Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Mochi Magic: 50 Traditional and Modern Recipes for the Japanese Treat

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Mochi Magic is a very cool introduction and tutorial recipe guide to the Japanese treat mochi written by Kaori Becker. Due out 24th Nov 2020 from Storey Publishing, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a creative and useful guide to making, shaping, and enjoying mochi. The book has a nice, easy to follow layout. The introductory chapter and how-to tutorial covers the basic tools, ingredients, and basic how-to recipe.  The following chapters contain the recipes and shaping tutorials grouped thematically: daifuku (filled) mochi doughs, daifuku fillings, decorating mochi, new year's pounded mochi, odango balls, and baked mochi (muffins, doughnuts, etc).

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only, though there's a conversion chart in the back of the book). There's no included nutritional information.The recipes and tutorials are photographed very clearly and well. Serving suggestions and presentations are attractive and appealing.

The recipe ingredients themselves are easily sourced and will be available at most well stocked grocery stores. There are a few ingredients which might be a little more difficult to source or require an international foods store (kinako - roasted soybean flour for example), but definitely nothing that is 'way out there'.


Four stars.


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

Tinkerlab Art Starts

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Tinkerlab Art Starts contains 52 art/creativity prompts for elementary aged children written and presented by Rachelle Doorley. Due out 24th Nov 2020 from Roost Books, it's 176 pages (print version) 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 (!!) tutorials are arranged thematically: crayons paper & stickers (dry materials), paint water sponges (wet materials), paper scraps felt glue (collage materials), and blocks beads toothpicks (building materials). The book also includes a glossary and resource list as well as an index. The author has also included a very useful materials master list of all the supplies used in the book grouped thematically by department where they're located (paper, paint, glue/tape, drawing tools, etc).

The introduction includes an overview of safety guidelines and essential tools and supplies. The author provides an intriguing look at process and creativity without direct adult supervision. By introducing materials with an invitation to create (what could these become? What happens if we paint over this crayon? How does this material react with that one?), the child is allowed a much greater latitude for creativity, competence building, problem solving, and learning. Each tutorial includes an introduction, supplies in a bullet list, and open ended directions written in clear accessible language. The tutorials also include instructive photos which can be used as loose general creativity prompts.

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

Four stars. This would be a superlative choice for a maker's group, home library, school or public library group (when we can gather again) as well as for home use, and for babysitters and caregivers.

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

Herbarium: The Quest to Preserve and Classify the World's Plants

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Herbarium is a comprehensive reference about the history and development of botanical nomenclature related by botanist Barbara M. Thiers. Due out 24th Nov 2020 from Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The cataloguing and organization of plant material into a cohesive (and correctly identified) herbarium is admittedly exotic, academic, and (some would say) tweedy pastime. It's also deeply steeped in adventure, history, (yes colonialism), and exploration. Early explorers were hardy and fearless and raced to find and bring back heretofore unknown species. As a result, botanical material was crated and shipped wholesale (generally unidentified) back to be bought and curated into private and public collections worldwide. 

This is the story of those collectors, the materials they brought back, the people who curate and maintain them, conservation, and more. The book is arranged roughly chronologically and geographically: origins, the age of botanical exploration, herbaria in the US, herbaria in the wider world, and the important future of herbaria given the uncertainties of climate change. The author has an engaging writing style, both academically rigorous and layman accessible. I can well imagine that she's a capable lecturer.

The book is -beautifully- illustrated throughout with mounted specimens shown in situ with their accession entries. It's very much like a museum trip in the reader's hands as well as abundant drawings and illustrations. I work in a healthcare setting in a laboratory (cancer biopsies mostly), but seeing the photographs of their labs with climate controlled storage and rooms full of files of plant material made my bionerd-ish heart sing.

There is an abbreviated resource and bibliography list for further reading, a links and informational list of worldwide botanical collections, as well as a comprehensive cross-referenced index. 

It's an admittedly niche book, but I heartily recommend it to readers who enjoy academic collections and who really enjoy seeing huge collections of *stuff* being arranged and catalogued and ordered. Beautifully done and well illustrated. Five stars.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

An Alphabet of Alphabets: 26 alphabetical games, from A-Z!

 

An Alphabet of Alphabets is a cleverly imagined and beautifully rendered series of alphabet drawings. Due out 24th Nov 2020 from Quarto on their Wide-Eyed Editions imprint, it's 48 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats (ebook available now). 

This is such an exuberant little book - bursting with color and intelligently playful illustrations. Each page is a letter of the alphabet, but all the pages are also alphabets themselves. The "A" page (see cover) is for arc, and all of the animals are arranged in silly poses and activities. It will provide hours of enjoyment and almost limitless scope for hunt-and-find and wordplay with the small humans in readers' lives.

This would be a superlative gift, excellent classroom or library group selection for activity groups, a wonderful parent/caregiver activity, or even for babysitters and child-minders looking to up their activity time with their small charges. 

Five stars.

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


The Plant-Based Slow Cooker: 225 Super-Tasty Vegan Recipes

 

The Plant-Based Slow Cooker is a cookbook and recipe collection for plant-based food in the slow cooker with recipes developed by Robin Robertson. Released 10th Nov 2020 by Quarto on their Harvard Common Press imprint, it's 352 pages and available in paperback format.

I love my slow cooker and use it all the time to prepare soups and stews. I've never been very adventurous but I liked the idea of incorporating more plant-based food into our diets and this book has a lot of nice recipes from which to choose. There are some less-than-ideal aspects of this book, but all in all, there are a bunch of tasty recipes representing a wide variety of world cuisines. 

The author provides an excellent introductory tutorial about slow cookers, methods, uses, and considerations.  The information is mostly general and will be applicable to almost all slow-cookers. Important info is highlighted in concisely written, colored text sidebars. The recipes themselves are grouped by category: snacks & appetizers, soups, stews & chili, beans & grains, pasta, hearty main dishes, stuffed dishes, vegetables, condiments, dessert, breakfast & breads, and hot drinks. There are a number of partial ingredient recipes included also. Many of these extra recipes seemed more or less superfluous and labor intentsive to me (I will never use them, but they will likely appeal to cooks who are well organized and into slow-food clean cooking). 

Recipe ingredients are listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard with metric equivalents in parentheses (yay!). Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Icons in the headers highlight gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free, etc.

Most (but not all) of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. Nutritional information is not included.  Tips and optional variations for each recipe are included in a text box at the end. 

The book also includes a cross referenced index. The formatting, typesetting, and margin illustrations are attractive, but the biggest drawback for me personally was the utter lack of photos. There are no serving suggestions or process photos. I find that I'm a very visual cook, and the lack of photos was a surprisingly big deal for me. 

Three and a half stars. This would make a good selection for busy cooks wanting an accessible way to incorporate more plant based food in their diets and who can get along without photos. I'm not insensitive to the fact that incorporating photos in this huge cookbook would have rendered it prohibitively expensive (and massive). 

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

Inkslinger - 99-Day Guided Writing Experience

 

Inkslinger is a well written, humorous, encouraging, and truly accessible guide with tips for solidifying ideas into written words, and editing them into a usable (possibly marketable) finished product. Released 5th Nov 2020 by Night River Press, it's a compact 150 pages and available in electronic formatIt'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.

Every year when NaNoWriMo rolls around, I intend to sit down and get words on paper. Every year until now it's turned into a somewhat stress filled NaNoWriNO-WAY for me personally. The author, Kimberly Cooper Griffin, gives me some hope that I can manage to get some words down and at least begin to understand the mechanics behind getting them into a readable form. After all, I've managed hundreds of thousands of words over my years on this blog (so how hard can it be, right? *haha*). 

The guided course is set up like a workshop (without the group therapy aspects) in a logical and progressive format. The introduction and preparatory sections provide an overview of the course: background information (including tips on genre, target audience, text elements and overviews for both fiction and non-fiction writing and moving through a realistic and (sorry) brutal examination of the self-editing and revision process).

The second part of the material includes the actual timeline calendar (99 days). The author has broken it down into four main sections: inspiration, perspiration, celebration, transformation. This is a very concise guide and well laid out. I never found myself searching fruitlessly for needed information. The voice is very positive and upbeat and full of humorous camaraderie - we're all in this together. 

The appendices include a good insider's overview of what happens after the newly born work is finished and edited - to publish (or not), how to publish (the options), and insightful no-nonsense info about the writerly life. This would be a good selection for a would-be writer, and I can also see it being a solid choice for a more formal writing class or writing instruction in a classroom setting. 

Whether or not I ever manage to get through NaNoWriMo with something approaching a book/story/WordyThing - this book certainly provided both inspiration and reflection. It's very good at what it does. Four stars.

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

Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology

 

Knaves is (by my count) the third anthology in a series of anti-heros, blackguards, and scoundrels. Released 1st Oct 2018 by Outland Entertainment, it's 287 pages and available in trade 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

One reason I prefer collections and anthologies is that short fiction is really challenging.  It's spare and the author doesn't have a wealth of wordage to develop characters or the plotting.  Well written short fiction is a delight. I also love collections because if one story doesn't really grab me, there's another story just a few pages away.  These 14 stories were a mixed bag; there were some standouts, a few middle-of-the-road, and only one I wasn't engaged enough to finish. I read it more or less cover to cover, which is unusual with me for anthologies; I generally hop around. 

I picked up this title because of my familiarity with some of the contributors (Mercedes Lackey, Cat Rambo, Anton Strout and others - at least 75% of them will be familiar to most readers of SF/F). I was surprised to find that the stories which really engaged me and kept me enthralled were from the authors with whom I hadn't developed a previous reading relationship. It's always wonderful to find authors to follow, and for this reason alone, this was a useful reading pick. 

A short search online leads me to believe that these are all previously unpublished stories. The publisher and other reviewers have provided better pr├ęcis than I could. I will say that a couple of the high points of this collection for me, personally, were ones which I saw panned by other reviewers (Old Sol Rises Up, as one example).  

It's an entertaining and worthwhile collection. I'm fascinated (and happy) to find that it was a kickstarter project. I have been admittedly worried about the future of indie publishing given the current world situation and knowing that really top shelf fiction can successfully be crowdsourced is reassuring. 

Four strong stars, several 4.5 - 5 star stories here.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rice Cooker Revival

 

Rice Cooker Revival is a tutorial guide and recipe collection to getting the most out of a rice cooker (or Instant Pot/multi cooker) with recipes developed by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore. Due out 17th Nov 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

The authors have decades of experience cooking and writing about cooking and it shows. This is a very well organized book with a good introduction of the various machines as well as a thorough treatment of different rices, methods of soaking and cooking, rinsing or not rinsing and other background info. It should be noted that most of the recipes developed for and included in this book are really mostly suited to a multi-function rice cooker (or instant pot or similar cooker) and not for the basic "one button" basic rice cooker. 

The layout is accessible and progresses logically from the introduction. The recipes are grouped roughly thematically: Breakfast & Brunch, Appetizers Snacks & Bites, Vegetarian Dishes & Grains, Fish & Seafood, Meats & Main Dishes, Steaming, Soups & Stews, Rice & Risotto, Side Dishes, and Desserts. The recipe ingredients are listed in a sidebar. Measurements are given in American standard only (with a conversion table in the back of the book for metric). The recipes don't include nutritional information or serving size/yields. Extra tips and variations are provided in a sidebar. The recipe ingredients themselves are (mostly) easily sourced and will be available at well stocked grocery stores. There are a very few ingredients which might be a little more difficult to source, but definitely nothing that is 'way out there'.

The photography is well done but roughly half of the recipes are not illustrated. The photographs which are included are clear and attractive.  I wish there had been more photographs and serving suggestions, but I do understand that extra photography increases the price of book projects very quickly and the lack is not crippling because most of these recipes are fairly simple. My other quibble with the book is that although there are a wide variety of world cuisines represented and they're well written and tasty, a majority of them could be -much- more easily prepared on the stovetop or in the oven, skipping the necessity of a multifunction rice cooker or instant pot altogether. 

Three stars. The recipes themselves are tasty and well written.

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

The Everything Plant-Based Meal Prep Cookbook 200 Easy, Make-Ahead Recipes Featuring Plant-Based Ingredients

 

The Everything Plant-Based Meal Prep Cookbook is a tutorial and recipe guide for meal-prep developed for the whole food plant-based diet written by Diane K. Smith. Due out 17th Nov 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Adams Media imprint, it's 272 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

There have been a lot of times when I've come home from work and literally had no plan for dinner and a not-inspiring collection of ingredients and no idea what to cook for my family (we usually wind up with takeout food in those cases).  I've been familiar for ages with the concept of bulk-cooking and meal planning and prep, but it always seemed to take a lot more organizational skills than I honestly have. I'm sort of an extreme case of course, but I wanted to read this book and see if I could get some tips I could use to be more food prep organized.

This is a very well prepared and presented supportive guide to succeeding implementing and enjoying the WFPB diet more effectively with meal-prep and bulk cooking. The introduction covers the diet itself, its aims, health benefits, and ingredients as well as the nuts-and-bolts of the diet and how to use it. 

The recipes are arranged roughly thematically: breakfast, appetizers, salads, soups & stews, lunch, sides, sauces & condiments, and desserts.  Each recipe has its ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. (There's a metric conversion chart in the back of the book). Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. The ingredients are mostly easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. Nutritional information is provided for each of the recipes.

Essential info, alerts, facts, and questions & answers are highlighted in brightly colored text boxes. These will be familiar to readers of other books in the Everything series from this publisher. Roughly 25% of the recipes are photographed. Photos and serving suggestions included are full color, appetizing, and appropriate.  

The meal planning part of the book contains 2 weeks of sample meal plans. The charts are no-frills but they are very clear and easy to follow. Each meal for the week contains recipes for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert. 

This is a very well organized system to help readers get control of their diets, eat wholesome nutritious foods, and save time and money. Five stars. 

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

KitchenWise: Essential Food Science for Home Cooks

 

KitchenWise: Essential Food Science for Home Cooks is an indepth science based instruction manual about the chemistry and physics involved in food preparation. Due out 17th Nov 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 288 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

According to family lore, my first word was not mama or dada but "why". According to my mother, I've not stopped asking why from that day to the present. This book is written for cooks who really want to know *why* eggs prepared a certain way are not as fluffy, or why their quiche was a runny catastrophe in the middle. This book is for cooks who want to understand *why* their gelatin mold didn't set properly with certain fruit but worked fine with the same recipe using different fruit. 

The author was formerly a research chemist and has an academic background. There is a lot of technical information contained here (which was a huge plus to me, but won't suit readers looking for a straight cookbook containing mostly recipes). 

Because of the nature of the interconnectedness of the ingredients we use in cooking and their relationship to one another, this book is sometimes difficult to navigate. The chapters are arranged thematically: Flavor, Proteins, Fruits & Vegetables, Grains, Perfect Sauces, On Freezing, Baking, More Desserts, and an index. I made use of the search function often on the electronic copy which I received for review. Much of the information in the book is referenced in other chapters, so this isn't a book which is easily read cover to cover like a novel. 

For cooks looking for good background info about why things work (or don't) in the kitchen and how to improve standard recipes without a huge amount of trial and error, there's a lot to love here. For readers looking for a cookie-cutter cookbook, this is emphatically not what you're looking for.

Kitchen science 4 stars.

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

Monday, November 16, 2020

People Who Love to Eat Are Always the Best People

 

People Who Love to Eat Are Always the Best People is a beautifully curated selection of Ms. Child's wise and witty quotes about food and life. Due out 17th Nov 2020 from Penguin Random House on their Knopf Doubleday imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a beautifully and whimsically illustrated small volume of quotes from the late culinary mistress who brought a love of *good* food to generations of Americans. They're well curated, reflecting her surprisingly down-to-earth, wise, and pragmatic personality. There's also humor aplenty with warmth and affection shining through. It honestly felt like watching old reruns of her TV show or a particularly good meal. 

It's a short book, only 160 pages, with each 2 page spread containing a quote from Julia and a line drawing or wallpaper facing page. The line drawings by Sidonie Coryn (her illustrator/collaborator for many of her iconic cookbooks) are very simple and appealing, with food or kitchen objects arranged artfully. 

Four stars. This would make a superlative gift or housewarming/hostess present for food loving friends. 

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

How to Restore Farmall Tractors

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How to Restore Farmall Tractors is a tutorial and technical guide in the Motorbooks Workshop series - this one is devoted to restoring iconic Farmall tractors. First published in 2005, this edition was released 10th Nov 2020 by Quarto on their Motorbooks imprint, it's 224 pages and available in paperback format.

When I was a kid, my paternal grandfather collected and repaired tractors of all makes and models, and reading this book brought back so many memories of hours spent in the barn handing my grandfather tools and watching and learning; me playing nurse to my grandfather's role as surgeon. He had dozens of technical and repair manuals for most makes of tractor, though I can't recall one specifically for the Farmall tractors which went through his collection.

This is a comprehensive  manual for sourcing, breakdown, repair, engine building, bodywork, hydraulic/fuel/cooling/electrical systems and exterior finishing; literally top to bottom fix-it information. The introduction includes a brief and interesting history of the Farmall brand. The following chapters give good advice for sourcing, evaluating, and buying a new project tractor through workshop setup, tools and equipment, and getting started. The rest of the book is a logical step by step tutorial which begins with troubleshooting what's ailing your tractor and tutorials aimed at correcting and restoring each project with specific manuals for engine, clutch transmission & PTO, drive & brakes, axle & steering, tires rims & wheels, hydraulics, electrical, fuel, and cooling systems, and some good info on sheet metal fabrication, paint, and other cosmetic restoration work. The author has also included a nice resource in the form of stock decal and plate placements for readers who want to restore their tractors as closely as possible to the originals as well as a cool guide on the social aspects of restoration - meeting up with other tractor fans and shows and networking.

The appendix contains a nice selection of resources including links to e-tailers and farm equipment shows and periodicals devoted to the hobby. The photography throughout is high quality and includes historical (mostly black and white) and modern material.

For Farmall fans, this is a definitive one-stop repair manual. Five stars.

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


Draw 62 Things in Nature and Make Them Cute: Step-by-Step Drawing for Characters and Personality - For Artists, Cartoonists, and Doodlers

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 Draw 62 Things in Nature and Make Them Cute is a new volume in the Draw 62 Things series - this one is by Heegyum Kim. Released 3rd Nov 2020 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

This is an appealing book filled with simple tutorials for drawing nature inspired anthropomorphic creatures - fruit characters, leaves, cartoonish birds, clouds, leaves, flowers, bugs, and more. 

The tutorials and techniques are suited to beginning artists. There are step by step tutorials for 62 beings with different variations and poses for each one. There is a 'you try it' balloon on each page for reader drawings.

This would make a great gift for would-be artists of all ages. The included tutorials are varied and eclectic. There is no introductory technique or materials instruction; the book just includes the 62 tutorials. There is a complete table of contents, so locating individual ones shouldn't be problematic. They're slanted toward line drawings, though colored pens, crayons, and watercolors could certainly be used to enhance the drawings.

Cute book, accessible for everyone.

Four and a half stars, rounded up for the bugs - the rhino beetle is adorable and really appealed to me for some reason. He keeps popping up on my notes, my planner, rocks I paint, the chalkboard in my lab, everywhere.

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


Easy Beans: Simple, Satisfying Recipes That Are Good for You, Your Wallet, and the Planet

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Easy Beans is a is a tutorial guide and cookbook with recipes developed by Jackie Freeman. Released 3rd Nov 2020 by Sasquatch Books, it's 176 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a useful, basic, comprehensive, and wonderfully versatile recipe collection. Beans as a source of protein and bulk food component have been known and used in one form or another since ancient times virtually the world over. This is a nice sampling of different legumes in recipes from a wide variety of culinary styles. 

The introduction (~15%) covers some of the history and "why/how to use beans" background info. There's also a really good tutorial for cooking and processing beans to get the best results and avoid mushy or uneven cooking. 

The following chapters contain the recipes grouped roughly thematically: breakfasts, snacks, soups & stews (wonderful and classic recipes here), sides & salads, and main dishes. There are a huge number of recipes. Many were familiar to me, but even those had a twist which lifted them beyond the traditional: dried cherries in pilaf, squash and black-eyed peas in samosas, etc. I was surprised at the omission of pasta e fagioli soup, but there are enough other recipes to keep cooks happy here.

The recipes themselves are formatted with an introduction and background, ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar (US standard measures only, no metric equivalents), and step by step ingredients. Alternative presentations, tips, and special definitions are provided in highlighted text bars at the end of the instructions. Nutritional info is not included. Many of the recipes are vegetarian friendly with an emphasis on plant based ingredients, but not all. The vegetarian/vegan friendly recipes are not specified or marked out. I would say that nearly all the recipes in the book can easily be adapted to be vegan friendly if desired.

Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. Some few ingredients might be more easily found at a health food or international food grocery, but there's nothing that will be very difficult to find.

One of the standouts of this collection is the photography. The food is beautifully styled, clearly photographed, and serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. Roughly half the recipes have pictures.

The appendices include a cross-referenced index, metric conversion chart, short author bio, and a really nice (non-photographed) "bean-cyclopedia" showing many different legumes with cooking methods, whether the pressure cooker is appropriate, and other info. 

Five stars.

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

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Factory Witches of Lowell

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 The Factory Witches of Lowell is a short historical fantasy by C.S. Malerich. Released 10th Nov 2020 by Macmillan on their Tor/Forge imprint, it's 144 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

I really liked the premise of the book - fictionalized history with a magic twist. There's a f/f romance subplot, some young mill-worker witches striking for better working conditions, and a well written and engaging character driven narrative. The characterizations were well done and I found them both sympathetic and understandable. 

I'm not sure precisely who this book's intended audience should be. It felt a lot to me like a young adult novella, but if so, there's a fair bit of graphic racism and sexism whose treatment I felt was problematic and tone deaf. It wasn't so much the historical reality of the time (where there was obviously rampant sexism and racism), it was actually the author's treatment of the subjects and the actual objectification of people of color and women that I found fairly repugnant. I will say, however, that the author is a gifted wordsmith and the plotting and narrative arc and writing were exceptional - so I've no doubt whatsoever that the objectification and vile manner of equating beaten and enslaved humans to beasts was 100% intentional. I'm just not sure if that makes it better or worse. 

This is an interesting and engaging novella. I enjoyed it, and the romance subplot was gently and sweetly written. I found parts of it troubling and difficult to read. 

Three and a half stars.

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

The Minotaur Sampler: New Books to Make Your Heart Race

 

The Minotaur Sampler: New Books to Make Your Heart Race includes chapter excerpts from four new Minotaur books. Released on 3rd Nov 2020 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 200 pages and available (possibly for a limited time) as a free download in ebook format.

These four books from Minotaur are all top shelf fiction. For anyone (and let's face it, that's almost all of us) who has ever wandered around and browsed in a book store or library to read a few pages of random books and see if we are drawn in, this sampler provides the same experience without being breaking social distancing rules or quarantine. The books all have upcoming release dates from January - March 2021, and it's nice to get a sneak peek before release. 

All of the books are very well written - thriller, suspense, and mystery. There are at least 3 of them I'm planning on picking up and reading myself.

Five stars.

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

Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Lateral Brain Teasers: 100 Challenging Cross-Fitness Brain Exercises

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Sherlock Holmes Puzzles: Lateral Brain Teasers is a new volume in the Sherlock Holmes Puzzles series. Released 27th Oct 2020 by Quarto on their Wellfleet Press imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

These "lateral thinking" brain teasers are not one-answer-fits-all puzzles. They require the reader to use imagination and creativity to formulate solutions to indefinite questions: "what could be behind this door?", "what other phrases can be abbreviated with the acronym b.i.r.d.?" and more along those lines.

The thematic thread which ties the puzzles together is Holmes and Watson. They're honestly extraneous to the puzzles, they're only there to lend flavor. There are several different types of puzzles repeated throughout the book with new words and phrases. The book does include a solution chapter with at least some answers to the puzzles.

It's an interesting concept. I think this would make a nice library selection, or a good lockdown gift for a puzzle fan.

Three and a half stars.

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

The Art of Drawing Dragons, Mythological Beasts, and Fantasy Creatures: Step-by-step techniques for drawing fantastic creatures of folklore and legend

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 The Art of Drawing Dragons, Mythological Beasts, and Fantasy Creatures is a new volume in the Art of Drawing series - this volume by Michael Dobrzycki. Originally published in 2007, this reformat and re-release 3rd Nov 2020 by Quarry on their Walter Foster imprint, is 144 pages and available in paperback format.

This volume has a similar format to the other familiar (and beloved) volumes in the series. The introduction covers tools, materials, some texture techniques, and some general drawing info (very basic). The following chapters contain the tutorials, arranged thematically: types of dragon, dragons from different cultures worldwide, mythological beasts, and fantasy creatures. Each of the tutorials contains step by step line drawing from basic outline to finished drawing. I felt some of the steps hopped over a lot of intermediate refinement, but all-in-all they're followable and clearly illustrated. The tutorials are chosen from a wide variety of world mythologies and include both universally known and lesser known creatures.

I could see this booklet, bundled with a drawing set, being a superlative gift for a young artist up to adult age. The drawings are detailed enough to look quite professional, but not so extremely advanced that they would frustrate a keen beginner.

Five stars. I love that there are fantasy tutorial books available from this classic art-publishing imprint. The world would be boring indeed if the only drawing books were on portraiture, horses, dogs, and florals.

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

Friday, November 13, 2020

Making Artisan Breads in the Bread Machine: Beautiful Loaves and Flatbreads from All Over the World

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 Making Artisan Breads in the Bread Machine is a tutorial guide and cookbook with recipes developed by Michelle Anderson. Released 3rd Nov 2020 by Quarto on their Harvard Common Press imprint, it's 208 pages and available in paperback format.

The included breads cover a wide range of traditions - using an impressive array of base ingredients with a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, and other add-ons to create quality breads both savory and sweet. The book's introduction includes a good basic crash-course on baking bread, what makes good bread *good*, the necessary tools and supplies, and an overview over bread machines and what to look for. The second part of the book contains the recipes grouped roughly thematically: traditional loaves, classic crusty loaves, sourdough breads, sweet breads, flatbreads rolls & bagels, seed nut & fruit breads, and herb cheese & other flavored breads.

Recipe ingredients are listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard with metric equivalents in parentheses (yay!). Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. Nutritional information is not included.  Tips and variations on each recipe are included at the end of the recipes. 

I would estimate that about 25% of the recipes include pictures. The photographs are clear and serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. There are some less than ideal omissions - for example, the challah recipe doesn't show how to fold the bread (there is a written description). It's not a major problem; the descriptions and videos can be found online, but it's worth a mention. 

The book also includes a short author bio and a cross referenced index.

Five stars. This would make a superlative selection for cooks who want to get more use out of their bread machines and are looking for do-able recipes for a number of traditional loaves. Note: they're not all absolutely traditional, there are some shortcuts included for convenience.

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

 

Colorways: Watercolor Animals

 

Watercolor Animals is a technique and tutorial guide in the "Colorways" series - this volume is by Shaunna Russell. Released 3rd Dec 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

Most readers are familiar with the Walter Foster technique paperbacks and this one follows the same format. The introduction (ca. 20% of the content) includes an overview of tools and supplies, some watercolor technique (wet into wet, masking, wet on dry, adding white), a short but info-dense chapter on color theory and mixing a palette, and getting started painting. The intro chapters are followed by 12 step by step tutorials. All of them are very colorful and appealing. The use of color is richly vibrant and different (see cover). The tutorials are explained clearly and the accompanying photographs (in color) are easy to follow. Each of the tutorials covers 6 - 8 pages of text and photos. The specific tools and palettes are not inluded but the tutorial photos are clear enough that readers won't have any trouble getting a similar result. 

I really liked the explanations for preparing and using a reference photo for inspiration. She includes a very short capsule summary of gridding and sketching as well. Each of the tutorials includes one or more extra technique building points in addition to the artwork itself. Readers will find that working through the book will provide a fair number of technical skill building exercises to add to their repertoires. 

This is not, strictly speaking, a book for beginning watercolorists; there's not a lot of hand-holding (palette choices, specific brush choices). There are several tutorials suitable for beginners however, and working through them, I would think that most readers will be able to do a credible job completing the rest without a lot of problems.

Five stars. I really liked both the style and execution.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Draw 62 Characters and Make Them Cute: Step-by-Step Drawing for Figures and Personality; for Artists, Cartoonists, and Doodlers

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Draw 62 Characters and Make Them Cute is is a step by step drawing tutorial guide for fantasy creatures by Heegyum Kim. Released 19th Nov 2019 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 128 pages and is available in paperback format.

This appealing book is full of lots of simple tutorials for drawing humorously and alliteratively named characters: Dan the dashing dinosaur, Sandro the sea scholar, Grandma Greta, Lex the Lumberjack, and 58 more. There are some (relatively minor) spelling errors in some of the tutorials. I received an eARC for review, so the errors are hopefully edited out for the release version.

The tutorials and techniques are suited to beginning artists. There are step by step tutorials for 62 characters including different variations and poses for each one. There is a 'you try it' balloon on each page for reader drawings.

This would make a great gift for would-be artists of all ages. The included tutorials are varied and eclectic with lots from which to choose. I'm not 100% sure how "cute" they actually are. They're certainly not kawaii, but many of them are appealing in my opinion (see cover). There is no introductory technique or materials instruction; the book just includes the 62 tutorials. There is a complete table of contents, so locating individual ones shouldn't be problematic. They're slanted toward line drawings, though colored pens, crayons, and watercolors could certainly be used to enhance the drawings.

Cute book, accessible for everyone.

Four stars.

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

A Stitch in Time (Thorne Manor #1)

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A Stitch in Time is a timeslip romance/mystery and the first in a series by Kelley Armstrong. Released 31st Oct 2020 by Subterranean Press, it's 336 pages and available in audio and ebook formats. 

This is a well written romance (heavy on the romance) wrapped around a time travel murder mystery. The characterizations were competent, the dialogue and plotting better than average (for romance). The murder mystery parts as well as the historical bits are -very- loosely plotted. There are some egregious errors involved (history mavens should cover their eyes). 

The Victorian period ran from the coronation of Victoria (June 1837 for those keeping score) until her death in 1901. The author refers to traveling between the modern day (presumably *our* present day - I couldn't find a specific timeline for the parts of the story set in the present day) and Thorne manor of over 200 year ago (smack in the middle of the Georgian period - 20 years before the beginning of the Victorian era. It bugged me every time it was referred to in the text. The protagonist grew up being able to timeslip between her own time and the past over the course of her childhood and eventual return to the manor at nearly 40 years of age... so that's another 35(ish) years on top of whatever difference there was at the beginning (her friend/boyfriend/eventual lover ages along a parallel timeline with her).

There were some other anachronisms, but all in all, it really was an entertaining and fun read. There are ghosts aplenty, a dwindling cast of suspects on whom to pin the murders, some well written sex scenes, and kittens/cats. 

Three and a half stars.

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


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects

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Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects is a tutorial and style guide in the Draw Like an Artist series - this volume is by Melissa Washburn. Released 3rd Nov 2020 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 112 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.

These books all follow the same format. A very short introduction (10% of the content) gives some basic tips and very (very) brief overview of recommended materials. The following chapters contain short step-by step progress illustrations for line drawing 100 animals by category: birds, butterflies, moths, bees & wasps, beetles, and other insects.

These are very simple single page 5-8 step illustrations. The finished drawings are not part of a composition, and there is no written direction involved. All of them are simple enough to not really require directions. None of them are beyond the ability of keen amateur level. Correspondingly, there is little here which will challenge advanced artists but the drawings are clear and have a high degree of detail.

This would make a superlative choice for young artists or adult learners, especially bundled with drawing supplies. There are several other companion volumes available also (flowers, faces, animals, and a couple others). I would also recommend them for graphic design applications.

Four stars (given the limitations).

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

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Urban Sketching Handbook: Techniques for Beginners: How to Build a Practice for Sketching on Location

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The Urban Sketching Handbook: Techniques for Beginners is a tutorial and style guide in the Urban Sketching series - this volume is by Suhita Shirodkar. Released 3rd Nov 2020 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 112 pages and available in flexibound format. 

The introduction and tutorial sections are arranged logically with accessible and understandable text. It's illustrated throughout in color with numerous sketches by several different artists (not just the author), showing a variety of styles. The tools and supplies are basic and easily acquired without much expense. Most of the supplies will already be available for most readers. Each of the small mini-tutorials show process pics and how they develop along with some explanatory text.

The study tutorials are arranged thematically:objects, places, and people. The overall feel of the book is rich in technique, 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 and this book has a lot of good suggestions for picking up materials and making a start.

Five stars. I really liked this book and will definitely use it going forward for my own drawing sessions. I would recommend it to artists of all levels. It could also make a valuable text for more formal classroom/group type instruction. There's a *lot* of information included here.

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

Shelter: Lost & Found

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Shelter: Lost & Found is an engaging novel by R.A. Conroy. Released 29th Oct 2020 by BHC Press, it's 516 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. 

That the author is passionate about child and animal welfare is never under question. The shelter into which young protagonist Peggy literally stumbles trying to rescue an abused dog turns into a haven for both of them. There's an ensemble cast of "quirky" characters. They're mostly irascible and sarcastic but good under the surface. 

I found the pacing quite slow. It's a substantial book and it took me several reading sessions. Although it's meant to be uplifting and positive, it's quite dark and desolate at many places throughout the narrative. It's told in third person and the flashbacks/abuse from Peggy's past were often difficult for me to read (they're internal monologues from her past abuse). 

A fair bit of the humor fell flat for me and the dialogue was unpolished throughout. I do think the basic bones of the story are quite good (and the themes of animal and child/young person welfare are extremely important, of course). The author's illustrations are wonderful and really add a nice touch to the narrative. 

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the charming illustrations. 

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

Adventures in Eden: An Intimate Tour of the Private Gardens of Europe

Adventures in Eden is a gorgeous insider's look at 50 private European stately gardens written and curated by Carolyn Mullet. Due out 10th Nov 2020 from Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 332 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a beautifully made and well laid out homage to the horticultural arts. Each of the 50 entries are lavishly illustrated, with many full page color photos. They represent a number of styles and aesthetics - mostly (but not all) on the grand scale. Nevertheless, there are a multitude of good inspirations for scaling down to use in our own domestic gardens. 

Five stars. This would make a superlative selection for gardening aficionados, a special gift, students, designers/horticulturists, library use, or as a beautiful coffee-table book to enjoy and revisit. This one has high "re-readability". 

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

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Bears: Stunning Photographs of All the World's Species

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Bears is a photographic sample of the different bear species found worldwide. Released 14th Oct. 2020 by Amber Books, it's 224 pages and available in hardcover format. 

This is a beautifully photographed and clearly written treatise on the reclusive (and increasingly threatened and vulnerable) populations of bears across the globe. The text is arranged logically: first a look at the different types of bear and their geographic locations, followed by habitats, family units, and cubs, 

The text is minimal but accessible for all ages, and the photography is abundant and clear (albeit from stock photo sources). The content is appropriate for all ages (no explicit pics of mating or any blood/gore). Apart from the intro/species chapter, the pictures are somewhat random. There are a large number of adorable cub pics included in their own chapter.

Four stars. This would make a nice selection for a nature-loving reader, library acquisition, school library or similar.

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

Naturally Fermented Bread: How To Use Botanical Starters Cultivated from Fruits, Flowers, Plants, and Vegetables To Bake Wholesome Loaves, Buns, and Pastries

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Naturally Fermented Bread is a recipe and tutorial guide for making and using wild yeast starters for baking. Released 13th Oct 2020 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 160 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a very well written and accurate and factual guide to using wild-caught yeasts from fruit and vegetables to make bread. The yeasts and bacteria aren't isolated in any way so the water cultures will often not just leaven baked goods but also impart a subtle flavor as well of whatever fruit or veg was used to start it.The intro gives the reader all the necessary background info to succeed with the method. The introduction proceeds logically and understandably and includes what materials to start with (and why), safety and cleanliness, tools and equipment and basically everything that the reader needs to get going. The second chapter is a basic tutorial for a basic loaf with tips and troubleshooting for the proper temperatures, kneading, proofing, lots of baking advice, and more general advice for milling grains and using the botanical solutions for probiotic drinks. 

The following chapters contain the recipes arranged thematically: loaves, sweet buns, and sourdough options. The recipes include an introduction, yields, ingredients in a bullet point sidebar list (with metric measures given and American standard in parentheses), followed by step by step instructions. Alternative ingredients or flavors are listed at the end of the recipes. Nutritional information is not provided. The ingredients, especially the flours used are quite specific and may need to be sourced from a very well stocked grocery or bake-shop supplier. Every recipe is pictured and the photography is clear and easy to follow. The appendices are comprehensive and full of extra info and include a glossary, safety tips about potentially poisonous plants and fruit items, and a cross referenced index. 

This is a really in-depth book but shouldn't intimidate beginning bakers. This would make a superlative selection for smallholders, self-sufficiency readers, gardeners, community gardening and food-resource activists, keen cooks looking to expand their skill-sets and other DIY fans. Five stars.

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

The Pocket Complete Color Harmony: 1,500 Plus Color Palettes for Designers, Artists, Architects, Makers, and Educators

 

The Pocket Complete Color Harmony is a color reference with over 1500 suggested palettes. This is a pocket sized abbreviated companion to The Complete Color Harmony by the same author. Released 13th Oct 2020 by Quarto on their Rockport imprint, it's 192 pages and available in compact paperback and ebook formats.

This is a very concise and accessible introduction to color theory and use. The introduction includes info about the color wheel and primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, but it provides additional information about actually choosing and *using* color (which is where most of us stumble). The author also includes info on the artistic process, and shading, tint, brightness and other technical aspects but additionally provides a multitude of palettes already made for people looking for some direct help (stitchers, painters, decorators, makers, etc). 

The palettes are arranged roughly thematically: purity, richness, boldness, and many (many) more. Palettes are provided with 2-3 color swatches each, numbered by hue, tint, and shade. There's a key to the numbering and labeling of the colors at the beginning of the book along with suggestions for how to use them. I'm not 100% sure exactly how useful the system is (it's not, for example, the pantone codes) but for general use it's quick, usable, and layman accessible.

This would be a nice selection for maker's group, artist's studio, fibre-artists, guild groups, library acquisitions, and similar. Four stars. (For readers - it goes without saying that the electronic version must be accessed on a device which has a color screen). 

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

Lame of Thrones: The Final Book in a Song of Hot and Cold

 

Lame of Thrones is the latest culture spoof by The Harvard Lampoon. Due out 10th Nov 2020 from Hatchette, it's 320 pages and will be 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 fans who are familiar with the Lampoon's oeuvre, this is more of the same with G.R.R Martin and his fictional world as a target. For readers unfamiliar with their mission statement, this is an undergraduate humor club/publication started in 1876 and continuing to the present day. For them, there is no pun too groan-worthy, no cow too sacred, no comparison too juvenile or ridiculous. The spoofing is generally on point and razor witted.

There are maps (with funny/groan-y place names), there's a plot (more or less), and a lot (I mean a *lot* of potty mouth humor). I enjoyed it a lot and laughed at some of the appropriate places. It's ridiculous and completely over the top. Readers who manage to finish it and aren't 12 year old boys, should probably see a professional. 

Four stars. It is most unapologetically itself and makes no excuses.

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

How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back

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How to Write One Song is an interesting and philosophical look at song writing, creativity, and the creative process by Jeff Tweedy. Released 13th Oct 2020 by Penguin Random House on their Dutton imprint, it's 176 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 very quick and engaging read. Although written around the premise that anyone can write a song, it has lots of takeaways and encouragement for anyone engaged in any creative pursuit.  Some of the information is logical and obvious (to be a success at *anything* one must have a good work ethic and actually *do* whatever it is) and some is less so (struggle is not synonymous with genius and writing doesn't *have* to be a struggle). 

The author has a lot of good points and writes surprisingly well and succinctly. Writing about creative process usually has very limited relevance to others - "here's what works for me, take it or leave it" - but he manages to write generally and intelligently on the general ideas and concepts involved. I found a fair bit of information applicable to my own life situation; definitely well worth the price of the book. 

Five stars. One of the better books I've seen about the creative process. I did not, however, write a song. 

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



 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Oregon, My Oregon: Land of Natural Wonders

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Oregon, My Oregon is a beautifully illustrated photographic guide to Oregon, its natural beauty, and sightseeing destinations. Released 13th Oct 2020 by Workman on their Timber Press imprint, it's 236 pages and available in hardcover format. 

I enjoyed this photographic homage to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest coast of the USA. In addition to the stunning variety of the natural landscapes featured, there are a number of photos which also highlight the urban areas. 

The photos are grouped roughly geographically by region: Oregon coast, Portland area, Mount Hood and the Columbia River, Southern Oregon, Willamette Valley, Central Oregon, and Eastern Oregon. Each of the areas of the book are color coded and the photograph legends have color coded dots. 

The photos are beautiful: clear and colorful. The text is minimal. There is no index or table of contents in the electronic review copy provided. There is, however, a nifty technical specification gallery with the specs of each photo including camera model, aperture, focal length, shutter speed, and ISO.

This would make a lovely coffee table book, gift for a travel-loving friend, nature photographer, or library acquisition. 

Four stars.

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


Conscious Creativity: The Workbook: experiment, explore, create

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 Conscious Creativity: The Workbook is a companion volume to Philippa Stanton's Conscious Creativity. Released 6th Oct 2020 from Quarto on their Leaping Hare imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

This is a companion book, but it works perfectly well as a standalone. It *is* a workbook however, so much/most of the content is guided exercises and less content is devoted to actual technique tutorials. The exercises are grouped roughly thematically: creating (freely, without an agenda), practice, observation, texture, colour, other senses and synaesthesia, and abstract comprehension and synergy. 

Each of the chapters contain guided creativity prompts for looking at objects, finding similarities between form and function and opening a creative conduit to expression without throttling or limiting ourselves by internal expectations. The point is to free the reader's creativity and expression. The book is very colourful and appealing with high contrast graphics and lots of pages on which to paint - draw - write - and express. These are -not- limited to graphic arts or painting or drawing or sketching or the like. There are some exercises which will provide some takeaways for the graphic artist, certainly, but the majority are holistic in nature and will have broad applicability to writing, thinking, and being. 

There are a great number of activities included here; not all will appeal to all readers, obviously. There are a number of intriguing tutorials which I will try out (writing a note to a stranger and tucking it into a pocket in a piece of clothing in a shop appeals to me very much). 

This would make a super gift for a creative friend, possibly in conjunction with some writing or arts supplies. It would also make an intriguing selection for the studio library, maker's groups, or other activity based groups. 

Four stars. Definitely full of interesting possibilities.

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