Sunday, July 29, 2018

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening is an updating and re-release of the classic reference book by William Woys Weaver.  Originally published in 1997, this second edition has been updated with many new photographs, new content, and a new introduction.  Republished by Quarto - Cool Springs and released 20 March, 2018, it's 480 pages of well written advice and information very well presented.  The author, William Woys Weaver, is a genuine expert whose love of plant diversity and heirlooms shines through in the warm and well written prose.

This is a great reference book, but along with the clear instructions and culture information comes a wealth of side-stories, history, and trivia.  The book is beautifully written and the author manages to convey his lifelong love and respect of plants without being strident or fanatical.

I have a copy of the first edition of this book and have worn it out.  I treasure it because it still has margin notes and clippings from my paternal grandmother inside.

Genetic diversity in our plants and especially in our food cannot be overstated.  It's absolutely critical that we reclaim and preserve the varieties which still exist.  In the last 80 years, we've lost approximately 93% of our vegetable varieties.  It's scary and sad, and luckily there are dedicated folks making an effort to protect our heritage.

I don't know anyone who can really look at this graphic and not be terrified.

Dr. Weaver continues the good fight.  This book is informative, engaging and vital.

Five stars, honestly off the scale in terms of accessibility, correctness, information and importance.

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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Father of Lies

The Father of Lies is a collection of short novels and novellas by K.J. Parker (a.k.a. Tom Holt). It's a brick of a book, well over 500 pages, and contains 12 pieces which run the gamut from first person revenge/love tales, to (mostly) straightforward mythology retellings, complete with the drama and infighting immortals get up to, and a couple of decent Faustian stories for good measure.

Most of the time when I'm reviewing collections and anthologies, I swear I'm going to savor them like a box of chocolates and wind up devouring the whole thing cover to cover.  That's not really the way to experience this book.  I enjoyed this book a lot more for having read a story at a time interspersed with other completely different genres and styles.

Picking out stories to highlight is difficult, they're consistently well written and the author has a deft hand and sure voice.

I honestly enjoyed all of the stories, but No Rest for the Wicked, The Things We Do for Love, and The Devil You Know were outstanding.  It's worth noting that all of the stories in this collection were previously published elsewhere, but it's nice having them conveniently accessible together.

There is no additional author background or introduction included with the book; the stories stand up quite well on their own merits.

Enjoyable, savor them over time.

Four stars (on average, trending toward a five, there are many flashes of brilliance here).

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

Song of a Captive Bird

Song of a Captive Bird is a fictionalized historical account based on the life of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad. Written by Jasmin Darkznik, released 13th February, 2018 by Random House Ballantine, it's 401 pages and available in all formats.
Though it is a fictionalized account, the author has clearly done exhaustive and meticulous research.  The narrative is seamless and engaged me from the beginning.   This was a really difficult book for me to read.  As a westerner growing up in the 70s-80s, I was never directly confronted by the overwhelming sexism and casual cruelty experienced as a daily part of life of women in Iran in the early part of the 20th century.

Forough was an outspoken poet and activist during a time and place when women simply weren't given the option to be anything other than wives and mothers.  Much of the narrative of this book centers on her childhood to young adulthood and her chafing anger at the harsh realities for women in pre-revolutionary Iran. I've read much of Farrokhzad's poetry after reading this book and it astounded me how razor sharp and strong and desperately sad much of it is even after 50+ years.

She was a fascinatingly complex, flawed, strong soul and Jasmin Darznik does credit to her life.  This is not a book I will forget in a hurry.

Five stars

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hopjoy Was Here

Hopjoy Was Here is the third in the Flaxborough Chronicles and another winner in Colin Watson's classic English crime procedural. Like the other books in the series, this entry sees Inspector Purbright on the hunt for a potential murderer. It's not immediately clear if there has been a murder, so Purbright & co. have to figure out what has happened and to whom.  The author's incredibly dry humor and sense for the absurd is spot on and this book is really funny albeit macabre (see cover for this edition) in places.

This re-release, out 22 March, 2018 from Farrago is 160 pages.  Originally published in 1962, this reformat and re-release is available in ebook and paperback formats.  The plot is convoluted (in a good way) and the humor is wry and subtly sharp.  For having been written over 50 years ago, it has aged very well and doesn't seem very dated at all in my opinion.

Colin Watson was a really masterful and precise writer who wrote very enjoyable humorous books.  This is one of them and well worth picking up.

Four stars, I liked it very much!

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

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is the first novel in a mystery series by author Mario Giordano. The titular character, Isolde Oberreider, aka Poldi, has retired from film/tv (where she was a costumer) to Sicily to drink, soak up sun, enjoy seeing attractive men in uniform and live out her twilight years whilst solving the occasional murder.

At 346 pages, it's a more substantial read than many contemporary procedurals or cozies. The length allowed the author to richly develop the setting and characters without suffering from book bloat at all.  The plotting was tight and the pacing was perfect and never dragged for me.

 Released 6th March, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.

This is a really charming book with very appealing and sympathetic characters written with humor and heart.  I really cared about the characters.  The narrator, Poldi's nephew, serves as Poldi's sounding board, along with three Italian aunties who serve as a Greek chorus for the narrative.
Originally released in German in 2015, the translation by John Brownjohn is seamless and nuanced and certainly doesn't seem to detract from story at all.
Poldi is smart and funny, quirky and outspoken and I adore her.  I'm really looking forward to future installments (foreshadowed on the last page, and already released in German and coming soon in translation). 

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

Rocks, Fossils, Minerals, and Gems

Rocks, Fossils, Minerals, and Gems is a nonfiction intro to mineralogy aimed at young readers (elementary - middle school).  Author Claudia Martin has written numerous books on nonfiction subjects for young readers previously.
Published by Quarto - QEB, due out 18 July, 2018, it's 80 pages and available in paperback format.

 The text is easy to follow and logically structured.  The pictures are curated from many sources; there is a comprehensive credits list at the end of the book.  Though the graphics are not original to this book, they do a good job of supporting and enriching the text.

This would make a good addition to a science library or classroom introductory unit on mineralogy for primary to early middle school readers.  It's appealingly colorful and easy to understand.  It must be understood that this is a very basic introduction to some of the terms and properties of minerals.  The science is sound and the book is factually correct (with a lot of trivia). The book includes a very short glossary and photography credits, but no bibliography or resources for further reading.

Three and a half stars.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Wabi-Sabi sewing

Wabi-Sabi Sewing is a new sewing/crafting book from Karen Lewis.  Due out 31st July 2018 from F+W Media, it's 128 pages and available in ebook and softbound formats.  The concept of wabi-sabi is deeply satisfying to me.  It's about making do, creating something from less-than-exactly-perfect materials and celebrating the innate imperfection in everything. 

The book follows a logical format.  The first chapters introduce concepts, techniques, materials and tools.  The next chapters are split into general groups:  Living, Eating, Exploring, and Sleeping.  Each of the broad categories includes five related projects.  The 'Living' chapters include a lovely paper pieced pillow, a Hawaiian quilted wall hanging, a quilted pouffe, a set of fabric coasters, and a pieced lap quilt. 

All of the projects in this book are suitable for keen beginners to more advanced sewists and all are appealing, in my opinion.  As I was reading the book, all of them were projects I could imagine myself making at some point.  The instructions are very clear and well written.  The piecing instructions are also clear and easy to follow.

The supplies listed at the beginning of each project are complete and include everything (even thread is listed).

All in all a very useful sewing book filled with appealing projects. 

The illustrations for each project are line drawn and easy to understand.  There are color photographs of the finished projects throughout the book, including at least one clear color photo of each project inside the project chapter (so no flipping back and forth trying to figure out what goes where).

All in all a really appealing, well written book. 

Five stars

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker is a new young reader book in the series Little People, Big Dreams.  Written by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Agathe Sorlet, it's due out 31st July from Quarto publishing Frances Lincoln imprint.  Aimed at younger readers, it's 32 pages, perfect for a storytime or classroom circle read.  It's available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The text is inset into full color page illustrations and each page illustrates the accompanying text.  The art is whimsical and simple (see cover) and very appealing.  I absolutely loved that it's factually based and realistic and doesn't shy away from the reasons for Ms. Baker's emigration from the US or her life and activities without devolving into stridency or preachiness.  The story is followed by a short biography with pictures of her life with ideas for further reading.

This is a perfectly charming little book.  I enjoyed it very much and appreciate that this series takes on serious subjects in an accessible and digestible format for young readers. 

Five stars for the format, subject matter, honesty, and charming presentation.

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

Love Letters to Jane's World

Love Letters to Jane's World is an anthology collection by Paige Braddock with an anticipated release date 21st August, 2018.  Published by Lion Forge, it's 304 pages of previously released material with new background info and commentary.  It's available in paperback and ebook formats.

I love the ensemble cast in Jane's World because they highlight the innate random absurdity of the universe (talking dogs, aliens, bigfoot (bigfeet?) glasses wearing crabs), whilst still remaining firmly human in their day-to-day travails (crap job, relationship problems, money issues).  I love the escapism and humor (and there's lots of both to be found here).  The book doesn't spend any page content getting new readers up to speed, so it's good to have a little background familiarity going in.

Underneath the random weird stuff, the cast seem to be (mostly) decent and kind.  There's no hidden agenda, they're just folks living their (slightly weird) lives.  Jane's something of an everyperson dork and she's really easy to like, even when she's being clueless and annoying.

I would strongly recommend not trying to compare this series to anything else.  I think a lot of reviewers have such strong preconceived ideas of What It Means To Be A Gay Comic that they sort of miss the point.  Jane & co. are people going about their lives, buying wine and groceries and going to work and don't HAVE (and shouldn't need to have) an agenda.  It's a mostly humorous comic book about life whose titular character happens to be gay.  Don't read it just for the gay.

I really enjoyed the book a lot.

Four stars.  

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Night Dragon

The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth is a beautifully illustrated story for young readers (4-7 years). Written by Naomi Howarth and published by Quarto - Frances Lincoln with an anticipated release date 7th August, 2018, it's 32 pages and available in hardback format.

This is a gently written fable with an uplifting and encouraging message.  The themes of friendship, teamwork, believing in oneself and encouragement are supported by the artist/author's exquisitely detailed whimsical art.

I adored this book.  This will make a really wonderful bedtime story or reading circle book for preschool to second grade.  The prose is sweet and simple.  Mouse is Maud the dragon's best friend, cheerleader and partner.

Five stars.  Just lovely!

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

Rock Art Handbook: Techniques and Projects for Painting, Coloring, and Transforming Stones

Rock Art Handbook by Samantha Sarles is an exuberant how-to DIY for turning found stones into small works of art.  Due out 13th August, 2018 from Fox Chapel Publishing, it's 160 pages and available in paperbound format. 

I already used 'exuberant', but it's the best descriptor for this book.  The photography is lovely and full color throughout.  The author writes in an easy to follow style and the book is simply packed with good tips and techniques.  The introduction does a good job of showing the available tools and necessary supplies.  She even describes what makes a rock easy or difficult to paint. Preparation and priming are covered in the intro chapter with more advanced techniques having the necessary additional steps included inside the individual project chapters.

The step by step tutorials are clear and easily followable with photographs and supporting text. The included techniques are broadly varied, from marbling to decoupage, painting with acrylic, puffy paint, markers, metallic pens and more. There's something for everyone.  I especially love the mandalas and zentangles.  

The author says something quite profound in her introduction also: 
Here's the best thing about creating art on rocks: rocks are not intimidating. There's something quite different about looking at a simple, natural rock compared with staring at an overwhelming blank canvas or piece of paper.

This is just a really fun (exuberant!) colorful do-able art book.  The final chapter includes  rock art with (and for) kids.  I really loved the story rocks.  What an awesome idea!

Five stars.  This book does what it aimed to do very well. Fun fun fun!

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

Cross Stitch Patterns From 1660 Vol. 1

Cross Stitch Patterns From 1660 Vol. 1 is the first of a 4 volume set of paperback reprints of Paul Fürst's 1660 Neue Modelbuch. There are a number of obsolete copyright free books which are being resurrected and presented to a new generation of artist/crafters.  That's undeniably a good thing.  All of these books (and there are a pile of them in addition to the four in this series) are facsimiles of the original archived books available on the internet (for free).

The books themselves are paperbound and pretty high quality.  The actual plates could definitely have been cleaned up and reprinted in a much clearer format than they are. They appear to be scans of an extant original text copy. They're readable, mostly. They each include 48 pages of illustrations, printed on both sides of the page.  Volume 1 is allover patterns (see cover). Volume 2 includes a few pages of allover (diaper) designs, but also has several pages of heraldic charts and a few charted bands which would be suitable for a sampler embroidery.  Volume 3 has some larger (page sized) floral designs along with a few heraldic shields. Volume 4 has fruits, florals and more  bands.

The reprinter/compiler (Angela M. Foster) makes an oblique reference to the original sourecebook on the back cover: " These designs were collected from a book titled, "New Model Book of Different Kind Vol. 1".  There is no further discussion of the original author (Paul Fürst) or publishing history (1660 Leiden(?) or Nurnberg) or original published title (Das neue modelbuch, von schonen nadereyen, ladengewürck, und paterleinsarbeit) at all.

These books would be a useful starting point for SCAdians, costumers, counted cross-stitch or other graphed type crafts (filet, crochet, netting, etc).

I am happy that they're available.  I don't begrudge the compiler the opportunity to make a living repackaging original works for a new generation, but I really don't like the omission of any historical context or credits.

Three and a half stars

Monday, July 2, 2018

Flotsam (Peridot Shift #1)

Flotsam is the first book in a new series (Peridot Shift) and the debut novel from new voice R. J. Theodore. This book had me at hello.  It promised everything in my ideal book checklist. Fantasy, touch of magic, aliens, steampunk, strong female characters with ensemble cast, pirates/junkers on a treasure hunt, some humor, good dialogue and plot driven narrative.

This was a solidly readable good book.  I really saw a cliffhanger coming for 300 pages but when I had read the last page, I immediately started jonesing for the next book in the series.

This is high fantasy with cool world building, well thought out races, alien tech (the wasp-aliens with carved exoskeletons made me squee out loud.  Ok, almost...but damn that was cool!), betrayal and survival and teamwork and...

It's a brick of a book, 535 pages, but doesn't suffer from book bloat in the slightest.  It's not slow, doesn't drag, and the author isn't so fond of their own voice that they can't bear to cut anything they've written (I'm lookin' at you, Stephen King).

Released 27 March, 2018 by Parvus Press, it's available in ebook, paperback and audiobook formats. Really well written. Looking forward to the sequels.

Four stars

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

Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot

Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot is a well written book about the history of the suffrage movement in the USA, along with interesting and enlightening commentary on how the movement affected (and was affected by) other social and political movements of the day, such as civil rights for people of color.

This book draws a thread throughout the narrative with a connected timeline.  It's almost incredible to think (and shiver over) how close the whole process came to failing at so many points.  The fact that it more or less came down to the vote of one young Tennessee representative (Harry T. Burn) at that critical point and a letter from his mother might have made the difference is crazy.

Author Winifred Conkling has extensive experience writing about nonfiction subjects for young adults.  Her writing style is no-nonsense and easy to read.  The book makes what could easily have been a very dry subject come alive with anecdotes and excerpts from extant letters and other documents.  The book is marketed to the YA market, and while I agree that it would be perfectly appropriate and readable to the average YA audience, it's also interesting for adults.  I learned quite a lot reading the book as well (and it's been a few decades since I was a young adult myself :) ).

The political climate in much of the world today is fraught.  Every time we look at the newspaper there's something new to shock and dismay us.  It's critically important for everyone to educate themselves about our political history because it's not just an old adage to say that if we don't understand the past, we're doomed to repeat it. 

Four stars, interesting and well worth a read.

320 pages, ebook, hardbound and audiobook formats.
Published February 13, 2018 by Algonquin Young Readers

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

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book: 80 Mouthwatering Plant-Based Recipes You'll Want to Wake Up For

The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book: 80 Mouthwatering Plant-Based Recipes You'll Want to Wake Up For is a new specialty cookbook aimed at people who want plant based food which is cruelty free.  It was originally published in German as Vegan Frühstücken Kann Jeder by NeunZehn Verlag in 2016.  Authors/bloggers/foodies Nadine Horn and Jörn Mayer teamed up with The Experiment publishing to produce this, their second book, due out 30 October, 2018.  Planned availability (which can change) is in ebook and paperbound formats.

The book is attractively photographed and progresses logically (so it's easy to find things).  There's an introduction with some definitions and tips (for example; use vegan ingredients, persons with special needs (celiac disease sufferers) should buy the 'correct' gluten free version of some ingredients, margarine should be vegan margarine, etc etc).  The book moves on to chapters showing the different classes of foodstuffs: Nuts, berries & seeds, Grains & cereals.  In the intro chapters, the authors have also stashed a lot of good and sound physiological advice about getting enough sleep, destressing (give the news a miss; read a book instead), drink enough water.

For a book about vegan food and cooking, the authors use roughly 12% of the page content discussing coffee and tea.  I do agree that tea and coffee are an important component of breakfast for many people, it just seemed odd to me to use so much of the book discussing the benefits/disadvantages of different types of coffee machines.

The book does include a wealth of recipes, many of which will find a welcome place in any vegan diet at other times of the day.  Most of the recipes are not really to be followed slavishly, but serve more as inspiration and guidance.  The recipe section of the book is set up in chapters by category: Smoothies, Breakfast to Go (bagels, wraps, burritos etc), One Bowl Wonders (porridges, fruit bowls, and more), Stovetop dishes (omelettes, pancakes), Sweeter Side (cupcakes, muffins), Weekend Brunch (more time consuming recipes to take your time preparing - quiche, pesto bread, etc).  Then another chapter on coffee and tea based drinks (!).  The recipe section wraps up with a nice chapter on breads, spreads, plant based sausages, granola and DIY nut milks.

There is a handy index and a short author bio.

It's an attractive book with a commendable message and the authors' writing style is engaging and positive.  The translation from the original language (German) is seamless and unobtrusive.

Four stars (would likely tip over toward 5 for readers who are especially crazy about coffee/tea).

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

Mushroom Cultivation: An Illustrated Guide to Growing Your Own Mushrooms at Home

There has been a renaissance the last few year in niche/specialty gardening books.  Mushroom Cultivation: An Illustrated Guide to Growing Your Own Mushrooms at Home is a very well written, scientifically sound, lavishly illustrated specialty guide to growing/processing/cooking many types of mushrooms aimed at the home gardener.

Released 8th May, 2018 from Quarto Publishing group's Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and softbound formats.

Author Tavis Lynch has arranged the book logically and writes in a clear, easy to follow manner.  After a short forward (by the editor in chief of FUNGI magazine) and introduction, the book defines and describes what fungi are (and aren't), illustrates the typical life cycle of a fungus, and gives a short intro on the tools and materials necessary for successful mushroom culture.

There are four main culture methods introduced in the first chapter (growing on logs, straw, sawdust/wood chips, and compost).  Each of the four is expanded thoroughly in its own chapter following the introduction.  There are specific recommendations for every culture method including which type of mushrooms suit each method, which woods and which climates are appropriate for each type of mushroom as well as tips and tricks and suggestions garnered over 30 years of foraging and growing experience.

The culture chapters are followed by a solid troubleshooting guide, processing guide and really useful recipes.  I haven't tested out the culture info one-on-one on my own property yet (my logs are resting and I am sourcing spawn at the moment), but the recipes have been tried here in my kitchen and pronounced a roaring success (from purchased 'shrooms) by my fungus eating family.  The pickled winecap recipe (p. 126) is simple and yields a sublime product.  Who knew mushrooms could be pickled?!

The book also includes a decent suppliers list (mostly but not totally) slanted toward North American growers, along with a good cross referenced index.

The full color photography is clear and supports and illustrates the text very well.  Every single page of the entire book contains photographs.  Definitely a useful book for the would-be mushroom farmer or keen gardener looking to expand their horizons.

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