Thursday, May 28, 2020

Anatomy Made Simple for Artists

Anatomy Made Simple for Artists is a short introduction to simple anatomy aimed at artists. Originally released in 2004, this reformat and re-release by Arcturus Publishing is due out 1st June 2020, has 79 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an odd booklet. It presents the human body in line drawings with anatomically correct language (which is as it should be), but without any real artistic tutelage other than the drawings themselves. There are *some* tips such as identifying and analysing the spread of force when sitting or standing in particular poses, as well as some few tips on life drawing, but they are few and far between.

It's to be expected that a 79 page booklet would be bare bones (sorry, intentional pun), but this one sort of skirts the line and winds up being neither fish nor fowl. The RRP is set to be quite consumer friendly, so I can see that this might be a good choice with which beginning artists can get started.

The text is well written, and as previously mentioned, anatomically correct, but it is odd that there are so few drawings in relation to the text. 

Three and a half stars. 

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



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens is a new biography for young 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 2nd June 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara it's presented in clear, accessible, age-appropriate language.  The gentle and sweetly humorous illustrations were well done. The art by Anna Katharina Jansen is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. Both the illustrations and text are rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look (like the illustrations based on historical photos, of him being a gracious winner at the olympics, and receiving the medal of freedom).

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.  Jesse Owens was an incredibly important sports and cultural icon under incredibly difficult conditions. It's vital for youngsters to learn about racial history and for their caregivers to never forget (lest we be doomed to revisit those awful times). For completeness (mostly for children's school and public library info): there's one illustration showing Jesse waiting his turn to shower while all the white athletes were showering and obviously there are strategically placed bubbles everywhere, but there is one, single, unoffensive, caucasian butt shown.

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

A Very English Murder (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #1)

A Very English Murder is the first book in a new cozy mystery series by debut author Verity Bright. Released 7th April 2020, it's 309 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a sweet and light genteel English cozy with a young female protagonist amateur sleuth investigating the murder of one of her late uncle's acquaintances  when her reporting of the incident isn't believed by the local constabulary. There's a romance subplot, but it doesn't interfere with the puzzle. The language is very clean and there is no on-page violent content. The dialogue is occasionally a bit too precious, but overall, it's a fun read and not to be taken too seriously. 

Four stars, I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for the series as it develops. 

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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The New Homemade Kitchen: 250 Recipes and Ideas

The New Homemade Kitchen is a comprehensive reference and recipe collection for foodcrafting by the late Joseph Shuldiner. Due out 2nd June 2020 from Chronicle Books, it's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is the magnum opus of the director of the Institute of Domestic Technology and contains a solid array of recipes and tutorials for many nearly lost kitchen arts. Covering pantry staples, coffee technology, pickling & preserving, processing grains, dairy, meats & fish, spirits, fermentation, and dehydration - it's an encyclopedic reference book and will go beside The Joy of Cooking and my Ball Blue Book. During this pandemic, when I've been stressed and longing for some continuity and normalcy, cooking and being productive in the kitchen has been a real stress reliever and source of comfort. The idea of "slow food" and of taking control of the processing of our own ingredients makes more sense than ever (and prevents the necessity of "just running out to the grocery store to buy pre-processed items).

The chapters contain techniques for making basic staples (including selecting beans and DIY coffee roasting and grinding - wizardry!). The following recipes highlight and showcase the finished ingredients. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements given, with metric in parentheses), and step by step instructions. There is no nutritional info provided. The recipes are photographed very well and clearly. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. 

The author has also included a resource list and an abbreviated bibliography and reference lists for further reading. The index is cross referenced and includes ingredients and recipes.

I adored the no-waste aesthetic of the book and the gentle, accessible, humorous voice of the author really makes me wish I'd been able to take a class or three with his guidance.

Five stars. Superlative reference book.

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

Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard, The Early Years (Hap and Leonard)

Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard, The Early Years is a collection of 5 short early Hap & Leonard stories (4 are previously unpublished) by Joe R. Lansdale. Due out 29th May 2020 from Tachyon, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Hap & Leonard are a force of nature. The stories are often violent and hysterically funny (often at the same time and with a suddenness which leaves the reader with whiplash). Lansdale is such a capable writer that I can simply go along for the ride knowing that he knows where we're going and I can just look around and enjoy the scenery. And what scenery it is. There's a real-ness and credibility to the settings and characters that *must* be from the writer's stored experiences. He's simply a virtuoso storyteller and I love his work.

These 5 stories are all worthy of the canon. High quality, spare, and fighting fit, they're of Hap alone and then later on teamed up with Leonard. The stories are introduced with an essay by fellow Texan Kathleen Kent and followed by some tie-in recipes (by Kasey Lansdale) taken from the narratives. Even the recipes are written with a wry humor. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point with American standard measures (no metric). None are pictured, all seem as if they'd be delicious (with the possible exception of texas sweet tea, I think one needs to have been born and raised there for it to be drinkable - though in the recipe collaborator's defense, she does list sugar and lemon as optional).

Delightful collection of stories with interesting introduction and bonus collaborative recipes. 5 stars. For readers unfamiliar with Hap & Leonard, it might be advisable to read some of the earlier books.

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

How to Raise a Loaf: and fall in love with sourdough

How to Raise a Loaf: and fall in love with sourdough is a tutorial guide and recipe collection by Roly Allen. Due out 26th May 2020 from Laurence King publishing, it's 112 pages and will be available in flexibound format.

Although not isolating at home (I'm a healthcare worker for my day job), I've certainly traveled and eaten out much *much* less (as in not at all) since the lockdowns. This means that I've had a lot more time to devote to reading, writing, knitting, sewing, gardening, and other crafty pursuits. I was happy to receive this eARC because making a concerted effort to learn to make sourdough has been on my to-do list for years.

A very general introduction in plain language includes the basic who, what, why, when, and how to's. The author has a very down to earth and engaging manner of writing that is fun and encouraging. He does emphasize the potential physical and mental benefits of doing something thoroughly and well. Sourdough takes time. The continuity and rhythm of doing something which requires action (even simple action) over time can be a significant source of routine in world where everything feels very unsettled, upside down and backwards.  His basic starter was unusual in my experience (comparing his method to the tutorials on youtube) in that it starts by stacking the deck in favour of the microorganisms by introducing both natural yogurt and a source of fructose. The introduction includes a couple of short easy-to-follow technique tutorials as well as a solid subchapter on necessary equipment.

Extras, fancier presentations, alternate starter routines, and other artistic enhancements are covered in the following chapter. The author also includes a good troubleshooting section and commentary on different types of containers for baking as well as tips and tricks for getting the best results.

The recipes are varied and well presented. Ingredients are listed in a bullet style list. Measurements are standard (metric) with American units in parentheses. Step by step cooking instructions are well formatted and easy to follow. The loaves are beautifully photographed (including a number of photo-series tutorials to help with clarity in some steps). There are numerous wildly different loaves here (14 by my rough count). The Provencale fougasse with olives was the first we tried after a couple of successes with the starter loaves. It was chewy and "toothsome" and disappeared whilst it was still warm.

The author has included a short glossary and resource list for further reading.

All in all a very accessible guide, clearly and well written with good clear photos. I'm impressed and pleased at my success with the techniques presented by the author here.

Five stars.

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

The Moment of Tenderness

The Moment of Tenderness is a collection of short fiction by Madeleine L'Engle. Released 21st April 2020 by Hatchette on their Grand Central imprint, it's 304 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This book is a collection of early fiction and stories which were reworked into other works by L'Engle. For readers who are only familiar with the author because of her Time series which starts with A Wrinkle in Time, the included stories have a very different (often much gloomier) feel.  I found the quality of the writing variable also, which would be expected for stories curated from several decades of the author's output.

I found the background information and introduction by her granddaughter were interesting and worth a read. The stories themselves, although often poignant and dark, were generally well written and of a high quality. I honestly think that L'Engle's more mature work suffered somewhat because she was typecast as a 'juvenile fantasy writer'.

Four stars, I enjoyed it (but fair warning, there's a lot of angst - much of it apparently autobiographical in the stories).

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

The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping

The Shapeless Unease is a stream-of-consciousness retrospective on a year of sleeplessness by Samantha Harvey. Released 22nd May 2020 by Grove Atlantic, it's 192 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

If this had just been a flat personal recollection of a year of insomnia (with recipes and a subchapter on how to increase melatonin), it wouldn't have affected me nearly so much. The book's pace is irregular and moves with a jerky rhythm which is edgy and anxious. The author writes with devastating simpicity about the sudden loss of a family member (a cousin with epilepsy) and her subsequent difficulty with anxiety, loss of sleep, emotional changes, and the devastating far-reaching effects of sleep deprivation on her life.

The writing is poetic, sharp, philosophical, insightful, and sometimes terrifying. It affected me deeply, so much that I am seeing out her other work. She's a gifted author and worth seeking out. The writing is sublime.

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

Officer Clemmons

Officer Clemmons is a memoir by Francois Clemmons detailing his early life, education, and time as Officer Clemmons, the character he played on Mr. Rogers' Neigborhood on PBS. Released 5th May 2020 by Catapult Books, it's 288 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA and though I was slightly too old to really be a part of Mr. Rogers' target audience (I was more a Sesame St. and Electric Co. kid), I always loved watching Mr. Rogers (since it was aired on our PBS station just before my shows). The genuine warmth and respect he showed to everyone made a deep impression on me, and he has been a role model to several generations of kids.

I always enjoyed the different characters who appeared on his show and liked that there was a continuity and dependability to the show's format and actors. It's incredible to think about how long lived the characters and the actors who brought them to life were associated with the show and I've often thought about how the show and the people associated with it provided some much needed stability and positive reinforcement to a lot of vulnerable kids.

Anyhow, this is a respectful, well written memoir mostly about Francois Clemmons' early life and upbringing, his education, and his years working with Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. There's a directness and honesty to his writing that is effective and moving. I found myself so touched and sad and angry at the casual violence and racism that were a part of his early life. He talks openly about his family history, the loss of family members to violence/murder, the casual systemic racism of the southern USA in the 1950s, and on top of all of that, his growing awareness of his sexual orientation in a society which was openly hostile to non-binary people. He made a lot of difficult decisions to sacrifice emotional parts of his life in order to work in children's programming and specifically with Fred Rogers.

I did enjoy the book, and the behind-the-scenes reminiscences, despite much of it being sad and poignant. Four stars.

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


Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis: The Incredible Life of Gino Bartali

A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis is the true story of cycling legend Gino Bartali's resistance work during WW2. Originally published in Italian in 2018, this English language translation from Pen & Sword is due out later this summer. It's 192 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Looking around at so much of the behaviour of my fellow humans during the course of this pandemic, I've seen heroic and selfless actions as well as petty, racist, and violent ones. I've often found myself wondering what makes people react the way they do. From all the documentation of his life and according to interviews with his friends and family, Bartali was an exceptionally ethical man. He was well respected and decorated as an athlete, and yet decided to act on his conscience at the risk of imprisonment or worse and deliver falsified documents which likely saved the lives of 800 Italian Jews.

This book manages to discuss politics, racism, and sports without ever being strident or preachy. I found the details fascinating. My family are cycling enthusiasts and we never miss the summer cycling events (except this summer of course, and we are missing them keenly). I'd heard of Bartali but only in terms of his records and stunning career, never in terms of his wartime work for the resistance.

A lot of historical biographies have a tendency to concentrate overmuch on the dates and times and facts at the cost of the narrative flow and human-ness of the story. This author is quite gifted at emphasizing the personal story of Bartali and his family and colleagues whilst remaining true to the known facts and weaving them into historical context. I was also impressed at the quality of the translation work. It doesn't read like a work in translation and I didn't get yanked out of the story by awkwardly constructed writing.

There are black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the book which I also enjoyed seeing. Overall impression: quite interesting biography of a legendary athlete who stayed true to his conscience. He was a brilliant cyclist and a good human.

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

Complete Guide to Self-Care: Best Practices for a Healthier and Happier You

Complete Guide to Self-Care is a manual and guide full of attractive and attainable suggestions for taking time out to care for ourselves, and evaluating and correcting the quality of our lives. Due out 2nd June from Quarto on their Chartwell Books imprint, it's 168 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The book is split into different areas of care: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social. Each chapter includes both exercises to do, and information and tutorials to put into practice. This book doesn't contain recipes for bath bombs or cucumber skin toner; instead it concentrates on meditation, visualization, and grounding to help the reader attain tranquility and inner peace.

The book has a nice layout, with photographs interspersed with relevant highlighted text boxes. There are lots of prompts which could easily tie-in effortlessly for writing, journaling, and other creative pursuits. The book's aesthetic struck me as very feminine, though there's no reason it couldn't be utilized equally by men.

Really pretty book full of good advice (if a bit heavy on the pseudo-science woo side of the equation). Four stars.

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

The Golden Flea: A Story of Obsession and Collecting

The Golden Flea is a weirdly charming and engaging story of collecting, collectors, and flea markets against the backdrop of the  author's particular obsession with the now-defunct Chelsea Flea Market in Manhattan. Released 21st April 2020 by W. W. Norton & co., it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is not in any way a how-to guide, there are no tips or tricks for finding hidden treasures. This is a direct and simply told story of the author's experiences with the flea market and a slice of life memoir of some of the buyers and sellers he encounters along the way. The story, I think, is indelibly American, and more specifically New York. Especially the interactions and language are indubitably New York, this story couldn't be told in this way in San Jose, CA or London, or Paris.

I'm a collector and obsessive in my (very niche) habits. I love (and restore, and use) fountain pens, embroidery samplers (especially English, 17th-18th century), and books. I understand the heartbreak and thrill of the chase and the stupendous glee of the win. This author definitely "gets it" too. 

The language is rough and often perjorative, but not gratuitous. The author has some good points about mental health and potentially obsessive collecting and the meta-narrative is well wrapped inside the story of a guy who really really liked to go to the flea market and the people he encountered on his sojourns.

I found it engaging and worthwhile. I can understand readers wanting a different book being disappointed in it. Four stars for me (one of the weirdos asking innocently, "do you happen to have any old linens or embroidered pillowcases or hankies" at the crack of dawn on a Saturday).

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

Craft Lab for Kids: 52 DIY Projects to Inspire, Excite, and Empower Kids to Create Useful, Beautiful Handmade Goods

Craft Lab for Kids is a DIY manual full of fun, decorative, and useful tutorials mostly aimed at kids and their adults. Due out 26th May 2020 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

With the state of the world at the moment (in the middle of a pandemic lockdown), finding fun and constructive/engaging ways to redirect energy can be a sanity saver (for adults *and* kids). These 52 (!!) tutorial labs are arranged thematically: renewing/repurposing, artistic projects (painting and decorative crafting), self care (fizzy bath bombs and more), party themed crafts, updated traditional crafts, quickie crafts which don't require much of a time commitment, and crafting kind gifts/thoughts for others.

The introduction includes an overview of safety guidelines and essential tools and supplies. Each tutorial includes an introduction, supplies in a bullet list, and step by step directions written in clear accessible language. The tutorials also include instructive photos which are clear and easy to follow.

The tools and supplies used are almost all easy to find and inexpensive, many use recycled and upcycled ingredients which would otherwise go to waste.

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for a maker's group, home library, school or public library group (when we can gather again).

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

The Stolen Letter (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #5)

The Stolen Letter is the 5th Scottish Bookshop cozy mystery by Paige Shelton. Released 7th April 2020 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and available in hardcover, mass market paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

These are self contained mysteries and as such work well enough as standalones. The ensemble casts' interrelationships have developed over the course of the books, there'll be some missing backstory, but the author is adept at giving the necessary information, so it's not absolutely necessary.

For lovers of very light bookstore cozies, these will likely be a good fit. There is a historical mystery subplot and tie-in to Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart's contentious relationship and the latter's subsequent betrayal and execution. There are also several interwoven subplots concerning a modern day murder, skullduggery, and the threat of the titular bookshop's closing.

All in all, it's a diverting, very light, readable cozy mystery with a whimsical ensemble cast. Some of the plot developments are a bit over the top (including a deux ex machina that made my eyes roll into the back of my skull, but ok). 

Three and a half stars. The author is a talented and capable storyteller, and I do love bookstore cozies, rounding up for the fun story.

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


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Rock that Quilt Block - Country Crown Block

Rock that Quilt Block is a tutorial and style guide for quilters offering step-by-step design and sewing instruction for the country crown block. Due out 1st June 2020 from Fox Chapel, it's 88 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a thorough look at how to break down one quilt block into smaller straight seam sewn units and put them together in various ways and with different contrasts to make *completely* different looking quilts. As such, the basic techniques can be used on any standard quilt block to vary and rearrange the units into an infinite number of variations.

The 10 quilts which are included in the pattern book use (mostly) similar units to make variations on the traditional country crown block pieced quilt. There are two sort of modern looking variations, and the rest are traditional quilts in traditional colorways. The authors include cutting and piecing information, so this would be a good starter guide for beginners. Templates are included.

Beautiful quilts and a perfect activity for the current world pandemic craziness. Five stars. I pieced some sample blocks from the templates and they were problem free. I did not calculate the accuracy of the given supplies needed for each tutorial, but with an experienced eyeball estimate, I found no glaring errors. Materials lists and supplies are given in both American standard and metric measurements. Each project's finished dimensions are given in the descriptions.

Simple but lovely book. I enjoyed it very much. Five stars.

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





Encyclopedia of Insects

Encyclopedia of Insects is a beautifully illustrated and scientifically accurate non-fiction compendium of insects aimed at middle grade readers (~grades 2-6). Due out 2nd June from Quarto on their Wide-Eyed Editions imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

After a good introduction (what are insects, what are their common characteristics, what ecological niche do they occupy, why are they increasingly in trouble) the entries are all arranged by genera with specific species listed with proper nomenclature, interesting facts, size, diet, and habitat.

The writing is accessible and engaging. The illustrations are vibrant and colorful. This would make a superlative classroom or library book, as well as being a wonderful pick for any young entomology fans in your circle of friends or family. 

Five enthusiastic stars.

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


Modern Kogin





Modern Kogin is a tutorial and project guide for Kogin embroidery. Due out 1st June from Zakka Workshop, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback format.

Kogin embroidery is a Japanese geometric surface woven embroidery, similar to huck weaving and decorative darning. This is a collection of tutorials with patterns for 24 finished projects and numerous stitching diagrams.

The projects are all pictured in color and include attractive and pretty table linens, small soft furnishings, coin purses, and accessories. All of the templates and stitch diagrams as well as construction tutorials are included. The brooches for example, are incredibly appealing and would make a gorgeous addition to hand knitted or sewn apparel or home decor whilst using up the smallest of scraps of evenweave fabric and fibres.

Really appealing book with attractive projects for an underrepresented technique. Lovely!

Five stars. Worthwhile for the fabric crafter's library. It's also very nice to see embroidery techniques outside of cross stitch getting some representation.

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

The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus

The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus is a collection of shorter fiction by Michael Swanwick. Released 30th April 2020 by Subterranean Press, it's 200 pages and available in limited edition (signed and numbered) hardcover, and ebook formats.

I've always had a particular fondness for collections/anthologies because short fiction is spare and technically challenging, so you get a better feel for an author's expertise with the form. Short fiction is less of a time commitment as well, so if one story is not working for you, there's another piece readily available in a few pages. This one is a sort of Fafhrd/Mouser homage (with a con man whose sidekick is an anthropomorphic canine - living and carrying out their confidence tricks in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world). There are 9 stories in all (5 novellas and 4 vignettes). All of them have a line from Mother Goose as titles, lending the whole an offbeat whimsical appeal.

The stories themselves are well written, but caveat emptor: the author never met a cheap pun or double entendre he didn't take home and write down. If sophomoric jokes make you groan and roll your eyes in irritation, this one probably won't be a good fit.  On the other hand, the author's Hugo winning entry is reprinted here (The Dog Said Bow-Wow). Mr. Swanwick knows his way around narrative fiction. They're clever and funny and sometimes touching. I will admit that they're not everyone's cup of tea, but they were a definite treat to read. The book includes a lot of inside info and background provided by the author which is nearly always one of my favorite parts to read. Neil Gaiman is another author who provides really good information about characters' genesis and his story ideas, Ray Bradbury did, Asimov often did, and this author does as well.

Well written and diverting, this is one for speculative fiction fans. It'll sit very well with the steampunk and adventure folks.

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Vegetarian Cookbook for Teens

Vegetarian Cookbook for Teens is a beginner friendly cookbook aimed at teens with plant-based recipes. Due out 26th May 2020 from Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 245 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

The introductory chapter is followed by the recipes arranged thematically: breakfasts, soups & salads, snacks & sides, mains for one, meals for friends & family, and desserts. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description (including category info such as nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc), ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only, no metric conversions), and step by step instructions. There is no nutritional info provided. Almost none of the recipes are photographed, but the ones which are, are photographed well and clearly. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate.  The lack of photography subtracts a fair bit from the overall experience for a beginner cookbook in my opinion. (I like pictures, but realize and accept that they raise the production costs a lot on a book project).

The recipe ingredients themselves are mostly easily sourced and will be available at well stocked grocery stores along with some ingredients being found in international/Asian markets. The book does not include an index or ingredients list, but does have a metric conversion table.

This would be a great selection for folks who like to experiment in the kitchen. The emphasis is on fresh wholesome quality ingredients and simple preparation and presentation. Many of the recipes are easy to double up, making it a good choice for meal-preppers with a little extra effort.

Three and a half stars,  worth a look.

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

Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Math & Logic Games: Over 100 Challenging Cross-Fitness Brain Exercises

Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Math & Logic Games is is one of a new series of puzzle books for all ages. Due out 26th May from Quarto on their Wellfleet Press imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The Sherlock Holmes Puzzle series includes visual puzzles, brain teasers, math and logic puzzles and more, but this volume contains mostly cipher puzzles of all sorts (and not specifically math and logic puzzles). The puzzles are arranged in random order of difficulty as far as I can see (there are some I haven't managed yet).

The puzzles are accompanied by fun line drawings and hints/tips. (I found some of the instructions somewhat unclear). The solutions are included in the back of the book.

Really well done puzzles with tie-ins to the great detective himself.

Four stars. Lots of interesting puzzles to be found here.

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

Portrait Drawing for Kids: A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing Faces

Portrait Drawing for Kids: A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing Faces is a tutorial drawing guide for portraiture by Angela Rizza. Released 19th May 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 210 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

The book has an appealing and very accessible layout. The basics of proportion, setting up the facial outline, framing the face, and the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and other features are covered in the comprehensive first part. The details of rendering and detailing the portrait includes shading, background, profiles, and a little portrait history. Each of the detail subjects is covered in an upbeat and easy to follow tutorial activity.

Obviously, acquiring any skill takes practice, but this book will be a nice resource for anyone (not just kids) to pick up a pencil and start their journey.  Great selection for a gift for a young artist, perhaps with some added sketch pads and pencils. This would also make a superlative classroom or library book.I would also recommend this book to babysitters, grandparents, parents, and basically anyone who spends a fair bit of time with small kids in order to up their 'draw with me' game.

Five stars. Fun collection.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Code Breakers: Over 100 Challenging Cross-Fitness Brain Exercises

Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Code Breakers is one of a new series of puzzle books for all ages. Due out 26th May from Quarto on their Wellfleet Press imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The Sherlock Holmes Puzzle series includes visual puzzles, brain teasers, math and logic puzzles and more, but this volume contains code puzzles of all sorts. The puzzles are arranged in roughly in increasing difficulty so the easier puzzles progress to some more challenging ones (there are some I haven't managed yet).

The puzzles are accompanied by fun line drawings and hints/tips. (I found myself tripping over the hints without wanting to, so readers might want to cover part of the page with a piece of paper to avoid "cheating"). The solutions are included in the back of the book.

Really well done puzzles with a fun tie-in to the great detective himself.

Five stars. Hours of fun to be had here.

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

Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World

Troop 6000 is a fact based history of a Girl Scout troop which began in a homeless/crisis shelter in NYC and the woman behind its genesis. Released 19th May 2020 by Penguin/Random House on their Ballantine imprint, it's 288 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a gripping and well told story about homelessness in the larger metropolitan areas of the USA (NYC specifically), interwoven with information about the Girl Scouts, and presented with an unflinching look at poverty, self-worth, and childhood. It's a potent cocktail and I wound up reading way past my bedtime on this one.

In addition to the biographical details about troop leader Giselle (who is mom to 3 of the girl scouts in the book) and the girls themselves, there is a fair bit of indepth information about generational poverty in the USA and ways the system is heavily weighted against success and escape. We're seeing even more clearly, with the current economic and pandemic crisis how metropolitan areas are being hit harder and more severely than the suburban and rural areas.

I was rooting for these girls and adults all the way through the book. Parts were heartwrenchingly sad to read. I also felt a lot of anger and bewilderment over a system which has the capacity to care humanely for its most vulnerable and chooses not to do so (although New York does a better job than most).

The writing is simple and direct. It's written in third person narrative as stories arranged roughly chronologically.  I read it straight through, as a novel, but it would also be a superlative support text for a classroom setting for related subjects: sociology, childhood development, race and gender studies, etc.

Four stars.

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

Monday, May 18, 2020

Georgian Recipes and Remedies: A Country Lady's Household Handbook

Georgian Recipes and Remedies is an interestingly curated collection of recipes and preserving methods taken directly from the historical source material. Due out 30th May 2020 from Pen and Sword Books, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback format. 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.

These are a varied and whimsical lot of recipes and clippings. The recipes are well worth a perusal and include: excellent remedy for swelled legs and a relaxed stomach, Sir Robert Ford's drink to sweeten the blood, syrup of steel to prevent miscarriage, and so many more.

As the author states (emphatically), these are reproduced for historical interest and NOT to be used in place of medical advice (a fair number of these will straight up wreck you/kill you/cause essential bits of you to fall off). I elso enjoyed reading the history of the 5th Baronet Nostell and his lady wife, Sabine d'Hervart, from whose recipes and stillroom book this volume was drawn. They were remarkably awful people, abusing small animals for their own amusement and even torturing an elderly guest to the ruination of her health. *yikes* Whilst I don't think I'd have cared to be a regular friend in their circle, reading the book does give a fascinating glimpse into an otherwise hidden bit of everyday history from the Georgian period.

As a historical insight, I found it fascinating and devoured it cover to cover.  This was well worth the read, and for recreators and SCAdians (and the like) this would make really great source material.

Five stars. Weirdly fascinating.

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

Glow in the Dark: Nature's Light Spectacular: 12 stunning scenes of Earth's greatest shows

Glow in the Dark: Nature's Light Spectacular is a science based book highlighting natural phenomena. Due out 19th May 2020 from Quarto on their Wide-Eyed Editions imprint, it's 24 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a beautifully illustrated and engaging book aimed at young readers with panorama views of natural light shows such as rainbows, aurora borealis, lightning, and more. Each of the 2 page spreads includes info about the science behind the phenomena explained in accessible age-appropriate language.

I've been banging on for years on my blog (and real life) about STEAM subjects and how vital they are for our future. This book would make a great choice for a classroom library, gift for a young science interested reader, library activity reading group, or similar use. 

5 stars (and the physical book comes with a glow in the dark poster as well).

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

Dead on the Vine: A Finn Family Farm Mystery (A Finn Family Farm Mystery #1)

Dead on the Vine is the first Finn Family Farm cozy mystery by Elle Brooke White. Released 7th April 2020 by Crooked Lane, it's 336 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is the first book in a small town whimsical cozy (including a pig and ladybug who "help" solve the crimes. It doesn't go full Rita Mae Brown and narrate from the pig's (and ladybug's) points of view, but it edges pretty close). The city-girl-in-the-country trope is in full force although to the author's credit, the humor at her expense isn't mean spirited or mocking.

Some of the characterizations are vague and a bit two-dimensional. I had some trouble keeping her friends' dialogue clear in my mind as I was reading...they felt a bit tacked on and just showed up and disappeared when their scenes were done.  The action and plot developments were somewhat strongly foreshadowed, so there was never an *aha* denouement.

I was fully expecting the handsome lawman to show up in the first book (setting the stage for the inevitable romance in future books), and I was totally 100% off base. The lawman is a law-woman and proves to be a surprisingly good friend and sounding board to Charlotte as she attempts to unravel the death of a young man on her property as well as the vandalism which threatens to shut down her dream of making a go of her late uncle's farm before it really has a chance to get off the ground.

The writing is uneven, and some of the dialogue is a bit rough, but as a first novel, and series starter, it's engaging and fun and worth a look for fans of very light cozies with anthropomorphic animals. There is no really overt violence (including the main murder) or sexual content and the language is very clean.

Three and a half stars.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World's Most Famous Museum

The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World's Most Famous Museum is a new retrospective for one of the world's most visited museums. Released 15th May 2020 by Grove Atlantic, it's 416 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a really well written historical retrospective of the Louvre (including the site from ancient times) down to the modern era. The chapters are arranged chronologically starting with the very early settlement of "le louvre" through its medieval incarnation as a fortress, then palace, then more modern incarnation after the reign of terror as a museum and cultural pulse-point. The text is fascinating and historically rich and the author imbues the narrative with enough relevance that I never found it boring or dry at all.

In addition to the meticulous research and writing, the book is comprehensively annotated with reference notes and bibliography for further reading.  Many of the notes have links to web resources for more information. This would make a superlative selection for relevant classroom study in history or allied subjects including culture and art history.

Worth noting: This is not about the actual collections or art in the Louvre, the book is not abundantly illustrated. It is rather about the actual site of the physical buildings and how they have developed over the centuries.

Four stars. Well worth a read for lovers of history, culture, or the arts. Since it's not possible to visit the actual collections (except online), this was a nice stand-in. 

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



Heralds of the Siege (The Horus Heresy #52)

Heralds of the Siege is a tie-in anthology in the Warhammer 40K universe and part of a huge body of collaborative work (novels, short stories, game lore) published in association with the tabletop game by Games Workshop. Released 31st March 2020 by Games Workshop as part of the Black Library, it's 432 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's unclear from the publishing info available online, but the eARC I received has a handy interactive table of contents. I hope the ebook release version does also. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. Presumably that feature will carry through to the final release version.

The quality of the stories is very high.  They are well written, varied, and well curated.  Of the 16 included works, only a few were from authors familiar to me. The book also includes extra lore material and background/world building history.  This is a -gloriously- niche book and although some of the stories will probably bewilder non-40k-gamers, there are a number which are surprisingly accessible to readers unfamiliar with the fandom and world. 

I've always had a particular fondness for collections/anthologies because short fiction is spare and technically challenging, so you get a better feel for an author's expertise with the form. Short fiction is less of a time commitment as well, so if one story is not working for you, there's another piece readily available in a few pages. Short fiction anthologies are also a rich source for finding new authors so you can search out their other works.

I really found a lot to love here and although it made me wistfully nostalgic for my hopefully temporarily vanished tabletop group (covid-19 and all), I liked being able to fill in a *LOT* of detail from the lore.

Four stars. Strong stories, generally strong writing, and good background lore.

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

Secret at Skull House (Secrets and Scrabble #2)

Secret at Skull House is the second book in the secrets and scrabble cozy series by Josh Lanyon. Released 28th April 2020, it's 208 pages and available in ebook format.

As a light and engaging series, this one is a winner. Protagonist Ellery is back to being a suspect in a murder only weeks after solving the murder from book 1. That obviously puts the skids on his budding friendship/romance with the local island police chief, Jack.

Although this is the second book in the series, it works very well as a standalone. The author is a technically adept writer and provides necessary backstory without info-dumping. The narrative is lighthearted, including an ensemble cast of oddball small-town characters.

There are some fairly unbelievable plot developments (including a group of senior citizen amateurs trying to help clear Ellery who call themselves the Silver Sleuths), but it's a village bookstore cozy, so it's really part of the whimsy.  There's also the required slow-burn on/off romance subplot with the handsome lawman, again par for the course.  The language is clean, the murder(s) are off screen and free from violence, there's no sexual content; it's a well written and charming bookstore cozy. The author/publisher has taken pains to make it clear that the romance is between two men, so I won't mention that, but there's absolutely no content which would scandalize anyone's auntie.

Charming, diverting, and well written. I intend to seek out future volumes in the series. Four stars.

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

David Bowie: My First David Bowie (Pequeño & GRANDE #3)

My First David Bowie is a new picture book biography for the youngest readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and they all manage to pack an impressive amount of detail in these little books in an age-appropriate and accessible manner.

Due out 26th May 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 24 pages and will be available in boardbook and ebook formats.

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  The gentle and sweetly humorous illustrations were well done. I loved the series of pictures of Bowie through his different stage incarnations.  The art by Ana Albero is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. The illustrations are rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look (like the little green alien who appears in cameos throughout the book).

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.  Bowie was an intelligent and important cultural icon.

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

Learn to Draw (Almost) Anything in 6 Easy Steps

Learn to Draw (Almost) Anything is a step-by-step tutorial drawing guide aimed at absolute beginners. Due out 26th May 2020 from Quarto on on their Race Point imprint, is 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is an ultra simple, quick study, beginner's guide to drawing lots (and lots!) of different simple everyday items. The introduction is easy and very basic and covers how to use the book and a very little on line drawing. The 6-frame tutorials are split into thematic sections: animals, birds, fish, architecture, transportation, garden, outdoors, and people.

The format of these tutorials will be familiar to most readers. They start with simple shapes or geometric line drawings, add simple shapes and refine the outline to wind up with a recognizable finished drawing. Some of the drawings were whimsical, some were very stylized.Each tutorial page has a 'now you have a go' blank facing page for practice.

Great selection for a gift for a young artist, perhaps with some added sketch pads and pencils. This would also make a superlative classroom or library book.I would also recommend this book to babysitters, grandparents, parents, and basically anyone who spends a fair bit of time with small kids in order to up their 'draw with me' game.

Four stars. Fun collection.

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

Drawing and Painting Expressive Little Faces

Drawing and Painting Expressive Little Faces is a step by step tutorial book by Amarilys Henderson. Released 18th Feb 2020 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a well presented and colorful tutorial guide for rendering faces in several media: watercolors, liquid pigment, paint paper pigments, and inks & markers. The tutorials are very well illustrated and include step by step process illustrations.

The tools and materials are universal and will already be owned by most artists. For readers starting from scratch, the basics are easily accessible and inexpensive. The introduction includes a good discussion of tools and materials and cover both practical (what paper to choose) to encouraging general advice (getting over the intimidation of starting and gaining confidence).

The instructional chapters break down the face into features, showing proportions and individual eyes, noses, hair, etc and then show the student how to build the parts into a cohesive and pleasing whole. The whole book is quite versatile, but I think the art is especially suited to (and I will use it for) enhancing bullet journals. I had been looking for a specific tutorial guide for bu-jo sketching and this is a nice one.

This would make a superlative selection for a makers group/studio or for the home library. The numerous well illustrated included tutorials are simple but really appealing.

Five stars.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously

The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan is a tutorial and philosophy guide which proposes practical ways to decrease our carbon footprints, live richly and simply, and provide ourselves with the things we *need* to do well.  Released 14th April 2020 by Simon & Schuster on their Atria imprint, it's 288 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

The pandemic and subsequent economic collapse have shown us what people have known for ages. Our current treadmill of ever faster and more frenetic consuming isn't sustainable for us or for the planet we share. We need to find another way to do better and we're really on the knife-edge of passing the point of no return.

The authors were the originators of the Buy Nothing Project and have seen their grassroots group grow to become thousands of groups and more than a million active members. The book has an engaging and accessible format with usable plans for reducing waste, buying little (to nothing), giving away excess to be used by other people in your area (thus keeping unneeded items out of landfills), and enjoying being surrounded by less clutter and the positive emotional benefits of direct generosity.

I found it worthwhile and thought provoking. Four stars.

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

My Nature Journal and Activity Book (A Girl's Guide to the Wild)

My Nature Journal and Activity Book is an illustrated beginner's guide to nature journaling. Released 7th April 2020 by Sasquatch Books on their Little Bigfoot imprint, it's 208 pages and available in diary format (as a physical book, no ebook format as far as I can see).

For journalers who are intimidated by a blank page staring at them, this is a perfect start. The book has pages and pages of gentle writing prompts: where I explored, what I saw, what I took with me, how I felt, three words that describe my day.  Interspersed between the writing exercises are really useful informational pages full of nature tutorials with lists of equipment and useful tools, weather essentials, and safety tips.

The illustrations are attractive and calming and the writing is clear and accessible. This would make a superlative gift for a young writer (really all ages, but mostly slanted to girls or young women in my opinion). Four and a half stars.

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