Saturday, July 31, 2021

Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing: A Practical Guide to Selling Your Pitches, Crafting Strong Articles, & Earning M Ore Bylines

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Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing is a concise and informational primer full of tips for content writers by Kerrie Flanagan. Released in 2018 by Penguin Random House, it's 232 pages and is 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. It makes searching for info so much easier with the search function. This is a book where I spent a fair bit of time flipping back and forth to gain context and check information.

The author does a good job of providing information in accessible and logical manner. The very basic info (how to start, what outlets to target, judging the right outlet for each article) is provided before moving on to more specific/specialized areas (improving writing skills, deadlines, and polishing finished writing). 

Although slanted at beginners, I found some good info here for improving and polishing my own blog and review posts (finding a formula which works for you can be a *good* thing - and brevity isn't always a good thing). 

All in all, this is a good compendium with lots of advice for nonfiction article writing. While much of the information may be somewhat obvious (don't miss deadlines) and can possibly be found elsewhere, the author has gathered everything together in one package, saving the reader the effort of finding it elsewhere and wasting time looking. 

Four stars. Well written and useful. This would be a good choice for writers' home libraries, public or school library acquisition, writers' groups, and similar.

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

Friday, July 30, 2021

Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook

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Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook is a cookbook full of southern (American) traditional recipes developed and curated by Kelsey Barnard Clark. Due out 10th Aug 2021 from Chronicle Books, it's 256 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I grew up in Appalachia and this food is in my DNA. There is something so deeply satisfying and tasty about the cuisine which is also tied up for me with family reunions, hospitality, multi-generational cooking and comfort.  The author has a very casual voice and style of writing, but behind the (slightly) folksy tone, she's competent and efficient. These are *good* recipes, some from her own family's repertoire and for fans of southern cooking, there's a lot to like here.

The book includes a good general pantry, ingredients, and equipment lists and an introduction with basic tips for preparation, entertaining, and other hostess-y necessities. The intro section comprises about 15% of the total page count but does include a lot of useful info. The recipes are arranged in chapters thematically: small bites & drinks, greens (including a simple quick pickled salad which I remember very well from my grandmother's kitchen), potatoes grains & pasta, seafood, eggs & poultry, pork & beef, and breads & pastries. Recipes include a description yields and prep time. Ingredients are listed bullet style in a sidebar with measurements in American standard units with metric measures in parentheses (yay!!). Ingredients will be readily available in most well stocked grocery stores in North America. Nutritional information is not included. Alternative preparations and cooking tips are included in highlighted text bars in the recipes. Many of the recipes struck me as just that little bit fancier than "everyday" and would make good company/light entertaining, Sunday dinner type food.

The photography throughout the book is abundant, in color, and crystal clear. Serving suggestions are attractive and appetizing. 

Four stars. This would make a good selection for library acquisition, expat southerners hankering for food that feeds their souls, and home cooks looking for new cuisine to explore.

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

The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom

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The Sacred Band is a well written, deeply researched monograph by Dr. James Romm on the Theban special army unit who fought for Greek freedom from tyranny (from pretty much everyone else) in ancient Thebes. Released 8th June 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 320 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. It makes searching for info so much easier with the search function. This is a book where I spent a fair bit of time flipping back and forth to gain context and check names.

Modern readers interested in ancient Greece will find the available reading material heavily weighted to Athens and Sparta. There's relatively little on Thebes, yet for decades in the 4th century BCE, a small elite Theban strike force kept both Athens -and- Sparta at bay. One of the fundamental philosophies of this small band was that it was made up of bonded same sex male couples, who, it turned out, fought furiously to protect one another. It worked remarkably well and they remained successful until a final catastrophic defeat at the hands of Philip II (and son Alexander) at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE.

Although the material could (easily) have been very dry and academic, the author does a wonderful job of telling the story in a fascinating and accessible fashion for the average layperson. The book is bountifully and carefully annotated and there are numerous resources, including a solid bibliography, listed which are available for further reading. There are also contemporary photographs scattered throughout the text as well as facsimile illustrations, maps, and other aids to assist the reader with historical context. I found the line drawing taken from the original excavation notes (1880) at the discovery of the mass burial of these men to be particularly poignant. They were buried with fearsome battle injuries, a few of them still arm in arm with their compatriots and partners.

Five stars. This would be a superlative selection for public library acquisition as well as of interest to readers who are interested in military history, classics, and ancient history.

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

Mocha, She Wrote (A Bakeshop Mystery #13)

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Mocha, She Wrote is the thirteenth Bakeshop cozy mystery by prolific author Ellie Alexander. Released 29th June 2021 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's imprint, it's 320 pages and is 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. 

This is a cozy mystery for coffee lovers. It's set in the Pacific Northwest USA and is full of local (Oregon) settings and specialized coffee culture. I'm a tea drinker, so it was fun to read about all kinds of specialized coffee preparation, tools, ingredients and presentations. The minutiae is explained well in context, so it didn't get bogged down in terminology or anything. 

The plotting, characterization, and dialogue are representative of the genre; lighthearted, somewhat over-the-top, and used to move the narrative along. It's not a realistic procedural. There's no gritty unpleasantness, no brutality (even the violence is mostly off-scene), no blatant sexual aspects, and the language is squeaky clean and used appropriately. Some readers might find Jules' sidekick Lance a bit trope-y (he's effeminate and a bit flamboyant), but he's written with warmth and kindness (if lacking in common sense), so I didn't find him offensive. Although this is the 13th book in the series, it works fine as a standalone.

For fans of the genre, it's a well written and very pleasant diversion. (Isn't that why we read cozies?). For readers who enjoy this Bakeshop series, I can heartily recommend the author's Sloan Krause brewing mysteries. She has either a truly impressive grasp of baking, brewing, and coffee culture or she's got experts on tap to consult for her background research. 

Four stars.

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


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Art of Longsword Fighting: Teaching the Foundations of Sigmund Ringeck's Style


The Art of Longsword Fighting is a technique guide aimed at teachers and advanced students based on the historical European longsword school of Sigmund Ringeck. Due out later in 2021 from Pen & Sword, it's 248 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is an interestingly relevant modern primer based on medieval texts and includes quite a lot of in-depth background history and interpretation. The material is presented in a logical and accessible manner. The first section covers actual practice setup and execution - including core concepts and background info on style, safety (lots of good general info here with good takeaways for other styles and forms also), terms, training equipment, and learning new techniques. The second section covers the actual extant medieval writings left behind: general lessons, positioning, anatomy (neck, upper body, abdomen, etc), points of attack, and more. 

The instructions throughout are accompanied by photographs and clear line drawn illustrations. The captions in the photographs are illuminating and the author does a good job of illustrating the differences between different contemporaneous European schools of fencing and martial arts by comparing them to one another with regard to foot and body positions.

Four stars. Obviously this is a niche title - but it is a good choice for public library, re-enactors, SCAdians, RenFaire folks, students of military history, and allied audiences. 

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


 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Accursed Vampire

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The Accursed Vampire is a quite oddly appealing all-ages appropriate graphic novel with story and art by Madeline McGrane. Released 27th July 2021 by Harper Collins, it's 176 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook (comiXology) formats. 

This is such an oddly appealing and nerdy graphic novel with some subtly important messages. On the surface, it's a group quest narrative with three small monster "kids" who are trying to recover (steal) a grimoire for the witch who sent them out. Main character Drago is accompanied by their two friends in small-town midwest USA and the themes of support, solidarity, kindness, trust, honesty, respect, and found family are done well and without being preachy or strident. 

Drago is apparently non-binary,  their friends are different ethnically and morphologically, and it's no big deal. The main adult characters in the story are compassionately rendered with a loving and normal partnership (and are also a same sex couple, again, not turned into a spectacle in the book). The antagonists are sufficiently scary and mean that it's easy to cheer for Drago & co, even when they make less-than-ideal decisions. 

There is a lot to like here. The art is also whimsically appealing and does a nice job of telling the story alongside the well written and appealing text. The language is simple and will be easily understood by middle grade readers.  

Odd, but appealing. Four stars.

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


A Guide to Metal Detecting

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A Guide to Metal Detecting is a comprehensive beginner friendly primer by Graeme Rushton. Due out later in 2021 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 80 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

This is a well written introduction to tools, materials, techniques, and hardware necessary for metal detecting as a hobby. The author writes well and presents information in a logical and accessible manner. Although the legalities and codes about which he writes are slanted to readers in the UK (he writes specifically at length about England, Wales, and Cumbria, and includes links to information for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man) the general theory about seeking/gaining site permissions, beach searches, registering finds, finding a group/mentors, and good behaviour are applicable to detectorists anywhere in the world. 

The book has a good basic primer on choosing the right detector (including a very short understandable section on the technology), some guidance for sweeping techniques, registering finds, sensible clothing choices, finding search locations (and getting permissions), and other nuts-and-bolts considerations when starting with the hobby. 

Additionally (and what fascinated me most), the book is FULL of really excellent photos of finds which the author and acquaintances have made over the years. The last chapter has a selection of the really amazing hoards and spectacular finds which have been made. The Grouville hoard weighed in at a stupendous 750kg. There are also descriptions and photos for the Middleham Jewel, the Frome hoard (shown in-situ in the huge urn in which it was found), and the Silverdale hoard. Interspersed between these descriptions, the text is peppered with really cool detail pictures of period coins which had me looking at online resources.

I guess for most detectorists, the tantalizing promise of maybe making an important find and contributing something of real worth to our understanding of the distant past sits side by side with maybe actually holding a tangible link with something which has been lying hidden for more than a thousand years. I also liked that the author spent some time talking about beach finds of modern jewelry, wedding bands and the like, and about the satisfaction of reuniting them with their owners. 

Five stars.This would be an excellent selection for library acquisition, walking and local history groups, or home library.

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

Monday, July 26, 2021

Baking for the Holidays: 52 Cozy, Seasonal Treats to Get You through the Winter

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Baking for the Holidays is a nice collection of festive recipes developed and curated by Sarah Kieffer. Due out 7th Sept 2021 from Chronicle Books, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a winter themed recipe collection full of tempting breads, sweet bakes, cookies, and candies for entertaining or gift-giving. The author says that although her family celebrates Christmas, the recipes are presented with an eye to end-of-year baking and entertaining and are aimed at "the holiday season". The book is certainly filled with attractive and enticing sweet treats. 

The recipes are arranged thematically: morning breads & pastries, holiday desserts, gift giving, beyond Christmas, and extras (jams & curd, marshmallows, decorative caramel shards, and other partial ingredients. Each recipe includes serving yields, special notes, and prep times. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point style along with optional ingredients. All measurements are given in American standard measures with metric measures in brackets (yay!). The directions are given step by step, with assembly tutorials which are accompanied by clear color photos. The nutritional information is not included. Each of the recipes also includes a serving photo in color. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate.

The recipes' ingredients are easily sourced and the resultant dishes are family friendly and appealing. Everything is well done and I heartily recommend the book overall. There are a number of these recipes which will get an appearance in my own family dinners/potlucks in the coming months. Probably worth noting, a lot of these recipes are quite chocolate heavy (there's a recipe for fruit cake with chocolate glaze included here). For folks who love chocolate on everything - this one has the goods. The other thing which struck me was that this is a very *stylish* book. Many of these recipes are just that little bit fancier than the average run. Some of them might be a little bit labor intensive for rushed and stressed holiday cooks (but they're so elegant).

Five stars.

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

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sexuality: The 1964 Clermont-Ferrand and 1969 Vincennes Lectures

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Sexuality: The 1964 Clermont-Ferrand and 1969 Vincennes Lectures is a translated reprise of Michel Foucalt's lectues in 1964 (Clermont-Ferrand) and 1969 (Vincennes) which formed the basis of some of his later work. Released 13th July 2021 by Columbia University Press, it's 440 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

These lectures occurred at a time when homosexuality was still considered a medically pathological diagnosis. Although sociological upheavals and cultural shifts were being felt, the fact remained that sexuality was taboo and not well examined in most disciplines and academia was no exception generally. 

This book is arranged into chronological order with the Clermont-Ferrand lecture first, followed by the Vincennes. The lectures themselves are translated directly with copious annotations and explanations. This is deeply academic material. I am a STE(A)M nerd and consider myself an academic, and I found some parts of it very onerous and inaccessible. It reminded me in both format and style of other famous transcribed lectures such as the Feynman lectures (with which I have had more success because I'm a STE(A)M nerd).

I found this volume interesting and intriguing. It is, admittedly, a niche book and will appeal to readers interested in culture, human sexuality, and philosophy, but probably won't appeal to readers looking for an easy read. The language is rigorous and formal. I definitely don't think it's inaccessible for the average reader, but it will take some effort (and I think that's a good thing). This would make a good support text for classroom or library use, for psychology, philosophy and allied subjects, as well as a superlative read for the particularly cultural-history-interested reader.

Five stars. This is a well and deeply researched and engaging look at core concepts of sexuality and thoughts of one of the indisputably great minds of the 20th century.

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

A Racing Murder (The Ham-Hill Murder Mysteries #2)

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A Racing Murder is the second book in a murder cozy mystery series by Frances Evesham. Released 15th June 2021, it's 264 pages and is 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 currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a charming and quaint village cozy series. This installment shows some of the competitive underbelly of steeplechase, greed, money, and the hidden currents of village life. It's an ensemble cast including a publican who's a former police officer, a hotelier with a more-than-average inquisitive nature, and a nice group of supporting characters. The language is clean, there is no graphic sexual content (there's a little light romance, but not objectionably much), and the violence is off-scene and relatively restrained. 

The buildup is well done and the denouement and resolution are satisfying. There were a few twists along the way which I didn't anticipate. Although it's the second book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone.

Four stars.

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

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Golden Age Detective Stories


 

Golden Age Detective Stories is an anthology of American crime fiction from the first half of the 20th century (1925 - 1955) collected and curated by crime fiction historian Otto Penzler. Released 13th July by Penzler on the American Mystery Classics imprint, it's 312 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats.

This is a selection of 14 short works from very well known golden age authors from Charlotte Armstrong to Anthony Boucher, Cornell Woolrich, Ellery Queen, and Mary Roberts Rinehart, et.al. All the authors are very well known and will be familiar to most readers. Of the stories selected, only half were previously familiar to me (and provided a welcome re-read, I had forgotten most of the denouements). 

The detectives are selected from the authors' best known, and all of the stories are of a very high quality. Especially considering the addition of the information rich story notes, it's a very satisfying read overall. 

In the introduction and story notes, we are gifted a multitude of plum trivia and factoids which are delightfully obscure and lift the whole to another level of wonderfully nerdy and edifying. Background such as Mr. Penzler provides really enhances the overall enjoyment of the stories themselves and I always (always!) look forward to reading his insightful commentary. This volume also provides guided reading notes for classroom or bookclub discussion which will come in handy for more formal discussion (or solo rumination). 

Along with the classic and engaging stories, the background info and notes, and the discussion content, this is one of a series with coordinated cover art and layouts which provide a worthy service by protecting these early stories and presenting them to newer generations of readers. 

Five stars. The stories themselves are solidly 3.5 - 5 stars, weighted toward the higher end of the scale. Despite being pretty firmly an e-reader prejudiced reader at this point (sorry, not sorry), I have acquired these in physical copies as well, and I love the way they look on my bookshelves. This would make a good selection for library acquisition, book club & classroom use, or plain reading enjoyment. 

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Rememberings


 

Rememberings is a memoir told in vignettes and some stream of consciousness narrative by Sinéad O’Connor. Released 1st June 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Mariner imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

Biography and memoir is not the genre I read most (it would come after SF/fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, gardening, cooking, and a couple others). I made an exception for this book because I'm a huge fan of Ms. O'Connor and have loved her music and performance persona for decades. It, like the author, was a complex and sometimes difficult read for me.

Her writing style is unpolished, easy to understand, and sometimes painfully unflinching and difficult to read. She talks about her early life and appalling childhood abuse, later abuse and problems with the music industry, and the infamous SNL pope picture debacle in 1992, her mental health, and her life in general

There is maybe a bit much discussion about her discography for readers who are only interested in the biography and memoir. For fans of her music however, there is quite a lot to like here. 

Four stars. 

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

Questland



Questland is a standalone modern fantasy by Carrie Vaughn. Released 22nd June by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 304 pages and is 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; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

I try very very hard not to compare authors or books to one another. This book does have its own rhythm and style and of course, the author is capable, prolific, and adept with the more technical aspects of writing. That being said, the comparisons to Westworld and Jurassic Park (and Ready Player 1) are not far off. I've enjoyed much of Vaughn's oeuvre and this one is also skillfully written with good use of dramatic tension and a satisfying denouement. The very last scene seems to possibly hint at forthcoming future stories, which would be interesting. 

It's a locked room sandbox SF/Fantasy mystery with a band of adventurers including mercenaries, a minstrel/lorist (whose day job is English Professor), a tech billionaire who may be hiding some stuff and a fantasy island doing its level best to kill the adventurers. 

The action rolls along at a good pace; I never found it dragging or tiresome. I did skim some of the many action scenes. This will be a good choice for readers who love nerdy in-jokes and Easter eggs in their stories. The cultural tie-ins and spoofs are plentiful and varied.  The language is variable and roughly R-rated. 

Four stars. Readable and a lot of fun. 

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

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Work in Progress: The untold story of the Crawley Writers' Group, compiled by Peter, writer

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Work in Progress is a marvelously funny "behind-the-scenes" story of the fictional Crawley Writers' Group told entirely in emails. Released 24th June 2021, it's 272 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is a genuinely humorous novel which actually surprised me into laughter at several points. It's witty and acerbic and lampoons the archetypal characters so exquisitely that ribbing never shaded over into cruelty and I spent the entire read (in one glorious session) giggling out loud. There's a moneyed diva (with IMDB credits on Midsomer Murders) hosting an ensemble of oddballs, misfits, and an angsty poet. The tagline "They've all got a book in them, unfortunately." sums the whole up pretty succinctly. 

I enjoyed this one enormously. The epistolary format suited the book perfectly and was a brilliant choice. It's presented in such a deadpan factual manner that it took me a while to ascertain if it really was fiction or a tie-in to an actual writers' group. For anyone who has ever enjoyed mockumentaries like This Is Spinal Tap or All You Need is Cash this one has a lot to offer. Very funny.

Four stars.

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

What's the Difference?: Recreational Culinary Reference for the Curious and Confused

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What's the Difference? is a really useful cooking and ingredient reference by Brette Warshaw. Released 6th June 2021 by Harper Collins on their Harper Wave imprint, it's 240 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

My maternal grandmother used to tell a story from my mom's youth where she had sent her to the grocery store to get cabbage and my mum (not being particularly motivated to learn to do kitchen/"women's" stuff - it was the 60s), came home with a head of iceberg lettuce instead. My grandmother was astounded, but honestly, there are so many similar things about which I would not have a clue. I can't reliably identify more than a couple types of mushrooms in the grocery store, can't definitely tell the difference between a yam and a sweet potato (or taro), don't know the different cuts of beef, don't think I could tell the difference between bologna and mortadella, and so on. This is the book for those of us who wonder about those things. It's also a great reference to have around in case a last minute ingredient substitution needs to be made.

The book is arranged alphabetically from active dry yeast to wine and includes a useful selection of culinary knowledge, some of which was hitherto quite arcane and confusing to me (did I know the difference between appetizers, canapés, and hors d’oeuvres? I did not). I couldn't have explained the difference between different beers or wines either. I'm still not a sommelier, but at least I have access to a basic reference to avoid some of the bigger pitfalls. 

Five stars. I read this one from cover to cover and really enjoyed it. Most readers will likely skip around to salient info as and when needed. This would make a good selection for home or public library acquisition, or for gift giving to cookbook loving friends. 

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

  

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Way Back Almanac 2022: A Contemporary Seasonal Guide Back to Nature

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The Way Back Almanac 2022 is an almanac and seasonal guide full of practical tutorials and exercises to reconnect with the outdoors, nature, and our relationship with the wider world written and presented by Melinda Salisbury. Due out 10th Aug 2021 from Watkins Publishing, it's 272 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The chapters are arranged around the yearly calendar and seasons, January through December. Each chapter includes some almanac type information: astronomy, first full moon, other celestial events, seasonal garden tasks, what plants to start, checklists, small indulgent self-care tasks and tutorials and some recipes. There are also plenty of writing prompts to help with journaling and diary-keeping. There are also bits of folklore included and some small rituals and lots of philosophy. 

The layout is restful and easy to read with high contrast printing. The art is simple with small line drawings scattered throughout. I found the whole very restful and engaging. This would be a really lovely gift for a journaling or gardening friend. I intend to buy a hardcopy for myself and imagine myself sitting with my morning tea and (hopefully) carving out some time to put pen to paper. 

The vegan friendly recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in metric (grams & ml) with American standard measurements in parentheses (yay!). The cooking instructions are easy to follow with alternative presentations listed at the end of the recipe. None of the recipes include pictures.

Five stars. Contemplative, engaging, restful, and worthwhile.

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

A Guide to Film and TV Cosplay

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A Guide to Film and TV Cosplay is a style guide to cosplay by Holly Swinyard. Due out in Oct 2021 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is not just a manual full of specific information to produce well imagined and constructed cosplays; it's also one of the best histories of cosplay I've ever read. It's not a huge book, but it does a comprehensive job of relaying the background and motivations of more than a century of cosplayers. I loved the sense of community and continuity the author achieves in the introduction and background. The intro and history take up about 30% of the content and are well worth a read. I learnt quite a lot and enjoyed seeing the new and old pictures and props.  I love the inclusive nature of the history. The author talks about drag, steampunk, LARPing, and more. The pictures of different characters are truly impressive and inclusive. The models are diverse. Representation is important! I remember being a nerdy girl in a *very* male dominated gaming, comics, and SF fandom and being told that I didn't belong. I gave up a million times, discouraged. Honestly it was the stories which always dragged me back (and finding a solid group of friends who stopped noticing I was female). I -wanted- Starfleet and the Federation to be true... I -needed- them to be true. Fandom is where we get to make the dreams true for just a little while. That's important and this author clearly "gets it".

The following chapters take cosplayers through choosing a cosplay (or more than one) to put together and gives some concrete advice beyond "pick your favourite character". There's quite a lot to think about and the author does a good job of being encouraging and thorough. I really liked that they took the time to specifically say that cosplayers don't need to feel locked into a particular character because they might have similar physical characteristics to that character - it's ok to love the costume, to relate to the character for other emotional reasons, to get outside one's own skin (hint: that's why we *do* this). 

The third section gets into the details of crafting and customising: tools & supplies, fabrics, sewing, thermoplastics, foams, finding/commissioning/and modifying, and a lot of other details and tips for getting from idea to con-ready gear. As the cherry on top of the sundae, there are practical and important discussions here about self-care, avoiding last minute stress and performance anxiety (con-crunch) and some encouraging and affirming mental health self-check tips. 

Note that this book is about cosplay. It covers the process more or less from beginning to end but it does *not* include templates or tutorials for specific builds. It does include good chapter notes and references for further reading. This would make a superlative selection for library acquisition, maker's groups, theatre/recreation/SCA use and similar. 

Five stars.

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




Casual Cosplay: Bring Your Favorite Character Fashions into Your Everyday Life!

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Casual Cosplay is a style and simple tutorial guide for starting mainstream family friendly dress-up by Krystal Everdeen. Released in Summer 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Tiller imprint, it's 160 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a beginner's guide to simple cosplay with tutorials which will give a recognizable character result (i.e., people will kinda-sorta know who you're cosplaying, probably), and will build skills and confidence for more advanced cosplays later. The builds are very simple and as an intended feature, the costumes can honestly be worn in public without getting many untoward looks or reactions. The characters are largely drawn from mainstream fandom (Disney (so much Disney!), Pixar, some Star Wars, HP, and a few others). 

Each of the tutorials includes one or more color pictures, a color scheme in a highlighted sidebar, and costume tips for pre-made pieces to combine to get an approximation. Tips for finishing details and alternative pieces for comfort or safety (more comfortable shoes, etc) are given in the text descriptions. The book does not include templates or sewing instructions.The photography is clear and in color. It should be noted that there are only a few models pictured in the book (and they're all thin, caucasian, attractive, and physically unimpaired). 

Three stars. This would be a good choice as a starting point for exploring fandom inspired fashion. There are some good options for beginning cosplayers and for last-minute Halloween costumes (for when your kid tells you at 9pm the day before). 

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

Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas!

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Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! is a cute STE(A)M book for the very youngest by Ruth Spiro. Due out 24th Aug 2021 from Charlesbridge, it's 20 pages and will be available in board book and electronic formats. 

This is a sweetly illustrated picture book with simple verse showing some basic facts about electricity in accessible and easy-to-digest pictures. The art by Irene Chan is clear, colorful, and engaging and will fascinate babies and young children. The pictures are filled with small details that support and expand on the ideas in the text. There are even some all-ages learning opportunities which might be new to some adults and caregivers as well (such as a succinct and easy-to-understand illustration of what an electrical circuit is and how it works). 

Baby's friends in the book are inclusive and representative. Although Baby's family celebrates Christmas, Baby's friends include small ones from several other beliefs. 

It's never too early to start with STE(A)M books and this is a cute one. Although the titular Baby appears to be a toddler/preschool sort of age, this would make a nice choice for kids from babies through early elementary school. Lots of fun. 

Four stars.

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

Finding Your Treasure: Our Family's Mission to Recycle, Reuse, and Give Back Everything—and How You Can Too

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Finding Your Treasure is an exuberant and fascinating look at one family's mission for re-use, upcycling, and recycling. Due out 1st Aug 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 144 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

There don't seem to be many people in doubt about the unsustainability of our current obsession with consumption and reckless disregard for the finite resources of our planet. It's popular to re-use, recycle, upcycle, and be thrifty these days. Angel Williams is an icon in the thrifting and "dumpster diving" crowd. This book is a sort of how-to for thrifting, recycling, and dumpster diving, liberally interspersed with her pithy and philosophical thoughts about resources, life, faith, the meaning of everything, and living frugally and compassionately. 

Much of the book is anecdotal (but undoubtedly true - it's full of photographs). She lists some of her finds (and her followers' finds - one found a Hermes Birkin with $2300 in it 0.o) and talks about how to identify the best spots to dumpster dive (more of an art than science, and know your neighborhoods). She also spends a fair bit of time on personal safety and taking sensible precautions (be wary of retail dumpsters - some of them could be compactors and it's not worth risking your life jumping into those no matter what you might find). 

The book is also full of photos of Ms. Williams and some of her family.

I enjoyed reading this personal memoir and how-to and admire her spirit. Some readers might find her discussion of her faith surplus to requirements, but I found it salient, especially as it relates to her philanthropy (donating to those in need), her strength, and her resolve in adversity. 

Five stars. Even for readers who don't intend to don a face shield and heavy leather gloves, there are some good takeaways here on living frugally and responsibly on our overloaded planet with shrinking resources.

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