Sunday, December 9, 2018

Dump Cake Magic: The No-Bowl, No-Mess Method of Fuss-Free Baking

Dump Cake Magic is a collection of one-pan dessert recipes by Anne Schaeffer. Released 8th Oct 2018 by Fox Chapel, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

I grew up in the southeastern part of the USA, where every church function and family reunion is guaranteed to have at least one 'dump' cake.  In my experience, dump cake was the cherry pie filling + yellow cake mix topped with sliced butter and chopped pecans version. It's simple and delicious and guaranteed to be a no-leftovers favorite.

This collection takes that time-saving idea one step further with a wide variety of tempting desserts. There are (by my count) 60 recipes for variations on the no-bowl one-pan dessert method. Each of the recipes is photographed finished, and a number of the recipes also include process photos.  Many of the recipes include serving or preparation tips.

I moved from the USA to Europe years ago, and shocking as it seems, it's very difficult to source 'ready made' boxed cake mixes here.  The included recipe for DIY cake mix was literally worth the price of the book for me!  What a life saver!

The three trial-review recipes we tested out were all really delicious as they were and needed no tweaking.  We fully intend to try out all of the included recipes.  In the meantime, my family can fully vouch for: Key Lime Cake (p. 18), Very Berry Cheesecake Squares (p. 68), and German Chocolate Cake (p. 108 (note: this one does require an actual boxed German chocolate cake mix)).

The recipes are simple and delicious and made with easily sourced ingredients, appealingly kid/family friendly.  There's also a handy index at the back of the book.

Five stars. Well done!

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

Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors

Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors is the 15th (!!) book in Christopher Fowler's glorious series featuring an ensemble cast of synergistic misfits.  The quality of this series simply can't be overstated. The characters are perfectly drawn and obey believable internal motivations. They're always 'in character'.

This is one of my favorite series.  I anticipate each new entry and despite having received review copies, I buy copies and indeed have recommended and gifted books in the series to friends. Although Hall of Mirrors is temporally displaced from most of the rest of the PCU books, the seeds are there for the unfolding of future events.

It was genuinely touching to see the genesis of quirky trademarks like Bryant's pot plant, ratty striped scarf, and hippie Mini Victor. I loved seeing Bryant and May doing what they do together.

In exploding the classic English country house mystery, Mr. Fowler provides a perfect blending of tongue in cheek sarcasm, wonderful humor, engaging mystery and fun.  I loved seeing Bryant and May trapped in the countryside and as always lying under threat of an administrative sacking for them and the PCU.

This episode of the series could be read as a standalone, however, I strongly recommend starting from one of the 'current' books, especially since this book provides the origin for so many lynchpins of the books released earlier.

As always, the author's research and background are meticulous. I didn't notice any glaring anachronisms. The inconvenience of not having access to internet searches, Wi-Fi, mobile phones and other electronic doo-daddery is clear and present.

This book (and the series as a whole) are sharply funny.  They are biting and fast paced and funky and truly superlatively well written.

I recommend this book and the series wholeheartedly.

Five stars.

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Gemstone Detective: Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in Sri Lanka

The Gemstone Detective is the nom de plume of Kim Rix, and this installment of Buying Gemstones and Jewellery is aimed at tourists who are traveling to Sri Lanka. This colorful and informative 100 page book was released 4th October 2018 by Filament publishing and is available in paperback and ebook formats.

For a relatively short book, it covers the basics of sourcing and buying gemstones and jewelry in Sri Lanka.  The author describes the methods and basic etiquette involved to hopefully help the tourist buyer avoid the worst and most costly pitfalls.

The layout follows a logical progression.  It begins with background and definitions.  It covers what corundum (ruby/sapphire) is, a very little bit about Mohs hardness scale, along with some mineral terms like asterism and chatoyancy. Defined terms are in bold typeface and are written for the layman.  There's a fair bit of fun factoid information included like famous sapphires in history and crystal 'meanings'.  There's not too much non-scientific crystal trivia included.  I would estimate the filler info (crystal 'meanings' and supposed properties) takes up less than 5% of the total content.

The next chapters include a very rough description of valuation and the attributes which make a stone more (or less) valuable. The options for sourcing and buying gemstones, both rough and cut stones as well as finished jewelry are written clearly and in terms that the average layman can understand.  This book is aimed firmly at the layperson. This is not an instruction manual for buying professionally or breaking into the gem trade on a wholesale level.

The discussion on treatments and enhancements for stones is worth the price of the book, honestly. (And not just for tourists to Sri Lanka! This info is good for -anyone- considering a stone purchase). 
Although the guide is slanted mostly toward the sapphire buyer, many of the Sri Lankan gemstones are included in shorter descriptions (moonstone, beryl, chrysoberyl including Alexandrite, some quartzes (amethyst), and a few others). I liked it very much that the author mentions in several different places that it's easy for the unwary to get carried away and be sold iolite as sapphire (it's emphatically not the same thing).

There is a fair bit of repetition in the chapters, but that could be intentional; to help the tourist who intends to read the salient bits which apply to their situation instead of reading it from cover to cover like a novel (or like an average reviewer ;) ).

I worked as a metal artist, goldsmith, and certified gemologist for over 16 years and I actually did learn some things from this book.  The text is also peppered with a large number of internet links which provide a good reference for the buyer.

Four stars.  If it saves just one person from the heartache of being cheated it's well worth it.

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

The Whispered Word (Secret, Book, & Scone Society #2)

The Whispered Word is the second book in the Secret, Book, & Scone Society series by Ellery Adams. Released 27th Nov 2018 by Kensington, it's 224 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

This is a comfortable cozy mystery series set in a fictitious small town in North Carolina. The town is renowned for its therapeutic healing, both physical and mental.  There is a very slightly magical 'vibe' to the healing, with sort-of magical baked & knitted goods and book therapy as an integral part of the deal.

The book is sweetly written and the secret society spends a fair bit of time making anonymous gifts to distribute to sad/lonely/needy people they know.  As they're delivering one of these "secret kindness tote bags" to a local woman, they discover her face down in a pond. That's the first murder. There are a few more in the course of the book.

As my late grandmother would've said, 'There's nothing here to shock a parson'...  There is very mild language (a 'sh*t' and a couple of 'd*mn's). There is also some mild sexual content (straight, and consensual). All of the above are in context in the story and not gratuitous.

There is a fair bit of description integral to the plot of abuse of a child and imprisonment.  I found it somewhat difficult to read in places.  It's -not- specifically graphic, but it is there and it is quite distressing.

The story as presented is self contained and any necessary back story and characterizations are included in the narrative, so it works well as a standalone novel.  I hadn't read the first book, and I had no trouble following the plot or keeping the characters separate.

It's a good, warm, comfortable, cozy series with a mostly female cast and a good denouement.

Four stars, recommended to fans of very lightly paranormal cozy mysteries. It would make a good book-club read and in fact, there is an included reader's question guide to help along a discussion group.

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

Campion at Christmas

Campion at Christmas is a re-format and re-release of a quartet of short stories by Margery Allingham.  Originally published as The Mysterious Mr. Campion in 1963, this release published 23 Nov, 2018 by Agora is a trim 64 pages and would make a lovely stocking stuffer for any ebook fans on the holiday list.

The four included vignettes are sweetly nostalgic.  I have read most (all?) of the Campion canon and was unfamiliar with these. 
Three of the 4 included stories are Campion stories and the last is an ironic short story more or less in the style of O. Henry.

On Christmas Day in the Morning
Happy Christmas
The Case of the Man With the Sack
Word in Season

I especially enjoyed the last of the 4, "Word in Season" and for me it felt the most 'Campion-like' of the stories.  Even though there was some magical realism tossed in, Campion reacted just as I would have imagined he would.

A lovely holiday read and I enjoyed it very much!

Four bright holiday stars.

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

Weaver's Folly (The Shadowspinner Chronicles #1)

Weaver's Folly is the first book in the new NA/YA Shadowspinner Chronicles series by Sarah Madsen. Released 15 March by Curiosity Quills, it's 263 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This was a nice start to a new urban crossworlds fantasy series with a fair bit of shadowrunner technomancy.  It's well written and entertaining.  I am not really the target audience (in that I am not in any way young/new, and most would dispute the 'adult'), but I found it well plotted and (for a fantasy) believable. 

There are fae and other magical humanoids with their own desires and agendas. Their interactions with 'normal' humans are interwoven around a sort of 'mission impossible' framework; break into the most secure target imaginable, steal prints, acquire the target, etc etc.

At the end of the day, it's a techno-magic shadowrunner thriller with a hiiiiint of romance thrown in. The female lead is strong and relatively normal and I liked her relationship with her roommate/bestie Rose.

There is some mildly strong language as well as some (f/f) sexual content, and implied sex. There really isn't anything that would upset most readers of urban fantasy.

The author is a capable writer and has produced a well fleshed out world and enjoyable magic system.  It did occasionally feel like everything that the main character Alyssa did was more or less guaranteed to go right in the end.  I never felt much tension or threat and the denouement was well written, but not a surprise.

I liked this one a lot and will seek out the next book in the series. There's potential here.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Infernal Battalion (The Shadow Campaigns #5)

The Infernal Battalion is the fifth and final book in the high fantasy Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler. Released 9th January by Berkley publishing on their Ace imprint, it's 480 pages (over 2500 pages for the series) and available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.

This is immersive campaign fantasy in a classic style.  It provides political action, campaigning, skulduggery, questing, magic and everything for the 'doorstop fantasy' nerd. I have followed the progress of the series and world building since the beginning, and will say right away that I believe that this final book would suffer greatly by attempting to read it as a standalone. There's way too much backstory and context necessary to be read by itself. 

Mr. Wexler does a superb job of maintaining detail oriented plot progression (i.e., character focused) and balancing it against the panoply of a huge world-sized political commentary.  In my opinion the focus remains balanced and the characters have a vital role in plot progression without being overshadowed by or lost inside the wider world-campaign. The pace of this last book might be slightly more rushed than the previous books in the series. Going over my review notes, there were a couple of times I felt that the author wanted closure and was pushing a bit to get there.  Then again, after over 2500 (!!) pages, who could possibly blame him?

One thing I admire about this series very much is the strength of the female characters.  They are emphatically not there to swoon and cling helplessly to the legs of their captors/saviors. They're real, flawed, strong, and (mostly) intelligent.

I enjoyed the series very much and thought this last volume did a good job of wrapping up the disparate plot threads.  It wasn't too perfect or happy-happy.  It was mostly complete.

The language is about average for a doorstop fantasy. There are a fair number of curse words used and some sexual content. I don't imagine it would offend the majority of readers. 

I'll miss looking forward to each new book as it's published. 

Four stars, and four strong stars for the completed series.

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

Thou Shell of Death (Nigel Strangeways #2)

Thou Shell of Death is a re-release of the second book in the Nigel Strangeways mystery series by Nicholas Blake. Originally published in 1936, this reformatting by Agora books is 266 pages and available in ebook format. Earlier editions are available in other formats.  Fun factoid: the author, Nicholas Blake, was the pseudonym of Cecil Day-Lewis, Poet Laureat and father of multiple academy award winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

I've mentioned multiple times that my favorite genre is mystery and especially English country house mystery. This is a superlative example of the craft and art.  There's a limited pool of suspects, an 'impossible' crime, a clever and sophisticated semi-professional sleuth and a country stately home murder mystery.

I really enjoyed the characterizations; the house party members really live and breathe and have motivations. The dialogue is beautifully written and never once feels clunky or mechanical.  I will say that the book was written in interwar period between WW1 and 2 and does show it in the assumption of cultural familiarity with some language and attitudes.  It's laced with unexplained Latin phrases (used very reasonably in context by a schoolmaster).  The meanings are self explanatory in the dialogue so it shouldn't detract for modern readers.

It's a wonderful thing to sit inside with a glass of wine on one side, a fireplace on the other side and enjoy a classic book whilst watching snow fall outside the windows.  The ritual of reading and relaxing this book filled me with joy.  It might have colored my perceptions to a very small degree, but I don't think so.  This is a solidly good book.  The denouement was really cleverly done.

It's possibly worth noting that (most of) the series is available to download and read for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  I recommend buying them instead.  They're worth it.

Classic. Good stuff!

Five stars.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

An Act of Villainy

An Act of Villainy is the 5th book in the Amory Ames mystery series by Ashley Weaver. Released 4th Sept 2018 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's press imprint, it's 309 pages and available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

I've been a fan of this series from the first book.  My favorite genre is classic mystery especially in the interwar period.  This one ticked all the boxes for me. Amory and her bounder(ish) husband Milo are drawn into the theatre world via a couple with whom the Ames' are social friends.  There is drama on and off stage and murder soon follows. 

This book (and the series) are well written and entertaining.  I like Amory's sensibility and grit.  She's quite sophisticated and social but there are subtle hidden depths to her strength and intellect.  She's nobody's fool.

I liked that the Ames' mostly managed to support one another and cooperate through the book.  Their recently strengthened marriage is played out in counterpoint to their friends the Holloway's, and when Gerald Holloway's mistress turns up murdered, Amory turns to detecting to help solve the murder and maybe help her friends at the same time.

The dialogue is well written and though it reads well to modern readers, it's fairly true to the period in which the book is set. In fact the series reminds me a lot of Hammett's Nick and Nora. Weaver isn't Hammett, but these books compare favorably and the author is still alive and still writing, long may she continue to do so!

Four stars, well worth a read.

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

Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated

Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated is a re-release of a classic and meticulously researched piece of knitting history.  The traditional pullovers of the British Islands, ganseys,  (a corruption of 'Guernsey') were working garments, knitted in the round and seamless.  The shaping was done integrally during the knitting. This included the sleeves and waist, the areas with the most wear, so that they could ingeniously be removed and re-knitted as they wore out, thus saving the body of the sweater from having to be replaced. 

This rebooted version of the original (1993) classic by knitting historian Beth Brown-Reinsel, was released July 31st 2018 by Interweave and F+W Media.  It's 192 pages and available in hardback format.

The logical layout of this book is a huge plus.  It's easy to find thematic content with the index at the back of the book.  For such a meaty, content rich book, it's amazingly readable.  It really is comprehensive, both for history and culture surrounding the creation and use of these garments as well as in-depth instruction in how to recreate one for modern wearers.

The book is arranged in chapters starting with introductory chapters including some definitions, materials and history.  Each of the following chapters introduces a construction element along with a sampler of stitches and alternatives which can be incorporated architect style into a complete garment.  I loved the samplers because they remove the constraints of feeling pressured to have a goal in mind and allow the knitter to experiment and learn and explore.  This is so incredibly important, and the techniques learnt are more easily and permanently retained! 

These elemental chapters lead up to a penultimate chapter which shows how to design and construct an original garment to a desired measurement. Additionally, the author gives 9 step-by-step original design tutorials with very specific directions for knitters who feel more comfortable following a pattern.

This is a very generous book.  The author's warm and supportive teaching style are pleasant and well delivered.  It is also one of the very best books I've ever encountered covering the history and culture of the garment and its use in the coastal communities of Great Britain over the last couple of centuries. 

Sourcing materials can be challenging to some knitters, since the traditional yarns are not widely available. The author has included a good source list of e-tailers who can provide the proper yarns for the best results.

Five stars, classic, beautifully written, has withstood the test of time, and wonderfully useful and educational.

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

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Illustration Studio: Inking Animals

Illustration Studio: Inking Animals is a new tutorial guide for visual artists by Sova Huova. Released 25th Sept 2018 by Quarto's Walter Foster imprint, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format.

I think there are many would-be artists who believe that they're not capable of 'real' art because they've spent their non-childhood lives in a negative feedback cycle.  Children (as regards art) are mostly fearless. As Picasso said,  “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”  Anyhow, though I often feel the desire to be visually creative, to paint and draw... my efforts generally don't live up to my expectations and I get discouraged.  

This book does a very good job of trying to counteract that negative feedback loop.  The author is encouraging and positive, always upbeat.

For a relatively short book, there is a lot of content and many techniques.  I especially loved the tutorial guide for collage.  There how-to sections include prepping paper for collage, lino cutting, some digital work, drawing, drybrushing, wet inking and more.

The author spends about 25% of the book's content introducing and showing the materials and methods used in the book.  The next chapters show different types of animals and in different media.  There's even a chapter on imaginary/fantastic creatures which has a nifty mix-and-match creativity exercise included.

There is a fair bit of 'note' space and doodle space included in the page count which could have been given over to more content, since most readers will not be marking up the physical book.  Otherwise, it was a really encouraging, fun, and very useful book.

Four stars! I had a lot of fun with this one; in fact, enough fun that I am encouraged to continue.

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

Painting Imaginary Flowers: Beautiful Blooms and Abstract Patterns in Mixed Media

Painting Imaginary Flowers is a tutorial and technique guide by visual artist Sandrine Pelissier. Released 18th Sept 2018 by F + W Media, it's 144 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

The techniques she describes and the resultant artwork are very organic and flowing.  This is not a slavish how-to manual.  There's quite a lot of artist philosophy and the author spends a lot of time encouraging the reader to actively feel and experience the process.

Creating in a vacuum can be intimidating and stressful all by itself.. and the author suggests quite early on in the book that there's a facebook community dedicated to her students to share experiences and get feedback.

The book is full of rich photography and gallery shots of finished artworks for inspiration.  There are also a number of 'action' shots of the artist at work.

She spends roughly 20% of the content on introduction and materials. There are a number of unusual combinations of materials used in this technique, and she spends a good amount of time explaining where and how they're used.

The following chapter includes a little bit of artistic philosophy. I liked the encouraging tone of the writing and the reassuring message: "Making Art Is Fun, So Enjoy the Process".  It -should- be fun and time used without finished results isn't wasted; it's practice! (Everyone needs to hear that).

Roughly the next 10% of the book covers which materials to choose and picking a color scheme. This section also introduces the methods of building up the base (color) layers.

This book is lavishly photographed. The author shows her own work at every stage from beginning color layers to processing, covering the base layers, embellishing, and finishing.

I really think this would make a lovely addition to the painter's library or for would-be artists who are having trouble getting over their intimidation.  She's a very exuberant and colorful teacher.

Four stars.

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Tom Cotter's Best Barn-Find Collector Car Tales

Tom Cotter's Best Barn-Find Collector Car Tales is a new collection (his 10th book) of barn-hunting adventures from restoration guru and vlogger Tom Cotter.  He's leveraged his passion for restoring and preserving historic autos and motorcycles into a career spanning more than 5 decades and thousands of vehicles. Released 4th Sept 2018 by Quarto's Motorbooks imprint, it's 256 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

While I don't restore antique autos (or planes or trains or motorcycles), I well understand the thrill of the chase.  I collect needlework tools and especially love early sewing and knitting machines.  I've restored drum carders and more old sewing machine cabinets than most people would think entirely prudent.  I definitely 'get' what keeps people looking in barns, attics, and basements for the next hidden gem.

Anyhow, this is an entertaining and readable collection of restoration hunts which span decades and thousands of miles across the globe.  The stories are full of character and humor and warmth and all are satisfying to read.  The entries are collected from numerous friends and acquaintances in the hobby and are arranged thematically.  Some of them were quite exciting to read (collecting in the former Soviet bloc whilst dodging murderous criminals, really)! 

Since the collection is broken up into bit size stories, it would make a good 'commuter' read.  I had intended to read it on my morning bus commute, but wound up devouring it in one sitting. The stories are accompanied by well photographed illustrations which support the narratives.

There's a cross-referenced index at the end and a lot of warmth and appealingly quirky characters between the covers.

This would make a superlative gift for fans of the youtube channel or restoration hobbyists or professionals.

Four stars, I enjoyed it very much.

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

Treacherous Is the Night (Verity Kent #2)

 Treacherous Is the Night is the second book in the Verity Kent mystery series by Anna Lee Huber.  Released 25th Sept by Kensington books, it's 304 pages and available in paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.

Although this is the second book in the series, it reads very well as a standalone.  I do recommend searching out the first book in the series because it's beautifully written and plotted; a really superlative period mystery; but it's not necessary to have read it first to understand what's going on in this one. 

Interwar mysteries are my favorites.  I love the period, the style and panache, the sophistication and grit.  Though I adore authentic classic golden age authors, there won't be any more produced. This, on the other hand, is a modern author who writes beautifully and cleverly with sophisticated three dimensional characters and dialogue which is never clunky or awkward.

Main character Verity is capable, intelligent, sophisticated and a little bit vulnerable.  She worked in the resistance (bad*ss!) in WWI when she thought she was a widow, and even though her husband turned out to be alive, she feels compelled by a debt of honor to try to help a former comrade in arms. Her search for her former contact and fellow agent leads her and her husband into direct danger and she doesn't know whom she can trust.

This book has elements of a mystery espionage novel, but it's the mystery aspects which gave me the most enjoyment. The book's language is very clean with only a few scattered uses of the word 'bloody'. There is not any overt sexual content, although there are a few passing discussions of some of the harder realities of life for women in occupied areas during wartime (rape, etc).  These discussions are fleeting and not at all graphic. 

I often find unintentional anachronisms in most of the books I review and I have to say, Ms. Huber's period research is impressive.  The story is interwoven around real life events and history and I couldn't find any obvious inaccuracies.  Well played!

Four and a half stars.  I recommend this book (and series) very highly to anyone who loves classic mysteries.  I look forward eagerly to read more for these characters (even though her husband's sort of a cad).

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Reviews for Author Success

Book Reviews for Author Success is author Barb Drozdowich's guide to indie authors on how to reach reviewers and increase exposure for their works.  The book is aimed at creators who do not have a publishing marketing apparatus providing exposure

Released 9th October 2018 by Amazon publishing, it's 92 pages and available in electronic format.

The publishing industry has changed immensely over the last decades.  Self publishing has made it possible for authors to produce and list their work directly on electronic media (i.e. Amazon, B&N, etc) and potentially reach millions of buyers, but without a significant online presence or active marketing plan, their would-be bestseller languishes, drowned in a sea of competition.

Ms. Drozdowich has written several guides and how-to books for new/indie authors on other aspects of the jobs of being a successful indie author, but this one deals mostly with several methods of 1)getting your book in the hands of reviewers, 2)getting those reviewers to successfully carry through in providing a review for your work and 3)leveraging those reviews into successful book 'buzz' which in turn generates sales.

This guide is written directly to its audience (other writers) and as such, it's not very slick or polished.  What it does, and does well, is to gather online resources and sites together in one place.  It's a great collection of website resources and how to utilize them to increase exposure.  The book's chapters are arranged logically starting with the most basic (what is a review) through marketing and exposure, how to find bloggers and ask for (and recieve) reviews, and what reviews entail and what you can expect from reviewers.

This is a good resource, well written and accessible.  I imagine it could be quite invaluable for a struggling author.

Four stars.

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

Countertop Gardens: Easily Grow Kitchen Edibles Indoors for Year-Round Enjoyment

Countertop Gardens is a new niche gardening book by Shelley Levis. Released 19th June 2018 by Quarto's Cool Springs imprint, it's 160 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

Humans benefit from contact with natural spaces and growing things. One of the real dangers of living in smaller spaces without any green access is the detrimental effect on our mental health.  Horticultural therapy is a long recognized effective and enjoyable method for engaging with our natural environment and improving mental health.  This author presents a compelling case for no-excuses access to gardening indoors year round and with limited (or nonexistent) outdoor spaces.

The book is full color and includes a number of recipes. The author's style is breezy, confident, and encouraging.  The writing is easy to read and accessible. This is mostly a general introduction to various methods of indoor container growing and how to adapt the reader's efforts into getting the best possible results. The chapters are arranged logically and introduce concepts along with expanded information as chapters progress. This book had value for me personally as a resource guide with good online information web resources.

I think as long as readers have realistic expectations about yields and look at indoor growing as a fun experiment rather than a method of providing a significant amount of food (in virtually all cases), this book will provide a fun and useful introduction to the alternatives out there for the would-be indoor gardener.

Four stars, appealingly written and well photographed.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Sofia and the Pornographic Penguin

Sofia and the Pornographic Penguin is a genre defying new release from Richard Harrington.  Released 12 July 2018 by Amazon, it's 274 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is ostensibly the first novel in a series (Sofia and the Manor House Saga).  There are some mystery elements but the author seems to mostly be aiming for farcical comedy.  It struck me as a cross between a Benny Hill sketch and Steven Moffat's series 'Coupling' (anyone else remember that one?). I spent about 80% of my time reading this book rolling my eyes.

There are a number of problems with the narrative.  The dialogue is often truly cringe-worthy.  The characters are strictly two dimensional and largely cringe-worthy themselves.  As an exercise, I started trying to edit this in my head as I was reading.  I gave that up after a few pages, but it really convinced me that the book is in dire need of a major rewrite. The entire book is a sort of stream of consciousness fart and sex joke.  The book seems to not have been rewritten or polished and suffers for it.  There's a point at which *nudge nudge* *wink wink* stop being funny.  Despite its modern slang connotations, the word "cum" is just Latin for "with".  The author apparently found the entendre endlessly amusing and the first chapter reads as though he was being paid for every use of the word.  Every possible double use of the words "cum, pussy, cock, balls", etc is thrust before the reader (*har har*).  The characters spend most of their time screaming at one another and/or trying to have sex, or both at the same time.

I'm not offended by language or sexual content.  For readers who want their narratives clean and tidy, move along.  The book is absolutely full of raunchy double entendres and inappropriate language.  There are many raunchy stand up comedians who leave me doubled over gasping from laughing.  This book missed by a mile for me.

For me, two stars.  Reading the reviews and ratings from other readers, I appear to be in the minority.  It's possibly worth noting that the book is available to download and read for free for Kindle Unlimited readers. For readers who wish to try an excerpt, you can find a readable excerpt on Amazon on the book's page.

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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Delicate Crochet: 23 Light and Pretty Designs for Shawls, Tops and More

Delicate Crochet is a new tutorial crochet guide collected by Sharon Hernes Silverman. Due out 1st Dec 2018 from  Rowman & Littlefield, it's 176 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.  This book includes 23 crochet designs from numerous designers, collected by Ms. Silverman, which include apparel and accessories designed to showcase the openwork patterns of the crochet.  The book includes several patterns worked with tunisian and broomstick lace.  There's also a project included which uses the crocheted fabric as a ground for further embellishment, guaranteed to serve as a good jumping off point for really making the item one's own.

The breadth of patterns included impressed me.  There are structured garments (including a cardigan) as well as very loose and flowing wraps (see cover illustration). Each project tutorial chapter includes both written pattern instructions as well as drawn diagrams. The projects are well photographed and each one includes yarn suggestions and materials.  There is a wealth of inspiration for gift ideas as well as must-haves for the crafter.

There are any number of luscious variegated yarns out now and many of these projects utilize those yarns with wonderful results.  This is a book with a fair bit of 'ooh' factor.  There were several projects which definitely went on my list.

I didn't complete any of the projects, but I did do several swatch tests and found the pattern diagrams easy to follow and mistake free.  The recommended yarn weights seem appropriate.  Delicate crochet also includes a few patterns for the more adventurous crafter.. I am not entirely sure about crocheting a skirt (at least not for myself), but there's one included here.

Many of the designs showcase crochet fabric's natural draping tendencies to an impressive degree.  The Ziggy Vest designed by Vashti Braha is a really lovely project with a surprising amount of structure and detail.

Lovely projects, luscious yarns, good detail photography, and well written instructions.

Five stars.

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

Working Reclaimed Wood: A Guide for Woodworkers, Makers & Designers

Working Reclaimed Wood is a new gallery guide curated by architect trained wood wizard Yoav Liberman. Released 4th Sept 2018 by Popular Woodworking, via F+W Media, it's 160 pages, full color and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Most of us live, indisputably, in a throwaway culture.  Mass marketing and consumer driven 'replace-don't-repair' are pervasive and destructive.  The need to curb and reverse this 'trash culture' is global and if we're to survive, we're going to have to do everything we can as individuals and society to step up and find creative solutions.  There are a small (but growing) number of designers, artists, recyclers and businesses who are contributing to the reclamation and reuse of raw materials.

As stated before, this is not really a tutorial book.  There are a few tutorials included with isometric drawings at the end of each chapter; but it functions much better as a really gorgeous inspirational catalog for the advanced woodworker.  It is exactly what the title states, a guide for ethically sourcing, reclaiming and using reclaimed wood in the woodworking studio. Individual artists are featured along with their work and some of their design philosophies.

The book is beautifully photographed and illustrated.  It's arranged in chapter format with the illustrated items collected to support a central theme: restoring sourced materials, including hardware, designing pieces and developing artistic vision.  There's a useful (basic) index at the back of the book.  There are a few resource vendors mentioned in the book, but there's not a comprehensive vendor list anywhere.

One of the book quotes really resonated with me:
Reducing consumption, increasing product quality and
longevity, taming down the irresponsible chase for new
fashions and fads, reclaiming the discarded and rehabilitating
the old and worthy, will pave our way for a sustainable future.

This would make a really lovely gift for the artistically sensible reading woodworker.  I got a lot out of reading the artists' statements and design philosophy and creator stories included in this book. I enjoyed it very much and can recommend it highly.

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

Beehive Alchemy: Projects and recipes

Beehive Alchemy: Projects and recipes is a new recipe/DIY/how-to book from Petra Ahnert. Released 21st August 2018 by Quarto publishing group's Quarry imprint, it's 160 pages and available in flexibind paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a good basic how-to guide for beecrafting.  The book is well photographed in color and arranged logically in chapters with recipes grouped around the area of use- bodycare, candles, home use (including a solid recipe for furniture polish, a classic - you never forget that smell), studio projects (batik, multimedia), foods, etc.  This book has a short intro, a usable index at the back, and some useful appendices which provide conversions for baking, info on various oils used in the bodycare recipes and their properties, some safety info with links to online lye calculators for the soap projects, along with a short bio.  There are links to online resources scattered throughout the book; most are aimed at North American readers.

There's nothing truly groundbreaking here, but it's always nice to add to the apiary and crafting libraries and this particular book fills a niche (crafting with bee products) which isn't overcrowded.  The skincare products are wholesome and down to earth and safe. The crafting projects are fun and appealing.  Bonus points for being the first bee book in my experience to include batik projects.  The cooking recipes are tasty and versatile and trend toward the high end (pistachio & honey chevre is simple but just about guaranteed to impress). 

The author's writing style is friendly and acccessible.

Three and a half stars.

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