Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Art of Drawing Animals: Discover all the techniques you need to know to draw amazingly lifelike animals

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The Art of Drawing Animals is a reformat and compilation which contains some content published between 2006 and 2008. This release is due out in late 2021 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available currently).

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 texture and perspective.  There's a good subchapter on blending, texture strokes, and pencil techniques as well as a short intro on how to compose a drawing and textures and shading for animal drawings as well as a short intro on reference photos.

Each of the chapters includes several start to finish projects illustrating the concepts and techniques from the chapter. The tutorials are grouped roughly thematically: baby animals, cats & dogs, horses & ponies, wild animals, and rendering with colored pencils.

This is a very basic book but full of good technique 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. Although the tutorials are not aimed at new beginners, there are numerous takeaways for artists at all levels of expertise and the specific step-by-step tutorials will give all readers a benchmark to aim for.

Four stars.

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

Deadly Editions (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #6)

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Deadly Editions is the 6th book in the Scottish Bookshop cozy mystery series by Paige Shelton. Released 6th April 2021 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and is 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.

All of the Scottish Bookshop mysteries are self contained and as such work well enough as standalones. The characters' interrelationships have developed over the course of the books, so there will be some missing backstory, but the author is adept at giving the necessary information, so readers who choose to pick up this one first won't likely experience any problems with keeping the story straight.

For lovers of very light bookstore cozies, these will likely be a good fit. This outing sees Delaney and crew on a scavenger hunt with the prize being a wealthy and eccentric bibliophile's priceless library collection. There are four people in-it-to-win-it (with generous cash grants to the ones who don't take home the grand prize). The stakes get higher when the benefactress is kidnapped, and everyone is scrambling to rescue her and solve an old murder mystery from her past.

All in all, it's a diverting, very light, readable cozy mystery with a whimsical ensemble cast. Some of the plot setups and developments are a bit over the top, but I strongly suspect that's a big part of why bookshop cozies are wildly popular. A strong suspension of disbelief is required. The language and content are chaste and perfectly safe for commute or work reading.

Four stars. The author is a talented and capable storyteller, and I do love bookstore cozies.

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

A Woman's Garden: Grow beautiful plants and make useful things

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A Woman's Garden is a tutorial and gardening guide by Tanya Anderson. Due out 27th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available currently). 

This is one of those wonderfully useful garden/DIY hybrids which include a fair bit of good gardening advice alongside a plethora of small tutorials and inspiring crafting projects. I doubt that many of us have time to implement many of the projects in a meaningful fashion (or maybe I'm just the inefficient one) but these are the books I find myself revisiting again and again for inspiration and using over the long haul instead of just reading once and tossing aside.

The information is presented in a straightforward fashion: three edible gardens three ways: kitchen, flower, and herb. The gardening bits are followed by the tutorials: health and beauty and garden related crafts. There are (by my count) 28 complete tutorials including a remarkably useful and complete section on natural plant dyes which could easily take up many volumes on its own. The tutorials are well written and appealing and would provide hours of activity and productivity for maker's groups, scouting, home gardeners (especially with kids!), and similar uses. The tutorial projects are easy enough to do without a great deal of extra tools and supplies and will give readers a good overview of different traditional crafts that they can evaluate for exploration later on a more comprehensive level. There are short gardener profiles (all female) scattered throughout the book. It's interesting to see how they thrive in their own climate/soil/garden locations.

The photography is superb; Quarto's art department rocks. The illustrations are clear, colorful, and easy to understand. Tutorial recipes contain a general description and overview. Ingredients are listed bullet style in a sidebar with measurements given in both American standard and metric (yay!), followed by step by step instructions. Special tips and alternative preparations are presented in highlighted text boxes in the footers. 

This is a lovely book. It would make a good selection for library acquisition, gardening & makers' groups, allotments, community gardens, home gardeners, crafters, and for readers looking for inspiration. 

Five stars.

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


Don't Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of Nxivm

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Don't Call It a Cult is a well written journalistic examination of the often lurid and sordid facts surrounding Keith Raniere and NXIVM. Due out 20th April 2021 from Steerforth Press, it's 336 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. 

I vaguely remember reading about the various trials surrounding NXIVM and Raniere. I have never been much of a true-crime reader, so I came into this read mostly ignorant of the situation, background, and facts of the cases. Sarah Berman is very capable and writes simply and convincingly. Although the book is meticulously annotated and supported with references throughout, it's accessible and understandable. I didn't feel that the author had an agenda and she didn't sensationalize the facts of the case (which are pretty shocking on that scale). 

To me, NXIVM was even more remarkable for the vast scope of all the intertwined aspects and arms of the organization and also for the wealth and resources of its adherents. It's sobering to think that no matter how intelligent, well educated, or self-sufficient we are, no matter what economic advantages we have, we can all be manipulated and hoodwinked by charismatic and unscrupulous people/media. 

The author presents the material factually and baldly, without flowery language or overemphasis. In my case that made the subject matter even more forceful: "It was uncomfortable imagining the words What was it like being branded? coming out of my mouth, but I knew I had to get there somehow". Many of the interviews which she relates make for uncomfortable reading and were related in such a direct way that it took my breath away. 

The book includes a dramatis personae at the front to keep the primary players straight. The author has also done a good job with the annotations and the chapter notes and bibliography will keep readers busy for a long time.

Well done book. Uncomfortable reading in places though. Potential trigger warnings for sensitive readers: discussions on psychosexual torture and manipulation. Four stars.

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


The First-Time Gardener: Growing Plants and Flowers: All the know-how you need to plant and tend outdoor areas using eco-friendly methods

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The First-Time Gardener: Growing Plants and Flowers is a tutorial gardening guide by Sean & Allison McManus. Due out 27th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available currently). 

This is an information dense but also upbeat and accessible guide for readers planning and creating their first gardens. There's a lot of general garden siting/building/planning information, so this is also a valuable resource for readers looking for info on growing herbs, and other edible crops. There's also a sister volume with the same layout from the same publisher releasing roughly the same time which is vegetable specific in focus. 

The book has a logical layout: a short (easily understandable, not too technical) intro on plants and some good advice with steps on how to *start* (and not get bogged down or overwhelmed) is followed by step-by-step chapters on siting and planning, tools, soil building, seeds and plant material, implementation, seasonal tasks, garden management, troubleshooting and planning for next year. The authors are very upbeat and encouraging and the text is easy to understand. 

The book also includes appendices in the form of online links and resources for further reading and tie-in bonus material on the authors' website. They also have a podcast which is worth a listen.

The photography is simply gorgeous. Nearly every page has full color photographs and illustrations. 

This is a useful resource. It would make a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, community garden groups, home library, and for homesteaders and home gardeners. Five stars. 

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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Little and Often: A Memoir

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Little and Often is an honest memoir that is as simple and simultaneously as complex as life. Due out 27th April 2021 from William Morrow/Harper Collins on their Custom House imprint, it's 304 pages and will be 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 is a deeply moving and personal memoir about family, grief, loss, honesty, and growth. The author has a clear and engaging voice and writes openly about difficult and painful periods in his own life. I found myself drawn into his story and I experienced some of the same with my own not-always-easy relationship with my own father. 

The author uses an interwoven flashback type narrative to retell stories from his past alongside relevant important moments from his father's passing and his own adulthood and careers (he's also a vintner whose merlot was served at Barack Obama's 2013 inaugural luncheon; he picked up a doctorate along the way and has led an otherwise remarkable life). 

Beautifully written and moving. I enjoyed it a lot. I recommend it to readers of memoir and personal stories. The author is erudite and fascinating. Five stars. 

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

 


The Beginner's Pegan Diet Cookbook: Plant-Forward Recipes Combining the Best of the Paleo and Vegan Diets for Lifelong Health

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The Beginner's Pegan Diet Cookbook is a tutorial and recipe guide for the pegan diet with recipes developed by Michelle Miller. Due out 27th April 2021 from Quarto on their Fair Winds Press imprint, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The pegan (paleo + vegan principles) hybrid diet aims to improve health by minimizing inflammatory responses as well as being sustainable, helping support weight loss and balancing hormonal responses. Since it avoids dairy, gluten, additives, sugar, processed foods, and refined oils, it's easier on people who have negative metabolic responses to those items (celiac disease, lactose intolerance, etc). 

Although based on vegan and paleo diet principles, this diet is a hybrid method and less restrictive than either. For readers who are already vegans, these recipes contain about 25% overall animal protein, as well as other non-vegan ingredients such as honey. The point of the animal proteins is to source only the best quality usually grass-fed red meat and wild caught fish. The first 10% of the content covers the theory behind the diet, how to source the ingredients, understanding the glycemic index of foods (and why that matters), and some very general layman accessible physiology. The author has also included a sample meal plan and some basic info about meal-prepping. 

Recipes are grouped thematically: breakfast, snacks, soups & salads, entrees, side dishes, gravy sauces & dips, desserts, and drinks. The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard with metric measures in parentheses. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Recipes contain a brief description, nutritional info (calories, protein, fat, carbs), servings, and prep time. The ingredients will mostly be easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store.

Roughly 30% (by my count) of the recipes include photographs and serving suggestions are appetizing and appropriate.  

Four stars. There are some good ideas and recipes here which look tasty and healthy. 

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

301 Things to Draw: Creative Prompts to Inspire Art

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301 Things to Draw is a book compiled entirely of one word drawing prompts for artists (or would-be artists). Released 22nd Dec 2020 by Quarto on their Chartwell Books imprint, it's 204 pages and is available in paperback format. 

This is, quite simply, a book of one to two word prompts on entirely blank pages. I received a review copy in ebook format, so I can't comment on the paper quality, but the book itself potentially has some limited use in some situations for young artists who are stuck for inspiration, or possibly journalers, or for student artistic assignments. Unlike many similar books, the prompts do -not- include any other graphics or line drawings for inspiration. Many pages have two prompts on a half page each; there are some which are placed alone on a single page. 

This might make a nice gift in a set with some drawing supplies, but is of limited usefulness in my estimation. The nature of the book (designed to be drawn on) would make it quite inappropriate for library or school acquisition.

One star. Although some of the prompts are quite creative and unusual, it's not enough to elevate the usefulness of the book overall. Readers would be better served using the cost to buy some good quality sketch pads, pencils, and a random online word generator.  

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

Lavender: 50 Self-Care Recipes and Projects for Natural Wellness

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Lavender is a guide dedicated to the wonderful perennial herb which includes recipes and tutorials by Bonnie Louise Gillis. Due out 27th April 2021 from Sasquatch Books, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a well written guide to lavender culture and use. The information is presented accessibly and thematically in a logically arranged manner so that it's easy to find the info again when needed. The introductory chapters include some background history, a little botany, a good overview of growing and harvesting, a tiny bit of chemistry and some info about oils (both essential and carrier oils for infusion). 

The following chapters contain the recipes, arranged thematically: body (massage), mind (aromatherapy/relaxation), skin treatments, home environment, gifts, and cooking with lavender. Recipes include a description, ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar, and step-by-step directions. Measurements are given in American standard only. Recipe ingredients are easily sourced and most will be available at any well stocked grocery store or health-food boutique. 

The author and publisher have linked to the bibliography on the publisher's website instead of including it in the book. I was given an eARC for review purposes so the bibliography may be in the final retail release copy. The included index is cross-referenced and recipes and terms are easy to find in the text. The photography is clear, abundant, illustrative, and in color throughout. 

This would be a good choice for library acquisition, gifting to a gardening/cooking friend, or for the gardener's home library. There are many classic recipes here as well as many intriguing modern twists. I intend to try out the recipe for apricot-lavender scones this weekend.

Four stars.

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

Your Perfect Nursery: A Step-by-Step Approach to Creating the Nursery of Your Dreams


 

Your Perfect Nursery is a tutorial and style guide with information presented by Naomi Coe. Released 6th April 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 240 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

There certainly is a lot of planning and change involved in growing a family. It's a lot of excitement of course, but also potentially stressful to planning and decorating a nursery. This is a very well curated book of advice and design help for systematically planning and executing a nursery design from ideas to completion by a friendly and experienced designer whose specialization is nurseries. 

The information is presented in a logical and easy-to-access manner. The introductory material includes a general overview, ideas, and (importantly!) safety concerns before any of the actual work begins. The author then moves to chapters on budget planning, floorplans and layouts, choosing themes, actual furniture, storage, decor, textiles, contracting larger jobs (lots of good info here for -anyone- dealing with the contracting process), and finishing touches. 

I liked that the author has an encouraging, sensible, and practical style without strangling readers' creativity or whimsy. I also liked the information on sustainability and adaptations/metamorphosis after the purpose built nursery needs to grow and change. There's a short subchapter on adaptability for adoptive parents who might not know the child's exact age, as well as planning for siblings sharing a space. The author uses a significant amount of effort and emphasis on safety - of furnishings, of the actual furniture, of the chemicals and processes used - all good and worthwhile advice. The appendix includes shopping and resources and links for further reading. Most of the retailers and resources are aimed at readers in North America, but many of them do provide shipping services. 

The emphasis in this book is high end designer aesthetic but I found a wealth of good information for people across the budget spectrum. The photography throughout is very good. The photos are in color, clear, and easy to follow. 

Four and a half stars.

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

Titan Song (The Carter Archives #3)

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Titan Song is the third book in the Carter Archives SF police procedural series by Dan Stout. Released 6th April 2021 by Penguin Random House on their DAW imprint, it's 384 pages and is available in hardcover 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 is a superbly written gritty noir procedural with a lot more. Dan Stout is a genuinely gifted writer (in whatever genre) and this book was a pleasure to read. The noir aspects of the writing would do credibly well in a side-by-side comparison with Hammett, Ellroy, and Dorothy Hughes. The plotting is finely tuned and well controlled. The characters (an ensemble cast) are distinct, easy to remember, and believably motivated. 

There's a 70's cop vibe (pagers, disco, 8 track tapes) which plays along nicely with the extraterrestrial setting and humanoid alien species. In addition to the really solid mystery and police procedural aspects, it's set in an SF world where magic is real and not entirely well understood. 

This is the third book in a series and in this case, there's quite a lot of continuity involved with character and plot development. It certainly *could* be read as a standalone, but it would be improved by being read in series order. My own review was delayed a while because I wanted to go chase down the other 2 currently extant books before finishing this one. 

I would recommend this one to fans of noir procedurals even if they don't normally read SF. The writing is superb, the world building is meticulously detailed and the characters are believable. The denouement and resolution are clever and the whole is pleasantly twisty and engaging. There are even some humorous m0ments. For fans of SF mysteries, this is my best read in the genre for 2021 thus far.

Five stars. Superb. 

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


Thursday, April 8, 2021

My Day with Gong Gong

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My Day with Gong Gong is a sweetly funny illustrated story for the youngest readers written by Sennah Yee. Released 20th Dec 2020 by Annick Press, it's 36 pages and available in hardcover format. 

This is a fun and heartwarming story to read aloud and will have the youngest helping to read it after a few readthroughs. The illustrations by Elaine Chen suit the text perfectly and lend a happy and whimsical feel to the story. May and Gong Gong might not have too many words in common, but they are learning from one another and discovering that they have a lot more in common than May originally thought.

While not entirely appropriate for bedtime reading (too many exciting and active bits (including pigeon poop!)), it would be a really superlative selection for afternoon or post-naptime or reading circle reading activities.

Fun and happy and beautifully illustrated along with some subtle lessons on trust and support from the ones who love and care for us as well as a few very simple Chinese words with Hanzi (characters).

Five stars. I really enjoyed this one.

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out. Plus, 10 projects to repurpose household items into compost-making machines

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No-Waste Composting is a solidly comprehensive guide to composting (indoors and out) by Michelle Balz. It's part of the No Waste Gardening series. Due out 27th April from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. (Ebook available now).

The layout is logical and the information accessible and easy to locate in the text. The introductory chapters include benefits and general how-to basics of composting and how to get started. The following chapters cover outdoor composting, using the products of your composting,  indoor composting (yes, you can ... without obnoxious smells and mishaps), composting pet manure outdoors, and more tips and tricks for improving soil composition with compost and more tips for getting the most out of your bins. 

The author has included an abbreviated bibliography and reference list as well as cross referenced index. The book is well illustrated with clear color photographs and drawings throughout. The information is comprehensive and presented simply enough to be accessible to readers of all ages. 

Five stars. This would make an excellent choice for library acquisition, gardening groups, homesteaders, home gardeners, allotment/community garden groups, and similar.

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Bohemians

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The Bohemians is a fictionalized historical semi-biography of Dorothea Lange written by Jasmin Darznik. Released 6th April 2021 by Penguin Random House on their Ballantine imprint, it's 304 pages and is 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 is a beautifully written and moving account of the first years of Lange's life in California and her early career from 1918-1920 (and a little after). The prose is lyrical and evocative and so skillfully woven into the real historical facts that it's often difficult to figure out where reality shades over into fiction.  

Although it's historical fiction, written with scenery, prices, and dialogue true to the time period, there are also many issues and experiences relevant to today which could have been taken directly from the news headlines, including anti-immigrant prejudice, misogyny, poverty, and a pandemic! The book is also full of fun cultural references and artists to read up on and look up. I got almost as much enjoyment from playing the reference hunting game as I did reading the actual narrative.

Four and a half stars. Definitely worth a look, especially for fans of historical fiction. 

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

Checking Out Crime (A Bookmobile Cat Mystery #9)

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Checking Out Crime is the 9th book in the Bookmobile Cat cozy mystery series by Laurie Cass. Released 6th April 2021 from Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in large print 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.

This series has been a consistent winner in the librarian-cat-cozy-murder-smalltown-mystery sub-subgenre. The murders are off-scene and mostly bloodless, there's no graphic content, the language is clean, the characters are likeable and mostly intelligent. The narrative arc is well controlled and the plot moves along at a good pace. I never found my interest flagging at any point in the read. There are a number of side-plot and backstory threads which also progress in this book, so readers might want to read some of the earlier books or risk having some plot developments spoiled somewhat. It does work well enough as a standalone that readers won't have any trouble keeping the characters or their interrelationships straight if they read them out of order.

The climax and denouement are well done, but I admittedly found the murder motive pretty thin/unrealistic. That being said, it is a fun cozy and full of the things which we all love about small-town cozies (with cattitude!). 

Four stars. Highly recommended to fans of the genre. 

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

The Best Thing You Can Steal

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The Best Thing You Can Steal is a standalone urban fantasy novella (and I hope) the start of a new series by Simon R. Green. Released 6th April 2021 by Severn House, it's 192 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook versions. 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.

Simon Green will be familiar to many (most?) fans of urban fantasy and this is a good example of the kind of writing we've come to expect from him. There's a large dose of bravado, lots of imagination, cleverly wrought characters who are that little bit extra, and an extravagantly intricate plot full of twists and turns. The denouement was exciting and engaging and the resolution was very satisfying. A one sentence precĂ­s would say: Ocean's 11 meets the BPRD with a dash of Neverwhere. It's a not entirely fair assessment, since Mr. Green adds his own inimitable stamp to the narrative, but it's not far off either. 

The language is *relatively* clean and would probably rate PG. Vernacular and spelling are UK standard (the author's a Brit, it's set in London - most of the North American audience likely has a favo(u)rite Dr. Who actor - so concessions must be made).

Very entertaining and a quick and humorous read. The author has a definite gift with repartee and I found myself smiling often whilst reading. This series will likely appeal to fans of Charles Stross' Laundry Files, Jasper Fforde, and similar.

Four and a half stars. Well worth a look.

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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Creative Crochet Projects: 12 Playful Projects for Beginners and Beyond

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Creative Crochet Projects is a project tutorial guide with 12 crochet projects by Stephanie Pokorny. Due out 1st May 2021 from Fox Chapel on their Landauer imprint, it's 96 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a collection with a fun and *very* whimsical aesthetic. Crafters who are already familiar with her work from Crochetverse or Ravelry will find more fun and humorous in this collection. The projects are split into two sections: accessories to wear and playtime projects/toys. 

The introduction is quite abbreviated and beginning crocheters will likely need to have access to support in the form of youtube videos, online instructions, or (best option) a real-life crochet guru. This will be especially important for left handed crafters because the book doesn't have any sort of illustrations or instructions for lefties. 

The included projects run the gamut from beginner friendly to quite advanced sculptural projects. I would say most of them are toward the more demanding end of the spectrum. Tools and supplies will be easily sourced from most online or retail craft outlet or big box stores. It's worth noting that terms and instructions are given in USA standard and not UK. The table with hook sizes gives both US sizes and metric however. 

This would make a good choice for public or school library acquisition, maker's groups, crafting groups, or for gifting to a crocheting friend. Four stars. 

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

What the Devil Knows (Sebastian St. Cyr #16)

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What the Devil Knows is the 16th Sebastian St. Cyr mystery by C. S. Harris. Due out 6th April 2021 from Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 336 pages and will be 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 is consistently one of my very favorite ongoing historical mystery series and always go directly to the top of my TBR list when they come out. The author is adept at writing tightly plotted intelligent mysteries full of pathos and interesting characters from all social strata of Regency London (and environs). All the action occurs against a backdrop of real and fictional political machinations and corrupt dealings with consistently believable and well engineered denouements and resolutions.  

I love seeing Hero, her husband Sebastian, manservant Calhoun, and even their carriage tiger, Tom interacting and growing together along with the newest scion of the family tree, young Simon. Although it's the latest of 16 books in the series, it works quite well as a standalone and new readers won't have any trouble following the story. There are developments over the length of the series, so they do read better in order; but it's not absolutely necessary.

Five stars, a worthy addition. 

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


Dead or Alive (Skulduggery Pleasant #14)

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Dead or Alive is the 14th (and apparently penultimate) Skulduggery Pleasant adventure by Derek Landy. Due out 6th April 2021 from Harper Collins on their Harper360 imprint, it's a whopping 608 pages and will be 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 fans who are already readers of the series, this adventure is more of the same and is a welcome addition to this "doorstop brick" fantasy series. The books are all roughly 600(ish) pages and full of puns and slapstick battles and sleazy slightly ridiculous bad guys and of course Skullduggery himself along with sarcastic and angsty teen sidekick Valkyrie. 

For readers who are not familiar with the series, the books (and this one in particular) don't really work well as standalone stories. There's a *lot* of continuity involved with the characters and their development and coming into book 14 blind will likely prove to be a frustrating slog. I would recommend picking up at least the first book and seeing if it's a good fit before investing in the mammoth  task of consecutively binge reading the whole series. 

Although this is listed as a YA selection, it felt more genre spanning and will likely pick up a fair number of SF/fantasy fans. I am not much of a squeeing fangirl and find that I have a surprisingly low threshold for sarcastic snappy dialogue (such as Harry Dresden, Hearne's Iron Druid, others in the same subgenre). I will say that the plotting and story arc are well put together and despite the page count, didn't strike me as suffering from book bloat. There's always something happening and there wasn't much which was superfluous to the story. The language is relatively clean (a few instances of damn and bloody, nothing worse). 

All in all for me personally three and a half stars, rounded up for the quality of the writing. For current fans of the series, the rating will be highers. Fans of the first books will love this one too.

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

Fitness for Every Body: Strong, Confident, and Empowered at Any Size

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Fitness for Every Body is an accessible, encouraging, supportive, and fun training guide by Meg Boggs. Due out 27th April 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a different, accepting, positive, and affirming take on fitness which has an inclusivity which is been sorely lacking in almost all the other fitness and training books I've ever read. This is emphatically not a "fat to skinny" fairy tale. The author compassionately relates some parts of her own fitness journey. I found some of her honest and open recollections of bullying and shaming to be moving and difficult to read. 

Most of the book reads like an essay more than an actual fitness recipe guide (with the expected wafer thin models making it look effortless). The essay chapters are broken down thematically;the introduction includes a lot of honesty about Ms. Boggs' own outlook and journey. The following chapters talk about other stages/phases of life including honest assessment of where we are, motherhood (I -loved- this chapter), weight training, and more positivity. 

I really like the author's positivity. I like that this is a book about healthy mental and physical well being for everyone. I like that it's an encouraging and sensible book. I also like that the book meets the reader where they *are* no matter what their previous successes or disappointments. 

Four stars. This would be a great book for anyone wanting to improve their physical and mental health (and really isn't that most of us who are struggling with isolation and unhealthy habits from stress during the plague?).

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