Saturday, December 22, 2018

I Love My Dog Embroidery

I Love My Dog Embroidery is a tutorial gallery and guide for canine inspired surface embroidery from MakikoArt / Oksana Kokovkina. Published 11th Dec 2018 on Quarto's Creative Publishing Int'l imprint, it's 120 pages and available in paperback format.

This is a really fun book.  The vast majority of the included designs are surface embroidery, but there are a very few charted counted (cross stitch) projects as well.  The book includes a color photo gallery of all the designs numbered sequentially.  This first section is followed by a photo inspiration gallery showing finishing suggestions for some of the included designs. There are the usual framed, hooped, and napkin type finishes but the gallery also includes some really cute unusual ideas such as clothing embellishment, greeting cards and jewelry.  There's a tools and instructional chapter with stitch diagrams and tutorials and after that, a detailed stitch diagram guide for each of the included designs with suggested colorways and stitch details.

The book does include full size templates for use.

Really cute designs and I really like seeing surface embroidery getting some attention. 
Nearly all the dog breeds I could think of were included in this collection; there's something for everyone.

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

Calligraphic Drawing

Calligraphic Drawing is a new art tutorial manual on the theory and application of steel nib calligraphy techniques to represent stylized animals and flourishes (see the cover). Artist Schin Loong provides a number of tips to get started, develop individual style and comfort with the process. This book was released 13th Nov 2018 on Quarto Group's Rockport imprint.  It's 128 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

Much of the information which Ms. Loong provides is available scattered on the internet or other sources, but this is one of the most efficient and worthwhile collection of tips, advice, confidence building, and good technical how-to I've seen on Spencerian flourishing and drawing.

I really really appreciated that the author says several places that practice is key to mastering techniques and building confidence and expertise.  More than anything else, Spencerian calligraphy is about repetition and practice.  Copying has less to do with artistic 'talent' and much more to do with solid commitment to repetition. There are many hours of practice behind the 'easy looking magic' of calligraphers' YouTube videos. There is no magic wand or shortcut and Ms. Loong is clear about that.

Another place that this book shines is the author's clear tutorials and troubleshooting guides.  Quite often, especially for the less experienced calligrapher, you understand that it doesn't look exactly 'right' but can't pinpoint why. This book has clear troubleshooting pages with good illustrations of what to do to improve.

Chapter one introduces tools and materials (and a little history) and covers about 13% of the page content.  The next (vitally important) chapter has several tutorials covering strokes and practice techniques.  The flourishes are built up thematically.  Although this chapter only represents about 20% of the page content, it will represent the lion's share of the technique practice for the calligrapher.  This chapter also ends with, hands down, the most incredibly awesome calligraphy flourished T-rex in my experience.  Definitely worth the price of the book in my opinion!  Chapters 3 and 4 cover specific tutorials for animals and letting with cartouches. The book ends with more tutorials and encouragement. 

There's a jaw dropping gallery section (ironically following the advice to try not to compare one's own work with other artists' work).  It's absolutely full of some of the most breathtaking envelope flourishing that I've ever seen.

One thing missing from the guide is a guide for sourcing materials and supplies, but they're readily available from online sources and local stationers. There is also no bibliography or sources for further reading, but a simple search of copyright free archives like will turn up a mountain of further reading.

Well written in plain and encouraging language, this is a worthwhile addition to the calligrapher's library. 

Five stars

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

Appleby Talks Again

Appleby Talks Again is a re-release of the 15th book in the Inspector Appleby series. Written by Michael Innes and originally published in 1954, this collection of 16 stories, one novella, and a chapter excerpt, is now reformatted and available to a new generation of classic mystery readers.

The Appleby books are humorous light reading.  Most of them are pastiches having the format of Sir John at a party or other social occasion, retelling what happened previously concerning a case.  Many of these included stories are very cleverly constructed and the short format means that the plotting is very spare and fast paced.  I was interested to see that the ersatz art dealer Mr. Braunkopf makes cameo appearances in several of these stories.  He (Braunkopf a.k.a Hildebert Brown) first appeared in the very first Appleby mystery, 1952's A Private View (One Man Show in the USA).

The included stories in this collection are a mixed lot, but I would put the majority in the 3.5 - 4.5 star range. They are humorous, light, comical, and quintessentially British.  There is nothing objectionable or graphic.

I enjoyed them all.

Worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers many (most) of the Inspector Appleby books are available for download in the KU subscription for free.

Four stars, comfort reading.

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

Gut Health and Probiotics

Gut Health and Probiotics is a layman guide to all things digestive. Author Jenny Tschiesche is a nutritionist and lecturer on healthy cooking, gut health, probiotics, etc.  Released Aug 2018, the book is 160 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

This is an informational book aimed at the average person, it's not a medical/technical manual, there is little technical information ('biochemical' appears only 2 times in the text), and as such, it does a pretty good job of covering the essential information without being overly academic or 'scary'.

The book progresses from the introduction through the normal function of the alimentary canal with discussions on normal digestion and moves on to environmental factors' negative impact on function and health. The author includes a good discussion of probiotic/naturally fermented foods and how our dietary and lifestyle changes in just the last century have affected our health and gut environment.

I would recommend this as a reference for readers who are looking for a 'bridge' book at a level somewhere in between pop-science and medical reference.  It's accessible, but not oversimplified.

This is an up to date book.  There is exciting current research being done in the neurology/biome linkage to which she refers several times in the book. Good stuff.

Four stars

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

This Thing Called Life

This Thing Called Life is a retrospective biography by Joseph Vogel on the life and music of Prince. The author is a well known author, critic, and popular culture expert.

Published by Bloomsbury Academic press, released 19th April 2018, it's 240 pages and available in ebook and hardcover formats.

As a nonfiction book and biography, it's full of verifiable facts.  Anyone could just find those online. What this author brings to the table is a genuine expertise in assessing and explaining the cultural impact of Prince's music and style in his time and after his death.  The book has an interesting layout. Instead of being written around a chronological timeline, it's written thematically. There are discussions about Prince and his feelings about and impact on: politics, music, race, gender, sex, religion, and death.  This format leads to some overlap and repetition.  I found myself searching through the book backwards sometimes to re-read something from an earlier chapter.  While the historical research is precise, the larger takeaway from the book is Mr. Vogel's knowledge of modern music and culture.

I did learn a lot about the artist and his legacy to music and culture but I think I learned more about the culture and music of the 80s than I did about Prince himself.  The book is extensively footnoted and the exhaustive bibliography at the end is worth the price of admission. 

I could see this being a good book club selection for music/bio/culture book clubs. This would also make a remarkably good support textbook for a lot of courses such as modern American culture, pop music, possibly gender studies, etc...  Good book, well written.

Five stars.

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


Willow is a weaving/crafting tutorial on growing, harvesting, and creating objects from willow. Released 18th Oct 2018 on Quarto's Jacqui Small imprint, it's 144 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Author Jenny Crisp has combined the ancient craft of creating with willow along with more modern design elements. I was impressed to see that this book also includes a fully usable introduction to sourcing materials including a solid beginner section on growing one's own canes. That alone is worth the price of the book.

The book starts with a good introduction to history and craft as well as the section on sourcing and growing materials. The next sections deal with sorting and preparing materials as well as an introduction to necessary tools. The basic techniques chapter which follows covers the different braiding techniques as well as hand care and suggestions for safety.  The last 2/3rds of the content are complete tutorials for 20 different projects, beginner to advanced.  These are fully photographed and clear and concise including measurements, materials, and necessary tools.  The photography is beautiful and clear and fully supports and illustrates the instructions.  The end of the book includes a resource page slanted to the crafter living in the UK.

Wonderful introduction to crafting and weaving with wood/willow.  The projects are very attractive and most are functional (baskets, vessels, screens, etc).  There are some purely decorative pieces included (a simple door wreath, a decorative star, napkin rings, etc). 

Probably the best basket weaving tutorial book in my library and certainly the only willow specific one in my library.  Highly recommended.

Five stars.

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

Riley Knows He Can

Riley Knows He Can is the second book featuring adorable youngster Riley (his freckles slay me <3 ). Published 25th April 2018 by the Ella Riley Group, it's 38 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats. Author Davina Hamilton and illustrator Elena Reinoso also teamed up on the first book, Riley Can Be Anything (review here).

This book talks about something almost everyone deals with - stage fright, nervousness, and performance anxiety.  It's written in rhyming prose which will add to the reading enjoyment for kids. The quirky artwork illustrates the text very well.

These are really positive, non judgemental, useful books for all kids.They show diversity in a positive non-threatening, non-strident manner.  The mum and dad are normal, supportive, wholesome. I really liked this book and hope that Riley (and family) have lots more adventures in store.

This would make a superlative reading circle or bedtime read for the youngest and a good selection for primary school libraries.

Just really nice!

Five stars

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

Woven Leather Bags

Woven Leather Bags is a new niche leatherworking technique tutorial guide from Naoko Minowa. With an expected release date in early February 2019, from Stackpole Books, it's a concise 104 pages in full color and available in paperback and ebook formats.

Despite being a bionerd lab rat and, frankly, not very girly, I have always loved well made purses and bags (shoes, not so much). There is something about woven leather that I find really attractive.  I have longed for a real Bottega Veneta bag for ages, but even their 'entry level' bags cost more than my first car.  It's not going to happen anytime soon.

The projects included in these tutorials admittedly aren't BV bags, but they are very stylish, high quality and style correct.  The detailing is very well done and the hardware enhances the designs.  The construction details are well described and illustrated and these are no-sew tutorials. The woven leather ground fabric is manipulated and shaped by using cold riveting, glues, metal snaps, magnetic closures etc. All of the construction and finishing techniques are included in the book.

There are (by my count) 15 distinct projects in the book which can be varied and combined somewhat with different weaves and colorways. The project pages cover roughly 20% of the page content.  The projects are followed by very detailed instructions which cover tools and materials, weaving techniques, and finishing techniques. There is also a handy resource page at the end listing North America friendly e-tailers from whom tools and materials can be bought. 

This book was originally published in 2014 in Japanese and it's worth noting that the translation work was seamless.  It doesn't feel like a translated book.

Five stars. Lovely projects

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

Fashion in the Middle Ages

Fashion in the Middle Ages was originally published as an exhibition catalog accompanying a historical retrospective at the J. Paul Getty museum in 2011. The book was apparently organized in relation to the physical exhibits in the museum, because it's not arranged in any obvious relation to time period, culture, or world location. This causes some amount of confusion and 'cultural whiplash'. I did enjoy Dr. Scott's commentary on sumptuary laws and the use of different materials.

There are interesting and well written notations about the curated objects.  Many of the illuminated pages are very well notated with interesting observations about the depictions being of a different culture or time period from that in which the objects were produced.

I received an electronic galley of this book and many of the illustrations were so pixellated and unclear as to be virtually unusable. The historical notes were very clear and well written, so I assume that a print copy of this book would solve the problems which plague the e-book.  An example of the pixellation below. Roughly 1/3 of the illustrations in the electronic version are sub-optimal. (see below). As noted before, the exhibit notes are well written and accessible and the illustrations could be better.

I enjoyed this small volume. I would have liked to have seen the original display.

Three and a half stars, most likely more (4 - 4.5) for the paper versions with better illustration reproductions.

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