Sunday, February 24, 2019

MAD About the Trump Era

MAD About the Trump Era is an anthology collection of typically sarcastic, caustic, MAD humor. Due out 7th May 2019 from DC/Mad, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

Mad (and E.C. comics) has a long history of lampooning current events, culture, politics, etc. I grew up on a steady diet of their skewering everything from climate and films to political figures.  I have been a lifelong fan of Mad, and still follow Sergio Aragones, Al Jaffee and others from those halcyon days. This collection adheres to the spirit of those bygone days, if not stringently to the contributors.

Many of this collections' entries are from the MadBlog or other issues of the magazine. They're all indexed and credited in the table of contents. This is a collection to be read a little at a time, lest the reader be (literally) saddened and nauseated by the state of the union.

Anyhow, this collection is full of brutally sarcastic humor. Basically everyone with any sort of profile in the Trump orbit gets skewered in this collection.

I enjoyed it in small, measured doses. It's important to remember to go read something else for a while if readers find their blood pressure spiking or experience desperation and/or depression.

Four stars, love Mad magazine.

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

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori is a new entry in the Little People, Big Dreams series of historical biographies of the childhoods and lives of notable people. I've reviewed a number of the books in this charming series on my blog. This one, about Maria Montessori, introduced me to some facts of which I was previously unaware.

Due out 7th March 2019 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 32 pages and available in hardback format.

This is a lovely tribute to a woman who was educated as a medical doctor (the first woman doctor educated in modern times in Italy) and who used her abilities and observational skills to serve some of the most vulnerable children in her society. Considered disposable by her society at the time, she recognized that everyone could be educated and used her skills to make learning fun for the marginalized and institutionalized children of Italy, and later the world.

The text by Isabel Vegara is simple enough to be understood by very young children. The art, by Raquel Martin is colorful and appealing and illustrates the text very well.

Very well done book and a lovely and worthwhile series. It would make a great bedtime read or a reading circle or classroom read for young readers.  There's also and included bibliography (not included in the galley proofs) for further reading.

Four stars.

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

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is a new addition to the Little People, Big Dreams series of historical biographies. Although I've reviewed a number of titles in this series on my blog, I'm amazed each time at the level of detail the authors and artists manage to provide in an age appropriate manner.

Released 1st March 2018 by Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 32 pages and available in boardbook, hardcover, and ebook formats.

These books are aimed at the very youngest readers (or pre-readers) and though many of the subjects lived difficult lives, the difficulties and traumas are handled in a sensitive compassionate manner. This book would make a superlative read-along, library or classroom reading circle selection or gift for a favorite youngster.

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  I really got a smile out of the fact that she referred to Ada's parents as "liking maths and poetry". and The art by Zafouko Yamamoto is engaging and supports the text very well. There are a number of details in the illustrations which made me smile like the picture of Ada and her kitty, Mrs. Puff, hiding under the table.

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition.

Five stars.

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

Murder on the Clifftops (A Melissa Craig Mystery Book 3)

Murder on the Clifftops is the 3rd book in the Melissa Craig series by Betty Rowlands. Released 15th Oct 2018 by Bookouture, it's 268 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. Originally published in 1993 as Over the Edge, the entire series is being reformatted and re-released in order of publication.

This is an enjoyable cozy series. This one sees titular character, mystery author Melissa, on location in France with neighbor Iris. They're a part of a school/workshop in southern France, Iris as a painting instructor and Melissa doing research for an upcoming mystery she's writing.

The author definitely has a deft touch with historical details and the setting and history are as much a character in the book as any of the human characters. There was a great deal of the history of the area of which I was previously completely unaware. The murders were sufficiently 'bloodless' as to fit with the cozy genre, there wasn't anything to distress or detract from a pleasurable read. I liked the convoluted plot building and the denouement was satisfying.  The language is quite clean and there's very little sexual content at all (just secondhand comments on some characters' personal lives). Nothing gratuitous.

There are elements of a thriller and long shadows from WW2 and betrayals lasting down generations. I did enjoy the book and will seek out further installments.  Though this is the third book in the series, it works very well as a standalone and I had no trouble following the plot or figuring out who was who.

Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. This book (and the rest of the series) are included in the KU subscription to download and read for free.

Four stars. Entertaining and well written.

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

The Mortal Word

The Mortal Word is the 5th entry in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. Released 27th Nov 2018 by Berkley/Penguin on their Ace imprint, it's 448 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This book combines everything I love about crossworlds fantasy, timeslip, and murder mystery with superb world building, well written dialogue, and suspense. The heroine, Irene, is a Librarian, imbued with limited power to bend reality in the alternate worlds to which she travels on assignment.

The book series has an overarching long term story arc, and though the books are all self-contained adventures, they wouldn't fare well as standalones. I heartily recommend seeking out the books in order. This is a superlative 'binge reading' series and to be honest, despite having a couple hundred books in my TBR pile, I took the time to read all 5 books in order again before starting a review.

One thing which emerged after re-reading them in order at once as opposed to reading the series piecemeal over a period of years is that Ms. Cogman has a near surgical control over the story arc. I don't have a clue what her plotting and story arc work looks like in her creative process, but there are foreshadowings from the first book on about things that eventually develop in later books. I hadn't really appreciated that when I was reading them one-per-year as they were released.  I love and admire the control and expertise which this undoubtedly requires.  On the other hand, the stories aren't rigid or tick-tock precise. There's a lot of suspense (and humor).

They're very well written with an ensemble cast of characters. The books are full of wit and humor and bookish in-jokes.  Wonderfully intelligent entertainment.

Five stars for The Mortal Word, and five stars for the series. More, please!

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

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Gradient Style

Gradient Style is an appealing technique and color tutorial book from Interweave. Focused around DIY ombre color shifting (not just relying on pre-dyed ombres), it includes 19 well curated projects by designers who will be well known to the ravelry and fashion knitting crowd.

Released 25th Dec 2018 by F+W Media, it's 160 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

The projects vary in style and type.  Stoles and scarves are well represented as are hats. There are some larger projects, a pullover, a tee, and a few cardigans. There are also a couple pairs of socks.  One of the really valuable bits of the book for me personally was the technique and color tutorials in the introductory chapter.  Armed with this information, it's entirely possible to swatch a bit and come up with a workable plan for converting more or less any pattern to a color shifting masterpiece.  I've always been a rather timid knitter when it comes to color.  I think this book will give me the little push I needed to be bolder in color choice.

This book (as well as most Interweave offerings lately) is well photographed and documented. The book is liberally peppered with online resources and links to designers' web spaces. There are also basic technique and knitting illustrations included at the back of the book as well as a selection of online retailers for sourcing yarns and supplies.

Well made book full of lots of lovely projects.

Five stars.

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

A Christmas Most Foul

A Christmas Most Foul is a nice anthology of 4 holiday themed golden age British stories. Two are short stories, two are full length novels. The two by Margery Allingham both feature Campion. The Nicholas Blake offers a nicely turned out Nigel Strangeways tale, and the final book of the quartet is an Inspector Appleby mystery by Michael Innes. First publication dates for the 4 vary from 1936 to 1965.

Re-released by Agora on 25th Nov 2018, this edition is 475 pages and available in ebook format.

The precis are available on the book blurb. They're all classic British writing by masters of the form at the top of their respective games, 3 are mysteries. Word in Season, the second story featuring Campion isn't a mystery but more of a charming vignette.

Generally with collections/anthologies I skip around a bit with the order of the stories.  This anthology I wound up reading cover to cover in two sittings.  They're all light and engaging and intelligently written and plotted.

All of the stories work very well as standalones and I could see this being a good introduction for readers who are interested in golden age British crime but who aren't already in possession of a comprehensive collection.

Possibly worth noting for Kindle unlimited subscribers. This book (and much of the authors' oeuvre) are available to borrow for free as part of the KU subscription.

Four stars, really enjoyed these in front of the fireplace with a glass of mulled wine and cheese and crackers. Bliss.

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

Footsteps in the Dark

Footsteps in the Dark is a British golden age murder mystery by Georgette Heyer. Originally released in 1932, this edition came out 1st Jan 2019, is 432 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats (other editions are available in most formats).

This is the first of the author's thrillers.  She was apparently displeased with the result, but I disagree. This one in particular is a sort of Scooby Doo / Nancy Drew / Agatha Christie mashup.  The dialogue is sparkling and (mostly) witty. The characters are varied and well written. The humor is dry. The denouement is foreshadowed but well within the 'rules'.

I adore golden age interwar mysteries. The whole 'creepy country house' vibe is wonderful and this one doesn't disappoint. 

Enjoyable read and I was sorry to see this one end. I was happy to see that Sourcebooks was reformatting and re-releasing them to a new reading public.

Four stars.

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

Pint of No Return

The Pint of No Return is the second book in the Sloan Krause cozy mystery series by Ellie Alexander. Released 2nd Oct 2018 by St. Martin's on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook formats.

This is a well written, decidedly cozy murder mystery with a side of romance. Main character Sloan is likeable and engaging.  The murder in the mystery follows the well established mystery 'rule' to make the victim as unlikable as humanly possible (which also handily provides a wide pool of suspects).

The author is either very well versed in the world of brewing or has an astounding capacity for in-depth research. I loved that she throws in lots of info about different methods of brewing, different hops varieties, and even some fun beer related chemistry.

There's a fair bit of light humor. There's some pun based humor, mostly in the names of beers and foods (and book titles), but nothing which I found especially egregious.

The book does contain some drinking (of course), but no extreme profanity (one 'sh*t') or sexual content. Nothing to make the average reader blush. 

This is a good light-hearted cozy.

Four stars.

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Crock-Pot Ladies Big Book of Slow Cooker Dinners

The Crock-Pot Ladies Big Book of Slow Cooker Dinners is a new recipe collection from cooking/lifestyle blog team at CrockPotLadies. Released 15th Jan 2019 by Quarto on their Harvard Common Press imprint, it's 328 pages, and available in ebook and paperback formats.

My family is fairly typical of a lot of families with older teen/twenties kids living at home, two parents working full time and very little time left over for long and involved meal prep.  My slow cooker and instant-pot have become some of my best friends in the kitchen.  It's really tempting to pick up the same things at the grocery store and prepare the same dinners week in and week out.  I'm seriously not exaggerating when I say that this book has challenged my family to change up our dinners and get away from the same old things.

There are some really delightful regional dishes represented here. There are the staple southwestern USA dishes (the chicken enchilada soup - p.66 is delicious and we've made it a dozen times in the last few months), lots of Italian American fusion dishes, minestrone, tomato soup with gnocchi, and others, as well as a welcome handful of Asian inspired dishes also with an American flair. I haven't seen many seafood based slow cooker recipes, and this cookbook has them. The lobster bisque (p.50) is -gorgeous-.

The ingredients are slanted toward North American readers; sourcing some of them might be challenging other places in the world.  I live in Northern Europe and didn't have trouble finding the ingredients for the recipes we tested, so it's not likely to be an impossible hurdle in other parts of the world.  Recipes are given in imperial measurements with metric equivalents in parentheses, so the reader is spared from having to convert.

Just a fun and delicious comprehensive slow cooker cookbook. There are lots of selections which are not soups or stews, which is great.  This collection shows the versatility of slow cookers. The recipes are sensible and the entire aesthetic of the book is family friendly and wholesome. Is there anything in here that's going to make cordon bleu chefs swoon? No. Are these family friendly and appetizing meals with easily sourced ingredients which even your picky ten year old will eat without drama? Yes.

Five stars.  Definitely worthwhile. Of the recipes we've tried, there hasn't been a single clunker.

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

Picture Perfect Knits

Picture Perfect Knits is a technique primer for knitters looking to try their needles on intarsia.

I do a lot of volunteer/charity knitting. The patterns for the charity projects are very very basic because the organizers want them to be as inclusive of all knitters, even non-knitters (we'll teach you!) as possible.  That means that after the 500th article one knits, there tends to be a sameness and since one is using the same yarn for many projects, one has a growing stash of incomplete skeins of the same yarns.  Because one of the main charities I knit things for is crisis premature babies, the articles can't have any dangly color floats to catch small fingers or the tubes to which the babies are attached. I love bright colors (and in my heart, I believe that bright contrast is good for babies' visual development). Enter intarsia.

I checked this book out as a source for intarsia patterns for small blankets and snuggies and other flat articles.  The book does include some projects and charts.  There were none which really appealed much to me personally.  I also admittedly found the author's writing style a bit off-putting.  I really feel like it was intended to be encouraging but read to me as somewhat condescending. I also felt like this was an 'all or nothing' technique book.  'Intarsia is what's been missing in your life all along'!  I like to think of it as a tool in the knitter's toolbox, along with other techniques for colorwork.  Except duplicate stitching. That's the devil in my opinion.

There are 10 complete tutorials included.

Part three (following the intro/technique chapter and complete projects) are stand-alone charts by 17 (by my count) different designers.  They are a mixed bunch, but there are several which I will be incorporating into some of my preemie blankets in the coming months.

Final thoughts - a mixed bag. There are definitely some usable takeaways, but I wouldn't recommend it as the only intarsia book in the knitter's library.

Three stars.

Services Rendered: The Cases of Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.

Services Rendered is a new collection of vignettes in the Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series by Kevin J. Anderson. Released 15th Nov 2018 on Wordfire,  it's 204 pages and available in ebook, paperback, and hardback formats.

I've reviewed more of the author's work on the blog, and can recommend this collection of simultaneous cases which are braided together in a cohesive narrative whole as well. Even though they're thoroughly silly, and punny, and campy, the author doesn't use that as an excuse for crafting a shoddy subpar story.  This is well crafted and well plotted fiction. The characters (despite most of them being living-challenged) are likeable and relatable.  The dialogue is silly but it's never clunky. The story and world building are cohesive and believable within the given framework of the story.

The plotting is tight and well paced and I absolutely never found myself skimming or skipping ahead.  Fair warning to readers, this is purely humorous undead noir.  I have to ready to be in a silly mood for these books to have maximum effect. They're completely exuberant and full of punny humor and in-jokes and cultural references.

Highly recommended. This is one of the few humor series which I've found myself re-reading on occasion. 

Five stars. Pure silly fun.

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Black & Decker Play Structures & Backyard Fun

Black & Decker Play Structures & Backyard Fun is a new design and how-to guide from Black and Decker aimed at giving DIYers the tools they need to design and execute a play structure for home use.

Released 30th Oct 2018 by Quarto on their Cool Springs imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

This is a well organized and logically formatted book with several complete designs included. It does presuppose access to a number of standard power tools as well as a basic familiarity with safety procedures. The book does include a basic chapter on materials and tool safety.  The first section covers design and placement as well as some materials introductions and sourcing information.  The specific project chapters which come after are divided into play structures, backyard hardscapes (sandboxes, seesaw, zipline, etc), and sports specific projects (including a really nifty skateboard ramp and a horseshoe pit amongst others).

Swimming pools and treehouses are also briefly covered in their own sections. 

The book includes abbreviated conversion charts and a resource list as well as a short index.  The measurements are imperial and the resources are slanted toward the North American DIYer, though online retailers will make it relatively easy for sourcing materials wherever readers live.

Four stars. Well written, if basic, instructions and designs. 

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

The Language Learner Guidebook: Powerful Tools to Help You Conquer Any Language

The Language Learner Guidebook is an interesting hybrid book/textbook from language educator Shane Dixon. Released 20th Nov 2018 by Wayzgoose press, it's 290 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats. Written as a companion book to Dr. Dixon's online language courses, it provides some insights about language learning which he's gathered during his time as a language instructor.

As a native English speaker, I have lived in a number of not-primarily-English-speaking countries.  I've often wondered why my facility (for example) with Korean and Russian lagged significantly behind my facility with Norwegian (and in fact Danish and Swedish for that matter).  Despite having lived in both Korea and Norway/Denmark, my Korean fluency never remotely approached my comfort level with Norwegian. This book provided some interesting insights into why (in my case) it happened that way.

This is much less of a book about how to learn a particular foreign language than it is a philosophical and pedagogic guide to why and how we learn and process language; specifically another language from our first.

The book really reads like a road map or atlas.  There are way-points listed along with a pithy observation at the end of each section. I found that reading the observations at the end of the sections helped me to more easily identify the ones which were more applicable to my situation.  I think this book could be quite useful for a reader troubleshooting his/her own comprehension or language learning process.

There was honestly nothing truly epiphanous for me.  There was no moment when a light-bulb went off over my head and I thought 'Wow!  THAT'S what I've been missing all along'.  There was a slow accumulation of small interesting ideas which will likely be useful to students of foreign language.

What did really interest me very much and for me the most valuable takeaways in the book came from the short exercises at the end of the book.  Presented as mini-lessons/stratagems, they provide starting points for developing a plan for increasing specific areas of your language learning.  There were several lessons for several different facets of language acquisition: culture, developing a network,  preparation, developing an effective strategy for practice and other practical aspects of learning.

It's an interesting book and one I will likely refer to again later. 

Three-four stars.  It would make a good adjunct textbook or support work to teachers learning *how* to teach language.

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

Dude Crafts

Dude Crafts is an illustrated tutorial how-to guide with tongue firmly in cheek.  The projects are way out there and silly and/or campy. They range from bizarre: a flask hidden inside a realistic baby doll (complete with baby-pack carrier) to the odd: a DIY paracord bullwhip, to the MacGuyverish: PVC freezing tubes for your favorite beverage coolers.

Released 2nd Oct 2018 by Quarto on their Voyageur imprint, it's 192 pages and available in hardcover format.

While this book has a very humorous feel, there are a number of useful items which can be made with the tutorials provided. Keys can be kept together in a swiss-army-knife type contraption, your bottle opener will never go missing again, thanks to neodymium magnets and a disembowled doll/action figure, and several other notable more-or-less utilitarian pieces.  There are of course some purely humorous projects: a keen amateur can make a hysterically realistic head-in-a-jar which looks like a friend or coworker, the aforementioned flask in a realistic babydoll in a carrier, and a dinosaur pencil sharpener.

While admittedly there weren't any of the 50 projects which called out to me to be made right away, there certainly were enough nuggets of advice and jumping off points that I'm sure I'll be using some of the ideas in one form or another in the future.

Four stars for the humor and wacky ideas.

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

A Picture of Murder

A Picture of Murder is the 4th Lady Hardcastle murder mystery by T E Kinsey.  Released 22nd Oct 2018 by Amazon on their Thomas & Mercer imprint.  It's 320 pages and available in ebook, paperback, and audio formats.

These books are the coziest of cozy period mysteries. Set in Gloucestershire in the early 20th century (this one's in 1909), they're fun and light, bordering on silly/daffy. Lady Hardcastle and her intrepid Watson  maid Florence, are on the trail of a cinema murdering fanatic who is apparently working through the plot of a horror film and doing away with the actors and actresses in the same manner as they die on film.

For lovers of modern period cozy mysteries, this might fill the bill.  I personally found the dialogue jarring in a number of places and found myself yanked out of the story fairly often.  The local charlady continually refers to people (usually Lady Hardcastle) as 'my lover'. The plot turns on a couple of key items which are dubious at best and there are some fairly large plot holes. That being said, if the reader is in search of an innocent, fun read with clean language (a few 'damns' and 'blasts' to be found, but nothing more egregious) and fairly straightforward plotting with a silly amateur sleuth+sidekick, this could fill the bill.

Possibly worth noting, for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this and the rest of the series is available to borrow in the KU subscription.

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the jolliness of the romp.

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

Ella Fitzgerald: My First Ella Fitzgerald

My First Ella Fitzgerald is a new early reader book in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of the books in the series on the blog.

This is the simplified version of the book, available in boardbook format. Written by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Barbara Alca, it was released 5th Feb 2019 by Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint.

I am continually surprised at how these books can take the factual tragedies and challenges of the lives of the people they depict and do it in an appropriate manner for 3+ year olds.  I really believe it's vitally important that we not forget the realities of the past, lest we be doomed to repeat them.

This book is charming. It does understandably gloss over some of the sadder parts of her early life (she was homeless for a time and busked and danced on the streets of NYC).  It does not cut that part of her life from the biography completely. I was impressed by that.

The content is appropriate and appealing for all ages. It would make a superlative read-along or reading circle selection as well as a family bedtime read.

These are wonderful, high quality books.

Five stars.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Emmeline Pankhurst: My First Emmeline Pankhurst

My First Emmeline Pankhurst is a simplified version of the Emmeline Pankhurst book in the Little People, Big Dreams series. This series of young reader books provides short illustrated biographies for famous people around the world from current and past history. They're all really well done and I've enjoyed (and recommended) all I've reviewed on the blog.

Worth noting: There are two versions of this book.  The young reader version was released in 2017.  This boardbook edition has much more simplified text and was released 5th Feb 2019. The entire series is published by Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint.

The art by Ana Sanfelippo is appealingly naive and simple and supports and illustrates the story very well.  I'm impressed with Quarto's expertise in finding and presenting the artists of this series to a new audience.

Really well done series and this entry is a worthy addition.

Would make a superlative reading circle selection for classroom, library read-along, bedtime story, or similar.  I personally recommend the entire series as good choices for school/classroom libraries.

Five stars. 

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

Rosa Parks

Rosa is a new book in the Little People, Big Dreams series. Aimed at younger readers, the messages are inspiring, the art is engaging, and the takeaways are on-point and delivered in an age-appropriate manner.

I've reviewed and loved several of the earlier books in the series on the blog, and this one is no exception. The art by Marta Antelo is whimsical and appealing, with bright colors and bold graphics. There are two versions of this book. This one is for the youngest readers with much more simplified writing. The 'older' kid version was published in 2017, this 'first board book' version was released 5th Feb 2019. Both are from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint.

It's impressive that any author could make a book about racism, segregation, violence, hate, civil disobedience, and turmoil age appropriate for the youngest children and present it in such a fashion that it's both understandable and not damaging for the reader.

Rosa is a lovely addition to the series about a worthwhile subject.

Five stars.

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

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a historical novel set in 1936 Appalachia. Author Kim Michele Richardson has a deft touch with characterization and and description. The time period and settings really shine through. This is a book based around real historical events and people. The New Deal traveling library project was designed to bring books and literacy to the most remote areas of Appalachia.

Due out 7th May 2019 on Sourcebook's Landmark imprint, it's 320 pages and available in hardback, paperback, ebook, and audioCD formats.

Reading and literacy have played such a fundamental role for me that I cannot imagine the path of my life without free access to reading material from infancy. My parents were teachers/engineers who were both lifelong readers.  My mother was a librarian.  I grew up in a state (WV) which, then and now, is consistently in the bottom group as regards education and literacy.  For some reason, the love of reading and books was instilled in me at a very young age.  I cannot imagine living in a world where books weren't readily available and the majority couldn't read and furthermore saw reading as undesirable or outright dangerous.

I personally found the book quite distressing to read in a number of places.  The bald racism and brutal language as well as the sexism and misogyny (and actual violence without any real repercussions for the 'bad guys'), while certainly historically accurate, was painful to read.The book itself is very well written and plotted. It was just so jarring to read the violent interludes.  There are descriptions of coerced sex, threatened sexual assault, racism, misogyny, the 'n' word (as well as 'colored'), and physical assault and violence throughout the book.

I don't think the brutality of the book detracts from the essential message; beauty and literacy are vital forces for good and change can happen.

For readers with thicker skin than mine, I'm sure this book would be a 5 star reading experience. I've absolutely no doubt it'll be (or already is) optioned for a high budget Hollywood film.  For me, the detractions brought the overall enjoyment down to about 3,5 stars. Rounding up because the writing is superlative.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets

Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets is the third Gilded Age mystery by Rosemary Simpson.  Released 27th Nov 2018 by Kensington, it's 304 pages and available in hardback, paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

Though this is the 3rd installment, it works perfectly well as a standalone. Necessary background info is provided. There are a few minor spoilers from earlier books in the series, so be aware of that if reading them out of order.

I really enjoy historical mysteries. This is a well written series with generally believable characters.  The realities of life during the time period, even for the wealthy who had access to better living conditions, are stark.

The female lead character, Prudence, is intelligent and resourceful. The interplay between her and her partner is deftly written.  I enjoyed seeing their relationship develop over the course of the book.

There are some prominent themes in the book which may not be appropriate to all audiences. Obviously it's a cozy murder mystery, but the murders include some fairly graphic infanticide and maternal deaths.  The plot also involves some coerced drug abuse, physical abuse, and gambling. The primary antagonist is a towering stereotype and I spent most of the book hoping he'd get his just deserts.

Enjoyable read. Four stars

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

Weaving with Little Handmade Looms: Make Your Own Mini Looms and Weave 25 Exquisite Projects

Weaving with Little Handmade Looms is a translated re-release of a tutorial instruction guide on making and using handmade looms. Originally published in Japanese in 2017, the English edition is due out 11 April 2019 from Zakka workshop, is 128 pages and available in paperback format.

Generally seen as an expensive hobby requiring a large commitment in time and equipment, many would-be weavers assume that it's not an achievable goal to learn weaving and create appealing, 'grown-up' projects. This book has some neat tricks for using easily sourced materials to make small homemade looms in several shapes and then piecing the units together into larger finished objects.

There tutorials are split into chapters based on each type/shape of loom. There are instructions included for sourcing materials and creating each of the shapes: board, round, box and frame looms.  The chapters include photos and introductions for each of the projects. The tutorials are placed further toward the back of the book. Many of the tutorials have diagrams which illustrate construction techniques.

All in all a good inexpensive introduction to weaving construction.  This would also make a good support book for a classroom art module for middle grades and older. It would also be appropriate for a library collection.

Four stars.

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

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The King's Witch

The King's Witch is the first book in a fictionalized historical trilogy set during the reign of King James. Historian Tracy Borman's familiarity and expertise with the period make it very authentic reading, but for readers who aren't very familiar with the background history and the time period, access to supplementary references might enhance the experience.  I found myself confused about context at several points and had to go look up the secondary characters.  The fictionalized parts of the story are skillfully interwoven with documented history and I was impressed at how plausible the author's interpretations were.

This first volume was released 13th July 2018 by Grove Atlantic. It's 448 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.

History is not normally my first genre choice.  This one, however, was very well written and after a slow start, was paced and plotted well.  The intrigues and power-jockeying at court were so clearly described that they were almost uncomfortable to read in several places. 

Historical fiction lovers will really find a lot to like here.  I will pick up the next novel in the series and I did enjoy this one, though I had to look up some of the back-history myself.

Four stars.

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

The Colour of Murder

The Colour of Murder is one of the books selected for re-release as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. Originally published in 1957, this reformatting was released 5th Feb 2019 by Poisoned Pen, is 280 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats (other editions are available in other formats). This edition also includes an interesting and insightful introduction and historical biographical notes written by Martin Edwards. I always enjoy his intros because I inevitably find more mysteries and authors who were hitherto unknown to me.  His knowledge of the genre is encyclopedic.

The book itself is a thriller split into two sections. The first is a lengthy soliloquy by the main character, John Wilkins, to a consulting psychiatrist and is told in first person pov. The second part is third person and details the discovery of the murder (there's a long buildup to the identity of the victim) and the subsequent court procedure. The writing is very spare and direct. There were several points in both sections of the book where I found myself more or less uncomfortable reading. It's very well written but very direct and visceral. The main character (by his own admission) is something of a bully and abusive to his wife.

The book's ending is quite subtle and for people (like me) who prefer Poirot gathering everyone together in the library for the grand denouement, you might be left somewhat wanting.  The ending is somewhat subtle and rather left to the reader's interpretation.

I enjoyed it as a change from Poirot in the library.

Four stars, I'll look up more of the author's works.

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

Leonardo's Art Workshop: Invent, Create, and Make STEAM Projects like a Genius

Leonardo's Art Workshop is a companion book to Leonardo's Science Workshop (reviewed by me here). I've been touting STE(A)M education for decades. Most of the time, getting young people fired up over technology and art is as simple as exposing them to the concepts and getting out of their way.
Released 20th Nov 2018 on Quarto's Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and flexibind formats. Author Amy Leidtke is an educator and designer and brings that experience to bear creating and presenting numerous projects which illustrate the concepts detailed in each segment. The chapters cover visual light and color and there are some really cool projects (like a camera obscura to build and DIY). Details from Leonardo da Vinci's life and history are seamlessly woven into the book in sidebars.  The photography and diagrams in the book are clear and the instructions are well written. The projects use relatively easily sourced and inexpensive materials.

This would make a superlative book for youth groups (scouts) or school STEAM module for middle grade students.

Wonderfully well made and interesting projects.

Five stars.

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

A Blunt Instrument

A Blunt Instrument is the 4th of 4 Inspectors Hannayside & Hemingway mysteries. Originally released in 1938, this reformatting and re-release on Sourcebooks Landmark imprint is 352 pages and due out 2nd April 2019.

Golden age mysteries are my favorites. I love the settings, the characters, and the (usually) civilized dialogue.  Georgette Heyer isn't my absolute favorite golden age author, but I've read (and often re-read) most of her books.  Though this is the 4th book to feature Inspector Hannayside, it works well as a standalone and there are no spoilers from earlier books with the inspectors.

As other reviewers have stated, this is less of a 'whodunnit' (the culprit is heavily foreshadowed) and more of a procedural with very droll and witty dialogue. I loved Neville and Sally (a monocle wearing mystery writer!), there were several places they had me smiling and chuckling out loud. 

A worthwhile and diverting read.  The plotting is straightforward and the book makes a nice 'commute' read in that it can be picked up and put down without struggling to remember where you were.

Four stars.

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Greeks Bearing Gifts is the 13th, sadly penultimate, Bernie Gunther novel from Philip Kerr. Released 3rd April 2018 by Marion Wood books/Putnam, it's a substantial 522 pages and available in all formats (hardback, paperback, audio, ebook, audioCD, etc).  Mr. Kerr had a career that spanned decades.  He was a truly gifted artist and writer of thrillers written around some historical events and people.  The stories are so skillfully written around the actual events that it's difficult to separate the fact from fiction.

This book is full of amazing imagery and so deftly drawn that I found myself re-reading passages after I had finished, just to savor the expertise and craftsmanship of Kerr's writing.  This is an amazingly well crafted book.

I really enjoy Bernie Gunther's honesty and intelligence when the world around him and so many of the people he has to deal with are dishonest and cruel. He's just trying to get by as a morgue attendant in Munich after the war when he's recognized from his former life and forced to be complicit in a planned robbery.  The ways he manages to extricate himself are as varied as they are impressive. 

Wonderfully written, top shelf cold-war thriller.  Truly a classic series and this is a worthy entry. I'm just sad that there aren't going to be more of them after the last one (Metropolis) later this year.

Five stars.

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

From Tree to Table

From Tree to Table is a tutorial guide from woodworker and outdoorsman Alan Garbers. Released 22nd Jan 2019 by Fox Chapel, it's 152 pages and available in paperback format.

There is a philosophical concept (widely represented in a lot of different cultures) that says that the act of making an object (especially handmaking) imbues it with a 'thusness'. The fact that each piece of  handmade furniture is unique (even if the crafter is aiming for conformity) gives it personality.  Rustic decoration has become very popular the last years. I believe this is in direct response to decades of disposable cookie-cutter furniture.  Handmade goods are generally more solid and well made than mass produced items and they are certainly more pleasing to live with and use.

This author 'gets it'. This book is full of personal anecdotes and tips from his experiences building furniture himself.

The book is split into sections. Each section is further divided into project chapters. Part 1 covers introductory how-to and tools. Besides a very basic chapter included covering safety and equipment, there are lots of technique and info sections on wood as a medium, why it behaves the way it does, how to form and shape it, sourcing and evaluating materials, etc.

Part 2 has the furniture tutorials. There are 7 moderately advanced projects up to and including a bed-frame. There is also a short bibliography and index.  The project tutorials presuppose a level of familiarity with woodworking and access to tools.  This is a lovely book, full of beautiful photographs of rustic furniture in a room setting. I would recommend it not only to woodworkers looking for a challenge, but also as inspiration to readers wishing to source custom crafted furniture.

Five stars.

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

Slimy Chicken Zomnibus

Slimy Chicken Zomnibus is a re-release and reformatting of two earlier Dan Shamble novels in a double book edition. Released 1st Jan 2019 in this edition (original release dates 2014 & 2017) on Wordfire, it's 456 pages and available in hardback, paperback, and ebook formats.

These are my guilty pleasure reading.  I know book bloggers who secretly read the sappiest HEA harlequin romances who would never admit it in black and white.  These are mine.  There are a number of absolutely no-holds-barred series which are full of unapologetic punnery that make you moan and writhe in agony.  They're more or less in the same genre.  Of those series, including those by Glen Cook, Robert Asprin, Phil Foglio, Charles Stross, etc,  these are my favorites.  They're funny and full of awful puns and send-ups.  They're mood lifters. (I work in a histology lab looking at cancer biopsies most every day - I read a lot of funny books to balance my work day).

Honestly the books go to the same place in my brain as MST3K and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama. If you're in the mood for complete silliness, they're just the thing.

The Dan Shamble books are all standalones. The author does refer back to things which happened earlier, but there aren't any deal-breaker spoilers.  Mr. Anderson is a hugely prolific author, though much (most?) of his oeuvre is more serious fantasy/science fiction.

I heartily recommend these books as long as readers are fully aware they're very silly and full of groan-worthy puns and in-jokes.

Five stars.  I'd give more if I could. They're goofy books. They're perfect.

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

Monday, February 4, 2019

All New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd Edition, Fully Updated

All New Square Foot Gardening is a revamp and re-release of the classic gardening book by Mel Bartholomew. The first edition was released in 1981 and changed the face of home gardening forever.  This third edition, published 15th Nov 2018 from Quarto on their Cool Springs imprint is 272 pages and available in paperback and ebook format.

The concept of square foot gardening will be familiar to most home gardeners by now. Mel Bartholomew changed the paradigm when he combined biointensive methods with the innovation to use containers and raised beds set up in grids instead of the (at the time) traditional parallel row method of growing vegetables in the home garden.  The yields can be significantly higher, the plants shade one another so weeds are not nearly as much of a problem and pests can be hand picked so they generally don't get out of hand. Succession planting makes maximum use of the space and spreads yields out so that nothing goes to waste.

This edition is well illustrated and full of color photography. It's a valuable reference also, full of planting schedules, charts, germination tables, lists of growables along with 'all about' entries which give more in-depth information about the most popular veggies and flowers.

If I had to choose ONE gardening book to recommend to new and experienced gardeners, Square Foot Gardening would be the one.  This edition includes some new projects and new photographs along with some new container and accessibility gardening solutions. I am not 100% sure that there's a lot of new content for owners of the other editions, though I adore the SFG foundation's mission statement: "End World Hunger" and buying the book supports their efforts for education and international gardening.  <3 

Five stars for all the editions.  I have been influenced a great deal in my lifelong gardening journey by SFG and would definitely not be the gardener I am today without Mr. Bartholomew's influence.

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

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Lady in the Cellar: Murder, Scandal and Insanity in Victorian Bloomsbury

The Lady in the Cellar is a new true-crime book from journalist & author Sinclair McKay. Released 30th Oct 2018 on Quarto's White Lion imprint, it's 320 pages and available in hardback and ebook formats.

This is a meticulously researched and written book.  The narrative, as it is, it not fictionalized in any meaningful degree and is mostly written from historical records and court transcripts.  It can be slow going and actually reads like a court transcript with a great deal of 'he said, she said, and do you recall'.

The biggest takeaway for me was in the descriptions of Victorian life and the living arrangements of otherwise relatively wealthy people in England at the time.  The society was so rigid and set that people falling outside the 'norms' (i.e., wealthy unmarried women without close family supervision, girls/women who didn't conform to the life choices which were societally acceptable, some immigrants, etc) were often in complete free fall and vulnerable to exploitation and murder.  The other really interesting aspect of this book for me came in learning more about the attitudes toward mental illness.  The fact that several people who lived in the boarding house at the same time suffered from poor mental health to one degree or another which might have led to the murder and subsequent breakdowns of the people involved was handled deftly by the author.

The speculative conclusions offered seemed logical and even likely to me. 

I found the book interesting but somewhat dry reading.  It will likely appeal to lovers of true crime/court procedurals or die-hard fans of Victoriana.

Well done, four stars.

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

The Super Organic Gardener

The Super Organic Gardener by Matthew Appleby is a new gardening tutorial guide aimed at making home gardening a more gentle pursuit by avoiding animal based amendments and products in the organic garden. The author makes a passionate argument for working ethically in tandem with the biome to produce food and not exploiting animals or supporting animal farming.

It's clear from reading recent headlines that food safety is impacted and we're at risk of pathogen infections from improperly sterilized compost during growing. E. coli, salmonella, clostridium, listeria and others are potentially borne on garden produce.  The methods outlined in this book won't eliminate all risks of foodborne pathogen transmission, but they do go a ways toward reducing the risks (as long as we produce our own food or source it from reliable providers who also refrain from using animal based soil amendments).

The book progresses from an argument for moving away from animal based fertilizers, through soil building with alternate products. There are sections covering container and raised bed gardening. A large proportion of the page content is devoted to a discussion of soil and how to build it up. There is a nice chapter on plant selection which is pertinent even to growers who don't have philosophical reasons for avoiding manure, blood and bone in their gardens. There is also a nice list of suppliers and sources, slanted toward UK readers.

If I had to choose one word to describe this book/philosophy it would be 'holistic'. We can't expect to knock one part of our biome out of whack without having (possibly profound) effects on other parts.  We kill bad bugs, we're also killing good bugs, with the possible follow on effect of starving the species which predate on the bugs, which means the species which need the birds to survive move on (or die).

We desperately need to learn to live in harmony with our environment or we're all going to harvest untold misery.

Gardeners are some of the most practical people I've met.  I feared this book would be, frankly, full of 'woo'. It's not.  The author makes a compelling argument for both plant based diets and for moving away from the use of animal based products.  I will be implementing some practical methods from the book in my own garden.

Four stars. He makes a lot of good points.

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