Thursday, July 22, 2021

Golden Age Detective Stories


 

Golden Age Detective Stories is an anthology of American crime fiction from the first half of the 20th century (1925 - 1955) collected and curated by crime fiction historian Otto Penzler. Released 13th July by Penzler on the American Mystery Classics imprint, it's 312 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats.

This is a selection of 14 short works from very well known golden age authors from Charlotte Armstrong to Anthony Boucher, Cornell Woolrich, Ellery Queen, and Mary Roberts Rinehart, et.al. All the authors are very well known and will be familiar to most readers. Of the stories selected, only half were previously familiar to me (and provided a welcome re-read, I had forgotten most of the denouements). 

The detectives are selected from the authors' best known, and all of the stories are of a very high quality. Especially considering the addition of the information rich story notes, it's a very satisfying read overall. 

In the introduction and story notes, we are gifted a multitude of plum trivia and factoids which are delightfully obscure and lift the whole to another level of wonderfully nerdy and edifying. Background such as Mr. Penzler provides really enhances the overall enjoyment of the stories themselves and I always (always!) look forward to reading his insightful commentary. This volume also provides guided reading notes for classroom or bookclub discussion which will come in handy for more formal discussion (or solo rumination). 

Along with the classic and engaging stories, the background info and notes, and the discussion content, this is one of a series with coordinated cover art and layouts which provide a worthy service by protecting these early stories and presenting them to newer generations of readers. 

Five stars. The stories themselves are solidly 3.5 - 5 stars, weighted toward the higher end of the scale. Despite being pretty firmly an e-reader prejudiced reader at this point (sorry, not sorry), I have acquired these in physical copies as well, and I love the way they look on my bookshelves. This would make a good selection for library acquisition, book club & classroom use, or plain reading enjoyment. 

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Rememberings


 

Rememberings is a memoir told in vignettes and some stream of consciousness narrative by Sinéad O’Connor. Released 1st June 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Mariner imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

Biography and memoir is not the genre I read most (it would come after SF/fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, gardening, cooking, and a couple others). I made an exception for this book because I'm a huge fan of Ms. O'Connor and have loved her music and performance persona for decades. It, like the author, was a complex and sometimes difficult read for me.

Her writing style is unpolished, easy to understand, and sometimes painfully unflinching and difficult to read. She talks about her early life and appalling childhood abuse, later abuse and problems with the music industry, and the infamous SNL pope picture debacle in 1992, her mental health, and her life in general

There is maybe a bit much discussion about her discography for readers who are only interested in the biography and memoir. For fans of her music however, there is quite a lot to like here. 

Four stars. 

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

Questland



Questland is a standalone modern fantasy by Carrie Vaughn. Released 22nd June by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 304 pages and is 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; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

I try very very hard not to compare authors or books to one another. This book does have its own rhythm and style and of course, the author is capable, prolific, and adept with the more technical aspects of writing. That being said, the comparisons to Westworld and Jurassic Park (and Ready Player 1) are not far off. I've enjoyed much of Vaughn's oeuvre and this one is also skillfully written with good use of dramatic tension and a satisfying denouement. The very last scene seems to possibly hint at forthcoming future stories, which would be interesting. 

It's a locked room sandbox SF/Fantasy mystery with a band of adventurers including mercenaries, a minstrel/lorist (whose day job is English Professor), a tech billionaire who may be hiding some stuff and a fantasy island doing its level best to kill the adventurers. 

The action rolls along at a good pace; I never found it dragging or tiresome. I did skim some of the many action scenes. This will be a good choice for readers who love nerdy in-jokes and Easter eggs in their stories. The cultural tie-ins and spoofs are plentiful and varied.  The language is variable and roughly R-rated. 

Four stars. Readable and a lot of fun. 

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

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Work in Progress: The untold story of the Crawley Writers' Group, compiled by Peter, writer

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Work in Progress is a marvelously funny "behind-the-scenes" story of the fictional Crawley Writers' Group told entirely in emails. Released 24th June 2021, it's 272 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is a genuinely humorous novel which actually surprised me into laughter at several points. It's witty and acerbic and lampoons the archetypal characters so exquisitely that ribbing never shaded over into cruelty and I spent the entire read (in one glorious session) giggling out loud. There's a moneyed diva (with IMDB credits on Midsomer Murders) hosting an ensemble of oddballs, misfits, and an angsty poet. The tagline "They've all got a book in them, unfortunately." sums the whole up pretty succinctly. 

I enjoyed this one enormously. The epistolary format suited the book perfectly and was a brilliant choice. It's presented in such a deadpan factual manner that it took me a while to ascertain if it really was fiction or a tie-in to an actual writers' group. For anyone who has ever enjoyed mockumentaries like This Is Spinal Tap or All You Need is Cash this one has a lot to offer. Very funny.

Four stars.

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

What's the Difference?: Recreational Culinary Reference for the Curious and Confused

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What's the Difference? is a really useful cooking and ingredient reference by Brette Warshaw. Released 6th June 2021 by Harper Collins on their Harper Wave imprint, it's 240 pages and is 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

My maternal grandmother used to tell a story from my mom's youth where she had sent her to the grocery store to get cabbage and my mum (not being particularly motivated to learn to do kitchen/"women's" stuff - it was the 60s), came home with a head of iceberg lettuce instead. My grandmother was astounded, but honestly, there are so many similar things about which I would not have a clue. I can't reliably identify more than a couple types of mushrooms in the grocery store, can't definitely tell the difference between a yam and a sweet potato (or taro), don't know the different cuts of beef, don't think I could tell the difference between bologna and mortadella, and so on. This is the book for those of us who wonder about those things. It's also a great reference to have around in case a last minute ingredient substitution needs to be made.

The book is arranged alphabetically from active dry yeast to wine and includes a useful selection of culinary knowledge, some of which was hitherto quite arcane and confusing to me (did I know the difference between appetizers, canapés, and hors d’oeuvres? I did not). I couldn't have explained the difference between different beers or wines either. I'm still not a sommelier, but at least I have access to a basic reference to avoid some of the bigger pitfalls. 

Five stars. I read this one from cover to cover and really enjoyed it. Most readers will likely skip around to salient info as and when needed. This would make a good selection for home or public library acquisition, or for gift giving to cookbook loving friends. 

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

  

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Way Back Almanac 2022: A Contemporary Seasonal Guide Back to Nature

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The Way Back Almanac 2022 is an almanac and seasonal guide full of practical tutorials and exercises to reconnect with the outdoors, nature, and our relationship with the wider world written and presented by Melinda Salisbury. Due out 10th Aug 2021 from Watkins Publishing, it's 272 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The chapters are arranged around the yearly calendar and seasons, January through December. Each chapter includes some almanac type information: astronomy, first full moon, other celestial events, seasonal garden tasks, what plants to start, checklists, small indulgent self-care tasks and tutorials and some recipes. There are also plenty of writing prompts to help with journaling and diary-keeping. There are also bits of folklore included and some small rituals and lots of philosophy. 

The layout is restful and easy to read with high contrast printing. The art is simple with small line drawings scattered throughout. I found the whole very restful and engaging. This would be a really lovely gift for a journaling or gardening friend. I intend to buy a hardcopy for myself and imagine myself sitting with my morning tea and (hopefully) carving out some time to put pen to paper. 

The vegan friendly recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in metric (grams & ml) with American standard measurements in parentheses (yay!). The cooking instructions are easy to follow with alternative presentations listed at the end of the recipe. None of the recipes include pictures.

Five stars. Contemplative, engaging, restful, and worthwhile.

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

A Guide to Film and TV Cosplay

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A Guide to Film and TV Cosplay is a style guide to cosplay by Holly Swinyard. Due out in Oct 2021 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is not just a manual full of specific information to produce well imagined and constructed cosplays; it's also one of the best histories of cosplay I've ever read. It's not a huge book, but it does a comprehensive job of relaying the background and motivations of more than a century of cosplayers. I loved the sense of community and continuity the author achieves in the introduction and background. The intro and history take up about 30% of the content and are well worth a read. I learnt quite a lot and enjoyed seeing the new and old pictures and props.  I love the inclusive nature of the history. The author talks about drag, steampunk, LARPing, and more. The pictures of different characters are truly impressive and inclusive. The models are diverse. Representation is important! I remember being a nerdy girl in a *very* male dominated gaming, comics, and SF fandom and being told that I didn't belong. I gave up a million times, discouraged. Honestly it was the stories which always dragged me back (and finding a solid group of friends who stopped noticing I was female). I -wanted- Starfleet and the Federation to be true... I -needed- them to be true. Fandom is where we get to make the dreams true for just a little while. That's important and this author clearly "gets it".

The following chapters take cosplayers through choosing a cosplay (or more than one) to put together and gives some concrete advice beyond "pick your favourite character". There's quite a lot to think about and the author does a good job of being encouraging and thorough. I really liked that they took the time to specifically say that cosplayers don't need to feel locked into a particular character because they might have similar physical characteristics to that character - it's ok to love the costume, to relate to the character for other emotional reasons, to get outside one's own skin (hint: that's why we *do* this). 

The third section gets into the details of crafting and customising: tools & supplies, fabrics, sewing, thermoplastics, foams, finding/commissioning/and modifying, and a lot of other details and tips for getting from idea to con-ready gear. As the cherry on top of the sundae, there are practical and important discussions here about self-care, avoiding last minute stress and performance anxiety (con-crunch) and some encouraging and affirming mental health self-check tips. 

Note that this book is about cosplay. It covers the process more or less from beginning to end but it does *not* include templates or tutorials for specific builds. It does include good chapter notes and references for further reading. This would make a superlative selection for library acquisition, maker's groups, theatre/recreation/SCA use and similar. 

Five stars.

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




Casual Cosplay: Bring Your Favorite Character Fashions into Your Everyday Life!

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Casual Cosplay is a style and simple tutorial guide for starting mainstream family friendly dress-up by Krystal Everdeen. Released in Summer 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Tiller imprint, it's 160 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a beginner's guide to simple cosplay with tutorials which will give a recognizable character result (i.e., people will kinda-sorta know who you're cosplaying, probably), and will build skills and confidence for more advanced cosplays later. The builds are very simple and as an intended feature, the costumes can honestly be worn in public without getting many untoward looks or reactions. The characters are largely drawn from mainstream fandom (Disney (so much Disney!), Pixar, some Star Wars, HP, and a few others). 

Each of the tutorials includes one or more color pictures, a color scheme in a highlighted sidebar, and costume tips for pre-made pieces to combine to get an approximation. Tips for finishing details and alternative pieces for comfort or safety (more comfortable shoes, etc) are given in the text descriptions. The book does not include templates or sewing instructions.The photography is clear and in color. It should be noted that there are only a few models pictured in the book (and they're all thin, caucasian, attractive, and physically unimpaired). 

Three stars. This would be a good choice as a starting point for exploring fandom inspired fashion. There are some good options for beginning cosplayers and for last-minute Halloween costumes (for when your kid tells you at 9pm the day before). 

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

Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas!

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Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! is a cute STE(A)M book for the very youngest by Ruth Spiro. Due out 24th Aug 2021 from Charlesbridge, it's 20 pages and will be available in board book and electronic formats. 

This is a sweetly illustrated picture book with simple verse showing some basic facts about electricity in accessible and easy-to-digest pictures. The art by Irene Chan is clear, colorful, and engaging and will fascinate babies and young children. The pictures are filled with small details that support and expand on the ideas in the text. There are even some all-ages learning opportunities which might be new to some adults and caregivers as well (such as a succinct and easy-to-understand illustration of what an electrical circuit is and how it works). 

Baby's friends in the book are inclusive and representative. Although Baby's family celebrates Christmas, Baby's friends include small ones from several other beliefs. 

It's never too early to start with STE(A)M books and this is a cute one. Although the titular Baby appears to be a toddler/preschool sort of age, this would make a nice choice for kids from babies through early elementary school. Lots of fun. 

Four stars.

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

Finding Your Treasure: Our Family's Mission to Recycle, Reuse, and Give Back Everything—and How You Can Too

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Finding Your Treasure is an exuberant and fascinating look at one family's mission for re-use, upcycling, and recycling. Due out 1st Aug 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 144 pages and will be 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

There don't seem to be many people in doubt about the unsustainability of our current obsession with consumption and reckless disregard for the finite resources of our planet. It's popular to re-use, recycle, upcycle, and be thrifty these days. Angel Williams is an icon in the thrifting and "dumpster diving" crowd. This book is a sort of how-to for thrifting, recycling, and dumpster diving, liberally interspersed with her pithy and philosophical thoughts about resources, life, faith, the meaning of everything, and living frugally and compassionately. 

Much of the book is anecdotal (but undoubtedly true - it's full of photographs). She lists some of her finds (and her followers' finds - one found a Hermes Birkin with $2300 in it 0.o) and talks about how to identify the best spots to dumpster dive (more of an art than science, and know your neighborhoods). She also spends a fair bit of time on personal safety and taking sensible precautions (be wary of retail dumpsters - some of them could be compactors and it's not worth risking your life jumping into those no matter what you might find). 

The book is also full of photos of Ms. Williams and some of her family.

I enjoyed reading this personal memoir and how-to and admire her spirit. Some readers might find her discussion of her faith surplus to requirements, but I found it salient, especially as it relates to her philanthropy (donating to those in need), her strength, and her resolve in adversity. 

Five stars. Even for readers who don't intend to don a face shield and heavy leather gloves, there are some good takeaways here on living frugally and responsibly on our overloaded planet with shrinking resources.

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


Nobel Life: Conversations with 24 Nobel Laureates on Their Life Stories, Advice for Future Generations and What Remains to Be Discovered

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Nobel Life is a collection of essays and interviews with 24 Nobel Laureates and includes short biographies, advice and observations. Due out 29th July 2021 from Cambridge University Press, it's 230 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats (ebook available now). 

I certainly understand that there's a huge gender (and socioeconomic) gap in the awards and selection (and indeed in representation in STEM especially at all levels), but there are only two women listed in these 24 interviews, which I found disappointing. The official statistics (discussed in the book) are around 17:1, so having two female laureates out of 24 interviews could be interpreted as more than fair (I guess). The interviewees are drawn from the worldwide scientific and economic community and from lots of backgrounds.

One thing that struck me in interview after interview was how recently so many things which are rock solid basic biology and physiology (taught and used in undergraduate level courses), and how many apparatus and procedures were discovered. Nearly all of them were things which were discovered, developed, and recognized during my lifetime (and I'm not *that* old). 

Many of the questions and interview formats were similar and it was interesting to read both how the laureates answered and the similarities (and differences) in their answers when faced with the same questions. 

This would make a superlative choice for library acquisition, as well as for readers who enjoy science writing and biography. Although the interviews are mostly drawn from scientists who received the Nobel for contributions in chemistry, physiology & medicine, physics and so forth, it's not necessary to have a scientific background or knowledge to read and enjoy the interviews. 

Five stars. Well written and interesting with insights into a world most of us will never experience. 

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


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Fox & I

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Fox & I is an introspective and meandering memoir by naturalist Dr. Catherine Raven on her life in an off-grid Montana cabin and her unlikely friendship with a fox who lived in the area. Released 6th July 2021 by Spiegel & Grau, it's 272 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook format. 

This is such a contemplative book that it's difficult to categorize. It is a memoir, but it's also an expository work on nature, our place in the larger world, our ability to unthinkingly change our environments, our ability to change within ourselves, and what that means in the grand scheme of things. The author is not shy, she holds forth at length on subjects as disparate as domestic cats (lots of antipathy for their uncontrolled and unnatural impact on wildlife), to grownup jobs, friendship, and life. 

Always, wandering through the philosophy and rumination, are the lovely bits of dialogue and bits of rumination from Antoine Saint-Exupéry, and other philosophers, naturalists, and poets. Readers who already love The Little Prince with find an extra measure of enjoyment.

This will be a polarizing book. I predict readers will either adore it or loathe it (and not many will land in the no-man's-land in the middle). I personally felt that although there was a *lot* of navel gazing and rumination (every page, more or less), it affected me deeply and I loved reading it. It wasn't always a comfortable read, but it was effective and the author has a deftness and assurance in her writing. I was also impressed by the fact that Raven became a writer to tell the story instead of the other way around and it gave this story a deeper resonance and relatability.

Five stars. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy naturalist writing and memoirs. 

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Ultimate History of Video Games, Volume 2: Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and the Billion-Dollar Battle to Shape Modern Gaming

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The Ultimate History of Video Games Vol. 2 is the companion to the first volume of Steven L. Kent's exhaustive retrospective look at electronic gaming. Due out 24th Aug 2021 from Penguin Random House on their Crown imprint, it's 592 (!) 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function.

I have been playing computer games (literally) since Pong was big. I spent hundreds of hours playing Zork and Rogue and to tell the truth, I haven't slowed down much in my middle age. I eventually (via MUDs MUCKs and MOOs) settled on MMORPGs and have spent the last 20 years mostly in NWN, Everquest, and, today, in World of Warcraft. This entire book was such a blast to read and flip through. It's -exhaustively- researched and annotated. It's full of minutiae and trivia (in a good way). There were stories and anecdotes by the truckload. 

The author's style of writing is easy to read and not at all dry or boring. He renders the information in an accessible way without being preachy or overly academic. The chapter notes will provide eager readers a wealth of sources for further reading and research. Interactive footnotes provide context and background without interrupting the narrative flow.

Five stars. This is a master-work and worthy of a place in the gamer's home library (along with the first volume). It would be a superlative selection for school or public library acquisition as well. 

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


Clean Eating Kitchen: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook: Quick and Easy High-Protein, Low-Sugar, Healthy-Fat Recipes for Lifelong Health

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The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook is a fusion tutorial cookbook with recipes which are Mediterranean inspired in addition to being low-carb and high-protein written and developed by Michelle Dudash. Released 6th July 2021 by Quarto on their Fair Winds Press imprint, it's 176 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The author offers a science based clinically responsible view of diet (she's a registered nutritionist with more than 20 years in the field) and physiological responses to the foods we eat and has developed recipes which support gut & heart health, reduce inflammation and mostly adhere to the Mediterranean diet. The recipes are appealing and tasty and pretty easy to make. (I'm not a wizard in the kitchen by -anyone's- criteria - and I managed to make several entirely creditable dishes following the recipes). 

A short introduction and background to the diet and ingredient choices is followed by the recipes arranged thematically by category: starters, plant based meals, seafood, chicken beef pork & lamb, veggie side dishes, and sweets. Recipes include an introduction, ingredients in a bullet-style list in a sidebar with American standard measures as well as standard (metric) units (yay!!) followed by step-by-step instructions. Prep & cook time, yields, and nutritional information are provided in a footer bar at the bottom of the page. Ingredients will be readily available at most well stocked grocery stores - there's a strong emphasis on unprocessed "clean" foods, so the recipes don't include pre-made pre-processed ingredients.

Roughly 25% of the recipes are accompanied by photos. The pictures are clear and colorful and serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. Portions as written in the recipes are generous and nearly all of them are things which would be readily accepted by my slightly picky kids. These dishes are family friendly and tasty. 

One observation: many of the low carb dishes I've seen tend to ignore any vegetables which aren't broccoli and cauliflower (save me from one more bite of cauli-"rice" no matter how much curry powder it has in it). This book is full of tasty vegetables in addition to the staple duo of broccoli and cauliflower (although there are a few cauli-rice dishes ... the risotto was delicious and it almost made me love cauliflower - almost). 

Four stars. Well written and encouraging, beautifully photographed and nicely presented dishes. 

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

The Bookshop Murder (Flora Steele Mystery #1)

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The Bookshop Murder is the first book in a new bookshop cozy series by Merryn Allingham. Due out 26th July 2021, it's 256 pages and will be available in 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 currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

I love small-town cozies, historical mysteries, and light British crime. This one ticked a lot of boxes for me. It's capably written with an intelligent and appealing young bookstore owner investigating a murder which occurred in her bookshop. The plot arc is quite linear. Flora and Jack, a local recluse author who functions as her Capt. Hastings, seem to go directly from point to point with very few distractions or false clues. The action does move resolutely forward, and it never drags, so although simple, it's an enjoyable and engaging read. There is no bad language or triggering content and the climax and denouement were satisfying and included a few twists I didn't see coming. 

Four stars. This is an enjoyable historical bookshop cozy. Fans of the genre will find a lot to like here.

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

20 Ways to Draw Everything: With Over 100 Different Themes - Including Sea Creatures, Doodle Shapes, and Ways to Get from Here to There

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20 Ways to Draw Everything is a resource and pattern book curated from previously published material by the creative team at Chartwell. Released 6th July 2021 by Quarto on their Chartwell imprint, it's 224 pages and is available in paperback format. 

This is emphatically *not* a step-by-step tutorial guide. Rather, it's a listing of 100 objects grouped thematically with numerous interpretations of each. There are some antique cars, bicycles, anchors, random doodles, and so on. They range from very simple and stylistic (stick figures) to quite elaborate and pattern rich "Zentangle" type filled shapes. There are blank spaces on each page to allow the reader to fill in or reproduce the drawings.

The pages can be used as drawing prompts. Quite a number of them would make wonderful limbering and warming up exercises for art students to get lines and marks onto their surfaces. Journalers and doodlers will find a lot of inspiration here. Many of the line drawings would be nice for other crafts such as lino printing, surface embroidery, leatherwork, whittling, contemporary calligraphy/illumination, and possibly weaving or knitting.

This would be a good selection for the artist's studio for reference, maker's groups, guilds and group studios or libraries. 

Four stars. 

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

Learn to Draw Disney Furry Friends Collection: Featuring all your favorite Disney animals, including Stitch, Thumper, Rajah, Lady, and more!

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Learn to Draw Disney Furry Friends Collection is a new tutorial guide for artists of all ages from the Walter Foster Jr. creative team. Due out 27th July 2021 from Quarto on their Walter Foster Jr. imprint, it's 64 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

There are a bunch of these paperbound magazine format 64 page tutorial series aimed at all-ages, but especially younger artists. They are full of fun, recognizable, skills building tutorials and will keep kids (and adults) engaged for hours. This book includes classics from Bambi, Aristocats, 101 Dalmations, Lady and the Tramp, Pocahontas, Lion King, and several others. There are 18 in all. All of them are accessible by beginners+.

The book contains an abbreviated introduction with an overview over tools and suggested supplies. Basic drawing instructions and information on tools and materials should be learned elsewhere. What this book does well are the step-by-step line drawn character tutorials. Each of them is 3-8 steps long with each subsequent drawing step highlighted in blue lines. 

The typesetting and page layout are upbeat and appealing with a sense of movement and animated feel to them and light vibrant colors which highlight the simple line drawings so they feel dynamic and attractive.

This is a cute book which would make for a nice gift for a budding young artist, especially if it were bundled with a roll of drawing paper and some pencils/markers, etc. It would also make a good choice for adults who spend time with children and will appeal to a wide audience. Many of the characters will be welcome in drawing sessions with small humans; thus will find use for child minders, parents, educators, and others who spend time with kids.

Four stars.

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

Purgatorio (La Divina Commedia #2)

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Purgatorio is the second volume of Mary Jo Bang's translation of Alighieri's 14th century Divine Comedy. Originally published in 1320, a year before Alighieri's death, this edition, published by Graywolf Press is 336 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is the same epic narrative poem which has been the bane (and sometimes, joy) of students since time immemorial. For 700 years, classics students and scholars have pored over and digested Dante's words. This is a new, understandable, and most importantly, readable translation which remains true to the original as much as possible. 

Each canto is first provided in triplet translation.  The prose flows naturally for modern English speakers and in some cases made me grin and even surprised a chuckle a couple of times. The translator doesn't shy away from modern vernacular ("bugger off", "take credit", "...eyes were glued"), and the poem as a whole benefits from it. After the translation, the author has provided copious annotations and notes where subtleties which would've been understood by the original readers has been lost to time, as well as interpretations and explanations of time passage and other mundane information about the setting or characters (there are *so* many characters). 

The book includes a good bibliography in addition to the chapter notes and annotations. Despite the improved understandability of this very good modern translation, this is not "easy reading". It requires some degree of engagement by the reader and I would recommend either pre-reading a precis (The World of Dante has some good resources), or reading with a good study guide whilst working through this edition. 

Five stars. This is an accessible and good translation in modern vernacular. 

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

Monday, July 12, 2021

Burying the Crown (A Guy Harford Mystery #2)

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Burying the Crown is a historical mystery and the second book in the Guy Harford series by TP Fielden. Due out 22nd July 2021 from Amazon on their Thomas & Mercer imprint, it's 286 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

I really enjoy historical mysteries, especially with a royal slant. This is a capably written, engaging, and exciting mystery set during WW2. There's a lot of wit and light humor along with some skullduggery and wartime intrigue. I found that I was drawn in by the likeable protagonist straightaway. He's a man of many talents, practical, trustworthy, and discreet and he brings with him an ensemble pair of eccentric sidekicks: Rodie (a lady burglar) and Rupert (MI6). 

The author has a rare talent for sweeping the reader along. I was rooting for Guy from the first chapter and found myself surprisingly moved and annoyed in equal measure when a braggadocios gossip writer lands him in the soup and sullies his reputation by falsely claiming that he was betraying secrets about the royal family and telling tales. 

The story itself is written around a framework of real historical events and people and so well entwined that it's not always apparent where reality shades over into fiction. I was fascinated by the author's note on the story at the end of the book (huge spoilers - don't read the author's note before you read the book). Despite not having read the first book in the series, I had no trouble following the plot or keeping the characters straight in my own mind. Additionally, the author has included a list of dramatis personae at the beginning of the book, so it's easy to flip back to check if there's any confusion. (One reason I really like ebooks lately is the search feature). 

The language is PG: hell, bloody, damned and so forth, nothing worse. Vernacular and spelling are British English (lorry, flat, torch, etc) but shouldn't present any problems for readers outside the UK. 

Four stars. This is an enjoyable read and would make a good choice for fans of light spy cozies. I fully intend to go find the first book in the series.  

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

Shadow of the City: A Rocío and Hala novel

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Shadow of the City is the first book in a new fantasy alt-earth mystery (crossing my fingers) series by R. Morgan. Released 27th April 2021, it's 420 pages and is 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.

I've been reading a lot more fantasy and speculative fiction lately, but I will always love well crafted murder mysteries. This is the best of both worlds. It's an alternate Earth South (or possibly Central) America and the main protagonists are two 40-something cops who are friends and colleagues. They're intelligent, diverse, with different strengths and very different backgrounds. They work well together and support one another. There's an ensemble cast and again, the author has done a very good job with the characterizations and dialogue. 

There were some slight pacing issues for me. It took me a lot longer to finish the book than it should have because I found the plot wasn't keeping me engaged and I kept being distracted by other reading tasks. I believe it's because of the background and world building necessary to the beginnings of an immersive series on a grand scale and that the setup takes time. The author is quite adept technically and I felt that the last half of the book moved a lot more smoothly and kept me interested. I am very much looking forward to future books featuring these two engaging smart detectives. Reading about the interplay between the different official governmental agencies and how they helped (or mostly hindered) one another was fun and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

I also liked the inclusiveness and non-binary-friendly setup and world building. It wasn't splashily written in the book, but pronouns are often of the non-gender-specific "-x" suffix such as "ministrix" and "senorx". Polyamory seems to be unexceptional and accepted. It was a breath of fresh air that it wasn't an issue. The author isn't strident or preachy, it's just written into the social structure and generally allowed to remain in the background. 

The language is fairly clean; there's cursing, but it's mostly in Benerex idiom. There is some possibly triggering content, psychological abuse, dismemberment (but contextually important to the plot development), and kidnapping for example. 

Four and a half stars. I enjoyed this one very much and would recommend it unreservedly to fans of fantasy mysteries. 

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