Friday, June 29, 2018

Fizz Boom Bath!

Fizz Boom Bath! is a new how-to and tutorial guide to all things bath-y, including fizzes, bath bombs, scrubs, melts and more.  Written by young sister entrepreneurs Isabel and Caroline Bercaw, it's 144 pages published by Quarto-Rock Point and available in ebook and hardback formats.

I am a huge bath geek.  In my opinion, there are -very- few problems that aren't seriously ameliorated by a long soak in a tub (for really BAD problems, add red wine (to a glass, not to the bathtub) and a water-resistant ebook reader. Rinse and repeat.  If you buy bath bombs from the boutique stores, it leaves a significant dent in the wine budget, so learning to make your own is a win-win situation.

Additionally, a lot of ready made bath bombs have greasy cheap additives and bulk fillers... along with scary artificial colours and other goop.

This book gives you a fun alternative to ready-made.  You get to choose the scents and colours (if any) as well as the size and ingredients.  The instructions are simple enough, in theory, and would be a fun project with kids if supervised.

There are dozens of recipes, including all sorts of bombs, fizzers, foams, scrubs etc.. along with lots of suggestions for homemade beauty products including lip balm and creams, soaks, scents, masks and toners/spritzes.

The book is exuberant, well photographed and suitable for all ages (though aimed at teen/tween female audiences).

There's a short but handy resource guide (mostly for North American readers) and a useful index to recipes included in the book.

The world desperately NEEDS more tub time in my humble opinion.

PS Pro-tip: you can turn ebook reader pages with the tip of your nose, nullifying the need to dry your hands on a towel or put down your wine glass.  

5 stars

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

Doodled Cats: Dozens of clever doodling exercises and ideas

Doodled Cats is a companion book to Doodled Dogs, released 26th June, 2018 from author Gemma Correll and published by Quarto Publishing - Walter Foster.  At 160 pages and 6x7", it's small and compact and good for purse or backpack for those meetings or lectures that call for a little doodling escapism.

For those unfamiliar with author Gemma Correll's style (see the cover), it's quirky and a bit offbeat and oddly endearing.  She has a large following on her blog and other social media platforms.

Anyhow, this book gives some tutorial guidance for doodling cats in all sorts of costumes and situations.  It's not primarily a tutorial book, half the page content is given over to entertaining cat factoids and showcasing the author's drawings, but there are some step-by-step tutorial pages to give the would-be cat doodler (ca'doodler?)  a very gentle nudge in the right direction.

One note; this book and the companion book about dog doodling have several pages which are identical to one another.  I wasn't disappointed or annoyed, but having the exact same format in the same order with about 10% (+/-) of exatly the same page content is ever so slightly cheeky in my humble opinion.

Anyhow, for people who love doodling cats in amusing positions, this is a moderately cute book.  Ditto the dog book.  People who buy both will be supporting the artist author (and publisher) and that's not a bad thing.

Four stars, the world needs more lighthearted fun cartoons to hopefully distract us from the 'real world'.

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

Doodled Dogs

Doodled Dogs is a doodled notebook and collection of very informal lighthearted exercises for the would be dog-doodler. The majority of the book content is very simple line drawings of dogs in all sorts of situations, including anthropomorphized and alliteratively named dogs going about their lives as waiters, superheroes and artists.

It's 160 pages, published by Quarto - Walter Foster, with a due date 26th June, 2018 and available in hardback format.  The measurements are 6"x7" which means it will fit easily into a purse or backpack.  The author, Gemma Correll, is well known for her quirky offbeat drawings and has published a number of books about her pets and life.

For people who are seriously wishing to get some deep insights and directed lessons about doodling dogs, this is probably not your book.  There is very little tutorial here.  There are some short step by step tutorials, but they make up roughly 15% of the content; the rest is made up of finished drawings.

This book is appropriate for all audiences and would appeal to younger artists especially. 

Charming, whimsical, witty and simply drawn. 

Four stars

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Professor at Large: The Cornell Years

Professor at Large: The Cornell Years is a collection of vignettes showcasing a series of talks, lectures, and workshops delivered by John Cleese during his more than decade long association with Cornell University as a visiting professor.  The subjects are wide ranging, always witty, often profound and a joy to read. 

In the current culture of anti-intellectualism it's all too easy to become disillusioned and exhausted by all of the backlash against well spoken prose, language, literature, intelligence...  This book (and Professor Cleese) are erudite and unapologetically intelligent.  Additionally, the people who join him in his talks are also intelligent (often brilliant), well spoken, and profound.  His back-and-forth with William Goldman alone is worth the price of the book.  The other chapters include neurologists, psychologists, discussions on religion, culture and the meaning of life.

There's a lot of material here for fans of Monty Python and Cleese the Actor, but there's also a lot to love here for anyone who loves to read intelligent well spoken people talking about interesting topics. 

I enjoyed it hugely and recommend it to everyone.

248 pages, available in ebook and hardcover formats.
Anticipated release date: October 15, 2018 from Cornell University Press.

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

Growing Heirloom Flowers: Bring the Vintage Beauty of Heritage Blooms to Your Modern Garden

Growing Heirloom Flowers: Bring the Vintage Beauty of Heritage Blooms to Your Modern Garden is a new how-to-and-why gardening handbook from Chris McLaughlin out 8th May 2018 by Quarto - Cool Springs Press.  It's gloriously full color, 163 pages and available in ebook and hardcover formats. 

I'm a huge believer in biodiversity and open pollinated crops, seed sharing and organic gardening.  I grew up on a smallholding full of animals and plants which were eminently suited to their environments because they'd grown and flourished in the climate where they were planted/raised for a long long time.  There was never much thought given to the transportability or marketability of different vegetables or flowers because they only had to travel a few hundred meters to the kitchen.  The tomatoes, by gosh, exploded with tomato flavor and the clove pinks and stocks made you giddy with the smell. That is something this author really gets. In fact, there's been a really scary trend toward loss of biodiversity and variety in our crops and seeds worldwide.  The trend toward taking back our heirloom heritage is important and this book is very timely in that respect.

The book starts with an introduction and explanation; what heirlooms are and why we should be interested in growing them.  The author continues on to describe the different uses of plants and  starts off with flowers for the cutting garden.  Most of the plants she describes for different uses have an individual entry with pictures, color photos and uses.  Happily, she includes the proper Latin names in each listing, so gardeners can find their way to the correct plants.

Interspersed rather whimsically in each chapter are short tutorial with crafts and other fun tidbits (making a flower crown, freezing flower ice cubes for drinks, drinks, crafts and foods, etc).   Fragrant flowers get their own chapter and I really agree with all her choices.  There are a number of old favorites often overlooked (especially in modern garden centres), and which deserve a place in the cottage garden.  The chapter on cottage garden classics also includes a fair number of old 'forgotten' favorites which will reward the modern gardener with gorgeous blooms and provide wonderful food and pollen for bees and other wildlife. 

The book includes a resource list (slanted toward gardeners in the USA) and handy list of gardens to visit for inspiration.  There's a very short author bio and a useful (abridged) index.  All in all a worthwhile addition to the heirloom gardening library.

The author's style is very breezy and chatty and exuberant.  It did get a bit wearisome that she referred to every one of the plants in the book as 'she' and 'the girls'.  A bit of anthropomorphism is fine, but it got to be a bit much for me particularly.  On the other hand, for the vast majority of gardeners who will use this book as a pick-and-mix resource and not read it from cover to cover, that won't be an issue.  It's a charming and useful book.

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

Friday, June 22, 2018

Cat Lady Embroidery

Cat Lady Embroidery is a reformatting and re-release of Neko-Darake Shishu 380 originally published in Japanese by applemints. Translated by World Book Media and due out 3rd July, 2018 in English by Quarto - Creative Publishing International it's 120pages & available in paperback format.
This is an oddly formatted book to western audiences.  The first 30% of the book is a catalogue of designs (and there are oodles of them!) presented in full color.  There is a short gallery of project inspirations after that (4 pages) along with an introduction and general techniques chapter.  This chapter covers materials, fabric and thread choices, needles, scissors, tensioning devices (hoops) etc etc.
It should be noted that this book is about surface embroidery, not cross stitch.  It's lovely to see tutorials and and upswing in interest for the other fibrearts; it seems like only cross-stitch had any following for a long long time and it's nice to see surface embroidery enjoying a renaissance.

Anyhow, following the materials and supplies chapter is a really well done tutorial chapter about the different stitches used for the patterns in the book.  The step-by-step photos are annotated and accompanied by explanatory text.  They're clear and easy to follow.

The final half of the book contains the patterns for the elements listed in the catalogue at the beginning.  They are mostly small(ish) elements which can be combined and switched around as desired.  There are several cat-alphabets as well, for personalization (or monogramming gifts for cat loving friends).

I enjoyed the book very much.  It's a worthwhile and fun introduction and guide to learning embroidery. Many of the designs in the book could also serve as a good jumping off point for dimensional embroider/stumpwork.

Four and a half stars

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Brush Pen Illustration

Brush Pen Illustration is a new tutorial/step-by-step DIY manual from artist designer Sho Ito, published by Quarry Books - Quarto due out 26th June 2018. Originally published in Japanese in 2011 as "Fude Pen Illust Renshucho (Boutique Mooc #958)" it's been reformatted and translated for the re-release. It is 106 pages and contains specific tips and tricks for rendering hundreds of animals, plants, foods, shells and many other items from daily life.  Many of these are deceptively simple and all are fun. The book is mostly printed in full color and includes a goodly proportion of clear photographs, especially in a useful inspiration gallery showing ways to use the art the reader produces.

The aesthetic (see cover) is definitely Asian in feel.  The tutorial items will all be recognizable to western readers as well.  The designs are spare and elegantly simple.

The book begins with an intro and materials chapter  including pens, paper, and general techniques (circa 15% of the content count). The author does include a short resources list with e-tailers who carry the brush pens and types of paper which are best to use with these projects. After the intro, the lion's share of the book is given over to specific tutorials grouped by subject (animals, foods, plants, Asian art, black and white illustrations etc). 

There are a number of really interesting lessons in this book concerning the use of space and movement.
One of the things that many artists struggle with is the use of negative space.  Ito's simple step by step tutorials brilliantly utilize negative space to illustrate 3D shapes and volume (see the sheep example below)

There are many many such takeaways from this very enjoyable book.

Well worth a look.

Four stars

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

Woven in Wire

 Woven in Wire is the second book from artist and teacher Sarah Thompson. Published by F+W Media and Interweave Press, it's due out 17th July, 2017.  The book is available in softcover and contains 160 pages. Like most tutorial instruction books, there's an intro followed by chapters covering tools/supplies and basic techniques including the different weaving techniques along with some very basic torchwork (basically just materials and some good safety advice and drawing a bead on wire (melting the end to form a ball)). One thing I really appreciate about the author's style is that she's encouraging without being too eager or smothering as well as giving some really valuable tips about her own working methods and the specific tools that work for her.  There's an awful lot of product placement going on in the world of how-to books and I really applaud the author for refusing to be a shill for any specific company.

The intro chapters (~20% of the page content) are followed by tutorial chapters for the (by my count) 13 projects from beginner(ish) to masterwork level.  Interspersed in these chapters are really valuable tips and tricks for working with the materials and saving frustration where possible. The projects run the gamut from earrings to pendants and everything in between including rings bracelets, clasps etc.  There wasn't a single project in the book which I didn't want to make.  That almost never happens to me.

I worked as a bench jeweler in the traditional commercial jewelry trade for over 16 years (until I went back to school to become a bio-engineer at a ripe old age; it's never too late to take up another career).  Anyhow, the point is, working as a jeweler I always wanted to flex more of my creative muscles and work more with wire as a structural element.  I never got my chance as a professional working for a paycheck (I was the faceless drone re-sizing your engagement ring, or possibly repairing your necklace when you lost it down the garbage disposal *true stories*).  I have set up a bench in my workshop now and share creative space with my daughter, also a budding bench jewelry artist.

I love the fact that many of these projects use forged wire as a basis.  The shaped and flattened wire structure gives the entire piece stability and solidity without losing any of the fluidity and organic-ness (it should be a word) of the woven wire. 

This is not a book for following slavishly. This is a book which provides loosely structured learning guidelines for developing your own style and finding and adapting your own techniques.  In that sense, Sarah Thompson is a fantastic teacher. This is a worthwhile book, lavishly illustrated and photographed.  Her passion for her art and her willingness to share the 'good stuff' she's learned is rare. 

Well worth adding to the jeweler's library. This book will age very well and remain current as your skill progresses.

Five stars, really lovely.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Body in the Ballroom

The Body in the Ballroom is the second book in the Alice Roosevelt mystery series by R. J. Koreto. Published by Crooked Lane Books, it's 293 pages, and released 12 June, 2018.

This is a period cozy murder mystery written around a framework of actual history and historical characters. For fans of period cozies, this one is well written and well plotted. I admire the author's facility with lining up a veritable stable of possible murderers and eliminating them one by one.  My 'favorite' for whodunnit was eliminated by the middle of the book and the denouement had me sitting up in my reading chair saying 'well played, Mr. Koreto, well played'.

First daughter, Alice Roosevelt, and her secret service bodyguard are back in this book and investigating the murder of a despicable but rich and powerful man at a debutante ball given in honor of Alice's friend.

There were several places in the narrative where I found myself yanked out of my suspension of disbelief because of anachronistic behaviors or actions from the characters.  I give the author a lot of latitude because it IS a cozy. People who come into the series expecting anything resembling meticulously rendered history are going to be disappointed.  I also felt that there was entirely too much word count devoted to smoking (rolling, lighting, etc), but in the Edwardian era I guess they did smoke a lot.

Alice was depicted as mostly playful and occasionally scandalous, and I liked her a lot better in the pages of this book than the often wantonly malicious real-historical-version. I liked that she visited her bookie, drank and otherwise did pretty much exactly what she wanted.

The author's use of the first person narrative was deftly handled.  He's a gifted and capable writer. 

Four stars, I enjoyed it very much. The book can easily be read as a standalone, there won't be any trouble getting up to speed and figuring out who's who.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement

Gardens of the Arts & Crafts Movement is a meticulously researched and written treatise of the subject written by landscape historian Judith B. Tankard.  Produced by Timber Press, with an expected publication date of 27th Nov, 2018, this is a solid book, weighing in at 300 pages densely packed with historical info, period source material and photographs.

The book is logically divided into chapters which explain the concepts and lead the reader (relatively painlessly) through a great deal of gardening and architectural history and the theory behind the movement and its subsequent influence on modern gardening.  There are specific chapters which showcase many of the houses owned by the leading names of the arts & crafts movement.  William Morris' homes, Red House and Kelmscott, are represented as well as designs created and implemented by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Gertrude Jekyll, and many others.

This is emphatically not a how-to DIY gardening book.  These are historically significant gardens mostly associated with the great houses of England.  That's not to say that there aren't any takeaways for modern gardeners (on a much smaller more intimate scale).  The last 2 chapters are specifically aimed at contemporary gardeners and include an interesting and enlightening philosophical discussion of garden design.  The icons of gardening history are here en masse.  I didn't count the times Mawson, Jekyll, et al. were mentioned, but they are certainly very well represented in this text.  Even the chapters specifically aimed at modern gardeners are mostly applicable to the 'budget no object' type of projects.  The book is full of breathtaking gardens photographed meticulously and on a grand scale.

Final thoughts.  Even if you do not now and have never had a demesne, there's a boatload of dream material here.  This book is meticulously researched, academic, and well written, but the author writes deftly and I felt a good rapport with the material.  The photography is luscious and the historical material and architectural drawings are lovely.

Available in ebook and hardcover formats, well worth a look.

Five stars, for people interested in history and theory, not for practical DIY info.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Lifestyles of the Chicken Famous: Pretty Pets in The Chicken Chick's Backyard

Lifestyles of the Chicken Famous is a collection of lovely photographs with chatty upbeat explanatory text showcasing the beautiful flock owned by Kathy Shea Mormino, aka the Chicken Chick.  144 pages and full color, it has a release date 26th June 2018 and is published by Quarto Publishing - Voyageur. Available in hardcover format, it's really a coffee table book and doesn't include much culture, care or instruction (all of which are available on her website/blog/facebook pages).

It does include a handy index with links to the photos and which breed each of her chickens represents.

It's a lovely book and worth a look.

Four stars.

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

The Firemaker

The Firemaker is a re-release of the first book in the China Thrillers series by Peter May.  Reformatted and published by Quercus US publishing, it's a hefty 560 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats. 

This book started very slowly for me.  I have been a fan of Peter May's other series for years, so I was really looking forward to this one.  There seemed to be an awful lot of 'telling' instead of 'showing'. The characters spend a distressing amount of time talking about feng shui and honor and losing face, etc. After establishing the setting, the plot does pick up, but that first 100 or so pages were nearly a deal breaker for me, which shocked me. It did get a lot better and I really did wind up devouring the last 80% of the book.  Peter May is a deft and very gifted writer.

I also had some trouble working up any attachment for the characters.  They're introduced as professional colleagues and everyone spends the majority of their time antagonizing and belittling one another.  They're all pretty unpleasant (except for Li Yan's uncle, Yifu. He's such a cool character and really comes alive in the book). 

Despite the slow start and sarcastic characters, there were also many good points.  The background research is meticulous and accurate.  The setting really comes alive. 
I'm a bioengineer working in a histopathology lab and I was impressed that the author spent the time to provide good background (a little dated now, of course, the book was originally published almost 20 years ago). The plot is a bit over the top, but it is a police procedural thriller.

Three and a half stars, rounded up.  Very well written. 

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Upcycling Outdoors

Upcycling Outdoors is a new DIY book from entrepreneur and style guru Max McMurdo and published by Quarto Publishing - Jacqui Small. Available in hardcover, it's very well illustrated with clear photography and step by step construction tutorials.
It's a relatively short book, 144 pages, but manages to pack a lot of content inside. There are 20 complete projects included in 5 categories: planters & containers, structures, eating & entertaining, furniture, and lighting & accessories. The tutorials cover materials, construction techniques and tools.  There's a fair bit of background design info on the projects as well, to allow for flexibility with available materials.

The projects range from the whimsical - (outdoor hanging fairy lights in a birdcage) to the slightly odd(?) - (a bicycle frame mounted portable picnic basket).  Some of them are sublime (hanging planter made from a ruined boat float), they're all very informal.  If your outdoor spaces are strictly formal, there's much whimsy and humor to be found here, but not much formality.

Roughly 30% of the page content is devoted to general techniques, sourcing supplies and finishing techniques.  The finishing supplies and tools are accessible and easily acquired.

I was impressed by the fact that most of the projects look really attractive and not like recycled items that belong in a landfill. There were, of course, some which were over the top for my taste personally (a suitcase with legs converted to a planter for example), but a surprising number are spot on (the firepit and lawn dominoes are really cool).

All in all, a worthwhile philosophy and lovely design sense.

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

Monday, June 11, 2018


Woodworking is a well curated woodworking book which is half tutorial/learning guide and half design/art book.  It showcases the artistry and design work of husband and wife team Andrea Brugi and Samina Langholz who re-cycle, upcycle, and transform wood into functional and elegant objects.

This is a very honest book.  The pieces which they create have artistic integrity totally without pretentiousness.  They're useful and beautiful but not delicate or fussy.  Though the book is well photographed, it feels quite natural.  The humor and love with which the artists create their objects shines through in the photos and in the objects themselves.  They represent what I would call primitive or naive.  There are no fussy furbelows or gewgaws to be found here, only solidity and purpose. 

There is a fair bit of philosophy included in the book. The authors spent a lot of content discussing their artistic choices and the merits of different woods and how they let particular pieces of wood speak to them and in a way determine what it (the wood) becomes. This is not a step by step tutorial book.  There's no rigid pattern following.  In fact, the book has no templates at all.  It's not that kind of book.

I didn't find the artist statement and philosophy at all distracting, in fact, I liked the more complete and balanced sense of artistic purpose and I think it gives a good insight into their creative process.  The reader obviously will take away the bits which apply to their own needs, but having a glimpse into their perspective and thought processes was very interesting and useful. Some of the projects in the book are fairly impractical, decorative ladders, found wood/driftwood wall hangings on a brass ring, etc.  Other projects are functional, solid and breathtakingly simple.  There's a half lap construction table with a top made from repurposed wall boards in a natural finish that is absolutely gorgeous in its simplicity.  He makes it look easy.

I don't know how practical this book would be strictly from a pattern/project standpoint.  The value of the book for me comes from the philosophy and artistry of the projects and from getting a glimpse into their creative process.  It's not a very long book, but it's lavish and really beautiful.

Five stars
144 pages, hardbound and ebook formats.
Published by Quarto - Jacqui Small publishing with a release date of 22 March, 2018.

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

Quick Curtain

Quick Curtain is another 'forgotten' gem, re-formatted and released by Poisoned Pen press in the British Library Crime Classics series with a release date 5th December, 2017. It was written by Alan Melville and originally published in 1934.  There's a lighthearted element to the humor (for which the author was taken to task by Dorothy Sayers).  I enjoy so many of the classic golden age mystery writers and find the interwar stories especially engaging and nostalgic, seen through the lens of modern times. This edition features a really interesting introduction and short history by Martin Edwards which adds a lot of background for the narrative. 

This is a very light mystery and intended as a fun diversion, not a deep or philosophical examination of the criminal mind.  The plot is unusually full of twists and turns and I really enjoyed the interplay between inspector Wilson and his son, Derek, a reporter.  They seem to genuinely like one another and their banter adds a lot to the dialogue.
There is a fair bit of authorial intrusion (the author speaking directly to the reader), which may annoy some readers, but I found it teasing and quite fun.  The author uses the device relatively sparingly, so it's not overly tiresome.
This is not a procedural in the normal sense.  The goings-on included in the book aren't realistic, nor are they intended to be realistic.  Realism was intentionally sacrificed for entertainment value. 

Incidentally, I really thought I had it figured out until quite literally the penultimate page! Well played, Mr. Melville, well played.

268 pages, available in ebook, paperback and audiobook versions. Worthwhile.  In fact, I've enjoyed all the books I've read in the Crime Classics collection.

Four and a half stars.  Lighthearted, witty, and entertaining.

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

Handmade Houseplants

Handmade Houseplants is a new papercrafting book by Corrie Beth Hogg published by Timber Press and due out 4th Sept, 2018.  This is a substantial book, 300 pages in full color in ebook and paperback formats.

I've seen and reviewed a lot of papercrafting books, and I'd yet to see one which is specifically aimed at sculpting whole plants in planters.  These really are funky and pretty realistic and just brimming over with fun.  This book is not intended for absolute purists, almost every project uses paint, wetting, papier maché or other techniques to provide leaf structure and other details to the plants.  Many of these would make a great fun weekend project with young(ish) to older kids.

The book is arranged in chapters with a logical and easily followed format.  The introduction and general tutorials / intro skills chapters (~10% of the page content) cover concepts and supplies as well as the techniques which are common to most of the projects which follow.

The largest proportion of the book is given over to specific plants along with a pictorial tutorial for each project.  There are 30 different plants by my count and the most popular and enduring houseplants are included.  The tutorials include full color photos and range from 2-8 pages, average  ~6.

There are several bonus projects, including a centerpiece, place cards, a garland and a trellis. 

All of the templates are included in a reduced size (increase them to 133% for full size).

There's a useful concise index and author bio included at the end.

Four stars, some worthwhile and appealing sculptures here.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Mediated Mind

The Mediated Mind is an academic treatise on the interrelationships between media and society and how it affects and drives consumerism.  The book specifically deals with the impact of printed media and ephemera - cheap printed media such as magazines, cigarette cards, etc - from the 19th century onward and postulates a direct link between the early mass-print market and today.

Two details going into the review.  My grandfather was a Polish Jew who came to the USA without prior working knowledge of English.  He learnt English by reading comic books, and inculcated the same love of comic books in my father.  I am, thus, a third generation comic book and general ephemera nerd. I am also a keen fan of sociology and the impact of media.  I am especially interested in how control and spin in the media relates to resistance (or passivity) in our society.

I remember asking my grandfather over and over (and over) how the holocaust could possibly have happened.  His answer was that nobody knew what was going on, and that demanding to know was very dangerous. The control of information was critical to controlling the population. Anyhow, the point is that this book examines the direct line between printed media and society and extrapolates to our current day daily media overload and how it affects our own collective psyche.

This book was emphatically not an easy read.  The author's expository prose is very academic and the text is written formally with exhaustive citations and cross references.  The author follows a fairly rigid formula.  In the introduction, tell the reader what you're going to tell them, use the body of the exposition to tell them in more detail, and in the conclusion, tell them what you told them.

The introduction takes up roughly 10% of the page content and discusses what is covered in the book.  The body of the book (~80%) deals with temperance ephemera and tracts, tobacco and cigarette cards - and the driving of 'addiction' to collecting and acquisition, our subconscious (Rorschach blots among other things), along with mass culture.

The final chapter draws interesting comparisons between the 19th century everyman and our modern (western) everyman; still largely ignorant, crass, willfully uneducated, politically repugnant and/or naive.

The conclusion is followed by a whopper of a footnote/reference section with citations.

I've mentioned a couple of times that this book is a very dry academic read.  I read every word and I'm still not 100% convinced it's not an elaborate joke on the pretentiousness of academia.  I found it worthwhile, but I would definitely recommend it only readers who are especially interested.

Five stars, but only for readers who are especially invested in the material. (Extra points for being an original treatise on a subject which doesn't have a lot of academic representation).

Stats: 256 pages, e-Textbook, Hardback, softbound
Author: Susan Zieger, PhD
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Available: 5th June, 2018

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Banished is the final book in the Storymakers trilogy by Betsy Schow.  Published by Sourcebooks Fire and released 1st February, 2018, it's aimed firmly at the younger end of the YA market.  There is a strong continuity and back story for the characters and plot arc from the first two books, so I definitely wouldn't recommend this one as a standalone.

I enjoy the parallel fictional world and fictional characters in the 'real world' subgenre.  There are several that are superlative (Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books to name a standout).  This series, the Storymakers, never really got going for me personally.  Admittedly, it's been a lot of years since I was a 13 year old girl - the primary audience.  On the other hand, there are an awful lot of awkwardly written scenes covered over with sarcastic dialogue.  I can't count the number of times I was yanked out of my suspension of disbelief by clunky descriptions or unfortunate dialogue.  I received an early ARC for purposes of review, so it's entirely possible that much editing and polishing has occurred in the release copy.

I found many of the wordplay jokes too precious to be enjoyable ('No way in spell', 'No pixing joke', etc etc).  I also freely admit the 'really sane person trying to convince authority figures in a mental hospital that the monsters are real' trope has always really bothered me a lot.  I'm a medical professional and reading 'chemotherapy' in that sort of setting made me grind my teeth.  It was just so unnecessary.

Without belaboring the point, Banished wasn't for me, I am not the intended audience, and there are enough really glowing reviews that my experience is probably anomalous.

Published 1st February, 336 pages, available in ebook and paperback formats.

Two and a half stars (mostly for grammar and snark.  If punctuation and sentence structure don't matter to you, add a star or more).

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

Bump in the Night

Bump in the Night is the second Flaxborough mystery by author Colin Watson.  Originally published in 1960, this is a reformatting and re-release by Farrago books.

The Flaxborough mysteries are wryly humorous with some wickedly funny subtle bits.  This book especially has aged very well and reads like a much more modern book but still with the English country village atmosphere.

Inspector Purbright is likable, if a bit plodding, but he gets there in the end. This entry in the series has him investigating a series of explosions in a neighboring village.  There's the usual complement of funny village characters and goings-on and someone's hiding murder.  It's up to Purbright to sort out the twisted and murky motives.

I loved the gentle pacing and really wickedly funny dialogue.  These are really top notch mysteries and this one is well worth the read.

Published 8th March, 2018 by Farrago books.  190 pages, available in ebook and paperback formats.

Four stars

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

Upstaged by Murder (Rex Graves Mystery #10)

Upstaged by Murder is the 10th book in the Rex Graves mystery series by C. S. Challinor.  I read it as a standalone and had no trouble following the backstory or keeping the characters straight.  It is a nice cozy with a Scottish barrister (who's a QC and amateur sleuth) and his new wife who seem to have a wonderful relationship.  The book is written in 3rd person limited pov in a lightly humorous and informal style. The main characters are quite likeable and intelligent. 

Some of the secondary characters are quirky and a bit flaky and also add humor and contrast to Rex and his wife Helen.

The plotting is well paced and readable and the narrative didn't drag for me.  Just an all around readable and enjoyable cozy.  I intend to chase down the earlier books in the series when I get a breather from my TBR list.

Four stars
Release date: 08 July 2018 by Midnight Ink books, 237 pages, available in ebook and paperback formats.

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Book of Secrets (The Last Oracle #1)

The Book of Secrets is the first book in a new series by Melissa McShane.  Though the author's more widely known as a historical fantasy writer, this new series is a departure, since it's more of a light urban fantasy with cozy mystery. The protagonist is a hapless 21 year old who lands a job at an antiquarian bookshop and is thrust into an unknown world when her boss gets murdered whilst she's on the premises and she begins to find out that the bookstore is emphatically not your average bookstore.

I especially enjoyed the characters in the book as well as Helena, the main protagonist's, relationship with her best friend Viv.  She also has a great relationship with her family! How refreshing to meet a protagonist in a NA book who isn't broken and emotionally destroyed. The entire book is full of quirky characters and the author does a good job of making them real in all their weird and funky glory.  There's a foreshadowed slow burn romance interest, but the author doesn't just fling them together on page 12 (kudos for that!). There's the obligatory female love-to-hate character.  I don't think I've read a NA novel in ages that had a female protagonist that didn't use the sarky female-female antagonist device.  It's de rigueur.  That small quibble aside, the book is fun and well paced and plotted.  The oogie space monsters from another dimension are satisfyingly oogie and scary (though happily not wet-your-pants-and-throw-the-book-across-the-room horrifying!).

The mystery part has a satisfying and well paced denouement in the last chapter.  All around a fun read.  Looking forward to the next book(s) in the series.

Four stars, entertaining and well written.

The Book of Secrets, book #1 in the Last Oracle series by Melissa McShane.
192 pages, published by Curiosity Quills press.
Released: 20 Feb, 2018 in ebook and paperback formats

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