

The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus is a collection of shorter fiction by Michael Swanwick. Released 30th April 2020 by Subterranean Press, it's 200 pages and available in limited edition (signed and numbered) hardcover, and ebook formats.

I've always had a particular fondness for collections/anthologies because short fiction is spare and technically challenging, so you get a better feel for an author's expertise with the form. Short fiction is less of a time commitment as well, so if one story is not working for you, there's another piece readily available in a few pages. This one is a sort of Fafhrd/Mouser homage (with a con man whose sidekick is an anthropomorphic canine - living and carrying out their confidence tricks in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world). There are 9 stories in all (5 novellas and 4 vignettes). All of them have a line from Mother Goose as titles, lending the whole an offbeat whimsical appeal.

The stories themselves are well written, but caveat emptor: the author never met a cheap pun or double entendre he didn't take home and write down. If sophomoric jokes make you groan and roll your eyes in irritation, this one probably won't be a good fit.  On the other hand, the author's Hugo winning entry is reprinted here (The Dog Said Bow-Wow). Mr. Swanwick knows his way around narrative fiction. They're clever and funny and sometimes touching. I will admit that they're not everyone's cup of tea, but they were a definite treat to read. The book includes a lot of inside info and background provided by the author which is nearly always one of my favorite parts to read. Neil Gaiman is another author who provides really good information about characters' genesis and his story ideas, Ray Bradbury did, Asimov often did, and this author does as well.

Well written and diverting, this is one for speculative fiction fans. It'll sit very well with the steampunk and adventure folks.

Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.