Sunday, April 29, 2018

How Not to Kill Your Houseplant

How Not To Kill Your Houseplant is a beautifully photographed and illustrated practical guide for the horticulturally challenged. Author Veronica Peerless has a friendly, upbeat, non-threatening manner which is like a 150 page pep talk (with pictures).

The intro pages include a pictorial index list with 8 full pages of color photos of common houseplants.  The first bit is 'find your plant' with a page listing of culture info for each one explaining in clear language the do's and don'ts of houseplant culture.

I appreciated that each of the listings provides both the common and Latin names for the plants to avoid confusion and regional differences.

There's a chapter on selecting plants and what to look for to find a healthy trouble free specimen.  There's also a handy reference for transporting your new plant safely and where to site it after you get it home.

The next chapters deal with potting (and repotting), general culture tips, and how to deal with pests and diseases, along with troubleshooting advice.

This is a colorful well made book, and definitely up to the usual quality for the publisher, DK press.

Four stars, lovely useful book.

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


Aimed at a middle-grade audience, Switched is the 4th book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series by Jen Calonita.  The series provides a wry twist to classic fairy tale characters with some modern attitude and updated freshness.

I occasionally like to grab a middle grade fantasy to sort of reset my palate after a bunch of serious literary reviews, and this one satisfies. It's light and fun and undemanding. The recurring characters from the earlier books are back along with some new faces. 

Although the book is somewhat 'genre'/flavor of the month, and the plot is fairly predictable, it's rollicking and fun and will undoubtedly be a favorite for middle graders.  I did enjoy it and found myself smiling and chuckling fairly often.  I do have to admit that calling Rumplestiltskin 'Rump' every other sentence began to wear on me after the first few pages.  The main character Gilly, is stubborn and somewhat hotheaded but is (mostly) true to her friends and will be relatable for most middle graders.

The book is well written and plotted and I didn't find it lagging for me or failing to keep my interest.  It's fairly long for a middle reader book at 304 pages and is available in hardback, paperback, ebook and audio formats. Published 6th March, 2018 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky imprint.

At the end of the book is a 2 chapter teaser for the author's newest book, Misfits book 1 in the Royal Acadamy Rebels series (due out in October 2018).

Three and a half stars, enjoyable.

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

First Lessons in Beekeeping

First Lessons in Beekeeping by Camille Dadant (link is to the Dadant family wiki) is a classic book which keeps resurfacing in new editions every decade or so.  The information and illustrations in this edition are cleaned up somewhat, but largely unedited as far as I can tell.  The introduction and preface for example are reprinted from the 1916/17 version of the book.

The book is meticulously written and while not up-to-the-minute (some things have changed), contains a world of good info for the beekeeper for historical and depth purposes.

There isn't anything which can really replace the help of a mentor or bee club for the aspiring apiarist, but this book provides a window into a valuable portion of the last couple hundred years of apiary history.  It isn't intended to serve as a primary instruction manual for the uninitiated potential beekeeper. 

I have a very early copy of this book in my beekeeping library and it's so well used and marked up that I fully intend to buy another copy in this release in order to have one which isn't in danger of falling apart in my hands.

194 pages, hardback, paperback, trade and ebook formats. Published by Dover, champions and archivists of the obscure, the esoteric and the delightful.

Highly recommend this as supplementary reading, but not to replace a mentor or bee-buddy.

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables

I remember reading the Anne books when I was about 10 years old and immediately connecting with the red-haired protagonist, being a precocious, red-haired kid myself.  The beautifully descriptive luminous prose of the books have resonated with generations of readers.  More than any other books I can think of, the setting of PEI and Avonlea, Green Gables and all the familiar places from the books are so vital to the narrative, they become characters themselves.  L.M Montgomery's life shared many characteristics with her fictional protagonist, including practical orphan status, difficulty and hardship, but managed to maintain a positive attitude despite her challenges.

Even though I was always enchanted by the stories, I was not very familiar with the biography of Maud Montgomery and had never made a pilgrimage to visit the real settings themselves.  Montgomery had such a gift of description that I felt as though I was there, walking in the same places and seeing the same settings as Anne (and Montgomery herself) did.

This book was a wonderful surprise for me.  I was expecting photographs of PEI and the areas described in the Anne books, but there was so much more.  The book is filled with beautiful photography and beautiful descriptions.  In addition, there is a well written biography of Maud Montgomery herself, often in her own words in excerpts from her journals, interwoven into the text and photos.  There are many period photos, many colorized by Montgomery herself, showing the landscapes and family which were part of her everyday life and provide context for her writing.

There is such a richness to this book. The style of writing suits Montgomery's prose and the parts written by the author, Catherine Reid, blend so seamlessly into the quoted and historical parts of the book that they are not at all distracting or jarring.  She writes distinctly, but masterfully, and in a manner which complements but doesn't detract.

The photography is rich and varied.  The scenery is beautiful.  I can certainly see this book becoming a display/coffee table book for the photography, but the narrative is just as beautiful.

Four stars (and it makes me want to go revisit the original books, which I haven't read in many years).

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

The Hawkman

The Hawkman by Jane Rosenberg LaForge is an original and powerfully written reworking of the Grimm's fairy tale Bearskin. The novel departs from the fairy tale in a lot of ways, and not having any prior knowledge of the earlier fable doesn't detract in any way from this novel. 

The author is a poet and it shines through in the exquisite use of language.  Most of the prose in the book is transcendent and very 'painterly'.  It's a fantasy, but grounded in reality.  I wouldn't call it magical realism, exactly (with the exception of one passage, which seemed written to indicate that it was metaphorical, not literal).

The book is beautifully written and poignant.  I haven't often been touched as deeply or felt as attached as I did to the characters in The Hawkman.  It's a book about the casualties (both literal and figurative) of the first world war, so much of the book was brutal and sad.  I found the redemptive themes of love and kindness and humanity had even more impact when presented in contrast.  It's been several weeks since I finished reading the book and I still find myself thinking about it often.

It's a really beautiful, lush, gorgeously written novel. 

Due out 5th June, 2018 from Amberjack publishing.  280 pages in paperback and ebook formats.

Five stars

Disclosure: I received an  electronic-ARC at no cost from the author/publisher.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Howl Like a Wolf

Howl Like a Wolf is aimed at young readers and is packed with information and play-alongs for more than 15 different animals.  Each chapter introduces an animal, explains some of their behaviors and characteristics and then invites the reader along on activities to learn about why the animals do what they do.

I loved the art, it's colorful and vibrant.  The text is intelligent and not condescending.  The chapters include the proper Latin names for the animals they're describing.  Increasing awareness and empathy for the wild animals around us, many of whom are critically threatened is so vital to our future and the future of life on our planet.  The interactive activities included in the book are a fun way to get youngsters moving and understanding a little more about the animals who share our planet.

Very well written, beautifully illustrated.  Super bonus points for including tardigrades as one of the animals in the book.  I'm in love! 

Four stars!

Anticipated release date:

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

The Pesto Cookbook

The Pesto Cookbook from Olwen Woodier and Storey Publishing
due out  17 April, 2018 is a modern look at an ancient and traditional ingredient. 

Pesto (or paste, or pureĆ©) is a traditional method of preserving summer's bounty of herbs with oil, cheese, nuts and other traditional ingredients.  It's super versatile in cooking and can function as a flavor enhancer, meat rub, side dish, topping and so much more.

The book begins with an introduction covering the history and traditional uses for pesto along with ingredients to mix and match.  It's worth noting that along with the introductory chapters (about 10% of the content) the author includes a lot of useful tips about growing and harvesting the herbs and greens to be used. The rest of the introductory chapters (about 30% of the total content) expand the definition of pesto and introduce an international flair with pastes from Morocco, Asia, France, Argentina and other world cuisines.

Each of the chapters include recipes along with alternative versions and suggestions for experimentation.

The largest portion of the book (about 70%) is given over to specific recipes for main dishes and appetizers including a large and varied selection of vegetarian dishes.

I'm emphatically NOT a talented cook (more of a keen amateur).  I can and did follow the recipes in this book and the results were oh, so tasty and impressive.  A very enjoyable well made culinary book that is more than 'just' a cookbook.  I tested several of the recipes: Focaccia With Spicy Summer Tomato Pesto, Gnocchi, Spaetzle, and Red Pepper and Spinach Risotto With Genovese Pesto. All were well written with no discernible mistakes. 

The Pesto Cookbook is gorgeously colorful and well photographed.

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Amazing Origami Boxes

Amazing Origami Boxes is another new tutorial book of 20 designs from Origami master Tomoko Fuse.  Her specialty is modular origami (sculptures made from multiple pieces of paper, fitted together), and this book is no exception.  There are some very traditional forms which will be familiar to most people (square box with flaps, offering box, crane box, etc).  There are also some really beautiful modern shaped containers which will certainly appeal.  There are tutorials for 8 flower based shapes which would make spectacular nut/candy cups for a special table settting (or wedding).

As is usual for this author (kudos to her translation and editing team!) the tutorials are all accessible and the drawings are very clear and well illustrated and concise.

At the very beginning of the book are the symbol explanations and the short tutorials for the traditional folds.  This will help complete newbies to be able to follow the later tutorials.  There are (in my opinion) none of the pieces in this book which would be beyond a keen beginner's abilities.  This is mostly down to the perfect illustrations and sparely written instructions.  There are some really impressive folds in this book, including an almost tesseract/space defying box she calls Double Cube Box.

Dover publications has long been a standard bearer for beautifully illustrated well made crafts books.  This one is no exception.  Everything is top notch. The translations are perfect (if slightly whimsically poetic).   The photography is lush, crisp, and colorful.  It's an all around joy.  This would make a perfect gift for both enthusiasts and origami-curious beginners.

In fact, though I received a free e-book copy of this book for review purposes; I've already purchased a copy for my origami mad daughter.

Five stars

Pub: 21st March, 2018
Dover Publications
128 pages, color illustrations and photography
RRP: $18.95