Sunday, May 19, 2019

Raffia Crochet

 Raffia Crochet is a tutorial guide for 10 crocheted projects (13 including alternative finishes) using Ra-Ra Raffia, a proprietary yarn from Wool and the Gang. Due out 18th June 2019 from Sewandso,  it's 72 pages and will be available in paperback format.

Wool and the Gang's catalog and this tutorial book are full of punny music related titles (Worn This Way hat, Paper Gangsta market bag, Money Honey clutch, and more). Even the company name is a play on the iconic Kool & the Gang. I appreciate the 'hipness' of the tutorials and I sincerely wish them luck in convincing a new and vibrant generation of fibrecrafters that these are not-their-grandma's-market-totes.

10% of the page content is given over to an introduction of the difficulty categories in the book as well as the company and materials. The following 70% includes the 10 tutorials as well as tips and alternate finishing techniques. The final parts of the book include a comprehensive how-to-crochet tutorial, finishing techniques, a company statement, and a short index.

Ra-Ra Raffia is 100% biodegradable wood fibre and put-up is 100gram/250m balls. The aesthetic is very young, urban, and fashion forward. As far as I can tell with a project search on the designer's website and Ravelry, several of these projects are unique to this book and not available elsewhere. Approximately half of the patterns are available individually from the website as kits (including the raffia yarn). The price of the kits on W&tG's website would more than cover the purchase price for the book with just one project; in other words, the pattern instruction prices on their website for one project, paired with the yarn cost about the same as the entire cost of this 10 project book (+ the yarn). It also should be said that one of the included projects is for a macrame plant hanger. That is made with chain-crocheted strings though, so it could be said that it's crochet also. (pic below).

I was not supplied with yarn for the review, but I did test out some of the patterns with another yarn I had lying around and found no factual errors in the tutorials.

This would make a really great gift for a fashion conscious young person (young adult, professional, etc) who wants to learn to crochet. The tutorials are simple enough for complete beginners; advanced crocheters will likely find little here to challenge them.

Four stars.

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

In an Absent Dream

In an Absent Dream is the fourth book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire. Released 8th Jan 2019 by Tor, it's 203 pages and available in hardcover, ebook and audio formats.

Despite not reading much YA literature, I have really connected with this series. The characters are well written and follow their internal motivations perfectly. The world building and atmosphere are where the series really shines. Each of the four novels (this one is a long-ish novella) are set in the same world, but can be read as standalones. This one fills out the backstory for Lundy, a returning character who works with Eleanor West at the school for wanderers. The plotting is well paced, and surprisingly for a YA novel, there are very few (none?) romantic drama subplots. If there is romance there, it's implied rather than explicit. The author's craft and control with character interaction and especially dialogue is sublime.

The writing is ethereal and superb. It is at places surreal and dreamlike. For readers who need to have everything explained to them 100% clearly by the end, this will annoy like having an unmovable piece of something stuck pushing your teeth apart.

I'm still thinking about this book a long while after finishing it.

Four stars. Very well written speculative fiction is a joy. 

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

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Modern Cast Iron Cookbook

The Modern Cast Iron Cookbook is a new cookbook and technique manual for using, caring for, cooking with, and enjoying cast iron cookware by pastry chef, food writer, and blogger Tiffany La Forge. Due out in paperback 21st May (or available now in ebook format) from Rockridge Press, it's 162 pages. The ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents including interactive recipe and chapter headings.

I inherited my grandmother's cast iron dutch oven and skillets which had belonged to -her- grandmother. They're still exactly as useful and in the same condition as when my great-great-grandmother used them. I love that connection. The problem is that apart from frybread, cornbread, pinto beans, and fried potatoes, I never used them. This cookbook has already changed that. I really enjoyed testing some of the recipes in this collection.

The book begins with an introduction and short history of cast iron cookware, and iron's suitability as a material with regard to durability. There are tutorials for choosing pans and what styles and weights are commonly available. There's a good tutorial on conditioning and caring for the cookware followed a really sensible guide to reducing food waste and kitchen economy. These pages fill out 15% of the total content of the cookbook.

The recipes are arranged by category: Breakfast & Brunch, Biscuits & Bread, Vegetables & Sides, Vegetarian & Vegan Mains, Fish & Poultry, Beef Pork & Lamb, and Desserts. I really appreciated the inclusion of plant based dishes. These are -hearty- mains that even my meat loving family really devoured (without complaining). 

The recipes are given with English (American) measurements. There is a very minimal conversion table included at the back of the book with metric equivalents which is nice, but readers would be as well off with a google converter. It's a nice gesture, though.

I tried three recipes in preparation for writing this review.
  • Cheese Pupusas with Curtido: The prep for this dish was fairly involved and took more than 24 hours... but definitely tasty and very filling. I was unaware of the existence of curtido (or pupusas) prior to this cookbook. 
  • African Chicken Stew: I was surprised how easy it was to source the ingredients for this dish. It reminded me a lot of black eyed pea gumbo with chicken instead of pork/seafood. Really delicious. There's cilantro as a garnish. I'm the only one in my family who loves cilantro, so it does work quite well without.
  • Reuben Grilled Cheese: Divine. This will be a staple at our house. Also, the tip to use a 10 inch skillet as a press when grilling the sandwiches in a 12" skillet is inspired. Works perfectly.
There are a lot of different cuisines represented here. There are very few difficult to source ingredients.

We're definitely going to try more of these recipes.  Well written book, tasty recipes. I've dinged half a star for the near-total lack of photographs. For cooks who -need- photographs for serving ideas, this will be a disappointment.

Four and a half stars.

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Awesome Engineering Activities for Kids

Awesome Engineering Activities for Kids is a STE(A)M tutorial with activities aimed at young readers and their resource people/guardians. Author Christina Schul is an educator and homeschooling mom/blogger has collected 52 fun labs for learning with kids 5-10 years old. Released 14th May 2019 by Rockridge Press, it's 256 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

Critical reasoning skills, planning, experimentation, and willingness to learn are basic necessary life skills. Children are naturally curious and willing to learn. These directed activities provide many hours of enjoyment and learning without being strident or preachy.

Each of the included activities includes a step by step tutorial, materials lists, and many have extension activities to refine or modify the results. Each of them includes a short sidebar explaining what relevance it has to the different branches of engineering. 

There are some drawbacks. Though this book is admittedly aimed at an American readership, I was surprised to see that the measurements in the book are all in English (American) units; inches, feet, yards, etc. There is no conversion table included in the book. It's a small quibble, but for a STEAM book, it was surprising. The photography is limited, but the photographs which are included are clear and illustrative. I did appreciate that the young scientists pictured in the experiment tutorials were an inclusive bunch with children of many ethnicities and both sexes included. It may be a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but when I was being educated as an engineer, seeing -any- other girls/women represented was a big thing to me.

The ebook version includes an interactive table of contents Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription library.  There's also an interactive resource links list (slanted toward readers in North America). The chapter subheadings are also linked for easily paging back and forth to other areas of the book.

This is a fun and worthwhile book. It would make a great classroom library book, resource book, homeschool resource book, or support text for a module on STEAM subjects for kids 5-10(ish). There's also a wide range of activities and most of the experiments use easily sourced materials.

Four stars.

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

The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease and Joy at Any Age

The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease and Joy at Any Age is a new tutorial and resource gardening guide by adaptive gardening lifestyle expert Toni Gattone. Due out 20th Aug 2019 from Timber Press, it's 216 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The term adaptive gardening has been on an upward trend lately. There is undisputed proof of the therapeutic benefits of physical exercise and motion as well as the benefits of gardening both mental and physical. For people who experience limited mobility from aging, chronic illness, injury, etc, gardening can be daunting or impossible.  This manual explores methods of compensating for those issues by gardening smarter, using adaptive devices, ergonomic tools, raised beds, and other methods of doing the work we wish to do within the constraints we have.

The author's introduction gives a good overview of how she came to write the book and how she herself got interested in and motivated to adapt her gardening to her chronic back problems.  Her writing style is encouraging, humorous, and very positive and quite a lot of fun to read.

The book is split into 3 main sections. The first third covers the realities of our limited physical bodies. There are a number of tips for compensating, working better and smarter, not harder, stewarding our strength and using it well, resting after exertion, accepting help, and more. These general tips are followed by several profiles of gardeners putting the concepts to use in their own adaptive gardens. There's a lot of sensible and encouraging philosophy here. It's not just empty 'Pollyanna' you can do it, either. There are concrete and sensible ideas for implementation included such as placing resting areas and balance handholds throughout the garden for resting and stability.

The second section of the book is a working plan to get from the possibly unsafe or unmanageable garden the reader has to the safe, sustainable, satisfying the reader needs. There's a wealth of information and practical suggestions for making a realistic plan through to executing it.

The third section provides techniques and tools lists for implementing the plan to make a sustainable, accessible, useful, and pleasing garden for the reader.  There are a lot of sidebars and tips throughout the book which are really useful and smart for all gardeners, not just ones with mobility issues.

The book also includes sections for reader supplied ideas, notes, plans, and other specific info.  There's a solid links and resources section (slanted toward the reader in North America, but useful for gardeners in other areas as well). The index is cross referenced.

The photography is lush and abundant. The photos are clear and illustrative. I loved that there is nothing whiny or apologetic about this book in the slightest. It's very much a 'roll up your sleeves and get gardening' book. 

Wonderful and uplifting.

Five stars.

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

Cartooning: Animation 1 with Preston Blair

Cartooning: Animation 1 with Preston Blair is a tutorial guide to series line drawn cartoon style characters. Released 7th May 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperbound format. Artist/inspiration Preston Blair's iconic style will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever watched a classic cartoon from Disney, Tex Avery's MGM, or Hanna-Barbera. It's very nice to see his work being presented in an accessible format to a new generation of art students.

Roughly 10% of the page content is used in the introduction and techniques chapter. There's a general tools and materials intro which leads directly into the unit chapters showing how to draw different units (heads) as well as tutorials for changing the basic shape and perspective (squashing, elongating, facial expressions etc).
The tutorials show action and position through simplified line drawings in sequence, animation style. The artist provides helpful diagrams showing both the incorrect and corrected positions to illustrate movement and follow through. I found those very helpful. There are times when the student knows that a drawing isn't quite right but can't put their finger on exactly what is wrong. These side by side comparisons help.

The simplified series drawings are followed by several character type tutorials showing different positioning, anatomy, facial expressions and ratios for 'pugnacious', 'cute', 'screwball' and other characters.

Approximately 25% of the page content contains 'flip book' style series drawings showing range of movement, with characters sneaking, skipping, running, walking etc. This includes 2 and 4 legged characters. These series are packed in 4 or more per page and are very simplified. There are also several specific step by step tutorials that cover several pages showing individual characters sneaking, running, etc.

There's also a very useful tutorial on mouth and face anatomy while speaking. Different mouth and face positions are shown for individual letters and words.

The book is clearly aimed at students of animation, but I can see it being very useful for anyone who wishes to learn to draw in that classic animation cartoon style.

Five stars, lots of info here.

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

Oil & Acrylic: Land and Sea: Learn to paint step by step

Oil & Acrylic: Land and Sea: Learn to paint step by step is an expanded reprint and reformatting of a tutorial manual originally published in 2003. Re-released 7th May 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in ebook and paperbound formats. The electronic version of the book has a very handy interactive table of contents along with hyperlinked internal chapter and tutorial headings.

Roughly 10% of the page content is used in the introduction and technique chapter. There's a general tools and materials chapter followed by a very abbreviated technique and color theory chapter. These are followed by  15 complete painting tutorials.  The painting tutorials range from 1 page studies to 3+ pages for more complete paintings. The tutorials presuppose a fair amount of familiarity with techniques and materials. I would say that intermediate to advanced painters will get much more out of the tutorials than complete beginners.

The chapters are full of page sidebars with useful tips and technique tricks. Each of the painting chapters includes a palette with color mixtures used. The photos and illustrations are high quality enough that in the full page finished paintings, you can make out some of the artist's underlying brushwork.

This is a useful manual (and a useful series) for the moderately advanced artist.

Four stars.

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

Drawing: Flowers with William F. Powell

Drawing: Flowers with William F. Powell is part of a series of tutorial art booklets aimed at beginning to intermediate artists in a variety of subjects and media. 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 formatted in a similar manner and this one is no exception.

A short general introduction (10%) covers tools and materials including pencils, pens, paper, blending tools, etc. The intro is followed by a group of non-specific tutorials on shading, light, shapes and perspective for types of flowers. Following the intro chapters are 25 flower specific step-by-step tutorials. These are beautiful but -very- simplified. I liked seeing the roughed out first steps, but the last of the first steps (very rough) is followed by the final step which is beautiful but remotely connected (in my case at least) from the previous step.

It's worth noting that the ebook version of the eARC includes a very handy interactive table of contents. I really liked that. Each of the tutorials include 4-6 steps start to finish.

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

Four stars.

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

Janis: Her Life and Music

Janis: Her Life and Music  is a biography and cultural retrospective about the life and impact of Janis Joplin. Due out 22nd Oct 2019 from Simon & Schuster, it's 384 pages and will be available in hardback, ebook, and audio formats. Author Holly George-Warren is a well known culture writer, producer, and music consultant.

This is a competently written factually based chronological biography of the iconic singer. It begins with a family history going back several generations and provides information about Janis' parents' families and her early childhood in Texas. This biography covers her adolescence and school years extensively. There is a lot of minutiae included (and I found it interesting), but it's not always seamlessly woven into the rest of the narrative. There were some places in the book that I found myself wondering what the significance was; it often seemed included for verisimilitude. I have no doubts about the veracity of the factual claims in the book.  The book is meticulously researched and there are exhaustive references.  Possibly one of the best aspects of the book for me was as a basis for further reading. There are good footnotes and sources for further reading that will keep the audience going for many more hours.

The early eARC I received of the book for review purposes doesn't contain the images to be included in the book, but from the notes and credits describing them, they seem to be impressively complete and extremely plentiful. Much of this book's value, in my opinion, will come from the photos and documents of Janis' life and career.

Competently written, sometimes dry, I did enjoy the book but wasn't completely enthralled.  I believe the inclusion of the photographs and documentation to come in the final release, along with the author's competent prose will elevate this book.

Four stars.

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

The Stone Circle

The Stone Circle is the 11th book in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Released 7th May 2019 by Houghton Mifflin, it's 368 pages and available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

This is the 11th book in the series and at this point, the characters have taken on a life of their own. Their internal motivations and aspirations are so well defined and 'real' that they feel like living people. I've noticed that for a lot of other series (especially 'serious' series) that the authors have either really hit their strides or developed an acute antipathy for their characters and it generally shows. I detect no whiff of ennui or antagonism in Ms. Griffiths writing toward her characters (even the odious Phil, whom I'd often like to box 'round the ears personally). 

It's a really quality series of books. I like that Ruth is intellectual, not wispy and simpering. She is a realist and competent and broad minded, but also vulnerable where her emotions are concerned.  I adore slightly goofy but pure Cathbad and his family as well as the interrelations and families which have developed over the course of the books.

This is not really a standalone book. I adore the series and would recommend reading them more or less in order, especially since this book refers very much to the previous books and earlier occurrences. It is possible to understand the plot with this book as an entry point, but be warned there are spoilers aplenty if you read them out of order.

My only hope is that when they cast the characters for TV/film that they don't find some wispy waifish 20 year old to play Ruth. (I'm so in awe of ITV for casting Brenda Belthyn for Ann Cleeves' Vera, that's what I'm talking about)!

Wonderful book, wonderfully well written and engaging series.

Five stars

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Big Book of Female Detectives

The Big Book of Female Detectives is an encyclopedic anthology of detective fiction featuring female characters (and a fair number are actually written by women). Released 16th Oct 2018, by Knopf/Doubleday on their Vintage Crime/Black Lizard imprint it's a mind boggling 1136 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

Editor Otto Penzler has done another astounding job of collecting these stories together and providing insightful background and history as well as context. There are more than a dozen other 'Big Book' anthologies curated by Mr. Penzler, and this one really delivers.

The book's introduction is a capsule survey of the representations of women in detective fiction from the late 19th century to today. Penzler writes well and with deep knowledge of his subject. There is also a short introduction to each story which gives interesting background and some publishing history for each of the entries.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag (including some with female antagonists, or at least anti-heroes). They're arranged in sections grouped roughly into time periods starting with the Victorians and Edwardians, and continuing through Pre-WWI, the Pulps, Golden Age, Mid-Century, and the Modern Era.

This is a really worthwhile collection and is honestly valuable just for the historical information about the origins and development of detective fiction along with the comprehensive acknowledgements and publishing info at the end. Along with the stories, the reader has over a thousand pages of classic fiction from giants of the genre and from some lesser known authors past and present. I love these anthologies because I always manage to find some new-to-me authors to read further.

Five huge stars. This was a whopper of a book and really supremely enjoyable for readers of historical detective fiction.

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

Duplicate Death

Duplicate Death is the 7th mystery featuring inspectors Hannasyde and Hemingway by Georgette Heyer. Originally published in 1951, this reformatting and re-release was published 7th May 2019 by Sourcebooks. It's 400 pages and available in paperback, ebook, and audio formats.

This is a well written classic British murder mystery with varied characters (many unlikable and rather awful) in a high society setting. I will say that this mystery shows its age more than a lot of her other books which I've read. There were a number of fairly offensive racist/sexist/intolerant themes in the book which diminished my enjoyment somewhat. Even the otherwise decent and evenhanded Inspector Hemingway's descriptions of one character's 'flamboyant' homosexuality made me sad and uncomfortable.  I do know that the book is a product of its time, and to read 60+ year old books means that the reader should be prepared to do so with the understanding that we're viewing them through the lens of our (supposed) progress.

There's a surprising amount of humor throughout the book and the denouement is well written and the 'whodunit' plays by the rules of fair play.

The thing about Georgette Heyer is that the reader pretty much knows exactly what they're getting and it's always an enjoyable journey.

I appreciate Sourcebooks for making these books available to a new generation of readers, and especially in electronic format.

Four stars.

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Woodworking and Furniture Repair - Repairs and Utilities - War Department Technical Manual TM 5-613

Woodworking and Furniture Repair is a reformatting and reprint of a war department manual originally published in 1946. Due out 28th May 2019 from F+W media and Popular Woodworking, it's 144 pages and will be available in flexibound paperback format.

The book has a forward written by Popular Woodworking's Editor in Chief, with some interesting historical notes about the original purpose and use for the manual.

The manual itself seems to be a facsimile or the original typeset with the same illustrations, technical drawings, and photos. It's neat to see the machinery and tools, which have changed remarkably little in the intervening 73 years. It was also fun to see the woodworkers demonstrating the techniques. Many of them were wearing fedora hats and neckties (safely secured, of course).

The book includes diagrams, materials lists, cutting/measurement lists, and photographs for more than 20 fairly advanced designs. The supporting chapters cover the construction, gluing, joinery, etc in very general terms. This manual aimed to be used for furniture repair also, and includes a number of specific cutting lists for the types of furniture (beds, tables, desks, chests, shelves, chairs of several types) as well as maintenance advice for existing furniture. There is also a well illustrated short chapter on repairing upholstered furniture (the illustrations are chiefly line-drawn).

Some of the drawings and photographs are dated; it's a product of its period. I found it very interesting from a historical standpoint as well as for the woodworking and furniture detailing information.

It must be noted for the modern woodworker that proper safety procedures are an absolute must. Much of the information in this manual includes the use of primers and solvents which have been found to be highly carcinogenic in the intervening years.

Some really neat info included in this book. It would make a great gift, library book, or addition to the traditional woodworker.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Midwestern Strange

Midwestern Strange is a series of case studies of the weird/paranormal by essayist B.J. Hollars. Due out 1st Sept. 2019 from the University of Nebraska press, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

I really enjoy expository writing and I also enjoy essays.  This book is what happens when an academic writer turns to unusual, somewhat outrĂ© subject matter. This is a study of the author's personal study of Midwestern, generally rural stories of sightings of UFOs, monsters, wolfmen, gigantic turtles, aliens and the like. 

I've been impressed with other titles from the University of Nebraska press and this one was so odd and at the same time well written that it was quite refreshing to read. The author does a remarkable job of remaining unbiased whilst recounting his road trips across the rural American heartland talking to the descendants of the original witnesses and researching newspaper files and photographs. 

I don't honestly know how to solidly classify these stories. The author draws no specific conclusions, nor does he attempt to lead the reader, so it's not really technically expository writing.  It is, however, quirky and charming and I read it cover to cover in one sitting.The author is adept and the writing is crisp. 

Four stars. Five for fans of Roswell, X-Files and the like. 

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

Orchid Modern

Orchid Modern is a gardening and design guide aimed specifically at orchids. Author Marc Hachadourian is a botanist and orchid expert and curator of the orchid collection of the New York Botanical Gardens. Due out 25th June 2019 from Timber Press, it's 272 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Orchids have had a weird reputation for ages. From the earlier modern times, they were extremely costly and rare. They often were collected in the wild, threatening natural habitats and stressing the plants to the point of death. They (unfairly) also got the incorrect label of 'difficult' and 'fussy'. With the advent of sterile culture and flasking techniques along with aseptic microculture, it's perfectly possible to reproduce desirable orchids, both species and hybrids, at low cost and with good results. This has led to many millions of orchids being reproduced and shipped to big box stores and even grocery stores. People buy them, take them home and when they fail to thrive, quite possibly through no error of the owner, they wrongly assume that the fault lies with them, and not with a stressed or unhappy plant.

That's where this book comes in. The author understands the botany and biology behind the mechanisms orchids use to grow, thrive, and reproduce. The introductory chapters include a bit of history, some layman accessible botany, a seasonal task based calendar, and wonderfully lush illustrations and photography. There's also a good basic photographic introduction on some of the different types of orchids which are available and how they differ from one another.

The middle 25% of the book has a number of really interesting and appealing tutorials for arranging and culture of orchids (instead of just bunging them into a pot and leaving it at that). The terraria are very reminiscent of 19th century naturalist style with glass-paned copper foil containers. I really love them. The showstopper of the 10 included tutorial projects has to be the orchid (and tillandsia) bonsai tree which is just breathtaking.

Roughly the final 30% of the book is a reference listing different orchids, their culture, habits, and other info.

The author has also included a comprehensive and wonderfully useful listing of ethical plant vendors and resources for further education and sourcing materials. I spent literally hours link-hopping from one vendor to the next.  The links listed are for vendors worldwide and are just amazing. Along with the vendor list is a list of worldwide botanical gardens with displays of orchids (and links to their collections, if available).

This is a beautifully written and presented book with -gorgeous- projects and so very many more orchids to introduce to the home hobbyist than just the Phalaenopsis with which we're all familiar.

Five enthusiastic stars. I will be recommending this book to all my gardening friends.

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

Field Guide to Urban Gardening

The Field Guide to Urban Gardening is a new gardening and tutorial guide to maximizing yields and utilizing every space to produce food, flowers and greenery with diverse techniques like hydroponics, vertical gardens, balconies, rooftops, and indoors. Due out 14th May 2019 from Quarto on their Cool Springs imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback format.

In times of increasing food insecurity and distrust/boredom with the incredibly limited selections available to most people who live in urban areas, coupled with the psychological and health benefits of being in contact with growing plants and having more control over our food as well as the sense of accomplishment that comes from being more self sufficient, it's easy to see why more people are making a conscious choice to garden. People in urban areas face more challenges finding space to grow anything as well as challenges associated with water and light conditions. This book gives a lot of really creative solutions to those problems (and more).

This book is seriously packed with information. The chapters are formatted well and follow a logical progression. The introduction and background chapters cover what gardening problems are especially challenging for small spaces, getting started, a survey of equipment, possible regulations which must be taken into consideration, and more. The author listed several considerations which hadn't even occurred to me.

The following chapters cover specific types of gardening: Containers, Raised Beds, Vertical Surfaces, Indoors, Balconies, Hydroponics, as well as a good Troubleshooting chapter.

The author has also included a nice resource list (with links), aimed at the gardener in North America. There's also a sidebar with metric conversions and an index.

The book is well photographed (many are stock photos, but they are clear and illustrate the plants and techniques well).

Four stars. Full of information.

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

Show Up for Salad: 100 More Recipes for Salads, Dressings, and All the Fixins You Don't Have to Be Vegan to Love

Show Up for Salad is a new tutorial vegan cookbook by food and lifestyle blogger Terry Hope Romero. Due out 4th June 2019 from Hatchette on their Da Capo/Lifelong imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. The eARC/ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents, index (super handy!), and is hyperlinked throughout.
The layout is streamlined, logical, and appealing. The recipes are easy to find and the graphics and photography are well done.

The book's introduction explains a fair bit of the background and theory (where do you get your protein? doesn't eating salad leave you feeling hungry? why eat a plant based diet? isn't it difficult being vegan? etc), and then dives right into the general techniques: choosing, washing, soaking, drying ingredients, tools and other hardware, as well as sourcing more uncommon ingredients.

The recipes themselves are arranged thematically: Dressings and Toppings (and there are a massive number of alternatives), Salads, Roasted and Grilled, Pasta and Grains, and a selection of Soups. In all there are 100 recipes with a nearly infinite number of different dressings and topping combinations both savory and sweet/tangy.

We tried and absolutely loved the Buffalo Tomato Soup and Caesar Salad (5 stars), and Peking Roasted Tofu Salad (amazing). We have been trying to incorporate more plant based meals in our daily routine and this cookbook honestly has an amazing variety of tastes and cuisines made from easily sourced ingredients. There are a lot of these recipes which will satisfy non-vegetarian friends.

Really well done cookbook.

Five stars.

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

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Art of Circular Yokes

The Art of Circular Yokes is a beautifully curated collection of designs and design instruction for circular yoke sweaters. Edited by Kerry Bogert, with an expected publication date on 11th June 2019, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardback and ebook formats.

The included complete designs are from 13 designers from all over the world with a variety of design aesthetic. There are pullovers which feature colorwork, lacy shaping, cables and more in a variety of gauges and with varied (and gorgeous) yarns. 

The format of the book reminds me a lot of the other books I've reviewed recently from F+W Media and Interweave (also edited by Ms. Bogert). The introduction includes really useful formulae and references for designing and realizing original designs. Understanding the underlying theory of construction will allow the reader to make their own unique designs. For readers who prefer to simply pick up needles and yarn, choose a size, and cast on, that option is available by picking one of the included designs. 

Most of the sweaters include written and 'Japanese' charted design elements. All of the included tutorial designs are accompanied by multiple clear color photographs from different angles. Interweave photographers and graphics/layout folks are great at their job and this book is no different. All the pictured designs are for women, though some might be adaptable for men. Most of the designs are for pullovers, but there are 3 (by my count) cardigan/button up styles. The patterns are advanced, but I would say (mostly) not beyond the capacity of a keen beginner. There is a how-to-knit chapter at the back of the book.

One additional facet of the book which I enjoyed very much was the links section to the individual web pages for the included designers and yarn suppliers. I spent way too much time on the individual websites and Ravelry pages (and found a bunch of 'must knit' projects which are calling to me). The eARC of the book includes an interactive table of contents and links section, very handy.

I didn't knit any of patterns fully, however, I did swatch three designs and found no errors in the instructions, and the swatches were fine with the called for yarns and gauges.

Five stars. These are classic patterns which will age very well. Luxurious and very well designed.

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

Grow Your Own Herbs: The 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens

Grow Your Own Herbs is a new gardening guide specifically aimed at creating, maintaining, and getting the best performance growing culinary herbs in the home garden. Due out 25th June 2019 from Timber Press, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

The book is laid out in a logical format with an introduction covering garden siting, some basic culture information, how to (and why to) grow herbs, and some region specific info. There's a sidebar with links to hardiness maps for the USA, Canada, and Europe.

The introduction is followed by chapters on growing, harvesting/preserving, and using herbs. There are some useful recipes included for infusions (syrups and vinegars), pestos, and herb butters. These are very basic suggestions and don't require any specialized equipment.

The bulk of the content is taken up by an herbal which includes 40 culinary herb entries. Each listing provides photographs, botanical names, culture and propagation information, and other uses. 

This is a capably written, well photographed book which includes a standard grouping of the most common herbs.  The descriptions and culture information are not overwhelmingly detailed, but in some cases, a word of warning to the inexperienced gardener could have been added. There isn't, for example, any mention of planning for containment when planting mint, which can be quite thuggish and invasive.  The authors have, however, done a fair job of including some interesting varieties of several families (mint, thyme, parsley, etc etc).

This is a good basic book for the beginning gardener looking for some advice on planning and executing an herb garden to enhance their cooking or for pure sensory pleasure.

Four stars.

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

The Complete Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook: 101 Delicious Whole-Food Recipes for your Pressure Cooker

The Complete Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook is a new collection of 101 plant based vegan friendly recipes written for the Instant Pot pressure cooker. Released 30th April 2019 by Rockridge press, it's 190 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. Author Barb Musick is a lifestyle blogger and writer with a very encouraging 'you can do it' style. She admits to not really learning to cook before she was in her 30s, so there's maybe still hope for me.

There are a lot of reasons to incorporate more plant based food in our diets; guarding our resources for future generations, living more simply, health and well-being, as well as philosophical reasons, not to mention taste. Using a pressure cooker can be a time-saving device but even better, it's generally a much less 'hands on' process. You can set the ingredients on the proper cooking program and walk away.  I'm -not- a gifted cook and it really is that simple.

The included recipes are made with easily sourced ingredients and the instructions are crystal clear and easy to follow. The photography is not abundant; most of the recipes are not illustrated, but the photographs which are included are clear and well done. 

The introductory chapters (10% of the page content) are devoted to an explanation of the instant pot and what it does. The recipes which follow are arranged thematically: breakfasts, appetizers (and side dishes), soups/stews, legumes and grains, main dishes, desserts, and kitchen staples (stocks, etc). Each recipe includes an intro with recipe special features such as nut-free, gluten-free, etc. There is an introduction with other info such as portion control and yields followed by highlighted sidebars with prep-time estimates, cooking settings, and other info. The recipes' ingredients lists are provided with English/American measurements. Metric/SI measurements are not included in the individual recipes (there's a conversion table in the appendices).

The links and recipe ingredients are slanted toward the North American reader, but can be sourced relatively easily in other areas of the world with an internet search. More difficult to source outside North America would be the actual Instant Pot itself.

The ebook version includes an interactive table of contents Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this cookbook is included in the KU subscription library.  There's also an interactive resource links list (slanted toward readers in North America). The chapter subheadings are also linked for easily paging back and forth to other areas of the book.

We tried out Gobi Masala (Cauliflower curry), Kimchi Pasta (Korean/Italian fusion), and Korean Barbecue Chickpea Tacos (more fusion food).  They were all tasty, but possibly a bit adventuresome for my family. We do love Korean and Italian and Southwestern cooking, just possibly not together. The portions were also slightly smaller than my family are used to, I cook for 5 and 2 of them are skinny athletic adult males with hummingbird metabolisms who can pack away food like crazy. It's not an insurmountable problem, but some portions will have to be adapted or compensated for with an extra side dish or more salad.

Three and a half stars because I really felt the lack of sufficient photography very keenly, rounded up to 4 for the completeness of the instructions and cooking settings and the author's overall supportive and encouraging writing style.

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