Thursday, January 31, 2019

How to Build Chicken Coops: Everything You Need to Know

How to Build Chicken Coops: Everything You Need to Know is a book in the FFA series of publications. Originally published in 2015, this re-release on Quarto's Voyageur imprint released 8th Jan 2019, is 192 pages and available in ebook and spiral bound formats.

This book is slanted toward young people and provides a lot of good step by step advice on why to build a shelter for your flock, how to site your coop, choice of materials and designing and building the structure.

The book is not oversimplified. With only the instructions provided, one could certainly build a suitable coop. The text is lively and the photographs are numerous, full color, and well done. It's peppered with trivia and entertaining notes in sidebars throughout.  The information provided is mostly slanted toward readers in North America, but can be adapted for other locales. There's a useful resource index (again, mostly for readers in NA), and a cross referenced index at the back. 

Well written and entertaining (bad chicken trivia jokes included), it's a fun read with practical use.

Four stars.

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

Start Your Farm

Start Your Farm is an interesting new volume aimed at people looking to become farmers or who want to re-evaluate their business philosophy and direction for their farming work.  Released 10th Sept 2018 by The Experiment, it's 272 pages and available in paperback, ebook, and audio formats.  Authors Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk are well known business farming experts.

There are a lot of people who are keen gardeners (and some pure dreamers) who want to increase their connection to the land and either be or become more self-reliant and sustainable.  This book aims to speak to that wish and help the dreamers and wishers seriously evaluate whether they're capable physically and mentally to become farmers and for those who are committed, how to get from dreaming to planning and finally to fulfilling those dreams.

This could have been a very depressing book. Farming is a physically and mentally demanding job. The realities of dealing with weather uncertainty, mechanical equipment failure and repair, costs, bookkeeping, regulations, to name just a few, are daunting at best.  This book manages to be quite realistic whilst also being supportive and encouraging.  There's a lot of experience detailed in the authors' narrative. I was impressed with the level of detail included about realistic expectations, problem solving, finding motivation, navigating uncertainty and unexpected costs and a lot more.

There's an old chestnut of a farming joke. How do you make a small fortune farming? Start with a large fortune!  Seriously though, the authors manage to encompass satisfaction and lifestyle change as a tangible reward.  It doesn't have a monetary value but living the life that suits you certainly has value (huge value). 

This is a very personal book.  It's not full of photographs of lush countryside and fluffy ducklings and lambs.  It might be that some readers' takeaway from the book will be that farming is not in their future, and that's a good and valuable thing to know before staking said future on becoming a farmer.

This fills a vacant niche in the farming library.  Think of it as philosophy of farming and a good in-depth job description.

Five stars.

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

The Atlas of Disease

The Atlas of Disease is a non-fiction historically and scientifically accurate book on epidemiology.  Released 27th Nov 2018, by Quarto on their White Lion imprint,  it's 224 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Author Sandra Hempel is a journalist with long experience writing about medical and social issues. The book is aimed at the layperson and whilst the book is scientifically accurate, it's doesn't require a lot of background knowledge of disease or epidemiology to understand.

The chapters are arranged around methods of transfer: airborne diseases, waterborne, zoonose (animal/insect to human), and human to human. Each of the individual disease entries includes map and graphical data along with historical background and info. The most devastating epidemics and pandemics in history are covered individually.

I found the book very educational but not dry or boring at all.  I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who enjoys medical nonfiction. It's well researched, well written, and accessible to a wide audience.

Five stars.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Unicorn Anthology

The Unicorn Anthology is a collection of 16 pieces of short fiction by some literal titans of speculative fiction. Every single story in this collection is top-shelf, there are no weak stories.  All of these have been published previously and date from 1975-2017. Many of the older stories are quite difficult to find and several were new to me in any form.

Due out 19th April 2019 from Tachyon, it's 288 pages and will be available in ebook and paperback formats.

One reason I prefer collections and anthologies is that short fiction is really challenging.  It's spare and the author doesn't have a wealth of wordage to develop characters or the plotting.  Well written short fiction is a delight. I also love collections because if one story doesn't really grab me, there's another story just a few pages away.  I can only recall a few times where I've read a collection (or anthology) straight through from cover to cover.  This one I did. I even re-read the stories which I had read before.

I won't precìs all the stories, and all are strong, but there are a few true standouts:

My Son Heydari and the Karkadann by Peter S. Beagle is a first person story in the form of an anecdote. Based in both folklore and Persian oral history, it's a twisty tale that kept me guessing completely to the end.  The nuance and flavor of the storytelling is amazing and I am utterly in awe of Mr. Beagle's command of the form.  Just a really superlative story.  This one was also included in The Overneath reviewed on this blog here

The Transfigured Hart by Jane Yolen. Part fable and part coming of age. This one is a modern story and in a way is all about perceptions and consensual reality (what things actually are depends on how we perceive them).  I adore Ms. Yolen's writing and this story is gentle and wistful and beautifully written.  I believe I have read this one years ago, but had forgotten about it for a long time.  Such a melancholy piece. 

Ghost Town by Jack C. Haldeman II.  A grifter gets a rare chance to change the path he's on.  I really loved this one even though it's more or less straightforward.  It's an upbeat and very well written story.

Just a really super collection of short stories. 

Five stars

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Vertical Vegetables: Simple Projects that Deliver More Yield in Less Space

Vertical Vegetables is a DIY tutorial guide for gardeners who want to increase the efficiency of their use of space.  The book contains numerous projects for hardscaping extra usable growing space vertically by incorporating trellises, living walls, towers, vertical containers and hanging planters.

Released 6th Nov 2018 by Quarto on their Cool Springs imprint, it's 192 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.  Author Amy Andrychowicz is a gardening and DIY blogger and this book showcases those talents well.

I'm one of those people who spends a LOT of time in the garden.  I have drawings and plans and notes all over the place and generally fill in a couple of journals a year with ideas and plans to try next year.  I'm also the person who is critically short of planting space and can usually be found wandering around in my garden with a plant in hand trying to find a little space to slot it into.  This book is full of creative ideas and tutorials for spreading planting space upwards instead of outwards.

Like any DIY book, not all of the ideas will be practical for all applications or gardens.  There are quite a few which are intriguing to me and look nice or have enough whimsy and humor to fit well into my very informal garden.

The intro covers concepts and benefits of vertical gardening and takes up about 12% of the page content. There's a chapter on plant selection, followed by tutorials on building and using trellises and other structures. The next chapter covers living walls and hanging gardens and the book finishes up with a chapter on container gardening.

The entire book is peppered with full color photographs of healthy and appealing plantings and structures.  This is a nice resource for inspiration pictures as well and includes a lot of material which can be adapted to suit most needs. 

This book is slanted toward the suburban gardener. There are clever ideas for increasing planting space in attractive ways, but readers are not really likely to increase food yields overwhelmingly.  Decorative plantings intermingled with herbs and some small fruits would be ideal and provide at least some food and flowers for use.

There is an adaptable trellis box planter which could easily be used with raised beds which could potentially produce vegetables if used with succession planting.

Lot of good ideas here, many of which are good starting points.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Art of Crochet Blankets: 18 Projects Inspired by Modern Makers

The Art of Crochet Blankets is a new tutorial crochet blanket project book. Released 13th Nov 2018 by Interweave in collaboration with F+W, it's 144 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

The 'hook' for this collection is that the designs are collaborative and inspired by other arts such as weaving, digital art, fabric design, paper cutting, tilemaking, and quilting.  There are some beautiful and evocative projects here. It's impressive how most of the 18 original projects coordinate so well with their inspiration art without copying them slavishly. That, for me, was the most valuable takeaway from the entire book; that it was possible to look for inspiration and pattern design from other items in your interior decor which can be used to coordinate with textile projects.

For each of the inspiration design chapters there are 3 projects listed. The tutorials are well written and complete, with materials lists and abundant photography. The designers for each chapter have a short and interesting bio introduction.  The book doesn't include website info for the designers, but there is a short materials resource guide at the end of the book.  A short google search turns up website info and e-tailers for most of the designers in the book.

There are several of these projects which called to me.  Many of them would also be adaptable to use up yarn scraps and remnants.

Lovely book, well photographed and clearly written. The tutorials include diagram keys and instructions for the special shapings used in several of the projects in the book.

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

100 Knits

100 Knits is a new collection of previously released knitting patterns from Interweave Knits magazine, Knitscene, special holiday releases and a few miscellaneous other sources.  Released 2nd Oct 2018 by Interweave in collaboration with F+W, it's an encyclopedic 512 (!) pages and available in hardcover format.

I'm a magpie knitter.  I spend a ridiculous amount of time on Ravelry with a list as long as my arm of 'must knits'. I also often find myself flipping through knitting magazines and thinking 'I must remember this pattern and do it later'.  I generally forget where I've seen the project and spend a large amount of time with the nagging feeling of not being able to remember where I saw it.

When I was flipping through this colossal collection, there were several projects which immediately dinged that 'THAT' project bell up in my head.  It's so cool to have them at my fingertips and know where they are instead of having to look through years of magazines and books to (maybe) find the particular one I'm looking for. This book literally made me really happy.

The projects are up to Interweave's artisanal standards.  They're beautifully curated and most types of knitwear is represented.  There is a dearth of plus sized, men's and children's projects, mittens, and there aren't any afghans/quilts/decor projects.  There are a number of unisex projects (mostly hats and cowls) which are suitable for and pictured with both male and female models. 

There are so many of these I want to do.  In fact, the projects I didn't want to do were by far in the minority.

The designers are credited on each of their projects. Many of these projects have coordinating projects on Ravelry, just search by designer (or project).  Many of these have literally thousands of finishes in the Ravelry galleries.  Truly impressive.

Classic, funky, gorgeous, stylish, beatnik, hipster, whatever you're looking for, there's something in this collection which will satisfy.

Five stars. 

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

Quilt Big

Quilt Big is a new project/tutorial book with a relatively simple premise.  If you upsize traditional geometric quilt blocks to larger units, it will take fewer of them to make a full size quilt or wall hanging.  The included projects (and they are many) are exuberant and charming.

Author Jemima Flendt is a blogger and artist.  Published 4th Dec 2018 by the Quilting Company and F+W, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

These are really big and bold designs. The traditional blocks are represented: flying geese, churn dash, stars of several types, log cabin, and many more. Worth noting, the instructions are general and easily adaptable to any design which the reader fancies, but none of the included tutorials have curved edges (no wedding ring, pickle glass etc).  These are all pieced into units and sewn with straight seams. As such, it would make an ideal first tutorial book for beginning quilters. One other bonus for new quilters is that they're more likely to not have a huge scrap basket. If all the project fabric needs to be purchased anyhow, it makes sense to save some time and effort in piecing the quilt tops.

One of the most difficult parts of quilting for me is picking out fabrics and settling on a pattern.  I make a lot of 'experiments' and wind up piecing them into album quilts.  Sizing up means it takes significantly fewer blocks to wind up with another quilt top.  This is great! 

In addition to the introduction and tools and methods chapters, there are a number of start to finish home decor projects including pillows, wall hangings, and lots of quilts.

There isn't much page content devoted to materials choices or color coordination, that's outside the scope of this book. Construction and finishing methods are clearly and thoroughly explained.

This is a great quilting tutorial book. I really liked a lot of the included projects.

Five stars.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Knitting for Little Sweethearts

Knitting for Little Sweethearts is a collection of attractive practical and ever-so-slightly whimsical knitwear for small people. Written by Klompelompe designers Hanna Andreassen Hjelmås and Torunn Steinsland, it was released 28th Oct 2018, is 168 pages and available in hardcover format.

I live and work much of the year in Norway. There's been a huge resurgence of classic handknitting here especially in the last decade. Norway is a lovely country very far north and very full of mountains. And sheep.  And many many Norwegians who spend (to my American sensibilities) an insane amount of time on skis running around in the snow.  This leads, not unnaturally, to an appreciation for wool clothing which can absorb a pretty stunning amount of water without feeling wet to the touch and insulates very very well when one is running around in the snow. 

This book is chock full of really pretty and sensible designs.  They're classic and are honestly heirloom quality.  You could use these patterns now and 25 years from now.  They're not going to go out of date.

The book itself is translated for North American audiences.  I'm not 100% sure about the availability of the yarns. Most of the yarns in the book are Norwegian or at least European suppliers, for example Sandnes Garn (one of the major Norwegian wool manufacturers and widely available here in Norway). There are certainly universally available substitute yarns available worldwide, but there is no 'built in' converter in the book.  Needle sizes are converted to US measurements, but the gauge swatch measurements are in metric.

The patterns themselves run the gamut from very simple to more complex.  Most of the designs are knitted, but there are a few crochet pieces. There are hats, mittens and other accessories as well as larger pieces such as jackets and pullovers.

This is not a learn-to-knit book. There are no stitch or shaping diagrams.  Those can be found elsewhere or as the authors suggested, at your local yarn shop.

I loved that the authors gave a shout out to local yarn shops.  Yarn shops are a golden resource for people learning to knit and are full of people who are invested in helping their customers become the best knitters they can become.

This is a lovely book and will become a standard go-to for anyone needing gifts for expectant friends or future family members.  I've knitted several of these as gifts for expectant colleagues and have found the patterns mistake free and easy to follow.

Five stars. Very very good knitting book for the small humans in your life.

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

Leather Crafting Starter Book: Tools, Techniques, and 16 Step-By-Step Projects for Beginners

Leather Crafting Starter Book is a tutorial guide for beginning leathercrafters from Studio TAC Creative. Due out 12th Feb 2019 in partnership with Fox Chapel, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback format.  Originally published in Japanese in 2012, the English translation is seamless. The measurements for the Japanese tools used in the original have been adjusted and sourced for North American and European readers. 

This is a really well photographed guide with very appealing projects.  The book begins with a pictorial gallery of included projects and an introduction to tools and supplies. The introductory chapter covers about 10% of the page content.  The next technique and tutorial chapter comprises about 20% of the content and includes both basic construction (sewing, lacing, closures) and decoration (dyeing, pyrography, applique, punching, carving).

The next 65% of the book is split into three chapters with projects arranged more or less in order of complexity: 1)no sew items, 2)basic stitching, and 3)complex items.

Full size patterns are provided for all of the projects along with a basic index. There doesn't appear to be a resource list, but an online search turns up lots of e-tailers for supplies and tools used in the tutorials.

This is a solidly well written and photographed book full of really appealing and professional looking projects.  The dinosaur sculptures are amazing! The pen covers and pen carry case are definitely on my to-do list (I'm a fountain pen nerd, and they would make superlative gifts for any pen lover).

Five stars. I loved this!

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

Dragons in Love

Dragons in Love is a cute illustrated story for young readers. The illustrations by Ronan Badel are sweet and whimsical.

Released 15th Jan 2019 from Quarto on their words & pictures imprint, it's 32 pages and available in hardcover (board) format.  It was originally published in 2014 in French and translated into the English by Vanessa Miéville.  The text has been translated very well although it does have nuances of cadence in language from the French (which I found charming).

I have to admit, I found the art wonderful.  In fact, I spent a little while online trying to find the artist's other work in order to possibly obtain prints or other graphics from M. Badel.  

So, the art is superlative and detailed enough to provide amusement to both young readers and their adults.

There are some lovely aspects to the story itself. The dragons in the story appear to be a solo dad and son family unit. Dad is willing and able to talk about feelings and life experiences with Drake, his son, and it never comes across as preachy or strident.  I like their relationship.  I like that he notices Drake's discomfort with the unexpected kiss and does his best to explain what's going on and help.

That being said there are some issues.  The story revolves around the fact that drake gets kissed on the snout unexpectedly by his friend Violet. This confuses him and makes him sad (he avoids her and even avoids going places she likes to go), he doesn't want to eat, etc. His dad notices and tries to help by saying that breathing fire is just what dragons do when they fall in love.  I think this is even more confusing to little kids (I might be overthinking things). The situation comes to a crisis when Drake sees Violet being bullied and flambés the mean kid.  So is it ok for people to intervene with violence in a good cause? Dragons breathe fire when they're stressed...or mad.... or in love? Or... I'm not quite sure what the author is aiming for here (probably an audience of kids who take the story for what it is and don't try to interpret it). 

At the end of the day, it's a kids' story and we adults might be over-analyzing everything... but there are so many really valuable genuinely moving children's books that I can't recommend this one unreservedly.  I might have bought it for my own kids when they were small, but I really wouldn't feel comfortable buying it for someone else's kids unless I -knew- that their caregivers wouldn't be offended by the issues.

The art is superlative; a clear 5 stars.  The story is iffy; 2,5-3 stars.

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

Homicide in Hardcover

This is a cute cozy/romance. This is the first in the series which is up to 13 books now. The main character is a book restorer and historian (and amateur sleuth).

Original release was 2009 from Obsidian publishing, it's 289 pages and available in most formats.

Fair warning. For anyone who is honestly interested in rare/historic books, this one will have you crying or running for the exits. The book 'restoration' this book is written around would not be acceptable in any museum/exhibition venue. That being said, it's a cute lighthearted read and well written. Some of the dialogue is fairly silly, but it is a cozy. There's a romantic scene which came across as slightly creepy to me (the hot security guy is kissing the main character immediately after she's been bludgeoned and is likely concussed at the very least?!).

There's very light language use, I'd say PG-level, but nothing to shock or dismay most readers.

Three and a half stars. I'll pick up the next book in the series. I love cozies about books, and librarians, and bookmobiles (bonus for cat inclusions).

The Proven Winners Garden Book: Simple Plans, Picture-Perfect Plants, and Expert Advice for Creating a Gorgeous Garden

The Proven Winners Garden Book is a garden design and tutorial book from plant breeders and suppliers, Proven Winners. In the springtime all of the big box stores and a fair number of independent retailers sell bedding packs and flats of plants for home gardeners to take home and set out in their gardens and containers. In North America, a large proportion of these are from Proven Winners.

Due out 19th Feb 2019 from Timber Press, it's 188 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an appealing and well photographed book.  There is inspiration to be found here. I liked a lot of the container plantings especially. These designs and combinations utilize easily sourced plants so readers can get -exactly- the pictured result with -exactly- the same plants as pictured.  For readers who are bewildered about what to plant and what plants (and colors) to combine to get an effect which won't startle or offend the neighbors/housing association, this book has some good answers.

People spend a fortune and a lot of time on their gardens.  This book will get new suburban gardeners up to speed relatively painlessly and without panic.

This is definitely written with the new gardener in mind.  Experienced gardeners who are used to spending a month or more sequestered with the new seed catalogues in the depth of winter probably aren't going to have any epiphanies over this book.  There's enough basic info here to get started.  The authors have covered designing with and planting bedding packs from their own brand.  There's a lot of emphasis on spot planting containers and coordinated plantings.  The plantings are decorative.  There's no discussion on edible plantings or xeriscaping. Vegetables are not covered.

There is a resource listing (for NA gardeners), a bibliography, and an index.

Three stars, probably four+ for people who want to buy packs of plants, plant them in their balcony window boxes and get a consistent result without a lot of effort or expense. 

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

Excellent Intentions

Excellent Intentions is one of the British Library Crime Classics series from Poisoned Pen Press. Originally released in 1938 (alternate title: Beyond Reasonable Doubt), and was written by Richard Hull, this edition is 240 pages and available in ebook and paperback versions.

This series, from various often lesser known authors, is a really nice selection of golden age classic mysteries which deserve re-release to a new audience.  I've reviewed a number of them and generally been very happy with the quality and writing. 

This book has an odd setup.  The mystery is written around the trial for a murder of a despicable man. The book proceeds through the steps from prosecution through analysis, defense, summing up, etc. It's very linear and not really a 'whodunnit' in the classic sense.  I found the writing difficult in some places.  It's very formal and, to my modern eye, stilted. Much of the book dragged for me. It was well written, but developed very slowly. In contrast, the denouement was fleeting and the twist at the end left me feeling a trifle unsatisfied. It did lead me to think about the ideas of what really constitutes justice and what is a really fair outcome for the criminal trial process.

Anyhow, this series rates a high four stars overall. This particular book for me never quite made it.

Three and a half stars rounded down a bit because it was a slog for me to finish.  I think this would probably be a good choice for particular fans of golden age British mysteries or literary mystery history fans looking for lesser known out of print books.

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

The Farm Girl's Guide to Preserving the Harvest

The Farm Girl's Guide to Preserving the Harvest is a new reference volume on preserving shelf stable food at home.

Due out 1st May 2019 from Lyons Press, it's 224 pages and available in paperback format. Author Ann Accetta-Scott is a well known homesteading lifestyle blogger who has chronicled her family's shift from suburbanites to self sufficient homesteaders.

There are a few books which have become truly indispensable for the homesteading library.  For our family, these include the Ball 'blue' book, a selection of John Seymour's books, Storey's Country Wisdom, Sanders' Self Reliant Homestead and a very few others.  This book will definitely join those classics. 

I was very impressed with the scientifically accurate and up to date information contained in this book.  The author clearly and accurately describes the different methods of creating safe shelf stable food.  The different types of vegetables, meats, and fruits are clearly delineated and the methods for preserving each of them (or combinations of) are described step by step. There are loads of tutorial photos.

Equipment is also discussed in detail. The author lists the everything necessary for each type of preservation and also lists extra labor saving equipment in the procedures; saving the reader from having to flip back and forth to different sections of the book.

There are a huge number of really nice recipes outside of the normal 'green beans & succotash' tried and true staples from years past.  There's a recipe for maple bourbon bacon jam that didn't last a week at our house.  My kids put it on their baked potatoes. They put it on toast. They put it on pancakes. They haven't stopped asking to make another batch of it. The jalapeño pickled eggs are another huge hit with my family. I never even liked pickled eggs before.

Five stars. Well written, scientifically accurate, comprehensive.  A new classic.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Unquiet Souls

Unquiet Souls is the first book in the DI Gus McGuire series. Originally published in 2016 by Bloodhound books, it's a hefty 416 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a very gritty modern procedural thriller set in Bradford, in Northern England. The setting and atmosphere are very well written and the characterizations and dialogue and writing in general are very high quality.  It's a well written book.

That being said, however, this is an extremely graphic book which I found difficult to read.  I had to take breaks at several places.  The plot revolves around an international pedophile ring.  There are fairly graphic descriptions of sexual assault, torture, and murder of children (and adults).  There is a completely awful description of neglect and abuse of a group of children which goes on for several pages and describes this group, some of whom are dead, being locked up together and abandoned . 

The main characters are flawed and damaged.  The lead character is doing everything in his power to circumvent the reasonable protections for police injured in the line of duty by trying to dodge his therapy and recovery work.  I found him fairly unlikable, honestly.  He has a gigantic chip on his shoulder.  The fact that I personally found him not-terribly-relatable doesn't change the fact that this is a tightly plotted and well written book and the author clearly knows what she's doing.  DI Gus McGuire doesn't need (or want) my approval.

The language is just about as raw as the subject matter would imply.  The bad guys are world class nasty.

Four stars, it is well written, just not for those of us who prefer mysteries with more of a 'Colonel Mustard in the library' flavor, and murders without blood and gore.  And cats.  And possibly a few librarians or at least a bookmobile.  Definitely not that kind of book, here. 

Possibly worth noting for kindle unlimited subscribers, all of the books in the series are included in the subscription for download.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Coffeehouse Knits: Knitting Patterns and Essays with Robust Flavor

Coffeehouse Knits is a new pattern and essay collection edited by Kerry Bogert. Due out 12th March 2019 from Interweave, it's 144 pages and will be available in ebook and hardcover format.

It's become a lot trendier and more socially acceptable for younger people to express their creativity in social situations.  I absolutely love the trend of knit-togethers. When I was younger and involved with fibre arts groups/guilds, I was almost always younger than the other members by at least a couple of decades (often more).  These days at our knit-togethers, I see all ages.  I also have seen a trend toward more socially aware knitting and donation knitting, which is absolutely awesome.

The 20 patterns included in this collection are all very attractive, stylish, fashion forward and 'young' looking.  The designers who created them are from many countries and there are some well known names who will be familiar to the ravelry crowd.  They are not heavily edited and as such, they retain the 'voice' of the designers.  Some of them include both written and charted pattern directions, some include only one or the other.  The styles run the gamut from simple to fairly complex.  (Pro tip: there's generally a knitting 'guru' to be found at most knit-togethers who will help with just about any problems you encounter, so don't be afraid to go for an advanced pattern which calls to you in a super luscious luxury yarn).   There are a number of patterns in this collection which really appeal to me.  The types of projects range from smaller accessories like cowls and scarves to more time-intensive sweaters.  There are a few unisex patterns, nice hats, socks, and cowls which would make great gender-neutral gifts.

The knitting patterns are interspersed with a collection of short essays on the social aspects of knitting and fibrearts.  I enjoyed (and identified with) every single one of them.

This would make a lovely gift for a knitting friend or a wannabe knitter newbie.  Knitting is naturally meditative and even when it's frustrating, it's intellectually stimulating and rewarding. It's worthwhile to teach others to knit and sharing a hobby with friends can enhance your friendships and bring them to another level.

Well written and enjoyable.  The photography is top notch (as expected for Interweave).

Four stars.  Really enjoyed this one.  It's not encyclopedic, but it does include some technique illustrations for casting on and off and different shaping techniques.

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

A Dangle a Day

A Dangle a Day is a new tutorial guide for helping add more structured whimsy to writing and lettering. Author Angela Porter is well known for intricate coloring books for adults. Released 15th January 2019 by Quarto on their Race Point imprint, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format.

I'm not an artist (I'm a bioengineer).  I do however feel the need to have creativity in my life. I have spent a fair bit of time with doodling, zentangles, painting, calligraphy and journaling.  This book is a natural partner for all of those.  I've also always been in love with illuminated manuscripts. This is sort of a doodling version of the idea of illuminated letters.

The book is logically straightforward in layout, which really appealed to me. After a short introduction and definition of dangles and what they are, there's a short section on materials which leads into a discussion of bullet journaling and how dangles can enhance the process.

After the intro, the book's divided into two main sections: dangle letters and numerals, and a seasonal tutorial collection for year-round decorating.  These would make lovely cards or envelope decorations. I've been trying to write more actual letters lately and these are wonderful for embellishing.

A fair amount of page content is given over to practice pages ('Now it's your turn').  Despite this, the book is full of intricate and appealing designs.

The author's writing style is informal, encouraging, and supportive.

Four stars. Fun!

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

101 Chicken Keeping Hacks from Fresh Eggs Daily

101 Chicken Keeping Hacks is a cheerful, upbeat look at ways to improve ('hack') chicken husbandry. Aimed at the newer suburban chicken wrangler, it provides a humorous look at simple ways of upcycling, repurposing, and reusing items which the reader might have lying around.

Written by 'Fresh Eggs Daily' blogger/media personality/chicken wrangler Lisa Steele and published by Quarto on their Voyageur imprint, it's 176 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a very appealing, whimsical, and upbeat book.  There are a bunch of cute decor ideas included (her chicken coop setup includes cute gingham curtains). There are tips and tricks for every area of chicken keeping. The hacks are arranged in chapters dealing with food, housing, outdoor areas & runs, raising chicks, chicken health & welfare, your (human) home use (hair rinses, egg storage, recipes, etc), and outdoor/garden.

There are a number of these ideas which are cute and whimsical and are utterly impractical.  On the other hand there are a number of really good and practical ideas.  It's a mixed bag.  I really like the idea of repurposing and upcycling. There are bound to be some tips which are usable by most readers.

The photography is very clear and full of lovely, appealing, and healthy chickens.  There's a useful resource list (aimed mostly at North American readers) and a handy index at the back of the book.

Well written and appealing.  Would make a nice gift for a beginning backyard chicken-herder (or soon-to-be).

Four stars.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Leonardo's Science Workshop: Invent, Create, and Make STEAM Projects Like a Genius

I have been talking about STE(A)M education and books since the very earliest days of this blog.  It's vitally important to expose kids to the concepts as soon as possible.  They're the ones who are going to be making our future. They're the innovators, creators, inventors, discoverers of tomorrow's world.  The more our kids are engaging with the world around them, the better.  Critical thinking skills are more vitally important now than ever before.  We're bombarded with messaging and media spin from the moment we're born and learning to differentiate the truth is a vital survival skill. That's where STE(A)M comes in.  Finding fun ways to keep their interest is key.

 Leonardo's Science Workshop is a new project book by Heidi Olinger. Released 1st Jan 2019 by Quarto on their Rockport imprint, it's 144 pages and available in flexibound and ebook formats. It's visually very appealing and includes good clear photography and layout.  The book begins with a short introduction/bio of Leonardo's life and prodigious creative genius.

The chapters are built up around experimentation and observation. There's a pretty good description of the scientific method aimed at middle-readers in the introduction.  The first chapter is about fluid dynamics and includes 6 age-appropriate projects. Each of the tutorials is well photographed and includes clear instructions.

The air chapter is followed by a chapter on kinetics/physics of motion.  This chapter, too, explains basic concepts and includes projects (experiments) to illustrate them. The third chapter is all about energy and includes some nice projects on the electromagnetic spectrum, static electricity, building a wind turbine, etc.

All in all, these are age appropriate, interesting, well written, and safe.  The layout is appealing and accessible.  It would be a good addition to a classroom module for physics for middle grades. It would also make a good gift for a physics interested young person.  It might be a little too straightforward and rigid to interest kids who are already wrongly convinced physics isn't cool or fun.

We need more critical thinkers and anything that fires up the next generation's STEAMers is great!

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Creating Art Quilts with Panels

Creating Art Quilts with Panels is a new technique/tutorial book by Joyce Hughes covering a number of creative techniques for utilizing pre-printed panels to create hangings and quilts.  The author states that she began to introduce the use of pre-printed panels in her workshops because it allowed her students to concentrate on the techniques she was teaching instead of spending valuable classroom time on designing.

Released 8th Jan 2019 by Fox Chapel, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

The cover artwork gives a good capsule cross section of the techniques covered in the book.  There are some really innovative (and versatile - not just for quilting) techniques included.

The book begins with a teacher's statement about how and why she adopted the use of preprinted panels.  This is followed by a good introductory chapter which covers materials and supplies. The first 2 chapters make up about 20% of the page content. The 'meat' of the book is contained in the technique chapter which includes surface treatments, freehand work, thread painting and finishing and takes up about 30% of the material. These are followed by a tutorial series of 6 specific projects utilizing the techniques described earlier.  While they do use specific fabrics and panels, all are easily adaptable to other materials. The book ends with a photo gallery of work for further inspiration.

There is a (very) basic list of online resources included at the end, but no index.  It's a short book, so that shouldn't prove problematic.

There were several project techniques included in the book which immediately grabbed me and sent me scurrying into my sewing room to be tried out.  That's sort of my acid test for crafting books.  If they get my fingers twitching to stop reading and start trying, then they're ok by me! This one did.  She includes a stumpwork/fringework technique in the book which I -definitely- will incorporate into my machine stumpwork.

Beautifully photographed and well written instructions.

Five stars.

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

Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook

Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook is an encyclopedic look at artisan cheeses from Wisconsin creameries along with a generous selection of recipes for using them.

Due out 1st March 2019 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Globe Pequot imprint, it's 224 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a nicely arranged atlas split into regional chapters. Each quadrant of Wisconsin is treated separately with a good introduction to the specialties of the region, individual dairies and the cheesemakers who drive them.  Along with the descriptions are included recipes from the fromagers and chefs.  There are many elegant recipes, designed to impress, along with the simple comfort food standards, mac&cheese, onion soup, among others.

One thing I really liked about this book is the idea of going directly to the creators of the products to know how best to utilize them.  They KNOW their cheeses, they've often developed them over generations (there are multi-generational fromagers here).  They know the terroir and what drinks & menus compliment the cheeses.

In addition to the bios of the creameries themselves, there are appendices which cover prizewinning cheeses and their creators, a comprehensive calendar of annual cheese/foodie events, followed by a spiffy listing of retailers for purchasing and sourcing the cheeses in the book.

It ends with a cross referenced index listing all the recipes alphabetically.

Well written book, meticulously researched, appealingly presented.

Five stars. Superlative!

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

Make in a Day: Wedding Crafts

Make in a Day: Wedding Crafts is a new collection of 15 DIY tutorial projects which don't require a large commitment of cash or time. There are a number of these "Make in a day" booklets and this one shares the same format.

Released 16th Jan 2019 by Dover publications, it's 66 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

All of the projects include easily sourced materials and full color photographed tutorials. The projects are easy and generally very attractive.  Most of them are not wedding specific and could be adapted to gift giving, home decor or other uses without any trouble. Some of them would be appropriate to create in a classroom setting as a parent gift.  I'm thinking especially of the thank you gift in a berry basket on pages 16-19.

This is a nice booklet for people planning a get together on a budget and looking for a little DIY fun at the same time.

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the very nice tutorial format.

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


Pride is an update and release of Fred McDarrah's seminal pictorial collection from 1994, which was released around the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This edition will be released around the 50th anniversary and includes a new forward by Pulitzer winner Hilton Als.

Due out 7th May 2019 from OR books, it'll be 240 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

It's been interesting to me to see the dichotomy between how much change has occurred in the last 50 years while not -seeming- to move forward quickly enough or comprehensively enough while living through it.  These pictures provide a window into a vanished lifetime. These photos were taken pre-AIDS and there's a vanished exuberance in a lot of the pictures; everyone's more cautious (and smarter) now.

The pictures are accompanied by commentary and prose by iconic writers/poets, including Jill Johnston, Allen Ginsberg, and Hilton Als, as mentioned earlier.

This edition was re-titled from the original Gay Pride to be more inclusive. The photos are annotated well, but there's no index or cross referencing to speak of. For readers willing to put in some effort and dig a bit, there's an impressive amount of history to be mined.  As someone who was a small child of politically active parents at the time, I can remember pride and peace marches aplenty. What I didn't know at the time was the human pain of which the political movements were born. In the modern American conservative political climate, I sincerely hope we're not headed back to those vanished days of brutality.

This would make a valuable support text for classroom modules for a number of history, culture, and gender studies subjects.  There's mature content in the book, including sex and violence.

Four stars. Important work.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

STEAM Stories: The Picnic Problem (Maths)

The Picnic Problem is a new book in the STEAM stories series. Written by children's book author Jonathan Litton and illustrated by Magalí Mansilla, it's 24 pages and full color. Published on Quarto's QEB imprint, it was released 18th Oct 2018 and is available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats.

I've been a vocal advocate most of my life for STE(A)M education. The earlier we get future generations really fired up about science and technology, the better.  Most kids are -avid- explorers and experimenters. For most kids, all we (as adults and educators) need to do is introduce them to the ideas and get out of their way!

This book is engaging, written in fun rhyme with colorful illustrations. It progresses with puzzles that build on one another to find clues and move along to the next step.  The book isn't strident, didactic, or preachy and there are good lessons about cooperation, friendliness, and sharing.

This would make a good reading circle, class library, or gift book for young readers. 

Four stars. Well presented and appealing.

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

Magic - The Gathering Cards

Magic - The Gathering Cards is an encyclopedic look at the cards, sets, and promo cards associated with MtG. It's set up as a valuation guide as well as a pictorial guide to the cards themselves. Released 30th Oct 2018 by collector/ephemera mavens Krause in partnership with F+W Media, it's 512 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an early avid market for MtG. We used to gather often at a local comic shop and play magic and hang out.  Eventually, I graduated, got married, had kids, etc, but I still remember the games very fondly.  At this point, my son (who is geeky and a gamer) also plays MtG and the cycle continues.

This book has a relatively specific focus. It won't help with strategy or deck building or any game play. What it does, and does very well, is contain pictorial references and values for all the cards. There is a bewildering array of different releases and versions. This book also does a pretty good job of explaining the differences between the different editions.

I enjoyed the sidebars about alternate cards from other countries including some fun trivia about alternate art on different releases and promos. 

Four stars, good book with a specific focus that it does very well.

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

Rough Magic

Rough Magic is the newest book in the Cragg & Fidelis historical mystery series by Robin Blake. Due out 1st April 2019 from Severn House, it's 304 pages and will be available in first release in hardback format (presumably also ebook format soon after).

Historical mystery is probably my favorite genre, and this one, set in 1744, is a fine example. Coroner Cragg and his wife lease a house in a remote village to avoid an outbreak of polio which threatens their infant son.  The trip is anything but a peaceful retreat. Immediately after their arrival, Cragg is called on in his official duty to investigate the accident/murder of an unpopular harridan.

The custom of charivari (or rough music) was a form of public shaming which was on the way out in most areas of England in the time period, but this particular 'ride' ended with the woman's death.  Dr. Fidelis is soon involved as well and his overdeveloped sense of chivalry gets a workout as there are damsels aplenty.

There is so much richness in the period detail in these books.  I also appreciated the author's deft touch. The reader isn't clubbed over the head with historical accuracy, it's inserted into the narrative seamlessly.

These are well written, well plotted books. While some of the major plot points (no spoilers) are telegraphed fairly clearly, there were enough other twists to keep the narrative interesting and engaging.

Really well written and plotted.  The other books certainly enhance this one, but it works well as a standalone.

Four stars. Highly recommended. Would make a fine mystery book club selection.

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

The Story of the Amulet

Dover has done more to protect and republish out of print classics than probably any other publishing entity ever.  There have been a number of their offerings over the years which I've reviewed here on this blog.  This is another one.  Originally published in 1906, The Story of the Amulet is an odd tale ostensibly (more on that later) for children.  It's the third of the 5 Children books about a family of 5 siblings (4 of whom are in this book) and their adventures. They are set on their path by a thoroughly weird magical mentor, the Psammead. The Psammead, or 'Sammy', is by turns rude and solicitous.  The book was written at a time when societal mores were more stringent and far more unbreakable than now. In that sense the dialogue and characterizations can feel a little 'out there' from a modern reader's viewpoint. In a lot of ways, Nesbit reminds me of Charles Kingsley, Roald Dahl, and even Shel Silverstein, in the sly puncturing of societal norms and the polite fictions we tell ourselves in order to keep society chugging along. Make no mistake, this is two different books depending on the reader.  There's the fable tall tale adventure plot for the younger readers with a healthy dose of sly humor lurking under the surface for the supposed adults in the audience.

Released 18th July 2018 by Dover, it's 320 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats (earlier editions are available in other formats). This edition is a reprint of the 1957 Ernest Benn version.

This would make a superlative read-to-me for younger kids (note: due to length, it'll be a long-term project) or a good school-break read for middle readers.  I can't honestly say that it would be completely appropriate for a reading circle read in a classroom setting due to the oddness of some of the characters and the implicit attitudes and mores of its time period (Edwardian England).  It is a product of its time period and shows it. It would be fine for a school library though, there's nothing overtly violent or objectionable. 

I really enjoyed these books a lot.  I remember them from my youth and they were a sweetly nostalgic revisiting of the books which turned me into the raging bibliophile I am today.

Four stars, as long as readers remember they're reading a book written more than 100 years ago.

Five everlasting stars for Dover, they are a treasure worth preserving and supporting.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2019

No Country for Old Gnomes

No Country for Old Gnomes is a new humorous fantasy co-written by Delilah Dawson (Blud) and Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid Chronicles). The second book in the Pell world, it's a standalone novel and can be read without prior familiarity with the earlier book.  Due out 16th April 2019 on Random House's Del Rey imprint, it's 416 pages and available in hardback, ebook, and audio formats.

I originally picked this one up because, although I hadn't read the first book, I had enjoyed books by both of the authors previously. For fans of their other works, this book is completely different.  It's absolutely full of every punny in-joke imaginable.  There isn't a single cultural reference which can't be wrangled, hog-tied, and contorted into a joke.  Everything from the title of the book to the chapter header quotes are fair game. I found the unrelenting in-your-face attempts at clever repartee wearying. There's an almost aggressive undertone to the humor in the book. 

The blurb compares it to Monty Python and Pratchett's Discworld.  The difference is that both MP and Pratchett had a much defter touch with humor (even punnery and slapstick) and an instinctual understanding of varying the rhythm and construction of their humor.  This book speeds along at breakneck speed fish-slapping the reader for 400+ pages.

It is a moderately fun read and I did enjoy it enough to look for the first book in the Pell world and likely pick up the third book, The Princess Beard, when I get the opportunity. 

Three and a half stars.  I can recommend it to readers on the hunt for extreme farcical silliness. The art and formatting as well as the typesetting are up to a very high standard.

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