Sunday, September 30, 2018

Metal Jewelry Workshop: Essential Tools, Easy-To-Learn Techniques, and 12 Projects for the Beginning Jewelry Artist

Metal Jewelry Workshop is a new tutorial instruction manual for aspiring metalsmiths by Helen I. Driggs. Due out 8th Oct, 2018 from Fox Chapel, it's 160 pages and available in paperback format.

This book is a nice beginning introduction to metalworking and presupposes no experience.  The author follows a logical progression, starting with an introduction to tools and materials.  One thing I really appreciated was how she grouped tools into an essential 'jeweler's dozen'. The introduction also includes a necessary and understandable discussion of safety and sensible precautions to prevent injury and ensure the best results.

The projects themselves are presented in series, with more complex items using concepts and techniques from earlier chapters. Although the projects are more 'artsy' and modern, the lessons presented include cold connections, chainwork, shaping, sawing, fabrication, work hardening and all the basic coldworking techniques one would expect from a more formal jewelry course.  The materials are inexpensive (copper, base metals) but the techniques are perfectly applicable to more precious metals and materials.  I especially liked the author's suggested uses for gallery wire and patterned sheet.

The book's final section includes more advanced cold techniques to expand the beginning artist's repertoire and the author gives some good advice about potential further exploration. There's a nice full color gallery along with a glossary, index and resource list (aimed at North Americans).  This book does not cover torchwork and none of the projects require a torch. The toolbox is very basic and easily acquired.

The last project in the book is a tabbed one-piece cabochon setting which is large enough to not frustrate newer metalworkers and detailed enough to give a nice finished wearable result.

The photography and illustrations are well done and support the instructions well.

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

Kawaii Doodle Cuties: Sketching Super-Cute Stuff from around the World

Kawaii Doodle Cuties: Sketching Super-Cute Stuff From Around the World is a new tutorial book from kawaii mistress Zainab Khan (a.k.a. Pic Candle). I've reviewed another doodle book by the same creator here, and this is more of the same.  Due out 6th Nov, 2018 from Quarto - Race Point publishing, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

This companion book fills out the previous book by including more country specific tutorials (see cover).  The format is the same as the previous book and is accessible and user-friendly. The tutorials have step-by-step illustrations which anyone can follow.

The book starts with a general tips&tricks introduction followed by chapters with food, nature (including mountains and volcanoes), architectures, animals+birds, transportation, fashion, and everyday objects.

One of the most brilliant aspects of this book (and of Ms. Khan's art) is in showing the would be doodler how to combine and build on simple elements to produce a deceptively simple cohesive piece of art which looks very complex.  There are whole collage drawings at the end of the book which are provided as search&find puzzles but which would also make superlative coloring pages as well as a good tutorial on planning full page illustrations.

I've been using doodling as an awareness/mindfulness exercise and it really does work.  These are cute and good fun.

This would make a really fun rainy day activity for younger kids to, well, adult age.  They're appealing and whimsical and sweet. 

Five stars

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

12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook

12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook is a reformat/re-release of a 2015 cookbook and manual featuring recipes from 12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville, NC. Due out 9th Oct, 2018, from Quarto Press - Voyager, this 2nd edition is 224 pages and available in hardcover format. (The 1st edition is available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats).

There has, happily, been a resurgence in the pride and culinary legitimacy of regional foods.  This book is all about history and roots.  I grew up in Appalachia and many of these foods speak to my childhood and extended family gatherings. They take the tried and true old fashioned southern recipes and run with them.  There are spice and flavor combinations my grandmother would not have tried (blueberry!?) but which nevertheless do work.

The book starts off with an introduction covering tools, a little bit of history, and moves into general cooking methods, searing, brining and a remarkably unpretentious discussion of wood vs. gas. 

The next sections (the 'meat' of the book *har har*) cover meats with beef + pork together and seafood + chicken. These 2 chapters include a stunning array of rubs, preparations, treatments and good advice. Supporting and filling out the meats selections is a gorgeous array of BBQ sauces.  There are, of course, the required standards ('jerk' sauce, Memphis sauce, honey-chipotle) side by side with really eye popping originals (honey-cherry, blueberry-chipotle, penny cup coffee rub).

This is a full dinner cookbook and the remaining sections provide a snazzy array of sides and complementary dishes. Veggies, salads and pickles get their own chapter, followed by a chapter on sides (cornbread! <3).  The final chapter includes a lot of homemade southern delights. Pecan pie and key lime pie get pride of place, but there are also some innovative desserts which complement the BBQ star attractions. 

The book has a really specific and useful table of contents along with a good index at the end. 

Though the book is slanted toward the North American cook, I've been living in Norway for years and had no trouble gathering the ingredients for the recipes I tried. 

The photography is good with well presented appealingly styled food which is appetizing and completely unpretentious.

Five stars.  Really well done.  I did not do a side by side comparison with the 1st edition, so I can't speak to which of the recipes are original to this version.

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

Queenspotting: Into the Heart of the Hive in Search of the Mysterious and Fascinating Queen Bee

Queenspotting is a new beekeeping book by Hilary Kearney.  Due out in April, 2019 from Storey publishing, it's 128 pages and will be available in ebook and hardcover formats.

This is not, strictly speaking, a how-to book.  It's full of anecdotes and warm personal experiences from the author's background as a beekeeper and swarm relocator. It's also absolutely bursting with amazing high quality macro photography of bees going about their bee business.  Some of the photographs illustrate the text and show little-known facets of daily life ('pollen pants' made me giggle out loud).  Many other full double page photos are a sort of bee 'Where's Waldo' and the point is to pick out the queen amongst the workers.  Some of the pics are very easy with the queen in full view in all her splendor, front and centre.  Others are are definitely not (and a few are a bit tricksy, with drone(s) drawing the eye immediately and the queen almost hidden out of view).

The natural science and behavior parts of the book are well written and scientifically accurate.  Where a behavior has little scientific explanation, the author states that very clearly.  Several times whilst reading the book, I found myself wistfully thinking about how much research still needs to be done and wishing I could further the research myself in some way (I'm a bioengineer working in histopathology, not an entomologist, but it was a close race). Ms. Kearney's genuine affection and respect for the natural world come through clearly in her writing.  There were a very few places in the text which might have shaded a bit into anthropomorphism, but they added to the general appeal of the book, in my opinion  It is folksy and absolutely not dry or technical and for me, that made it better and more accessible in a way.  There are a million and one solid technical manuals aimed at the apiarist, and this is not one of them.  It fills a different (and necessary) niche.

I would definitely recommend this both to bee interested folks, beekeepers, natural history/farming fans, dedicated natural gardeners, families with kids who love 'Where's Waldo' and anyone who likes natural history philosophy.  This book would also make a nice support reference for a classroom unit on insects or beekeeping.

Five stars, another winner from Storey!

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

The Murder at Redmire Hall (Yorkshire Murder Mysteries, #3)

The Murder at Redmire Hall is the 3rd book in the Yorkshire murder mystery series by J. R. Ellis featuring DCI Jim Oldroyd. Released 13th September by Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer, it's 300 pages and available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats.

There is impressive writing continuity between this and the previous books in the series. They're all solidly readable and engaging books.  This book explores some golden age tropes such as locked door murder mysteries, stately home murder with a seething dysfunctional family and class resentments aplenty.  Though it's the third book with several recurring characters, it would be perfectly fine as a standalone.

I do feel that the author took too many liberties with the golden age amateur sleuth techniques (Poirot), up to and including a denouement with everyone gathered together in a room for the murder reveal.  It was intentional (including Poirot references written into the book itself), but it seemed a trifle over the top, given that DCI Oldroyd is not an amateur and the setting isn't the interwar period. It just came across as unnecessarily clunky. The mash-up of ALL the Christie plot devices was cheeky, but I think it worked in this particular case.

That being said, it's a very enjoyable read and although Oldroyd's personal life is something of a downer, he's an appealing character and the book is very well written, and I am looking forward to the next book(s).

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the writing.  Definitely a worthy read for classic procedural mysteries with a touch of the golden age.

Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription.

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends

Counting Birds is a new non-fiction title by Heidi Stemple. Due out 2nd Oct, 2018, it's 32 pages and available in hardcover.  Aimed at younger readers (ages 6-8ish), it would make a really nice read along for younger children as well. 

Beautifully illustrated by Clover Robin, the artwork is mixed media painted collage and does a lovely job of enhancing the text.  The book is based around the life and early bird counts started by Frank Chapman which grew into the Audubon Christmas bird count.

It's so important to include young people in learning about our world and wise stewardship of our environment.  This book would make really good support material for a classroom unit on conservation and birding.

It's a really worthwhile and appealing book.  I loved the detail in the drawings. 

Five stars.

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

Miss Seeton Flies High (Miss Seeton #23)

 Miss Seeton Flies High is the 23rd Miss Seeton book (and the 15th by Hamilton Crane, by my count). Published April 19th by Farrago, it's 272 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

The Miss Seeton books are 'comfort' reading.  You pretty much know exactly what you're in for when you read one.  They're the coziest of cozies.  The titular character is gently bred, timeless, unchanging, sweetly naive, and tuned in to some subtle cosmic wavelength which allows her to collaborate with the constabulary to solve crimes.  The murders are (relatively) bloodless, the language is perfectly innocent, the plots are lightly humorous without being sarcastic.

In general, the series is well crafted and the plotting and dialogue are well done.  This particular book was a trifle scattered in places, but tied everything together in the end.   I love love love Miss Seeton and have been enjoying the series since sometime in the late 1970s.

I highly recommend the books (and this book specifically) for fans of cozies and elderly female gentlewoman sleuths. 

Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription. 

Four stars, really enjoyed this one a lot.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Quartet Murders

The second book in the Yorkshire Murder Mystery series by J.R.Ellis. Available in ebook, paperback and audiobook formats.

Interesting and well written,  but predicated on a seriously hackneyed and against-the-rules plot device.  Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  Would I recommend it?  Yes.   With a caveat.  Expect major eye rolling at the denouement.

Worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers; this title is available for KU.

Origami 101: Master Basic Skills and Techniques Easily through Step-by-Step Instruction

Origami 101 is a new release in the 101: Look, Learn & Create series.  Released 21st Aug, 2018 by Quarry Books, it's 224 pages and available in ebook, hardback, paperback and spiral bound formats. This release is a reformat and re-release of the 2011 version which is updated with new content.

Author Benjamin John Coleman has written several books on origami.  This one is aimed at complete beginners and starts with an introduction to concepts, some definitions and supplies.  The text and accompanying illustrations are encouraging, clear, and easy to follow. Nothing to frighten or intimidate.

The book includes both photographs and line drawings.  The projects introduce new folds in a tutorial step-by-step format and further projects incorporate already learned material along with new folds.

The book includes some -very- simple projects and some imagination may be needed to actually visualize the stated designs as what they're named.  The Loon for example, without the specially colored paper, wouldn't be recognizable.  Ditto the tropical fish and parakeet.  However, there are some simple beginner folds which are elegant and beautiful (the sitting dragon is wonderful).  I believe that all of the projects are original.

Origami is a wonderful mindfulness exercise as well as a worthy art. Crafting these as a classroom activity unit would be do-able.

I received an early access e-galley of this book.  Apparently the full version comes with paper and online access to video clips and further support materials.

Four stars, original origami designs well presented.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Paris by the Book

Paris By The Book is a literary novel by Liam Callanan. Released 3rd April, 2018 by Penguin Books - Dutton imprint, it's 368 pages and available in ebook, hardback, paperback and audiobook formats.

My first impressions were favorable honestly.  The author has a very lyrical voice.  The book is well crafted and the dialogue is smooth and never clunky.  My problems with this book were that it unsettled me that I never quite figured out what the author's purpose was in presenting it.  There were mystery elements, a few humorous ones, straight literary narrative... but nothing that really allowed me to become comfortable with the plot or understand what was really happening.  For a long while I thought it was going to be an unreliable narrator type thing where she was hallucinating or that Robert had actually died and she was just not coping (that would've been interesting, but possibly more difficult to write).  I didn't understand the motivations of pretty much any of the characters throughout the book.  They felt like marionettes, sort of inserted into the scenery and jerked around by some VERY capricious offstage presence.

The actual story arc was full of unbelievable coincidences which just piled on top of one another from the very beginning.  My suspension of disbelief was completely and irretrievably shattered by about page 12.

At the end of the day, the fact that someone (Robert) who professes to love and cherish their family (Leah + 2 daughters) could absolutely upend their lives with the worst imaginable trauma and keep doing it beyond the first time is unforgivable.  It doesn't matter whether or not they cope or grow or progress or anything, he's a colossal jerk of biblical proportions.

It would be a stretch to say I hated this book.  I certainly didn't enjoy it. 

It -is- well crafted and well written (which added another star to my personal evaluation). In fact, the author is talented enough that I would like to read more of his work. I'm 99% sure there'll be a movie coming out sometime soon.  I think it could work better as a film script, honestly.

Two and a half stars.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The English Wife

The English Wife is a standalone historical mystery/romance from Lauren Willig.  Released 9th Jan, 2018 by St. Martin's/Macmillan, it's 376 pages and available in ebook, hardback, paperback and audiobook formats.

I'm generally a huge fan of historical mysteries; especially ones set in the late 19th century (Gilded Age/Victorian).  Unfortunately this story never really felt convincingly as if the setting (and characters) were more than pasted in. I never connected with the characters and (as other reviewers have noted), I had a great deal of trouble keeping them straight in my mind.  The plot was convoluted and odd, I can't figure out why it never gelled for me.  I found myself plodding through the book, though I did finish it.  I don't review books for which I'm guilty of skimming (or cheating and reading ahead). The story developed very very slowly.  I never felt much (any) dramatic tension.  It's a shame because the author is a talented writer.  It just wasn't for me.

The dialogue was (to my ear) often stilted and awkward, and not in a formal 'polite society' manner. It also felt to me that the author couldn't decide whether to write a mystery or a romance and wound up doing neither justice.

I would, with some mild hesitation, recommend this book to previous fans of the author or possibly historical romance fans.  The ending was satisfying in a some ways, but mostly had me rolling my eyes and internally thinking, "really?! Almost 400 pages for that"?!

Two and a half stars, rounded up because the author really is talented, I think.

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

The Philosopher's Flight

The Philosopher's Flight is the debut novel from ER doctor, writer of travel guides, English instructor and renaissance man Tom Miller.  Released 13th Feb, 2018 by Simon & Schuster, it's 422 pages and available in ebook, hardcover, paperback and audiobook formats.

I received my copy of this book last January, I'm ashamed to say.  Winter season and early Spring are busy times for me at the hospital lab and in my reading pile, and I didn't get a chance to start it until this past week (we're in September).  I devoured it in two sittings.  I was enchanted from the first page.  I literally missed my bus stop reading.  That's only happened a couple of times previously.

This book does not read like a debut.  There is absolutely no floundering.  The voice is strong and sure and the writing is sublimely good.  The dialogue is really well done with deftness and subtlety.  The characters are fleshed out and interesting and I cannot wait to see what happens next.  I really loved the alternate WWI setting, the magic system, the cohesiveness of the world building, and the pacing.  The story arc progresses in a believable arc with logical character motivations.  I never once internally questioned why any of the characters did the things they did. Suspension of disbelief is a precious thing and the author never abused my trust.

The book is based on some actual historical characters and occurrences.  Fleshing out the framework of real history is a skillfully woven skin of fantasy.  It's not always possible to tell where one ends and the other begins. This gives the entire story, despite being a fantasy, a sense of realism which is amazing and a joy to read.

I don't care if Dr. Miller is a doctor (well done, you!), he's a writer with a prodigious gift for storytelling.

I recommended this book highly to colleagues and friends even before I was finished with it.  I recommend it now to everyone.  Wonderful writing, superlative book.

Five stars.  Can't wait to read the next book.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Doughnuts: 90 Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home

 Doughnuts: 90 Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home is a new tutorial cookbook by Lara Ferroni for creating an endless variety of lovely doughnuts. Due out 25th Sept, 2018 from Sasquatch Books, it's 208 pages and available in ebook, hardback and paperback formats.

I'm a complete fanatic for baked goods.  I'm not totally crazy for most types of pie, but otherwise, if it's bready, sweet, baked, fried, or cakey, then heck yeah! Doughnuts are one of my favorites and I never really thought they would be practical to make at home.  There is some work involved, but it's not insurmountable and lately I've found myself willing to put in more effort in the kitchen, especially on weekends.

The book is arranged in a logical manner with an introduction and a short discussion of ingredients.  There are some good suggestions about different flours and sugars and how they can behave differently from one another in the recipes. The first section after the introductory chapter is all about different doughs.  There are a bunch of different textures and ingredients including gluten free and vegan friendly dough recipes.

The second section includes 15 different recipes for glazes and toppings.  By mixing and matching doughnut type with toppings, there are a staggering number of combinations. Definitely enough to keep an enthusiastic doughnutter going for ages.

The third section has specific recipes for specific baked and fried goods such as pineapple fritters, apple-cheddar fritters, cream and fruit filled doughnuts and many (many) more. One thing I also liked about this collection was that it includes several recipes which combine sweet and savory.  I fully intend to make the chicken and doughnuts and bacon maple bars as soon as possible.

The recipes I've tried from this book are really wonderful. The apple-cheddar fritters were moist inside and crunchy outside and 100% delicious.  They were wonderful. The churros were eaten so enthusiastically and disappeared quickly.  My family have asked for them constantly since then.  Cleanup was a small issue, but honestly it didn't take much longer than cleaning up after a regular weekend breakfast/brunch.

The last section of the book includes a resource list and a recipe index.

The photography is clear and full color and illustrates the recipes well.

Four and a half stars.  Lovely book, well executed.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Starting & Saving Seeds: Grow the Perfect Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Flowers for Your Garden

Starting & Saving Seeds is a new gardening tutorial with herbal by Julie Thompson-Adolf.  Due out 2nd Oct, 2018 from Quarto - Cool Springs Press, it's 160 pages and will be available in ebook and hardcover formats.

I was struck straightaway by the author's enthusiastic and upbeat writing style.  She has a very positive, encouraging voice.  Her passion for gardening comes through very clearly and reading about her reactions to the winter seed catalogs' arrival made me smile.  We're all like little kids with huge dreams when the seed catalogs hit.

This book is accessible for beginners as well as having value for more experienced gardeners who want to expand their gardening repertoire to include heirloom varieties or types of plants which are ignored or neglected by the big box stores.  Additionally, trading seeds with gardening friends and family builds up connections which add another layer of connection to our network.  I have varieties in my garden which are literally descendants of plants my family grew afnd saved seeds from for hundreds of years.  Even though my grandmother sadly passed on, decades ago, I still think of her every time I see the perennials I grew from seeds she gave me.

The book is arranged in two basic sections.  The first section, ~25% of the content, covers introductory concepts, what seeds are, how they're created, what their differences and similarities are and how to start them and nurture them into strong seedlings.  The success or failure of a garden can well be decided on the strength and vitality of the seeds and seedlings at the very beginning of the season.

The second section of the book is a general herbal covering the basics.  I was interested to see a lot of vegetables and flowers were included which I would almost never consider growing from seed (asparagus and lavender for example). She does mention the virtue of patience waiting for long-term projects such as asparagus and certainly when considered against the prospect of a 30 year productivity span, waiting 3 years for asparagus from seed seems to be reasonable. 

The book does provide a very basic introduction to identifying, saving, and processing seeds from different plants successfully.  I remember some years ago, I was involved with a seed trading round robin and there were always some well meaning gardening friends who struggled with identifying exactly -where- the seeds were and -how- to clean them so they could be saved and used.  This book would've been handy for avoiding the commonest mistakes.

The photography is lovely and supports and expands the text well.  I would have liked to have seen more specific examples of mature seed pods for different plants to show where they can be separated and stored.  Things such as Buddleia, Lobelia, and Alcea can be tricky for some gardeners to collect seeds from. 

All in all a useful and appealing book. 

Four stars.

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

China Blue (Dudley Sisters Saga #3)

China Blue is the third of a series of books based around the fictive Dudley family during WWII and the interwar period immediately following.  China Blue follows the wartime efforts of Claire Dudley, a gifted linguist who joins the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and accepts a posting with special operations to work in France helping the resistance.

The research and sense of period are very well done.  It felt as though the author had definitely expended the effort to do the background research necessary to capture the time period.  There was not a lot of dramatic tension building, the plot moves along at a somewhat sedate pace.  As such, it was a relaxing and enjoyable read for me.  There were some patches of slightly stilted dialogue which yanked me out of the story, but overall it was a fine read.  The language is very clean and there's nothing to remotely offend most readers.

This book does manage to capture the dichotomy of the war, stress and deprivation side by side with dancing and flirting now because the future is in no way guaranteed.

I read China Blue as a standalone novel and had no trouble keeping track of the characters.

Possibly worth noting: The entire series is available for download for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Released 7th May, 2015 by Madalyn Morgan, it's 262 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

Three and a half stars.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Crochet 101: Master Basic Skills and Techniques Easily through Step-by-Step Instruction

Crochet 101 is a new tutorial book in the Look, Learn & Create series by Deborah Burger and Dee Stanziano. Released 1st sept, 2018 by Quarry Books, it's 192 pages and available in ebook, paperback and spiral bound formats.  Purchase of the book gives access to online tutorials and additional content, which is a neat additional support for the beginning crocheter.

I'm a lifelong fan of fibre arts and crafts.  For people who aren't so lucky as to have a handy family teacher or friend nearby, well written tutorial books can be a great substitute. This book is clearly written in accessible and non-confusing language with clear illustrative photos.  It presupposes zero familiarity with crocheting and starts with the basics. 

The introduction provides a visual and written description of tools and materials. There's an included gauge chart and photographs of different (well defined) types of yarn.  Vocabulary terms are well presented in sidebars which are tied to the pages or projects they're referring to, to minimize confusion.

The instruction part of the book begins by showing how to hold the hook and yarn, and refreshingly says 'there is no absolute correct way', do what feels most natural. There are also useful sidebars with troubleshooting advice and tips scattered throughout the book. The very beginning technique and glossary sections cover roughly 10% of the page content. and are followed by some really clever and appropriate project tutorials.  The chainstitched scarf project really made me grin.  I'm a long way away from being a beginner, but I am going to make a few of them for myself or for gift giving.

The next section combines several techniques into slightly more advanced projects (hats with crochet flower embellishments, patterned projects, combined stitches, etc).  These projects are also well within the realm of possibility for a keen beginner.

The next section provides an overview of higher gauge work including threadwork doilies, filet crochet and an intro to Tunisian crochet.

With any solo-learner tutorial it's vitally important that the book be as error free and clearly written (and photographed) as humanly possible to avoid overwhelming frustration for the reader.  I would have no trepidation giving this book to a complete beginner. 

I am also impressed that more advanced crocheters will find appealing projects which are useful and beautiful.  I really liked the felted mug coasters as well as many of the other projects.

Five stars, unreservedly recommended.

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

The Confectioner's Guild (The Confectioner Chronicles #1)

The Confectioner's Guild is the first book in a new YA/NA series by Claire Luana.  It combines elements of fantasy and cozy mystery with an interesting take on world building and a magic system which is catchy and original.

The story moves along pretty quickly and main character Wren finds herself whisked out of her more or less dead-end job as an apprentice to appear before the guildmaster who tells her she's *very* special and then expires horribly at her feet, poisoned by Wren's own cupcakes.

It's a quick read and moves along at a good clip;  few readers will be bored or find the narrative moving too slowly. Despite the length (395 pages) it reads very quickly.  I finished it in one sitting.  It feels like a book aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum, with the codicil that there -are- sexual situations (not explicit) as well as some very slight language - a few "asses" and "damns" nothing really objectionable and most 12 year olds have a lot more mature vocabulary than that.

It's due to be released 23rd Oct, 2018, and is available in ebook and paperback formats.  Possibly worth noting, this book and the prequel are available as Kindle Unlimited selections for subscribers.

I enjoyed it and will give future installments a read.

Four stars.

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

A Year of Embroidery: A Month-To-Month Collection of Motifs for Seasonal Stitching

A Year of Embroidery is a new pictorial embroidery primer by Yumiko Higuchi. Released 4th Sept, 2018 by Roost books, it's a concise 88 pages, full color, and available in paperback format.

It's nice to see surface embroidery coming back into its own.  It seemed for years that almost all of the new tutorial books were aimed at counted cross stitch or quilting.  This book is laid out in a calendar format with different project sections gathered into months/seasons. There are 3 projects per 'month' with some months having an alternative colorway of one of the projects.

The projects themselves are mostly line drawings with filling stitches.  Some are quite structural and border on stumpwork.  They're all appealing and would be ideal for decor or clothing applications.  The book is peppered with photographs for inspiration for finishing the projects. 

There is a very short technique chapter between the monthly project sections and the line drawings of the patterns. This chapter also includes a few tips (how to carry thread, finishing techniques, etc) which can be utilized to make the projects easier and better.

The photography is very clear.  With the diagrams, the projects should be comfortable for a keen beginner.

The line drawings of the patterns also include recommended stitch fillers.

Lovely and useful addition to the embroiderer's library.  I am going to incorporate some of the line drawn motifs in the freehand areas of my next counted thread sampler.

Five stars

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Weaving on a Little Loom

Weaving on a Little Loom is a new tutorial weaving book from Fiona Daly. Due out 18th September 2018, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format.  It's produced by Princeton Architectural Press.  

One thing which struck me right away about this book is that it's written in a reassuringly friendly manner.  There's a real 'you can do it' vibe.  This is a complete beginner's book and as such, there's a lot of emphasis on making do, simplicity of tools and not much initial cash outlay.  There's a tutorial for making a cardboard lap loom which will function fairly well for intro projects.

There are a certain number of unavoidable technical terms, but they seem to be introduced slowly and well. There's also a good beginner's glossary at the back and a usable index.

The book is logically structured. The first 18% is given over to an introduction and history of weaving, fibres, tools and warping. The next 40% covers different weaves and some finishing techniques.  Surprisingly, the weaving patterns are not just plain weave and twill, but also include basketweave, herringbone, birdseye and more.  The final third of the book is given over to specific project tutorials.

One of the projects is (of course) the ubiquitous placemat, but in this case it serves as a type of sampler, giving a visual record of several different weaves introduced in earlier chapters.

I found the book more appealing and accessible than the usual (dry!) intro weaving manual.  It's clear and well written enough that I could also see using it in a classroom setting for younger weavers (middle school+), in a senior center or other classroom setting.

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

The Book of Peril (The Last Oracle #2)

The Book of Peril is the second book in the Last Oracle series by Melissa McShane. Released 3rd July, 2018 by Curiosity Quills Press, it's 231 pages and available in ebook format.

This is an urban fantasy cozy mystery. In my estimation it's mostly aimed at a YA/NA audience, though I found it appealing and well written despite being neither young or new at being an adult (some of my friends and family would likely argue I'm not much of an adult, full stop). The world building is cohesive and well written with a well thought out magical system based on schools/philosophies of magic: glass, bone, stone, paper, etc. Whilst the specific magi can perform magic based on their specialty, all magi can perform some basic tasks in common.

There's a cross-world fantasy aspect of the series which will resonate with readers who like the 'mundane person thrust into a magical world hidden in the real world' trope.  Helena is smart and responsible and vulnerable. 

The book does contain a description of a graphic assault and a fair amount of blood and gore, if that's a deal breaker.  (I'm notoriously squeamish especially about violence with injury and I didn't find it too objectionable or gratuitous).

There is an unusual amount of continuity and assumed familiarity in this second installment.  I recommend reading the books in order. 

My one gripe is at the very end.  In order to ratchet up the tension, the literal last page of the book has a tear-jerk moment which will have readers who love romantic draaaaaamaaaaa *swooning* (but which I mostly just found annoying).

Four stars (and not just because the coda after the denouement was annoying).

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Blue Murder (Flaxborough Chronicles #10)

Blue Murder is the 10th Flaxborough mystery by Colin Watson.  Originally published in 1979, the Flaxborough books are being reformatted and re-released by Farrago press so they can be rediscovered and enjoyed by mystery lovers.

These books are extremely dry and the plots are somewhat convoluted and ridiculous.  They are on the whole really wickedly funny and extremely well crafted. They're a combination of murder mystery and a seriously acerbic lampooning of post WWII village life. 

I have heard that Shakespeare had the somewhat enviable ability to actually think and write in iambic pentameter.  Well, Colin Watson had an innate and unerring ear for the acidic and wry double-entendre. 

There were moments in this book when I found myself yanked out of the story because I had to re-read what the author had said to make sure I understood what he meant.  If the modern reader just skims over the story without putting in a little effort to actually dissect the clever writing, they won't appreciate more than 50-60%.  A great deal of the meaning isn't directly on display.  In that sense also, this book is quintessentially British.  I suspect most modern American readers will have to put in a little extra effort to really enjoy and appreciate these books.

The series was written and set in 60s-70s England and as such they can appear somewhat nostalgic and quaint. 

This book in particular seemed to me a little less accessible. I had to work a little harder to really appreciate the jokes.  The plot was the tiniest bit plodding in places and instead of just devouring the book in one sitting, I had to read it in several sessions; I found my interest waning occasionally.  I think most readers who prefer their reading to be easily digested and completely on the surface will probably be annoyed by Colin Watson.  For those discerning readers who don't mind working for their enjoyment, they'll be richly rewarded for their efforts.

I really did enjoy this book and look forward to enjoying the rest of the series.  They absolutely do not make them like this anymore.  Watson's command of English was spectacular.  He reminds me somewhat of Maugham, if Maugham had the naughty sense of humor of a 12 year old schoolboy.

Four stars.

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


Wildwood, written by Elinor Florence, really pulled me in from the beginning.  Published by Dundurn and released on 24th Feb, 2018 it's 328 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

I review a lot more books in the mystery/crime and fantasy/SF genres than general narrative fiction (I am not taken with the label 'womens' fiction), so I had some trepidation about this book.  I engaged with single mother Molly right from the start.  Her desperation and stress over her situation were palpable. Suddenly unemployed without a safety net and with a dependent special needs 4 year old, she's mostly out of options when she gets the chance to upend and reboot her life completely.  She and Bridget (her daughter) were so sympathetic and so well written that I connected with the story right away and found myself rooting for them unreservedly.

The sense of place is palpable in this book.  In some ways, the setting is the main character because Molly spends so much of her time and herculean efforts reacting to and dealing with the brutal climate.  Much of the dramatic tension in the book comes from the danger provided by environment in remotest Northern Canada.

I liked that there was a gentle byplay in the parallel story lines provided by alternating Molly's present with her aunt's journal entries from the past.  The book felt really well researched and realistic.  I also enjoyed the subplot elements around Wynona and by extension, her First Nation community.

I really appreciated the fact that Molly's evolution as a person and the unintended anxiety relief on her daughter's mental health was presented without being sappy, strident or preachy.  Molly's anxiety and stress and its effect on Bridget were never overtly addressed and that finesse was a really nice touch.

I also liked the fact that the romance element took a backseat to Molly's growth as a person.  Some elements are foreshadowed heavily but they didn't detract or overshadow.

In more general comments, the language is very clean and there's nothing to offend. (There is one 'shite' in the book, but it's not gratuitous). This would make a really great book club selection or classroom read for older students.  In fact there are discussion questions included at the end of the book.

Trigger warning: Self harm

Lovely book, well written.  It's a standalone.

Four and a half stars.

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

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place is the 9th Flavia de Luce novel by Alan Bradley. I don't think that Flavia is really an acquired taste, though I seem to be more delighted by each addition to the series.  Flavia is wickedly wryly funny (and clever) and Bradley is a gifted author.  She and her dogsbody/batman, appropriately named Dogger are a force to be reckoned with and outmaneuver, outflank and outwit all comers. 

I wouldn't recommend this book as a standalone.  I do think that all the necessary background info is provided for doing so, but there are a number of spoilers/plot twists from previous entries which are referred to in this book.  Much more fun to find a rainy fall weekend and binge read the whole series.

For readers who are unfamiliar with Flavia, she's not your average adolescent. She's self contained and prodigiously interested in chemistry and crime.  Dogger does the heavy lifting.

I don't often laugh out loud at books, but I have done so with every single one of the Flavia books.

I have recommended these books to my circle of crime-reading friends and the verdicts seem to be almost evenly split between 'wonderful' and 'no, thanks'.  Definitely worth a try if you appreciate very well crafted mysteries with a touch of the absurd and/or slightly gallows humor.

Release date: 30 Jan 2018.
384 pages, available in hardback, paperback, audio and ebook formats.

Five stars in my appreciative estimation. Long may she reign!

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

A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America

A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America  is a well researched and annotated account of the multiple failure of the criminal justice system in the USA painted across the larger context of toxic masculinity, sexism and racism.  Written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, it's 304 pages and available in hardbound, paperback, ebook, and audio versions.  Published by Crown Publishing, it was released 6th Feb, 2018.

Both T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong are award winning journalists and experienced authors and educators and they bring meticulous research and clarity in writing to bear.  Make no mistake, this book is a difficult read. The subject matter is uncomfortable and I found myself putting the book down fairly often because I was angered, disgusted, and enraged in about equal measure. 

I never considered myself a particularly naive person.  I work in the healthcare sector, and even though I don't have direct patient contact, I'm not shielded from the reality of the horrific ways humans can inflict suffering on one another.  This book goes beyond the pathology and calculated planned horror of a serial rapist to an examination of the fallout from the utter failure of the safety net which is supposed to protect victims in the aftermath of a crime.

Pretty much everything about this book upset me.  I am appalled that the machinery of investigation and punishment was brought to bear on the victims of a serial rapist.  I almost can't imagine anything worse than not being believed and trusted by those around me.  When that callous disregard is turned on people without the same safety net and support, it is really awful.

This book has stark and horrifying relevance to today's headlines.  When there's blowback from the #MeToo movement and people deride others for the strength to speak out, it points to a much larger underlying problem. 

I sometimes despair for humanity.  When politicians can joke about sexual assault, and they do every day, and whine about the unfairness of a serial assaulter suffering professional repercussions when he's exposed for the crimes he perpetrated on his former wives, it's not ok.  

This book made me angry. It's also an important book.  I sincerely hope that we can create a dialogue about rape which leads to real change in the process.

Four stars, very well written and VERY uncomfortable.  Obvious trigger warnings apply.

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

The Fairies of Sadieville

The Fairies of Sadieville is the 6th and final novel of the Tufa series by Alex Bledsoe. Published 10th April, 2018 by Tor Books, it's 368 pages and available in ebook, hardback and audiobook formats.

I had read some of the stories and other shorter fiction by the author, but hadn't read any of the Tufa books since the first one.  The author's writing is exceptional and lyrical. Comparisons to Faulkner aren't amiss.

I've always been a huge fan of folklore and especially Appalachian folklore and music (I grew up in WV and my own family are mostly Irish and Scots). This book pushed all my buttons.  It's liberally laced and richly interspersed with music and poetry and lyrics mined out of a rich vein of folklore. 

I'm generally not too much of a fan of the plot device of alternate storylines; they generally detract instead of really building.  If the author is careful to make the jumps clear enough, it's very difficult to make the jumps seamless enough to actually move the plot along in the parallel stories.  Bledsoe manages, and very well. This is a story inside a story inside a story and the jumps are engineered very well.

The melancholy and dark feel of this book added to the overall longing and tension.  It was deftly done.  The quality of this book has inspired me to go read the earlier books.  I have a huge enough pile of books to be read (TBR mountain, quips my family), that my being inspired to go back and read or re-read a series happens very very rarely.  Well played, Mr. Bledsoe, well played.

Four and a half stars, rounded up for exceptionally masterful plotting and writing.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Basic Welding for Farm and Ranch

Basic Welding for Farm and Ranch is a reference and tutorial book for different DIY-able home welding aimed at toolmaking, repair and fabrication.  Author William Galvery is an expert with decades of experience in welding and welding instruction.  Resource and living publishers Storey have set a tentative release date of 2nd April 2019.  The book is 256 pages and will be  available in paperback and ebook formats.

One thing that struck me right away is that this is a basic no-frills instruction manual.  It's a very practical book, not an extremely pretty book.  The photography is clear and good, but the shots are not set up with 'frills' and there's little unnecessary consideration for composition. 

The book is laid out in a very logical and step by step manner.  The first chapter introduces the concepts, the second defines and builds on the first with a discussion of general tools, materials and safety.  The next 4 chapters discuss specific types of welding (Oxyacetaline welding and cutting,  arcwelding and MIG welding). Brazing and soldering get their own chapter. The penultimate chapter expands on the previous with a discussion of applicability of welding; what can be accomplished and a discussion of specific tasks and some methods of attacking those problems.

The how-to chapters are followed by a decent glossary and index.

I like that this book has a more homestead/farm/DIY focus.  Most welding books are definitely aimed at industrial applications and seem to be more intimidating.  This book has a subtle but pervasive 'you CAN do it' vibe.  There is enough technical and safety information including specs on different metals, temps, etc to safely complete tasks, but not so much that it overwhelms the average DIYer.  This is NOT an absolute beginner's book.  This book does presuppose some DIY experience especially in the context of homesteading/rural living. 

Another thing that I like about this book is that it provides specific task related mini-tutorials.  These progress throughout the book from the very easy (tack welding a broken rake) to the very complex (welding large cast metal pieces which are curved).  The tutorials build upon one another and provide the reader with a good skill set to correctly interpret and solve likely problems on the farm.

It's a good book for the homesteading library or keen DIYer.  The text and writing style are succinct and no-nonsense.

Four stars, a good addition.

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Skeleton Makes a Friend (Family Skeleton Mystery #5)

 The Skeleton Makes a Friend is the 5th book in the Family Skeleton series by Leigh Perry. It's due out 6th Nov, 2018 from Diversion Books and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

I'm a huge fan of paranormal cozies and this series just keeps getting better.  There is a large chunk of necessary suspension of disbelief going in; the main character Georgia has a best friend who's a walking talking skeleton. That being said, there are so many things to love about this series, here are a few:

The protagonist is smart, funny, nerdy and capable but she's not superwoman. She's very down to earth and in some ways vulnerable.  She's very much an everywoman character and easily related to (and darned likable).  If she were real, I'm pretty sure we'd get along very well.  Would love to grab ice cream with her sometime! :)

The dialogue and plotting are spot on.  I've read all of the books in the series so far and I've yet to read one bit of honestly clunky or unfortunate dialogue.  The author is prolific and experienced and it shows.  I've long said that quality is important and writing 'light' mystery or fantasy (or romance) is no excuse for shoddy work.  This is a solidly readable, writerly, thoroughly enjoyable mystery.

The author makes some wry and unflattering observations about academia in the USA and she does a good job of describing the system in a lot of places without being strident.  It is what it is. 

There are a lot of topical in-jokes and references, so I'm not sure how this series will read in 20 years, but they're here now and they're delightful. I recommend this series and this book in particular without any reservations.

This is a very light read.  I think it would be fine as a standalone, but I can heartily recommend the other books in the series as well.  The language wouldn't make anyone blush.  (Incidentally, Georgia and Sid (the skeleton) use alternate anatomy related curse words 'coccyx', 'ossified', 'sacrum', etc etc. it's just another quirky bit of the series).

Four and a half stars.  I can't imagine it being better, honestly.  I'm looking forward to more from Sid and Georgia (and co.).

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

Monday, September 3, 2018

Grilled Cheese and Goblins: Adventures of a Supernatural Food Inspector

Grilled Cheese and Goblins: Adventures of a Supernatural Food Inspector is a new double-novella book by Nicole Kimberling.  Due out 9th Oct, 2018, it's 317 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

I am a big fan of urban fantasy, though possibly a bit too much of a curmudgeon to consider myself a romance fan.  These stories, while they definitely had a big romance component, were squarely in the not-too-saccharine category.

There are recurring characters and these two stories fit into a larger canon by the author.  I read the book as a standalone and wasn't familiar with the setting or characters and I had no trouble following along.

I was definitely pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing and plotting.  The dialogue is very well done and humorous, but not too snarky.  The language is often rough but not out of context and the sex scenes are well done and move the plot along (i.e., not gratuitous).  As other reviewers have noted, this is an M/M story.

I enjoyed these stories enough that I fully intend to seek out the other works with these characters. Well done.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Scandal in Scarlet (A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #4)

A Scandal in Scarlet is the 4th book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop cozy series by Vicki Delany. Due out 14th Nov, 2018 and published by Crooked Lane books, it's 213 pages and available in hardback, ebook and audio formats.

One of the things that a lot of pastiche bookshop/library cozies have in common is title dropping.  This series is no exception but it's fine with me since I've honestly found a number of authors with whose work I was previously unfamiliar because they're mentioned in these books.  It does add verisimilitude for fictional librarians or bookshop owners to be able to recommend titles to their patrons.  I just jot down notes whilst reading and go back at the end and sample the mentioned books. I've found a lot of new favorites that way.  That's a little bonus.

The pacing is good and the story arc is entertaining and readable.  The dialogue is well written.

This book can easily be read as a standalone.  It's an undemanding read and full of 'cozy'. Suitable for all audiences, the language wouldn't make anyone blush.

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

Dragon's Code: Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern

Dragon's Code is a new book by Gigi McCaffrey set in the Perniverse around the same time as the events in The White Dragon.

I grew up with Pern and revisited the canonical books many (many many) times over the years.  They're well written, genuinely beloved books.  The creator's love and stewardship of Pern and denizens over the decades are clear to anyone who reads any of her work.  They've inspired literal generations of fans and would-be authors to try their own wings. Not least, they give their readers a glimpse of a society which can and does work for the most part to the good of the many.

This entry felt like another visit with a lifelong friend and I really feel that the author has done a great job of honoring the original works whilst adding something personal.  When reading this book I felt like the author did a good job of channeling her mother's voice without being slavish or mimicking.

This book, as the original series, are family friendly fantasies which bridge fantasy with science fiction.  This one is appropriate for all readers and is entertaining and enjoyable.

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