Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Gravity of Us

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper is a very sweetly written YA romance with a m/m central theme. Due out 4th Feb 2020 from Bloomsbury YA, it's 320 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

There's a lot to love here. The writer is quite gifted with descriptive prose and the characters are sensitively rendered, distinct, and likable. I enjoyed the gentle pacing and development. I read about half of the book imagining that it would be a simple coming of age story with the added tension which often befalls LGBTQ youth. I was wrong. There is, of course, the fraught young love and some drama associated with navigating coming out to family, and trying to maintain a relationship amidst huge life changes (cross country moves, school changes, college/university, etc) but there's also a pretty solid antagonist and mystery along with a satisfying denouement.

I really liked the background stories of Cal's social media presence and reading about the space program and astronauts and their families. I've been a huge NASA nerd since I was a toddler a zillion years ago (my dad was an engineer and space nut) and I spent a lot of the read smiling.

Beautifully written, satisfying, upbeat, and positive. I really enjoyed this and would recommend it unhesitatingly for YA readers who enjoy romance and coming of age novels. The language is R rated, there's some implied sexual content (off scene) as well as sensitively handled discussion of depression, relationships, family issues, etc.

Four stars. Highly recommended.

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

Bento for Beginners: 60 Recipes for Easy Bento Box Lunches

Bento for Beginners is a tutorial and recipe collection by Chika Ravitch. Due out 4th Feb 2020 from Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 164 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available now). It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

Bento can be healthy and appealing with eye appeal, organization, variety, and portion control in one package. This collection also shows that it doesn't need to be very time consuming or difficult.

The introduction includes suggestions and tutorials for basic bento followed by chapters with 7 Japanese style bentos,  7 western style meals, and 7 fusion style. These are complete meals with the base recipes and ingredients included.

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (only US measurements given, with a metric conversion chart in the appendix), and step by step instructions. The nutritional info provided includes calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, carbs, fiber, sugar, and protein . Very few of the recipes are photographed, but the completed boxes are illustrated very well and clearly. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. There are some vegan friendly recipes. Special notes about the recipes (nut free, gluten free, vegan, etc) are listed in the header bars at the beginning of each individual recipe. The book does include a solid cross referenced index which includes ingredients.

The recipe ingredients themselves are easily sourced and will be available at most well stocked grocery stores.

Well written and organized, this could be a fun addition to the lunchbox repertoire. It would also lend itself very well to fans of meal planning or once-a-week-cooking. Most of these recipes make several servings which could easily be used for a week's lunch planning.

Four stars.

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

Mortal Music (Silver Rush #7)

Mortal Music is the 7th Silver Rush historical mystery by Ann Parker. Due out 27th Jan 2020 from Poisoned Pen Press, it's 448 pages and will be available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats.

Although shelved as a cozy mystery, this is quite a bit darker and more graphic/ambiguous than most of the genre. It's December 1881 in San Francisco and protagonist Inez Stannert is drawn unwillingly into the orbit of a world famous opera singer on her last tour before she retires. When the diva hears music shop owner Inez play the piano she's delivered for the opera performances, she fires her accompanist and insists on hiring Inez for her few remaining appearances.

There are murders, mistaken identity,  betrayals, theft, double-crosses, and more skullduggery.  The buildup and resolution/denouement were pretty significant downers. I found the plotting slow in places and some of the dialogue was both anachronistic (modern) and stiff. I really wanted to smack Inez's sometime partner/sidekick De Bruijn at several points in the narrative. I found the killing of the diva's pet over the top and unpleasant.

All around, not a very upbeat read, although it is admittedly well written and the author is adept at storytelling. Despite being the 7th book in the series, it works well enough as a standalone. Fans of the series who have already formed a connection to the protagonists will likely find this volume more enjoyable.

Three and a half stars.

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

Given

Given is the first book in a new YA series by Nandi Taylor. Released 21st Jan 2020 by Wattpad, it's  352 pages and available in hardback, paperback and ebook formats.

This is a coming of age dragon romance with a young female protagonist who is a person of color. She's being sent to another culture for a year long exchange and hopefully to find a cure for a wasting sickness which has struck her father the chieftain of her people.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. The author is an adept storyteller and the background magic systems and world building are compelling and original. I liked that the main character was a minority, that she was fairly intelligent and ethical, and that she was represented as strong and independent.

My reservations with the book are things which potentially will be in the plus column for many readers. A large portion of the plot revolves around her being 'given' (bonded) to the dragon shifter she's literally just met. It's not insta-love, she doesn't just capitulate at once, which is good, but the romance subplot which might well be a plus for romance fans, found me rolling my jaded eyes at several points. I was surprised there wasn't any overt racism or condescension/colonialism from the other characters, since she's a new arrival from a culture/ethnicity which her hosts, the Cresh, haven't seen for centuries.

All in all, it's a well written YA fantasy with a strong romance subplot and female protagonist.

Four stars, it'll be interesting to read what comes next.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Sacrificial Man (Cate Austin #2)

The Sacrificial Man is a dark psychological thriller and the second book in the Cate Austin series by Ruth Dugdall. Originally published in 2011, this reformat and re-release from Legend Press is 288 pages and available in ebook format (other editions available in more formats).

This was a difficult book to read and I've been mulling my review for several days now (so in that sense, it did admittedly make me think about it more than the usual review, and that's interesting). The author is a technically adept writer. She has a sure voice and a deft touch with both descriptive prose and plotting, however... The emphasis in the storyline was way off-kilter to me. The plot revolves around an assisted suicide and nearly all of the scenes feature the woman who helped her lover to die. Cate, the returning character is an afterthought and bland and two-dimensional. I know that she's supposed to maintain her objectivity (her job is to help with sentencing by making recommendations to the court), but I didn't even realize she was supposed to be the main character; the book is told with most of the emphasis around the murderer/euthanist (in 1st person PoV) whilst Cate's interactions are told in third person.

The central themes are dark and make for quite difficult reading. The book contains graphic descriptions and themes of suicide, murder, cannibalism, psychological manipulation, dysfunction, child molestation, abuse, and more. The language is also R-rated.

This would be a good fit for fans of dark psychological thrillers/crime readers. It didn't make for enjoyable reading for me personally, though it's well written.

Three and a half stars.

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


Canning Essentials: Jam-Packed with Essential Tools, Techniques, and Recipes for Fruits, Veggies, Jams, Pickles, Salsa, and More

Canning Essentials is a tutorial and cookbook aimed at the beginning canner/food preserver. Due out 9th April 2020 from Fox Chapel, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback format. The content included in Canning Essentials was previously published as Can It (2012), this appears to be a reformat and re-release. I don't have both editions for comparison, so I'm not able to speak to any content differences.

There are so many classic canning and preserving cookbooks that it's a difficult niche to find something truly new and breakthrough. Although I think most cooks who have experience with canning have a copy of Ball's Blue Book lying around, it's also nice to get some new recipes to try out and this collection has some interesting ones.

The layout is standard: the introductory chapters cover equipment, supplies, ingredient choices, and some basic safety. The following chapters include instructions, storage, and food safety for freezing and canning. The second half of the content includes the recipes and there are some interesting ones: curried apple chutney (a savory chutney), cinnamon pickles made with 'red hots' candies, along with a number of others. For cooks who prefer to do everything from scratch, this book does generally use pre-purchased pectins, stabilizers, and color protectants. The photography is adequate, but mostly not original to this volume (shutterstock, and creative commons licensed photos). The photos are well done, however, and it's nice to have nearly all of the recipes photographed.

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only, no metric conversions), and step by step instructions. There is no metric conversion provided in the book. The appendices do include helpful tables for larger measures of ingredients (bushels, pecks, etc) along with expected poundage for various vegetables and fruits and hints and tips from the author for processing and preserving.

In general this is a good starting volume for beginners with some interesting recipes. Most of the yields for the recipes make a fair bit of product (5-10 pints at a minimum), so testing out a recipe will require some commitment in time and materials. I recommend it, but don't think it will be replacing my Ball Canning Book.

Three stars.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Garden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and concoctions for organic fertilizers, plant elixirs, potting mixes, pest deterrents, and more

Garden Alchemy is a tutorial and reference for testing/building/supporting a healthy garden and soil. Due out 18th Feb 2020 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a book with an upbeat and whimsical vibe which is also firmly rooted in fact based horticultural practice, The author has an inviting and conversational writing style and I found the reading both engaging and entertaining. The layout is graphically appealing and colorful and the chapters are arranged logically and thematically: recipes and tutorials for soil, propagation, compost, fertilizers and garden teas, and garden interactions with birds bees and bugs. There's a good links list for further reading and a cross referenced index.

Everything about the book is exuberant and appealing. I really enjoyed reading it and I am sure I'll consult it as a reference. The author's tutorial for making, stocking, and using a vermicomposting system is one of the better and more practical ones I've seen.

Five stars.

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



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Beautiful Horses



Beautiful Horses is an introduction with a short history and a gallery showing the elegance of horses. Originally published in the UK in 2013 this re-format and re-release is due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Ivy Press imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The authors have an accessible and informative (but not dry) style. The book has a good introduction with some history, uses, rare breeds, development of breed standards, and a very short capsule intro to shows. The intros are followed by a gallery listing of 40 horses (some duplicate breeds, such as the Welsh Cob), with a full color detail photo, breed intro with features, uses, related breeds, size/weight, and range/origin. The picture content also helpfully includes the age and sex of the subject (including reproductive status/castration). The end of the book contains some sepia-tone photos from specific show entry winners, along with an index and solid links lists for further reading. 

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

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

Four stars.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Astrid Lindgren (Little People, Big Dreams)

Astrid Lindgren is a new biography for babies and the youngest readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and all of them are delightful and exuberant little books which cover the lives of famous cultural, science, arts, and innovative icons while maintaining an age-appropriate level of detail.

Due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Written by Isabel S├ínchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  The gentle and sweetly whimsical illustrations are well done. The art by Linzie Hunter is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. The art is rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look (like the books, animals, multicultural children, and more which appear throughout the book).  I love to see so many kids and adults reading in the illustrations!

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition.

Five stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift.  Ms. Lindgren was and is an intelligent and beloved author and this little book is a nice introduction to her life and work for the youngest generation.

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

Art For All Ages Reignite Your Artistic Self

Art For All Ages is a philosophy and inspiration guide for finding or regaining a creative spirit and inspiration through guided activities. Released 7th Jan 2020, it's 192 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an interesting book with specific exercises for tapping and improving creativity and making learning pleasurable and self rewarding. The introduction includes a very well written and accessible technical discussion of the stages of learning, different types of creativity, semiotics (universal symbols), and some very basic neurology as it relates to learning.

The following chapters contain specific guided exercises for unleashing innate creativity and allowing learning to be enthusiastic, pleasurable, and fun. Most of the exercises are accompanied by the basic theory behind the instruction as well as alternative parameters. Along with the education theory there is a lot of good practical content on tools, supplies, brush care, paint use and more.

There are many tutorials in the book color/symbol coded for the age groups for which they're appropriate. The activities have writing prompts to analyze and incorporate the learning (how did you feel, what did you think, what were you satisfied with... and such). There's also an abbreviated bibliography and links list along with some bonus activities like art parties, group activities such as making an art club, and more.

This would be a superlative text for educators, art therapists, child carers, parents, adult learners, journalers, and pretty much anyone who has felt stuck and blocked before (that's everyone, more or less). I loved the author's enthusiastic writing style and many of the tutorial activities were appealing and looked fun. The book is also well illustrated and very colorful.

Five stars.

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

The Complete Language of Flowers: A Definitive and Illustrated History

The Complete Language of Flowers is an encyclopedic manual of the traditional meaning for flowers and bouquet building in the traditional manner of the Victorians. Due out 4th Feb 2020 from Quarto on their Wellfleet imprint, it's 256 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The book has a retro botanical print vibe and the introduction leads directly into a very short 'how to use this book'. The bulk of the book contains an alphabetical listing of the flowers and plants. Each listing contains a color illustration followed by some of the common names for each plant listed, symbolic meaning(s), possible powers, and folklore and facts. The listings are compact, there are 4-6 listings per page. The book includes a nice bibliography and two indices. One index includes the flowers listed with common names alphabetically, the other includes meanings, so if the reader wants to let the recipient down gently by declaring their platonic affection, it's easily looked up in the second index (Acacia, robinia, Austrian roses).

This is an appealing and very pretty book for a somewhat niche audience.

Four stars.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Beautiful Goats: Portraits of champion breeds




Beautiful Goats is an introduction with a short history and a gallery in honor of the noble goat. Originally published in the UK in 2014 this re-format and re-release is due out 3rd March 2020 from Quarto on their Ivy Press imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback format.

There are over 300 different breeds of goat and they have been our constant companions for thousands of years. They give us milk and cheese and other dairy products, meat, skins, and fibres as well as being used to clear land and prepare rough terrain for agricultural use. They're hardy, mostly disease resistant, intelligent, charming, and funny. This book is a tribute to everything goat. 

The authors have an accessible and informative (but not dry) style. The book has a good introduction with some history, uses, rare breeds, and a very short capsule intro to showing. The intros are followed by a gallery listing of 40 goats (some duplicate breeds, such as Saanen), with a full color detail photo, breed intro with features, uses, related breeds, size/weight, and range/origin. The picture content also helpfully includes the age and sex of the subject (including reproductive status/castration). The end of the book contains some sepia-tone photos from specific show entry winners, along with an index and solid links lists for further reading. 

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

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

Four stars.

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

Shine Bright: A Color, Draw & Dream Book for a Beautiful Life

Shine Bright is part drawing tutorial, part introduction to bullet journaling, and part magic. Due out 14th Feb 2020 from Schiffer on their Better Day Books imprint, it's 96 pages and will be available in paperbound format.

This is a line drawn black and white book filled with drawing and writing prompts. The art is exuberant, simple, and appealing. Although aimed at younger/tween readers, this would also be a great selection for child minders, friends, and relations who are upping their 'draw with me' repertoires.  I worked through a few of the drawing tutorials and managed a credible mermaid, cupcakes, and some flamingos. Lots and lots of fun. The drawing pages are perfect for coloring with pens, pencils, or crayons.

Hours and hours of intelligent fun with a positive message (you can do it, you are super fun, be silly, your imagination has no limits, etc etc). The vibe is upbeat and kind and a lot of fun.

Beautifully done. I enjoyed the tutorials and the message. And there are llamas wearing heart shaped sunglasses!

Five stars.

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

The Urban Sketching Handbook: Drawing with a Tablet Easy Techniques for Mastering Digital Drawing on Location

The Urban Sketching Handbook: Drawing with a Tablet is a tutorial and technique guide for digital art, specifically field drawing techniques. Due out 11th Feb 2020 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in flexibound and ebook formats.

This is an accessible, well written guide which shows a variety of work in a number of styles from different artists. I really liked the wide variety of looks which can be achieved from similar tools and techniques. This book is one of a series of books aimed at sketching in the field and on the go, with a limited number of portable tools (this volume concentrates on electronic formats).

The layout is logical; the first section introduces the tools, supplies and techniques, the second section contains three galleries with widely different styles and many artists' work arranged into cityscapes - indoors and outdoors, and landscapes. One thing that the book possibly could have spent more time on was actual soft-and hardware selection. The author clearly wanted to avoid a command prompt 'buy this product'; there's a table full of comparisons for programs which run the gamut from nothing to quite expensive. I found the array of products quite bewildering and will do more research later to find what fits my needs (total newbie, amateur electronic artist here). The learning curve for the software is a significant hurdle for electronic drawing and that is more or less not within the scope of this volume at all.

The overall feel of the book is technically rich, useful, and varied and I saw so many things which got my fingers itching to jump in and start drawing. I think most (non)artists are a lot more shy about drawing on paper/media than drawing on an electronic device which 99% of us have in our hands a majority of the time. Seeing 'real' working artists using these techniques and devices to produce art was inspiring for me.

Four stars. I really liked this book and will definitely use it going forward for my own drawing sessions.

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



DIY Chicken Keeping Projects from Fresh Eggs Daily: 40+ Fun Step-by-Step Building Ideas for Your Coop, Run, and Brooder

DIY Chicken Keeping Projects from Fresh Eggs Daily is a new tutorial and project book for DIY enthusiasts by Lisa Steele.  This is a nice follow up to her last DIY chicken hacks book  and a fun addition to the flock-keeper's library. Due out 11th Feb 2020 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The logical format is appealing and easy to understand. The author has a breezy chatty style of writing that is more conversational and encouraging than dry and strictly instructional. Reading the book felt more like a cup of tea and long chat with a good friend than a classroom lecture. That really appealed to me. The introduction includes some background for writing the book which segues into a discussion of tools and supplies and safety.

The projects are roughly grouped thematically: quick & easy, handy/labor saving, pallet projects/upcycling, and weekend projects. The projects are rated by difficulty (1-3 eggs) and include an introduction, materials & tools lists (in US standard measures),  pictures and tutorial directions. Many of them also include extra tips in colored sidebars. The instructions are well written and easy to follow.

The photography is very clear and full of lovely, appealing, and healthy chickens.  There's a useful resource list (aimed mostly at North American readers) and a handy index at the back of the book.

Well written and appealing.  Would make a nice gift for a beginning backyard chicken-herder (or soon-to-be).

Five stars.

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



Friday, January 17, 2020

The Little Book of Scandi Living

The Little Book of Scandi Living is a cute tongue-in-cheek ode to all things Scandinavian. Due out 11th Feb 2020 from Quarto on their White Lion imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a cute gift type book for the Scandi fans or maybe someone planning a trip to the Nordic countries. It's not extremely fact heavy, it's funny and lighthearted, and it does manage to hit some of the high notes. There's a lot of light-hearted competition and sibling rivalry between Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and this book includes a lot of the highlights.

It's very generalised (Norwegians do X, Danes do Y, and Swedes do Zed). I don't think the author meant for it to be taken literally, but I have noticed some stereotypes are stereotypes because they have some real life correlations.

The chapters are arranged thematically: style, food culture and etiquette, outdoor and family life, culture, and celebration. The book is liberally peppered with cheerful illustrations and photos.

All in all it's a cheerful and sweet book which will appeal to world travelers, dreamers, and folks who are proud of their Scandinavian heritage.

Three and a half stars.

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

Southwest Medicinal Plants Identify, Harvest, and Use 112 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness

Southwest Medicinal Plants is a tutorial and wildcrafting guide and herbal for regional medicinal plants by John Slattery. Due out 4th Feb 2020 from Timber Press, it's 392 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an accessible well written herbal guide to over 100 indigenous medicinal plants found in southwest North America, including Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, and parts of Texas. The author is an experienced wildcrafter and herbalist and writes well and confidently. The nomenclature he uses is precise for clarity, safety, and identification. It's clear in the text that the author really feels a connection to the natural world and his respect and love shine through. The intro covers the widely disparate terrain contained the southwest along with safety and caution, responsible collecting, and wildcrafting through the seasons. Tools and supplies are covered in the text and are (mostly) easily accessible and will be on hand already for most readers or can be sourced at minimal cost. There are simple recipes/guides for different preparation methods as well, such as tinctures, infusions, etc.

The bulk of the book contains an herbal type listing of the plants arranged alphabetically. The plant name is followed by species specifics, medicinal parts used, a descriptive paragraph, wildcrafting tips, where and when to harvest, and other info. Specific recipes are listed in a colored sidebar. Each also contains several clear photos showing different aspects of growth, habit, and seasonal appearance.

Useful book, well written and illustrated. Five stars.

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



Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women's Voices (A Cookbook with More Than 50 Recipes)

Rage Baking is a cookbook and essay collection about the feelings engendered by the modern political landscape and a discourse on positive response and plans for the future. Due out 4th Feb. 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I have been in a spiral of shocked dismay and, yes, rage over the political and social events of the last few years. Every single time I think 'NOW, it absolutely positively must be the breaking point, it can't get worse', politics, the climate crisis, the news, finds a way to sink even closer to the absolute bottom. We're way beyond what I even thought possible when I was younger and less pessimistic. The introduction to the book has a good quote from one of the editors:
Let me be clear: this is not a book telling women that if they get back into the kitchen and start baking, their rage will be sedated and all will be well. Far from it.
This is a book about women’s voices, women’s recipes, women in community with one another. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re being too dramatic, too loud, too outspoken. Too Sarah Bernhardt. Speak out. Speak up.
Each of the recipes is accompanied by a small intro/essay by the contributor. At least one (Ruth Reichl’s Oatmeal Cookies) is gluten (flour) free. The recipes run the gamut from ultra simple to the complex and most of the spectrum in between.

An abbreviated table of contents lists the recipes with page numbers directly for ease of use in each section. The introduction, with essays by the editors along with a discussion of tools and ingredients, is followed by chapters arranged roughly thematically: cookies/bars/bites, breads, cakes, puddings & custards, crumble/pies/tarts, and ends with a resource and mail order links list, short contributor bios, and an index.

I only tried a couple of the recipes in the book: the first recipe for Ruth Reichl's oatmeal cookies (gluten free, only 7 ingredients, and delicate/fall apart but quite delicious), and zucchini-almond bread which was delicious and moist (and didn't even last long enough to get cold). On a careful read-through of the recipes, I didn't find any glaring errors.

So the recipe part of the book is a winner in my opinion. The recipes are easy to follow and made with easily sourced ingredients which should be available at any well stocked supermarket. The essay part of the content, written by dozens of women who are mostly not primarily known for their cooking (some exceptions from the food industry of course) are full of bewildered sadness to straight up rage (we're mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore). I found reading and baking along with the essayists very cathartic. There weren't any truly sublime points for me personally from the essays or the recipes, but the combination felt constructive and at least lifted me out of the morass of the current dystopian reality for a few hours, and that was nice.

Four stars, it would likely be 3 - 3.5 for each part of the book individually, but the synergy makes it something more special.

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



How Birds Behave: Discover the Mysteries of What Backyard Birds Do 365 Days of the Year

How Birds Behave is a year long diary documented by Sharon Sorenson. Due out 1st Feb 2020 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Stackpole imprint, it's 424 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This charming book is arranged chronologically throughout a year of bird watching and interaction. It's written in a chatty and personal style, peppered with the author's small encounters with the local birds in her garden. The book is also liberally sprinkled with photographs showing the birds in situ and interacting, eating, etc.

This is not an in-depth scientific journal, there is no taxonomy involved, and the author uses the local common names for the species she encounters as well as chatty entries about the weather, local plants and conditions at the time.  I found it charming and very interesting, readers looking for education about specific species in a more scientific way will likely be disappointed.

The book does include an extensive cross referenced index with entries about specific species she mentions as well as people and bird behaviors.

I found myself opening up and reading this one when I was sitting by my 'bird TV' window watching 'my' birds at our feeding stations. It's a very warmly, compassionately, and enthusiastically written book by a long time bird watcher.

Four stars.

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

The Mitford Scandal (Mitford Murders #3)

The Mitford Scandal is the third book in the Mitford Murders series by Jessica Fellowes. Due out 21st Jan 2020 from Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 384 pages and will be available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats (some formats available currently).

This is a well researched fictionalized murder mystery woven around a framework of actual historical occurrences and people. This was the first book in the series which I read, and it worked well enough as a standalone for me, though some of the secondary characters blended together and I found myself going back to re-read passages to find out who was married to whom.  The murder 'mystery' was not a big part of the central plot and that and the romance subplots felt a bit tacked on to satisfy genre content.

For readers familiar with the history of the Mitfords and especially Diana Mitford, this one covers several years from 1929 and her marriage to Bryan Guiness onward. The privileged lifestyle and excesses of the moneyed classes are front and centre, contrasted with the privation of many of those who serve and protect them. The story moves from London to Paris to Venice and onward as the bodies pile up. Lady's maid Louisa works to untangle the motives and suspects and solve the crimes against a backdrop of ever-rising fascism and the threats to peace.

I did enjoy the book, the author is talented at her craft. The plotting was well done and moved the action along at a good pace. For me personally, the murders and romance subplots felt tacked on and inorganic. I think my antipathy to Diana Mitford Guiness herself dulled my appreciation of the book as a whole. Definitely a readable historical mystery and a well crafted book.

Four stars. Well written, well paced and plotted, satisfying and undemanding read.

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





Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Night Vanishing (Painter Mann #2)

The Night Vanishing is the second book in the Painter Mann series by Dick Wybrow. Due out 16th Jan 2020, it's 329 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, both books in the series are currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

I really enjoyed this weird addition to the Painter Mann (world's only living-challenged private investigator) series. The entire book is a fairly high octane trippy carnival ride from start to finish. The narrative is told in three separate threads, third person omniscient for the ghost hunters & living characters, first person for Painter Mann and the dead in-between people, and first person flashback for the part of the story which takes place in the 1750s (delineated in the chapter headings).
The action was surprisingly easy to keep track of since the writing styles are totally different and it's not mixed up in the same chapters, we get to see the action from multiple viewpoints. There's a certain amount of fluidity in the timelines since time has a different meaning in a lot of the book (it's explained well in the narrative). There is some light horror involved (voodoo, revenge, demonic soul-eating beasties, and the like). There's also a lot of fighting, destruction, and rooting for the underdog to come out on top. Painter himself, like gritty noir PIs in the classic mold, spends a lot of the book getting beat up, stomped on, trapped, folded, and mutilated.

I liked Painter's integrity and sarcasm (he's a smart*ss in the Harry Dresden mold). The world building and entire concept of the in-between is well done and weird (in a good way). The entire effect is somewhat dreamlike and unreal. My only quibble with the writing is that in several of the action scenes, it reads like a stream of consciousness free-for-all which comes across as chaotic and difficult to read. There were some parts which I had to re-read a few times to get the gist of what was happening. It was by no means ALL of the book, just a few of the fights.

Fun and interesting series, weird and cool. Four stars.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

We Are the Gardeners

We Are the Gardeners is a fun gardening philosophy book aimed at youger readers by Joanna Gaines (and family). Released 26th March 2019 by Thomas Nelson Children's, it's 40 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a fun and accessible little book about perseverance and the magic of making and maintaining a garden both indoors and outdoors. The prose is whimsical and sweet and shows the ups and downs of building a garden. There are some nice bits of information included for younger readers introducing some of the good and bad bugs and critters which help the garden grow and thrive. The art by Julianna Swaney is fun and colorful and suits the text very well.

I also liked the fact that the author showed that building and enjoying a garden is a perfect family activity, from dreaming and planning, to weeding, and finally enjoying the harvest together.

Adorable book, very nicely done.  Five stars.

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



Monday, January 13, 2020

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man (The Map of Unknown Things #3)

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man is an alternate history epic and the third book in the Map of Unknown Things series by Rod Duncan. Due out 14th Jan 2020 from Angry Robot, it's 400 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This was a compelling read and a beautifully well engineered and plotted denouement to a really enjoyable series. It is ostensibly an alternate timeline fantasy but there are so many more themes explored here: the notion of family, loyalty, personal freedom at what price, and always against a backdrop of war and espionage. The prose is evocative and immersive. There were several times while reading that I looked up to find that I had been completely unaware of the passing of time and an hour had slid by unawares.

It had been a while since I read the other books in this series and I didn't have any trouble following the plot. I suspect it would work fine as a standalone (but I strongly recommend the author's other works, so read them all).

I like the intelligence and fearlessness of the twin protagonists. This is quite a personal story, set against a background of politics and war.

Definitely one of my best reads this year. Five stars.

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Prized Girl

The Prized Girl is a standalone mystery thriller and debut from Amy K. Green. Due out 14th Jan 2020 from Penguin on their Dutton imprint, it's 384 pages and will be available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a darkly taut psychological thriller told in alternating PoV between two sisters in a small town. Their family dynamic is extremely dysfunctional, with themes of emotional and physical abuse, substance abuse, alcoholism added into a narrative which also contains pedophilia, rape, torture, blackmail, and multiple murders.

The contrapuntal point of view worked very well and the author's use of alternating third person PoV (for the murdered sister, Jenny) and first person (for the living sister, Virginia), was technically flawless. This is a very well written and very readable book. The plot threads are interwoven as the book progresses until they merge into a single twisty denouement and resolution. That the majority of the plot twists were expected before they were revealed is more a consequence of having read hundreds of books in the genre and not because the author lacked proficiency (she's quite adept as a writer).

I didn't find myself really warming to any of the characters, they were all quite flawed. This was undoubtedly intentional on the part of the author. The epilogue and resolution stuck with me all day.

Four stars.

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

Saturday, January 11, 2020

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats is an interesting and insightful parable about our differences, unity, self determination, loyalties, and what we owe to society. Due out 31st Jan 2020 from Subterranean Press, it's 128 pages and will be available in a limited edition hardcover and audio formats.

The novella form has always struck me as a weird hybrid between a novel and short story. It's sort of the literary equivalent of a 5km race, too long for a sprint, too short for a marathon. It's also said to be the most difficult track and field event since the athletes have to run *fast* but also ration enough energy to finish the race without crashing.

Author James Patrick Kelly has won several of speculative fiction/fandoms most prestigious awards and is a master of the form.  This book kept me a little off balance in the beginning. I was drawn into the narrative almost unwillingly while I was trying to figure out what was going on and find some equilibrium with the characters' directions and how the system of which they were a part was set up, how it was failing, and even what I was hoping would be the resolution. The cover art by Jon Foster is beautifully nostalgic and retro-1950 F&SF/Amazing style (complete with 4-fin rocket).

There's a fair bit of dreamlike description involved. The main character (a clone of an important historical leader) is negotiating his place in the failing order of things when he's presented with a choice, be part of the future or maintain the status quo as long as possible even though it's crumbling and destined to failure soon.

It might be wish fulfillment and a hope for our flawed and dying (real) world, but whatever the author's true intention with the story, it's very very well written, engaging, and powerful. I enjoyed it very much. Five stars. I hope the author revisits this world.

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




Near Prospect Park

Near Prospect Park is the 4th Mary Handley mystery by Lawrence H. Levy. Due out 14th Jan 2020 from Random House on their Ballantine imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

Set at the turn of the 19th century, New York private investigator Mary Handley is investigating a theft and ransom case for W. H. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame) when her life is turned upside down by the murder of her husband, an investigative reporter. It's not long until all the disparate subplots merge together and Mary works through her grief by replacing it with anger and single minded determination to solve the mystery of her husband's murder (among others).

This is surprisingly dark compared to the earlier books in the series. There are themes of suicide, depression, rape/date rape, violence against women, and more. It is well written but it should be noted that apart from direct mentions of characters and historical events from 1896, it reads very much like a novel set in the modern era. The dialogue, jokes, descriptions, and narrative really could be in the present day. Some of the secondary characters (Mary's mother) were abrasive and annoying in the extreme. I've no doubt that it was intentional on the author's part, he's a gifted storyteller.

I enjoyed the book. I'm sure it will be a good match for lovers of historical procedural mysteries.

Four stars.

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

The Cockroach

The Cockroach is a new nonfiction graphic art book aimed at younger readers in The Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel. Originally published in French in 2016, this English language translation is due out 4th Feb 2020 from Penguin Random House on their Tundra imprint, has 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The art is whimsical and appealing (see cover), and the text is fact based and scientifically accurate. The info included in the book covers preferred habitat, diet, reproduction, and different species and ranges. I liked that the book includes proper nomenclature for things such as eggcase (ootheca) and omnivore. If the terms aren't already familiar to young readers (or adults), they can be researched.


This would make a super choice for classroom/public library, homeschool library, or gift. Really cute and worthwhile subject for young readers. The graphic design and interactive dialogue would also lend itself quite easily to a bedtime read. My only quibble with the book is that it's apparently one of a series called (in English) 'Disgusting Critters' and while I do know that 'disgusting' is meant as an attractive choice of words for kids, it just sat wrong with me. Are there really any truly disgusting creatures? I wish they could've called the series Cool Critters, or Interesting Critters or something. I'm a middle aged science nerd, and I think flatworms are cool, so I'm not really the target audience.

Four and a half stars.

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


The Bat

The Bat is a cute nonfiction picture book aimed at youngsters showing the coolness and usefulness of bats. Originally published in 2016 in French, this English edition is due out 4th Feb 2020 from Penguin Random House on their Tundra imprint, has 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The art is whimsical and appealing (see cover), and the text is fact based and scientifically accurate. The important ecological niches and functions that bats perform are explained in accessible age-appropriate language as well as the challenges they face confronted with disappearing habitat, pollution, and other problems in the world today.

This would make a super choice for classroom/public library, homeschool library, or gift. Really cute and worthwhile subject for young readers. The graphic design and interactive dialogue would also lend itself quite easily to a bedtime read. My only quibble with the book is that it's apparently one of a series called (in English) 'Disgusting Critters' and while I do know that 'disgusting' is meant as an attractive choice of words for kids, and it's a book with a 100% positive slant toward bats as interesting and vital, it just sat wrong with me.  I wish they could've called the series Cool Critters, or Interesting Critters or something. I'm a middle aged science nerd, so I think flatworms are cool, so I'm not the target audience.

Four and a half stars.

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



Creating Celtic Animal Designs: A Fresh Approach to Traditional Design

Creating Celtic Animal Designs is a new tutorial and design work for animal knotwork designs by Cari Buziak. Due out 15th Jan from Dover, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

I liked the layout of this book. It progresses from very general basic freehand knotwork shapes through specific example tutorials. The author's method doesn't use set dot grids to draw designs and instead uses a 'ribbon' method which allows for a lot more freeform design and a more flowing, organic finish. The author then builds up this basic freehand method further to incorporate specific animals in later chapters. The same method would work very well to incorporate whatever other designs the student/artist wished besides the animal designs.

The animal designs are all ones which can be found in period examples in manuscripts, stonework, wood and metalwork, etc. There are 9 different chapters with multiple animal tutorials, plus the basic knotwork chapter, a general chapter on tools and supplies, and a short author biography.

Dover has, throughout the years, published a number of good books for Celtic drawing and art. This is a somewhat niche one, but solid nonetheless. This would make a great selection for woodworkers, carvers, metal artists, jewelers, calligraphers, graphic artists and the like.

This is a useful and well presented book full of appealing material.

Five stars.

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

My First Book About Chemistry

My First Book About Chemistry is a neat STEAM based book with black and white pages to color which give a short capsule overview of biochemistry, geochemistry, basic atomic theory, and nuclear chemistry. Due out 15th Jan 2020 from Dover, it's 48 pages and will be available in paperback format.

I have been talking about STE(A)M education and books since the very earliest days of this blog.  It's vitally important to expose kids to the concepts as soon as possible.  They're the ones who are going to be making our future. They're the innovators, creators, inventors, discoverers of tomorrow's world.  The more our kids are engaging with the world around them, the better.  Critical thinking skills are more vitally important now than ever before.  We're bombarded with messaging and media spin from the moment we're born and learning to differentiate the truth is a vital survival skill. That's where STE(A)M comes in.  Finding fun ways to keep their interest is key.

This would be a great choice for classroom or homeschool use as well as a welcome gift for a science interested youngster (circa 8-12 years). Learning about chemistry while coloring the pages is fun and a lot more effective for learning than just reading alone.

Four stars.

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


Clay Play! Animal Favorites

Clay Play! Animal Favorites is a tutorial project guide for polymer clay animals by Terry Taylor. Due out 15th Jan 2020 from Dover, it's 80 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a well illustrated and fun book with lots of appealing and whimsical animal projects. The layout is logical and accessible and proceeds from an introduction which covers tools, materials, safety, and basic techniques, followed by the project tutorials. The projects themselves are grouped thematically: animals, birds, sea creatures. The book also includes cute customization tutorials for a hat, crown, bow, and other cute details which can be used on any of the project tutorials.

These are appealing and quite appropriate for all ages. Very young readers will (probably) benefit from having an older helper, especially for the baking and safety steps. This would make a great book selection for an art class or makers group. It would also make a good present for a youngster possibly bundled with some clay and modeling tools.

Four stars. Lots of fun here.

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

Familiar Flowers of Field and Garden

Familiar Flowers of Field and Garden is a reformat and re-release of an herbal by F. Schuyler Mathews. Originally published in 1895, this edition from Dover is 320 pages and available in paperback format (other editions available in additional formats).

This is an appealing and nostalgic look at wildflowers and hedgerow plants by a noted naturalist and botanist from a hundred years ago. The prose is meandering and gentle. It definitely reads like a product of its time, and I found it quite charming. The illustrations are hand drawn, there are no color illustrations or photographs.

The introduction provides a short exposition by the author on the desirability of having more in depth knowledge of the names and particulars of the wild plants which are familiar to most people who spend any time out in nature. It should be noted that some of the classifications of the plants included in this volume have been changed in the intervening century. There is no table of contents, though there is an index included in the back of the book along with a table including names and flowering times, range, color, and other distinguishing features of each plant. The body of the herbal is arranged chronologically by the flowering periods of each plant starting in March and April and progressing through the spring and summer months.

The illustrations are appealingly old fashioned, but I'm not at all sure I would want to depend on them for positive identification (especially since mistaking similar plants can be dangerous). The book is also peppered with poems, reminiscences, and tidbits about plants and the natural environment.

This is a lovely book, not particularly scientifically accurate for the current taxonomy, but would be a great choice for lovers of plant history and natural history.

Four stars. (Five stars for Dover being the repository and champion of so many cool books which would otherwise pass into obscurity forever).

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

 

The Art of Dying (Raven, Fisher, and Simpson #2)

The Art of Dying is the second book in the early Victorian era mystery series by Ambrose Parry (married writer duo Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman). Released 7th Jan 2020 by Canongate Books, it's 416 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats. The ebook format includes an interactive table of contents with chapter headings. I've become very fond of interactive ebooks lately.

This is an engaging and well written Victorian medical mystery set (mostly) in Edinburgh in 1850. One thing which struct me early on was how meticulously researched both the medical and cultural aspects of the period and place were. The narrative is seamless and well written. Protagonist Sarah Fisher again joins forces with Will Raven (now a qualified doctor) to investigate discrepancies in one of her mentor's previous cases and in his household. She's intelligent and strong and fairly fearless in a world absolutely dominated by men who still hold almost all the power.

I did enjoy Sarah's character, intelligence, and conviction. I was less enamored of Dr. Will Raven's character and found myself rolling my eyes at his arrogance and unappealing classist snobbery. He is a patronizing twit. There was also a touch too much romance and mournful regret (especially on Raven's part) for me. Readers who want a shot of romance in their murder mysteries will no doubt disagree with me.

The book is undeniably well plotted and the narrative arc is a well engineered thing of beauty. I did enjoy it and it worked well enough as a standalone. The author provides the necessary back-story without relentless info dumping which is nice.

Four stars. Entertaining and well written.

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

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Shawls, Wraps, and Scarves: 21 Elegant and Graceful Hand-Knit Patterns

Shawls, Wraps, and Scarves is a well curated collection of 21 patterns designed by Louisa Harding. Due out 15th Jan 2020 from Dover, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

These are all quite attractive, and because most of the pieces which use finer/fingering yarns only call for 2-3 skeins, readers can use the most luxurious yarns out there without breaking the bank. The designs are grouped thematically:  shawls (6), wraps (7), and scarves (8).  They are all feminine, most include lace patterning.

Each of the designs includes a color photo, along with blocking dimensions, materials (yarn & needles/notions), gauge and construction notes. These patterns include step by step written directions, in abbreviated form. The lace patterns do not include 'Japanese' style charts, only the written directions. I would definitely recommend printing out a working copy and marking with a pen or using a magnet board to keep track until the repeats are memorized. My other (slight) quibble with the book is that although the garments are really stylish and well modeled, it's difficult to see the shaping on a lot of them since they're wrapped and tied tightly around the models' neck/shoulders.

Despite the small drawbacks, there are quite a number of these which I really would love to make. Cristana is a phenomenally pretty wrap with lace detailing and beautiful interlocking colorwork cables. I would say that the majority of the patterns are intermediate to advanced. If/when I'm knitting any of these, I will graph the lace patterns to make them easier to read. Most of these could be used for everyday or fancy dress use. I like the versatility.

Four stars.

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

A Rush of Blood

A Rush of Blood is a standalone horror thriller by David Mark. Released 7th Jan 2020 by Severn House, it's 224 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats. The ebook format includes an interactive table of contents with chapter headings. I've become very fond of interactive ebooks lately.

This is an extremely creepy horror-tinged thriller. I've seen everyone calling it atmospheric, and I think that's apt. Although it's set in modern day Whitechapel, the prose calls up foggy London of more than a century ago. There's a sense of creeping dread throughout and several places in the book where I got literal chills, almost a visceral reaction. The author uses alternating PoVs to great effect and the parallel narratives intertwine to an -exceedingly- creepy denouement which felt inevitable in retrospect. It's less of a 'whodunit' and more investigative crime thriller.

I will say that it took me a few chapters before I caught on to what was actually happening, and the author is very talented at holding back information which would tip the book definitively over into the supernatural horror genre.  The writing is spare and beautifully descriptive. I loved Lottie (the youtube pathologist), Hilda (10 year old wunderkind), and her mum Molly (former police officer and current pub manager in the Whitechapel area where Jack the Ripper plied his gruesome trade over 100 years previously).

I'm generally not a horror fan but this one is so expertly written that it was impossible to resist. This is a talented author at the absolute top of his game.

Five stars.

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