Monday, February 24, 2020

Drawing: Colored Pencil Basics: Learn to draw step by step

Drawing: Colored Pencil Basics is a tutorial and style guide by Cynthia Knox. Due out 3rd March 2020 from  Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and will be available in paperback format.
The layout follows the familiar Walter Foster tutorial format. An introduction covers tools and supplies and is followed by a short and easily accessible general drawing tutorial and an introduction to color theory.  There's a good subchapter on blending, burnishing, and pencil techniques as well as a short intro on how to choose the right pencils.There's a good bit on grid drawing as well as drawing from reference photos. The book ends (quite abruptly) with a short tutorial on drawing animal fur.

Each of the chapters includes a start to finish project illustrating the concepts and techniques from the chapter.

This is a very basic book but full of intermediate techniques and will provide some useful takeaways for the majority of readers/artists.  This entire series is worthwhile and will be a valuable addition to the artist's home library.

Four stars.

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

It Walks by Night: A Paris Mystery (Henri Bencolin #1)

It Walks by Night is the first Henri Bencolin Paris mystery by John Dickson Carr. Originally released in 1930, this reformat and re-release from Poisoned Pen Press is 272 pages and due out 3rd March 2020. This edition will be available in paperback and ebook formats. (Other editions available in other formats). This book is one of the books in the British Library Crime Classics series and it's really nice to see these gems being brought back into print and presented to new readers. 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.

As the others in the series, there is an introduction by mystery history maven Martin Edwards. As engaging as these classic mysteries have been, I have also looked forward in equal measure to Mr. Edwards' insightful commentary.

Carr is well known (with good reason) for his 'impossible' locked room mysteries. This is another such. Despite being almost 100 years old, it wears well, and still provides a load of atmosphere (in some places, positively creepy). The first murder is quite gory (a beheading) and there's a varied cast of suspects and a load of red herrings along the way.

The dialogue and style are admittedly a bit dated and true to the period, but I found it charming. For fans of golden age mysteries, it'll definitely be a plus, not a detraction.

Very well done. I have read a lot of Carr's work, but somehow had missed this one. Worth a read, especially for fans of the golden age.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Best of New Orleans Cookbook: 50 Classic Cajun and Creole Recipes from the Big Easy

The Best of New Orleans Cookbook is a new recipe collection from Ryan Boudreaux. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 130 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available now). 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

An introductory chapter gives a good introduction to the author's background and the philosophy of the food culture in and around New Orleans. The following chapters contain tutorials and recipes arranged roughly thematically: breakfast and lunch, cocktails and appetizers, rice dishes, main courses, and desserts. The book includes some conversion charts and resource links as well (but no ingredient index).

Ingredients for the individual recipes are listed in a bullet sidebar with American standard measures only. Info and tips about the ingredients or the recipes themselves are given below the preparation information. Prep time, yields, and cooking time are given in the header info. Nutritional information and special diet concerns/allergens (nuts, celery, wheat, etc) are not given.

These are yummy and (mostly) made from easily sourced ingredients.

I am very much a visual learner and one of my concerns with several cookbooks I've reviewed recently has been the lack of photography and serving suggestions. I know that photography can increase the cost of a published book significantly but it enhances the end result so much that in my case at least, it's a necessary part of any cookbook which I buy and use. This book is somewhere in the middle. There aren't many photos, but the ones which are included are clear and appealing.

Four stars. This is a good niche cookbook with a wide variety of goodies included.

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

Drawing: Landscapes with William F. Powell: Learn to draw outdoor scenes step by step

Drawing Landscapes with William F. Powell Learn to Draw Step by Step series. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback format. This appears to be a reformat and re-release of material first released in 1997 with the same title by the same author.

The titles in this series are all formatted in a similar manner and this one is no exception.

A short general introduction (10%) covers tools and materials including pencils, paper, blending tools, etc. The intro is followed by a group of non-specific tutorials on graphite techniques, shading, light, shapes and perspective. The following tutorial chapters are specific for different subjects (landscapes) and include specific tutorials: clouds, rocks, trees & branches, etc, leading to some full studies. There is also a very abbreviated tutorial on rendering some surfaces and finishes. It should be noted that the style of these renderings is very retro/traditional in a style which was popular in the early to mid 20th century, much of that popularity springing from the art of Mr. Powell himself.

I like these tutorial booklets, they're inexpensive and full of useful info for artists looking for improvement in their own work. It's nice to see them getting a re-release for a new audience of artists and learners.

Four stars - for what it covers and for a very short tutorial guide, it does the job admirably well.

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

My First Maria Montessori

My First Maria Montessori is a new entry in the Little People, Big Dreams series of historical biographies of the childhoods and lives of notable people. I've reviewed a number of the books in this charming series on my blog. This one, about Maria Montessori, introduced me to some facts of which I was previously unaware.

Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 24 pages and available in boardbook format.

This is a lovely tribute to a woman who was educated as a medical doctor (the first woman doctor educated in modern times in Italy) and who used her abilities and observational skills to serve some of the most vulnerable children in her society. Considered disposable by her society at the time, she recognized that everyone could be educated and used her skills to make learning fun for the marginalized and institutionalized children of Italy, and later the world.

The text by Isabel Vegara is simple enough to be understood by very young children. The art, by Raquel Martin is colorful and appealing and illustrates the text very well.

Very well done book and a lovely and worthwhile series. It would make a great bedtime read or a reading circle or classroom read for the very youngest "readers".

Four stars.

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

Brushstrokes: Acrylic: Effortless painting with minimal tools and materials

Brushstrokes: Acrylic is a tutorial and technique guide by Angela Moulton aimed at beginning artists. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.
Walter Foster are familiar and loved by readers everywhere for their specialized technique tutorial books and this one follows the same format. The introductory chapters (~15% of the content) include tools, supplies, brush anatomy, a little color theory, some technique basics, palettes and choosing colors. The rest of the book contains 11 step by step tutorials for specific subjects. These really are projects which almost anyone can complete. The author has a calm and positive teaching 'voice' and the projects are simple but appealing (see cover).

There are no links or bibliography included and no index. In fact the book ends so abruptly I wasn't sure that I had gotten a full review copy. (I had). The artist author is adept and certainly talented with the medium she uses and her instructions are clear and easy to follow.

Four stars.

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

Vivienne Westwood: My First Vivienne Westwood (Pequeña & GRANDE)

My First Vivienne Westwood is a new book in the Little People, Big Dreams series. Written by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Laura Callaghan, it's due out 5th March, 2020 by Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint.  Aimed at the youngest 'readers', it's 24 pages, perfect for a storytime or bedtime read.  It'll be available in ebook and boardbook formats. I've reviewed a number of the books in this charming series on my blog. This one, about fashion rebel icon Vivienne Westwood, takes the often turbulent life of the originator of 'punk style' and handles it in a charmingly age-appropriate manner.

I really liked that the author and illustrator have managed to write an engaging book for children as well as including cultural events and bands which will appeal to adults.

I don't know what criteria they use for selecting the subjects of their biographies, but the varied and interesting people in this series have all been winners in my opinion.

Well worth a read. Would make a good library selection or gift.

Four stars.

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

The Burglar in Short Order

The Burglar in Short Order is a new collection of short pieces and chapter excerpts from both new and previously published work by Lawrence Block. Due out 29th Feb 2020 from Subterranean Press, it's 144 pages and will be available in a hardcover limited edition from the publisher.

I've loved Bernie Rhodenbarr since he first debuted 40+ years ago. It's a series I revisit regularly whenever I need a short and humorous uplifting read. They're wonderfully undemanding hugely entertaining reads. This collection, although admittedly short on new material, is filled with 15 selections perfect for a short interlude or commute read.

The pieces included are varied in point of view and narration. There's also a teaser at the end of the book which takes the form of a short dialogue between the author, Mr. Block, and Bernie, the fictional character, on what the future holds for Bernie's adventures since time has stood more or less still for Bernie while it's marched on for the rest of us. I also liked being able to read a very early story with a recognizable 'seed' of a story which later germinated into the Bernie/Burglar series. He's not named in the story, but it's proto-Bernie for sure.

This is a bittersweet collection and generally of a quality which compares well with the rest of the books. I definitely recommend it highly to fans of the canonical series as well as mystery lovers who were previously unfamiliar with Mrs. Rhodenbarr's son Bernie.

Five stars for Block fans like me, four for everyone else.

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


Undertow (Undertow #1)

Undertow is a YA fantasy by K.R. Conway. Released in 2014, it's 390 pages and available in paperback 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. The ebook version is available on most platforms for free to download and read as an introduction to the series which is up to 4 books (plus a prequel) currently.

This was a readable and entertaining YA fantasy with a strong romance subplot and female protagonist. It's full of the type of high school drama and cars/boys/homework/cheerleader/potential world changing apocalypse drama endemic to the genre. There's quite a lot of snarky dialogue which caused me to roll my eyes now and again, but overall it's well written and perfectly readable. (Note: the things I found less-than-stellar about the book will likely be a positive for the intended audience; it's been decades since I was young, and I don't think I've ever been an adult).

I liked the world building, the author has provided a rich background history and captivating world building. The plotting was a little slow in the first half of the book but picked up and accelerated around the 45% mark.

I'm intrigued enough to pick up the next couple books in the series to see how it develops.

Four stars, it'll be interesting to read what comes next. As a bonus, readers don't have to wait for the author to finish the follow-up books

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

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Never Forget (Victor Lessard #3)

Never Forget is the third Lessard procedural thriller by Martin Michaud. Originally published in French in 2012, this is the first of the series to be translated into English.  Released 18th Jan 2020 by Dundurn, it's 576 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a well written but often disturbing procedural thriller. The narrative is choppy and jagged for the first third of the book, switching abruptly between disparate elements both current and retrospective which circle and interweave ever more tightly until they become a single story including shadow politics, shockingly unethical medical research, cover-ups at the very highest level, corruption, dirty money and torture. It's a fairly hefty book (nearly 600 pages) and the author makes good use of the word count to develop the characters and move the story to its inevitable denouement.

The protagonist is flawed: depressed, a recovering alcoholic, physically and emotionally wrecked, suffering from PTSD and trying to have some semblance of a normal relationship with his adult kids (also troubled) and his lover (much younger, but a sane spot of happiness in his very messed up orbit).

The author writes convincingly and very well. This book is quite gritty and includes graphic depictions of torture/murder, rape/involuntary BDSM, graphic consensual sex, rough language, suicide, mental torture, domestic violence. Also, almost everyone smokes. Despite this, it's an engaging and intriguing read.

The translation work is seamless. It doesn't read like a book in translation. I hope Dundurn go back and release the earlier books in English.

Four stars. Worth a read for fans of gritty procedurals.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cozy Case Files, A Cozy Mystery Sampler, Volume 8

Cozy Case Files is a sneak-preview collection of 5 new cozy mystery novels. Released 7th Jan 2020 from Macmillan on their St. Martin's imprint, it's 180 pages and can be accessed on most ebook retailers (Amazon, Rakuten/Kobo etc) to download and read for free. This is the 8th cozy mystery sampler from St. Martin's.  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.

The collection includes a few chapters from each of 5 upcoming (or recently released) cozy mysteries by M.C. Beaton, Vivien Chien, Diane Kelly, Elizabeth Penney, and Paige Shelton. It was especially poignant for me because Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) passed away fairly recently.

All of them are appealing, and all of the included mysteries are reviewed (or scheduled) on my blog.  The full mysteries themselves are all in the 4 star range, all are entertaining and well crafted.

Definitely worth downloading the collection to test sample the upcoming books. Four stars for the collection. 

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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

30-Second Literature: The 50 most important forms, genres and styles, each explained in half a minute

30-Second Literature is a short style guide to the most common literary forms, with short explanations for each. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Ivy Press imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a collection and collaboration, well curated and edited by Ella Berthoud and compiled of essays and examples by a number of other authors.  It delves into 50 different forms arranged roughly thematically: historical forms, the novel, literary prose, poetry, drama, literary devices, and styles. Each of the categories includes several notable forms such as early modern fiction, epistolary writing, tragedy, comedy, narrative voice, realism, etc. Each of the archetype chapters also contains an illustrative profile: Dostoevsky, Hafez, Aristophanes, and so on. Each of the chapters also includes a handy glossary with good layman accessible definitions.

Each of the entries also includes a definition, some deeper interpretation and related topics for further reading, along with a bibliography and (very) short text.

Graphically this book is beautifully appealing as well, with lots of varied paintings, drawings, relevant illustrations and tie-ins, cartoons and artistic work both original and reprinted.

This would make a superlative choice as a support text for literature/classroom/instruction use or as a personal reference work for the keen reader. The index is brief but satisfactory to its purpose.

Five stars.

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




The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1)

The Unspoken Name is the first book in a debut series by A.K. Larkwood. Released 11th Feb 2020 by Macmillan on their Tor imprint, it's 464 pages and available in hardcover, 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

Occasionally (but distressingly rarely) a new (to me) author comes along in one of my favorite genres and really blows me away. This is one such happy occasion. This combines epic fantasy, incredibly detailed world building that feels real down to details of social convention and interaction, elements of the best SF, a female protagonist who isn't supergirl and too utterly perfect, overarching themes of honor, building a life which defies external expectations, and does so without feeling like a mash of a million unrelated threads trying to be everything to everyone. I also appreciate that this book didn't devolve into a romance, that Csorwe (the young female orc protagonist) was more realistically rendered (apart from being a badass assassin) than a lot of super-protagonists. Early on in the book, she's being taught languages by a succession of tutors and really does grumble like a kid being forced to do unwanted homework.

The plot is wonderfully rich and detailed, the narrative arc is beautifully engineered and for a book of nearly 500 pages, it moves along at a good clip. I never felt that the story dragged or lost my interest. In fact, I stayed up way too late on a couple occasions reading and almost missed my bus stop on my morning commute because I was so absorbed in the story.

I heartily recommend this author and this debut unreservedly. Five stars.

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



Drawing: Faces: Learn to draw step by step

Drawing: Faces: Learn to draw step by step is a book in the Learn to Draw Step by Step series. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback format. This appears to be a reformat and re-release of material first released in 1997 with the same title by the same author.

The titles in this series are all formatted in a similar manner and this one is no exception.

A short general introduction (10%) covers tools and materials including pencils, paper, blending tools, etc. The intro is followed by a group of non-specific tutorials on graphite techniques, shading, light, shapes and perspective. The following tutorial chapters are specific for different subjects (mostly faces) and include specific anatomy: eyes, noses, etc, leading to some full studies. There is also a very abbreviated tutorial on rendering some surfaces and finishes. It should be noted that the style of these renderings is very retro/traditional in a style which was popular in the early to mid 20th century, much of that popularity springing from the art of Mr. Foster himself.

I like these tutorial booklets, they're inexpensive and full of useful info for artists looking for improvement in their own work. It's nice to see them getting a re-release for a new audience of artists and learners.

Four stars - for what it covers and for a very short tutorial guide, it does the job admirably well.

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

What If Bunny's NOT a Bully?

What If Bunny's NOT a Bully? is a picture book with sweetly rhyming text for the youngest readers. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Kids Can Press, it's 32 pages and will be available in hardback and ebook formats.

This book has a good message about inclusivity and giving people another chance as well as being aware that everyone can do things which they regret. The text by Lana Button is short and simple and scans well. The typeset is easy to read and the formatting gives a good and readable contrast. The illustrations, by Christine Battuz are done in an appealingly whimsical collage with hand drawn elements and include a surprising amount of detail which encourages a lingering look (or hunt and find side game when reading).

Four stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, read-to-me, or gift.

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

Beautiful Pigs: Portraits of champion breeds

Beautiful Pigs: Portraits of champion breeds is an introduction with a short history and a gallery showing the variation and beauty of different breeds of pigs. Originally published in the UK in 2009 this re-format and re-release is due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Ivy Press imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback format. All of the books in this series follow the same format and are all well done and attractive.

The authors have an accessible and informative style. The book has a good introduction with some historic breeds, champion breeds, and exotic breeds, development of breed standards, and a very short capsule intro to shows. The intros are followed by a gallery listing of 40 swine, with a full color detail photo, breed intro with features, uses, related breeds, size/weight, and range/origin. The picture content also helpfully includes the sex of the subject. The end of the book contains some sepia-tone photos from specific show entry winners, along with an index and solid links lists for further reading. 

Honestly the completeness of the bibliography and links are probably worth the cost of the book by themselves. Very well done. This would be a very good choice for a 4H or FFA intro to selecting and showing or at least starting the necessary pre-purchase research. There is no animal husbandry content included here, this is a compendium of show quality healthy beautiful swine in show condition.

A useful and appealing book and a good introduction to the conformation and looks of standard purebred pigs.

Four stars.

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

Drawing: Faces & Expressions: Learn to draw step by step

Drawing: Faces & Expressions is a book in the Learn to Draw Step by Step series. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback format. This appears to be a reformat and re-release of material first released in 2015 with the same title by the same author.

The titles in this series are all formatted in a similar manner and this one is no exception.

A short general introduction (10%) covers tools and materials including pencils, paper, blending tools, etc. The intro is followed by a group of non-specific tutorials on graphite techniques, shading, light, shapes and perspective. The following tutorial chapters are specific for different subjects (mostly faces) and include specific anatomy: eyes, noses, etc, leading to some full studies (aging beauty, at ease, deep in thought, all smiles). There is also a very abbreviated tutorial on rendering some surfaces and finishes in the form of accessories like earrings, ties, scarves, and hats.

I like these tutorial booklets, they're inexpensive and full of useful info for artists looking for improvement in their own work. It's nice to see them getting a re-release for a new audience of artists and learners.

Four stars - for what it covers and for a very short tutorial guide, it does the job admirably well.

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

Drawing: Manga: Learn to draw step by step

Drawing: Manga is a new book in the Learn to Draw Step by Step series. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback format. This appears to be a reformat and re-release of material first released in 2010 with the same title by the same author.

A short general introduction briefly covers tools and materials. The intro is followed by a group of non-specific tutorials on shapes, shading, and composition. The following tutorial chapters are specific for different human  subjects and include specific anatomy: heads, hair, facial features, etc, leading to some full body specific studies (ninja, hero, schoolgirl) followed by some narrative themes, drawing from life, telling a story with drawings and a little otaku DIY quiz for the younger set.

I like these tutorial booklets, they're inexpensive and full of useful info for artists looking for improvement in their own work.

Three and a half stars - for what it covers and for a very short tutorial guide, it does the job admirably well.

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

Drawing: Birds: Learn to draw step by step

Drawing: Birds is a new book in the Learn to Draw Step by Step series. Released 7th May 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

The titles in this series are all formatted in a similar manner and this one is no exception.

A short general introduction (10%) covers tools and materials including pencils, paper, blending tools, etc. The intro is followed by a group of non-specific tutorials on graphite techniques, shading, light, shapes and perspective. The following tutorial chapters are specific for different bird subjects and include specific anatomy: eyes, claws, beaks, etc, leading to some full body specific studies (hummingbird, owl, heron, woodpecker, chickadee).

I like these tutorial booklets, they're inexpensive and full of useful info for artists looking for improvement in their own work.

Four stars - for what it covers and for a very short tutorial guide, it does the job admirably well.

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

Home Is Where You Make It: DIY Ideas Styling Secrets to Create a Home You Love, Whether You Rent or Own

Home Is Where You Make It is a tutorial, decorating, and ideas book for home decor by Geneva Vanderzeil. Due out 3rd March 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an upbeat DIY volume aimed at modern cottage style re-do's. There is a fair bit of content devoted to surface updates which would be particularly relevant to renters or would-be decorators on a strict budget. I liked the emphasis on upcycling and repurpose/repair.  The author uses a room by room tutorial format which allows the reader to pick and choose menu style, or browse through the book cover to cover.

The chapter tutorials are interspersed with Q&A type sidebars with good short takes on particular decorating problems (what to do if others who share the space don't agree with design choices, how to redecorate on a severely anemic budget (or zero budget), how to pick small pieces (baskets, mirrors, framed art), and more.

I enjoyed reading the book and paging through the beautifully done photographs (seriously, the photos are wonderful). I found a few particularly good tips for my own use. The vibe of the book is younger and somewhat feminine and 'shabby chic/cottage'. There were some decidedly quirky and whimsical features (a half painted, half raw wood front door), but the whole book has a kind of bouncy upbeat vibe that it never degenerates into pretentiousness or stuffiness.

Four stars. Some good stuff here.

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