Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Tilt-a-Whirl is the first book in Chris Grabenstein's series featuring John Ceepak. Originally published in 2005 by Carroll & Graf, it's 330 pages and available in all formats, including a masterful audiobook version narrated by Jeff Woodman.

This is a first person PoV story 'narrated' by Ceepak's sidekick, part time summertime police officer Danny Boyle.The books are set in a fictionalized part of the Jersey Shore and are full of tourists and anecdotes and some murder and arson.

Though the author is more well known for his children's and YA stories, this is distinctly adult material. The language is rough in places and some of the themes and the denouement are pretty brutal.

I enjoyed this installment very much and have already bought the second book in the series.

Four stars.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Unholy Dying

Unholy Dying is one of R.T. Campbell's first mysteries featuring Professor John Stubbs. Originally published in 1945, this re-formatting and re-release came out 16th Jan 2019 from Dover. It's 144 pages and this edition is available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a classic golden age British mystery. R.T. Campbell was the pseudonym of poet and author Ruthven Todd.  As a bio-engineer, I really enjoyed reading the 1940s genetics (the murder takes place at a professional conference of geneticists). The book has held up surprisingly well in my opinion. Some of the dialogue is a bit dated, but all in all, it's very well written, fast moving, well plotted and has a satisfying denouement.

It's a very fast read (I would call it a long novella or a very short novel).  As in many (most?) murder mysteries of the time period, the corpse was a thoroughly unlikable jerk; no tears were shed. There is a smaller than normal pool of suspects and Stubbs has to resort to subterfuge to deliver the guilty party. All in all a nice read by a lesser known author from the golden age. While it's not up to Christie, Marsh, Carr, Tey, or Sayers, it's a completely readable and diverting mystery.

Four stars. 

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

Hand Sewing Magic

Hand Sewing Magic is a tutorial and philosophy-of-art guide by Lynn Krawczyk. Released 4th Dec 2018 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

There's been a renaissance of sorts for handcrafts, especially fibrecrafts. Once considered a necessary day-to-day survival skill and learnt by girls at a young age, handsewing is enjoying a resurgence as a valid form of artistic expression.  There have been a number of really appealing books on surface embroidery and utility sewing lately. This is another good one.

The introductory chapters contain the obligatory materials lists and photos, but also contain and interesting discussion of the creative philosophy.. why hand sew when there are faster methods of creating a finished product. The author makes a number of valid points.

The next four chapters (70% of the content) contain a variety of stitches and several tutorial projects per chapter primarily using utilitarian stitches, outlining and filling stitches, decorative stitches and finally 3dimensional stitches.

There's an alphabetical index and resource page (slanted toward readers in North America).  The book emphasizes the creative process and artistic inspiration much more than slavishly following a tutorial in order to create a copy of the projects in the book.  There are templates included but they're very basic and intended more as an inspirational jumping off point.

Four stars. Some nice projects and a lot of good thoughtful discourse on the fibre arts process.

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

The Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping

The Beginner's Guide to Beekeeping is a revised and updated manual for beekeeping from Daniel and Samantha Johnson and the FFA. Originally published in 2013, this edition was released 8th Jan 2019 by Quarto on their Voyageur Press imprint. It's 160 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This book is aimed at the inexperienced beekeeper. The authors presuppose no forehand experience or knowledge on the part of the reader. All of the terms and materials are explained in clear and accessible language. The introduction (about 5% of the content) is followed by a chapter on bee anatomy, identifying the different bees (worker, drone, queen), life cycle, etc.

Beekeepers wouldn't get very far without bees and hives. The second chapter deals with sourcing bees and hives as well as some building plans. The authors have included a really solid tutorial for a basic (off-grid) honey-house which is pole-built and could also be adapted to other uses.

The book progresses through installing the first bees and routine care and maintenance. A chapter on troubleshooting and disease diagnosis and prevention completes the introduction to bee husbandry. There is also a good discussion on harvesting and marketing honey and bee-products. The book ends with a short discussion of fun side activities for the beekeeper such as state fair competitions, varietal honey tastings, and gardening with bees.  There are a number of recipes included which incorporate honey.

A good and simple guide. It would make a good textbook for an introductory course, school library, community centre activity or community garden library.

Four stars.  

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

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is a new biography for young readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and I'm always impressed and enchanted by how much detail they manage to include in these little books in an age-appropriate and accessible manner.

Released 7th Feb 2019 by Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 32 pages and available in hardcover, and ebook formats.

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  I really loved the illustration (p. 4) of the whole family with Stephen and siblings reading at the dinner table and talking. The art by Matt Hunt is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. The illustrations are rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look. I like that his neurological health issues were mentioned, but not dwelt on, and that they mentioned his relatively normal family life (he married, had 3 kids and a wife).

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

Straw Bale Gardens Complete, Updated Edition

Straw Bale Gardens is a how to guide and manual for using straw bales to make temporary raised beds for vegetable and flower gardening. The first edition was published in 2015 and this updated re-release from Quarto on their Cool Springs imprint is due out 26th March 2019,  it's 208 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. This edition is updated with further info on growing non-mainstream crops such as mushroom as well as some improvements. The fundamental techniques are unchanged.

The book progresses more or less over a growing season. The introduction covers the fundamental techniques and an overview of what SBG is, and the theory behind the philosophy. The following chapters cover planning and execution, watering, planting, growing, harvesting, and using the compost from the broken down bales. There's also a chapter of plant profiles with ideas for planting and growing individual herbs and vegetables.

The index section includes a short resource list (slanted toward North American readers, but not a problem since readers in other areas can easily source the same or comparable materials online), an English/metric converter (including °F - °C), photo credits list, and a short author bio.

The photography is clear and illustrates and supports the text very well.  There is a lot of good information here. I am looking forward to incorporating some of these ideas into my vegetable and herb garden this year.

Five stars.

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

Friday, March 22, 2019

Crochet in a Day

Crochet in a Day is a new project tutorial guide collection from Salena Baca, Danyel Pink, and Emily Truman. Due out 1st April 2019 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Stackpole imprint, it's 152 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

I generally have a few really long-term projects going at any one time. The one thing which helps me stay on target with those long and intricate projects is having a short 'instant gratification' project now and then to break up the long stretches. This book is packed with more than 40 short projects which can be made quickly. The projects are varied and attractive.

This is not a how-to-crochet book. There are no stitch diagrams or explanations (though the authors do refer beginners to the American Crochet Association's youtube channel for video instruction).  The lack of beginning instruction doesn't detract from the book at all, the information can be found easily online if it's needed.  What this book does have is lots and lots of projects.

The projects are arranged in chapters of similar projects: hats, accessories, totes, kitchen things, decorative items, etc. The yarns and materials used are easily sourced (mostly slanted to readers in the USA, but available worldwide with online retailers).

It would have been nice if the book had included a gallery of included projects with the table of contents, however, there is an visual gallery index at the back of the book with page numbers which is basically the same thing. There's also a one-page resource list and abbreviations list. The project instructions are written in standard abbreviations, but don't include the 'Japanese' crochet diagrams. I made the Windsor dishcloth (p. 112 and found it problem free and attractive).

Four stars. Worthwhile addition to the crafter's library.

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

The Kew Gardener’s Guide to Growing Herbs

The Kew Gardener’s Guide to Growing Herbs is a new tutorial guide to growing and using herbs in the garden by Holly Farrell.  Released 21st March 2019 by Quarto on their White Lion imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback format.

Whenever gardeners think about inspiration and knowledge on a worldwide scale, the Kew gardens are at the very top of a very short list. They've been going strong for almost 260 years at this point. This book includes an herbal compendium of culture and care info for more than 70 individual herbs along with several attractive plantings arranged as projects.

Worth noting. This guide is written primarily with gardeners in the British Isles in mind. The hardiness zones listed in the individual herbal listings are the ones given by the RHS (not the USDA ones). Also, the ebook version has an interactive table of contents which is very handy.

Much of the photography is from stock photos, but all of the project photos are purpose made for this edition. The culture information is straightforward and peppered with good tips and tricks for encouraging the best performance from all of your plants (and taming the 'beasts' like mint and comfrey).

Four stars. Well written and full of attractive photography.

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

The Art of Visual Notetaking

The Art of Visual Notetaking is a methodology and information guide to interspersing graphics and illustrations in notes when journaling or producing lecture notes or other situations for disseminating information to others or accessing it ourselves at a later point in time.

Released 21st Jan 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

When I was in school the first time around, notes were written almost verbatim from the lectures. We copied things by rote and learnt things by repetition. There was very little information (or, honestly, interest) about different learning styles or the effectiveness of other note taking strategies. My second educational experience, after a gap of more than 25 years was a shock to me. We had workshops and tutorials where the primary goal was to develop effective visual strategies for note taking.

This book builds on the research suggesting that the majority of us are visual learners who benefit from interspersing written notes with illustrations and graphics. The point of taking notes is to be able to access the information at a later point; either for one's own use or for sharing with others.  It was interesting to me to see so many of the talking points in the book coordinated with the extracurricular study help lectures we had available during my education as a bioengineer.

Effective and accessible notetaking helped me to succeed when getting a second education. Now that I work in the healthcare sector, my data presentation and note-taking skills are more important than ever. To give one example, we have resources at work which teach academics to make an effective presentation poster for conference or lecture use. There are regular departmental meetings which have direct impact on our lab procedures and our production goals.

This particular book uses illustrations, sidebar notes and highlighting to break info down into digestible chunks. Different media (electronic, whiteboard, paper, etc) get their own treatments along with a list of their pros and cons.

In my opinion, there's a fair bit of 'fluff' in this book. Probably 15-20% of the content is things that might not contribute significantly to the subject at hand, such as drawings of the inside of a felt tip pen.

That being said, there's a phenomenal amount of information here for such a short book. I will definitely practice and incorporate sketch-notes in my professional note-taking and my personal journaling.

Four stars. It's a useful and accessible guide.

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

Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners

Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners is a tutorial guide to working with polymer clay by Emily Chen, the sculptor behind CatBearExpress. Released 19th March 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

Everyone is familiar with polymer clay. It's available at crafts and big-box retailers, by mail order, and I've even seen it at some larger grocery stores. The disconnect comes when you get your little packages of plastic home and try to make something. Even with the best intentions, none of my creations bore the slightest resemblance to the pictures I had up in my head. I needed a step-by-step tutorial, and this is a really good one.

I'm definitely a process based learner, so this book was perfect for me. The photographs are crisp and clear, the steps are very well delineated, and the projects are super cute and appealing (see the cover). There are a wide variety of subject tutorials; florals, fantasy animals, food, pets, etc.

This would make an amazing activity guide for scouts, church or library kid groups, or classroom art guide. I'm a middle aged adult and I am absolutely going to use the tutorials here to make myself some charms for my embroidery scissors and needle minders. This is a wonderfully inspiring book which has my fingers itching to get started!

Five stars.

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

Block Print Magic

Block Print Magic is a tutorial guide for designing and carving blocks for raised block printing and using them to execute finished projects. Written by Emily Louise Howard (aka the diggingest girl) and released 12th Feb 2019, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

This is an upbeat and encouraging manual which presupposes no prior skills or familiarity with block carving or the printing process. The introduction covers tool and supplies. The section on tool maintenance and safety is very well done (buying the best tools you can afford and keeping them in good working shape are investments which will repay you many times over). There are good side by side comparisons of the results you can obtain with specific inks and papers.  All the terms and tools are pictured and defined in the text.

The next chapters move along to developing specific techniques and a skillset for the artist. The chapters cover designing, transfer, and carving blocks. There is a good subchapter on the nuts and bolts of actually inking and printing an image. There are project tutorials for each step in the process. These are presented in roughly ascending order of difficulty and build on the lessons from the previous chapters. Woven throughout the text is an appealing glimpse into the author's creative process and philosophy.

The ebook version includes an interactive table of contents. Both versions include a glossary, bibliography for further inspirational reading, and a resource list for sourcing supplies and tools. There is a lot of valuable info here for use in other crafts and processes. I will be using the info presented in my bookbinding for journals and papercrafting.

Really well done. There aren't a lot of recent books on printmaking and this is a keeper.

Five stars.

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

Chibi Art Class

Chibi Art Class is a new tutorial/technique guide from artist and youtuber Anny Zhou (yoaihime). Due out 2nd April from Quarto on their Race Point imprint, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format.

I love to draw and doodle. Despite not being super advanced and skillful yet, I find drawing very relaxing most of the time. This is an accessible guide full of techniques and cheerful upbeat advice. The drawing style itself is completely adorable (chibi ちび translates to 'little'). They're big eyed and round faced with tiny hands.

About 10% of the page content covers an introduction to tools and supplies. This is a very basic and informal guide to some of the tools available. Roughly the next 20% covers specific ratios (with roughed in stylized ratio drawings) showing the relationship in size between realistic anatomy and chibi anatomy. There are some warm-up guided tutorials in this chapter as well, showing faces, props, backgrounds and more.

The next chapters progress to specific character types including anthropomorphs (<3), and the book concludes with an inspiration gallery and practice pages. The inspirations and practice pages include a sort of mix and match details and DIY tutorials to make your own.

The author's writing style is welcoming and informal. This would make a superlative library or classroom choice.

I really enjoyed this.  I will use these to decorate journals and notes for friends. I see some chibi style science stuff in my future (chibi microscope, chibi lab, chibi test tubes)!

Four stars.

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

Art Studio: Horses & Ponies

Art Studio: Horses & Ponies is a tutorial guide for all things equine. This is an ongoing series based on the same format: specific subjects (dogs, faces, horses, flowers) with a built in tutorial guide for specific learning projects using a wide variety of media.

Released 19th March 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format.

This is a clearly written and accessible book with a logical layout. The first chapter (12% of the page content) is a very condensed introduction to tools and associated media (lifting, granulation, and masking fluids). The included intro is not meant as a primary instruction, so is more suited to intermediate or advanced artists who are already familiar with the techniques. The following chapter (10%) covers basic techniques for pencil, acrylic, oils, pastels, and watercolors. There are also sub-chapters with more in-depth equine anatomy (eyes, features, anatomy, and proportion).

The following 6 chapters include many small tutorial projects with step-by-step instructions. These will be familiar to everyone who has used a similar guide in the past.

This one is well written and meticulously illustrated. The graphics are lovely (see cover). This is mostly a technique manual for developing a specific drawing and painting skill set which can also be applied to other subjects, if desired.

Four stars. I love these guides. It would make a good (and popular) choice for library or art classroom use.

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

One-Stitch Baby Knits

One-Stitch Baby Knits is a beginner tutorial and pattern guide for knitting baby projects with garter stitch by Val Pierce. Due out 10th June 2019 from Fox Chapel, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format. 

Knitting is a valuable skill and hobby. It's portable, versatile, relatively inexpensive to start with, quiet and fun. A lot of people take up knitting when they're expecting or have a friend/family member who's expecting. Baby items are quick to knit and require little in the way of materials. There is, however, a dearth of appealing beginner accessible baby items.

This book has 22 patterns in garter stitch. (The earlier cover states 25 patterns, but the e-ARC I was sent contains 22 and the new cover reflects the correct number). There is an array of patterns including baby 'staples' such as hats, booties, bibs, and blankets.  They are arranged into beginner, intermediate, and experienced levels, but none of the patterns would be frustrating for a keen beginner, especially if they have access to a local knitting shop or experienced knitting friend or relative.  The author also includes a number of projects which use 3 dimensional surface techniques to make dolls and pictures which are part of the project, like a snuggle blanket with a 3D duck head on it and a really cute cow hat/mitten set.  A fair number of the projects incorporate embroidered details as well.

This is a beginner accessible book and roughly 20% of the page content is used in the introduction and how-to-knit section. The yarns used are widely accessible and easily sourced. There will be an included index and the table of contents includes a useful pictorial gallery in color with page numbers.

Three stars, higher for folks who really love garter stitch and don't mind embroidered details on knits.

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Step-by-Step Guide to 200 Crochet Stitches

The Step-by-Step Guide to 200 Crochet Stitches is a tutorial guide and stitch dictionary of different crochet stitches by Tracey Todhunter. Released 22nd Jan 2019 by Interweave, it's 192 pages and available in paperback format.

This is a good solid collection, arranged into logical chapters (basic stitches, fans & shells, clusters/puffs/popcorns, spike stitches, raised stitches, mesh/filet, lace/openwork, chevrons, texture, tunisian, colorwork, edgings, etc). There is a good table of contents with nicely sized color pictures of each stitch which include page numbers. There's a basic how-to guide for beginners, so crocheters of all skill levels will find accessible instructions. Each of the 200 stitches in the collection includes both written directions and 'Japanese' stitch diagrams (yay for both!!).

 Back in the dark ages (circa 1970something) I had a crochet stitch dictionary which I literally used until the pages were falling out and had to be taped back together. This one is better.

Five stars.

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

The Natural Apothecary: Apple Cider Vinegar

The Natural Apothecary: Apple Cider Vinegar is a short booklet on the properties and uses of apple cider vinegar. Released 19th March 2019 by Nourish books, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

I work in the public healthcare sector as a bioengineer in the histopathology department at a large hospital. This means the biopsies and tissue samples and larger organs I look at on a daily basis are often the result of (literally) years of bad lifestyle habits. Anyone who's read a newspaper or listened to a news report in the last 25 years knows we all need to improve our lifestyles and try to allow our bodies the materials needed for healing/repairing the damage we incur on a daily basis.  Undoubtedly many natural substances can be useful non-invasive tools to that end. That being said there's been a phenomenal explosion of hype around apple cider vinegar and mother of vinegar which isn't all true.

I'm not entirely sure who the book is meant for. The author has a folksy, informal style of writing which will appeal to laypeople, but she also includes a fair bit of jargon which could be off-putting to people without a chemistry/biochem background. When I was reading, I honestly felt like a significant portion of the chemistry information was included for scientific verisimilitude and not much else.

There are a number of recipes included for home cleaning supplies, food, health and beauty treatments etc. They are likely worth the price of the book.

Three stars, useful but alternately too much and too little info. 

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

Colorways: Watercolor Flowers

Colorways: Watercolor Flowers is a tutorial and inspiration guide to floral watercolor composition and technique by Bley Hack. Released 18th Dec 2018 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

I've long been an advocate of the 'whatever works' school of instruction (for pretty much -any- skill). If you find a book/teacher/method/source of inspiration which actually gets you off your behind and DOING whatever skill you're after, then that's what works for you. This book is packed full of very short beginner exercises which the author uses as a basis for tutorial projects such as frame mats, stationery, gift wrap, etc. This is not a guide to watercolor botanical illustration. It is a a supportive and accessible guide for stylized floral watercolor on paper.  They're very appealing and very accessible. Scattered throughout are short and digestible infonuggets (my word) about composition, color theory, finishing, artistic expression and finding your own process.

One of my personal takeaways was a really nice project on collage. I had never thought of doing that, and it had my fingers itching to start.  I have a zillion small studies taking up space in drawers and my shelves which will find new purpose with this technique.

This maybe was the right book at the right time for me personally, but I think anyone who is intimidated by watercolor would do well to take a look at this book and jump in and just do it.

Five stars. Really liked this one.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Best of the Best Rice Cooker Cookbook

The Best of the Best Rice Cooker Cookbook is a tutorial guide for different types of rice cookers along with a selection of recipes for getting the most out of one's own rice cooker at home. Released 19th March 2019 by Quarto on their Harvard Common Press imprint, it's 176 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.  This book is a re-formatting and updating of the earlier volumes by the same authors. This volume contains 100 curated recipes from the earlier works along with new photography and updated content.

Author Beth Hensperger has decades of experience cooking and writing about cooking and it shows. This is a very well organized book with a good introduction of the various machines as well as a truly thorough treatment of different rices, methods of soaking and cooking, rinsing or not rinsing and other background info. In fact the introductory chapter represents about 30% of the page content.

The following chapters include a selection of pilafs, risottos, rice based dishes (of course), polentas, cereals, legumes, steamed dishes, and some desserts.

Many of the ingredients are seasonal, there's some emphasis on locally sourced produce and additions to the rices and grains, but I had no trouble sourcing ingredients for my test recipes.

All three of our tested recipes were delicious and we will be working our way through the cookbook in future.

  • Baby artichokes and Arborio rice (p. 64) was a hearty side dish. Served with roast chicken and crusty bread, it made a nice simple meal. The texture was very creamy and the tanginess of the grated Parmesan was a good counterpoint.  Would make a lovely brunch buffet dish. 
  • Arroz con pollo (p. 85) was probably not a good choice for me for a truly objective trial. I am a complete sucker for southwestern/Mexican recipes which pair chicken and lime. This one was lovely, with a mellow spiciness counterpoint. Next time, however I will try to add more lime, since we could smell a distinct lime note which seemed to be very subtle in the taste.  Also beware of the cilantro if your family hates the taste (mine don't mind it, happily).
  • Butternut squash risotto (p. 89) is a lacto-vegetarian friendly dish which also has a very subtle lime counterpoint. My family called it 'comfort' food and it is.. very warm and filling.
Three good recipes. The ingredients were mostly on hand already (I used frozen artichoke hearts).

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

Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports

Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports is a tutorial manual for visual artists covering drawing and painting on different types of surfaces including paper, textiles, and wood. There are a number of collaborators and artists who contributed to the book, so the reader gets a nice overview of materials and methods from several viewpoints. It lends the book a lot of versatility.

Released 5th March 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 112 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats. The electronic version includes a handy interactive table of contents. 

 Since this is a book specifically about surfaces for painting and drawing, there is a lot of in-depth information on specific types of manufactured papers and which formats they can be found in. The book includes numerous close up pictures of different papers with sample coverage for different drawing materials (pastel, graphite, pencil, conté crayon, etc). The same format is used in the following chapters on canvas, woods, textiles, and alternative surfaces. It includes numerous sidebars with clear photos and explanatory text.

There are several semi-tutorials included with step-by-step process photos including a very interesting treatment using alcohol inks on ceramic tile which has me itching to try it.

This would make a good support text for the visual artist's library or a painting/drawing course. It is a useful reference, but note that there is no included index. There are some resource website listings peppered through the text, including the collaborators' websites, for further reading.

Four stars.

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

The Sixth Victim

The Sixth Victim is the first book in a new supernatural historical mystery series by Tessa Harris. Released 27th March 2018 (first pub 2017) in a new edition by Kensington, it's 326 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats (earlier editions available in other formats).

I really enjoy Victorian English mysteries, but I generally stick to the ones without a supernatural or horror elements. The alternating PoV in this book does work well and the changing typefaces (the 'ghost' chapters are written in italics) keep things very clear. The characters are well written and the voices of the two main characters are distinct.

The author is adept at writing the period, and this new series is promising. I have read her other books featuring Dr. Thomas Silkstone, and though they are ostensibly written in an earlier time period (England during the American revolution) they really felt Victorian to me.

The pacing was slightly slow for me with this book and I struggled in a couple of places to finish. I think this was a -me- problem more than anything since this book was my bus commute read for a while and the gradual development didn't suit a 30 minute daily commute. Once I settled down and read it at home, I managed to finish it in a couple of settings.

This is historical fiction. The author's got an interesting take on the real Jack the Ripper story. It is skillfully woven around the real historical background, and the writing is strong. I will read the second in the series before making a decision about continuing with it. As might be expected, there is a fair bit of graphic description which won't be a surprise for most people who are familiar with the grisly specifics of the Ripper murders, but might be upsetting to readers who aren't familiar with the history.

The language is rough in places, and obviously there's a lot of violence.

Three and a half stars; probably more, for readers who enjoy a supernatural element in their mysteries.

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

Portfolio: Beginning Pen & Ink: Tips and techniques for learning to draw in pen and ink

Portfolio: Beginning Pen & Ink is a technique and tutorial guide on building up familiarity with pen and ink. Released 5th March 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

Whenever I read art/tutorial books, I try to read them with an eye toward what they offer me that is new to me. I liked that the Ms. Lee has a very informal, supportive, and upbeat writing style with concrete suggestions for figuring out what you need to improve as an artist to proceed and steps to do so. Her personal style is appealing and very meticulous with just a touch of whimsy. There's enough realism included in the lessons that it would have relevance to people leaning toward illustration (anatomy/biology/natural sciences, like me) and also purely emotional/whimsical fancy (also me, in my 'off-work' time).

This is a beginner's manual. The tutorials start without assuming any previous experience. She includes an introduction to tools and supplies as well as a good and logical progression through the lessons from making marks on support surfaces (paper) through applying the practice lessons in complete projects.

I especially liked the tutorial on texture and shading. Very well done. Not unique, by any means, but a well done chapter with lots of tutorial exercises.

She also doesn't sugarcoat the process (which leads beginners to believe they just aren't artistically talented) - it's a skill and it takes practice over time to acquire). The book contains the word "practice" over 20 times.

Well done instruction with engaging and appealing pictures.

Four stars.

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood is a new book in the Little People, Big Dreams series. Written by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Laura Callaghan, it was released 5th March, 2019 by Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint.  Aimed at younger readers, it's 32 pages, perfect for a storytime or classroom circle read.  It's available in ebook and hardcover formats. I've reviewed a number of the books in this charming series on my blog. This one, about fashion rebel icon Vivienne Westwood, takes the often turbulent life of the originator of 'punk style' and handles it in a charmingly age-appropriate manner.

I really liked that the author and illustrator have managed to write an engaging book for children as well as including cultural events and bands which will appeal to adults.

I don't know what criteria they use for selecting the subjects of their biographies, but the varied and interesting people in this series have all been winners in my opinion.

Well worth a read. Would make a good library selection or gift.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Look Closer, Draw Better

Look Closer, Draw Better is a technique and exercise book for visual artists and learners by Kateri Ewing.  Released 5th March 2019 by Quarto on their Rockport imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.  I love drawing and calligraphy. I am at what I refer to as the 'keen amateur' level. This book has inspired me to try to be more diligent in my practice and journaling.

This is a well written book. The author has a concise and encouraging voice in her writing. The book is laid out logically and progresses from graphite and pencils, through charcoal, pen and ink, and watercolor. There are exercises scattered throughout along with highlighted sidebar tips. There's a tutorial project chapter with the same still life subject in two different media treatments (graphite and pen & ink), a showcase gallery, and a short resource list.

The really valuable takeaway for me was the author's guidance for training our ability to see what we are representing and separating it from what our brain is interpreting and presenting to us as reality.

This is a worthy addition to the artist's library and both beginners and more advanced students will find useful material here.

Five stars.

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

Artist Toolbox: Drawing Tools & Materials: A practical guide to graphite, charcoal, colored pencil, and more

Artist Toolbox: Drawing Tools & Materials is a new book in a series of manuals covering methods and supplies for visual arts. Released 5th March 2019 by Quarto under the Walter Foster imprint, it's 112 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is, as the cover states, a practical guide to the essential tools of drawing. The book is laid out in a logical format, with an introduction, a good overview of surfaces and paper finishes (along with sidebars showing how different media work with different surfaces), and then moving along to the different types of drawing materials and tools.  The book does not 'shill' for one particular company or product, there are a wide variety of brands of pencils, pastels, crayons, etc shown. The real value of the book for me comes in the following chapters covering drawing techniques and concepts along with 6 tutorial lessons exploring the different techniques.  Most of the exercises have the same subject explored using different drawing materials to better illustrate the differences and capabilities of the tools (graphite, crayon, pastel, pen and ink, etc).

This is a no-frills, well written, concise manual for tools and supplies for drawing. It would make a good support tool for a beginning drawing course or for self study.

Four stars.

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

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits is the 5th book in the Hazel Best & Gabriel Ash procedural series by Jo Bannister. Released 1st Sept 2018 by Severn House, it's 220 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This was the first book I've read in this series, but it worked well enough as a standalone novel. The author is adept at interweaving the backstory into the narrative, so I never felt confused about what was going on or which characters were which. There were some odd/uncomfortable interactions in the book but there's no doubt they were intentional.

There were some rough and distracting plot points for me... for example, the opening scene where Hazel goes to the school to collect the boys and interrupts a kidnapping in progress and generally saves the day with her badassery.  Why was Hazel collecting the boys when their nanny was there with them? It's never really explained in the book and I found myself wondering about it.

The book is a procedural (though the main characters flout procedure throughout) and it's quite well plotted with steady pacing and several adrenaline charged scenes to move the action along. I enjoyed the denouement, though it wasn't a huge shock.  The dialogue is well written. The language is about average for a modern police procedural (including one stellar use of 'gobshite' which elicited a grin). Nothing egregious as far as language, violence, sexual content, or triggering.

It was an enjoyable read.  Three and a half stars, rounded up for the masterful writing.

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

Kawaii Origami

Kawaii Origami is a new colorful tutorial guide for origami with definite 'cute factor'. Written by Chrissie Pushkin of Paper Kawaii blog/youtube channel, it includes 25 tutorials and more general instruction for traditional folded projects.

Due out 2nd April 2019 on Quarto's Race Point imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

The book is set up in a logical and accessible manner. The introductory folding instructions are very basic (half a page), but the tutorials are laid out in roughly increasing order of difficulty. The projects, if followed more or less in order, should present no difficulty for a beginner. They are all really appealing and cute.

The paperback version of the book includes 50 sheets of paper. The only thing which is missing (in my opinion) is any sort of index or supplies/links page. A quick google or ebay search will provide online suppliers aplenty as well as a really comprehensive list of resources on the author's website, so it's not a crippling defect in any way.

This would make a great school library or classroom art resource for all ages. Some of the projects would be accessible and enjoyable for younger kids also.   I could see this being a great crafty present also.

Appealing, cute, well presented, fun.

Four stars.

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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Chasing Ghosts

Chasing Ghosts is the 6th book in the Dudley Sisters saga by Madalyn Morgan. The books are all part of a continuing story of the same family with overarching plot threads, but they don't suffer for being read as standalones.

Released 23rd June 2018, it's 159 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

I personally found the plotting somewhat uneven. My interest waned and I had a tough time maintaining my connection with the main characters. I do like the period, post WW2, and the author is adept at descriptive prose, but it was a bit heavy on the romance (for my tastes). For fans who prefer a bit of mystery with their romance fiction, this series will be a good fit.

The language is relatively clean (a few scattered 'bloody, damn, etc', but nothing egregious) and the sexual elements are implied rather than explicit. I found the misunderstanding and 'noble' drama caused by characters just not communicating or being honest with themselves or one another quite wearing after a while.

It's well written, and I would recommend it for romantic-mystery-fiction lovers. Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers; this book (and the rest of the series) is available for download as part of the KU subscription.

Three and a half stars.

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

The Gemstone Detective: Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in Thailand

The Gemstone Detective: Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in Thailand is another destination-specific travel buying book aimed at the layman tourist heading to Thailand who would like to purchase some jewelry or stones on their travels without getting cheated.

Released 22nd Jan 2019 by Filament, it's 130 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.  I reviewed the companion volume for Sri Lanka on the blog earlier and both are well written and give a good overview of the most common scams to avoid as well as a short surface introduction to the stones tourists are likely to encounter in these countries and what to expect regarding prices and quality.

She discusses local gem shows and meets as well as networking locally and buying from private gem merchants. Most of the page content is given to discussing corundum, specifically blue sapphire and ruby. She does also discuss the other stones which the tourist is likely to encounter and what to expect when buying them (amethyst, moonstone, peridot, garnet, beryl, etc).

This is a good and concise introduction to gemstones and not getting scammed as an amateur buyer.

Four stars. Well photographed and written in accessible language for the layman.

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

Watch the Wall, Miss Seeton

Watch the Wall, Miss Seeton is the 25th Miss Seeton mystery (the first mystery prequel was numbered 0, so this one is listed as #24). Originally written by Heron Carvic, the series was taken over and written in an homage style by Hamilton Crane after Carvic's death.

Released 21st Feb 2019 by Farrago, it's 243 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

There are only a handful of series, however well written, which keep me coming back for more year after year. The Miss Seeton books are amongst of the coziest of cozies, silly and very fluffy but they have an undercurrent of wickedly campy humor. They're very tongue in cheek and full of sly lampooning of everything from police procedurals to rural English village life in the mid 1970's.

I did feel this entry in the series was maybe a trifle more scattered and difficult to follow than most of the others. There were several disparate plot threads and they crossed and intertwined and were sometimes difficult for me to keep track of.  The characters, both the returning ensemble cast and the new, are well fleshed out and clearly written.

The language is relatively clean with the occasional 'hell, damn, or bloody' but nothing worse. No sexual content and no graphic or triggering violence.

I love these books so much, they're always a treat to be savored.

Five stars, Miss Seeton, may she live forever!

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sewing Shirts with a Perfect Fit

Sewing Shirts with a Perfect Fit is a new comprehensive technical design and sewing guide for shirts. Released 20th Dec 2018 on Quarto's Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

Anyone who has sewn from purchased 'standard' paper patterns knows how much fiddling and fitting is necessary to achieve really good results.  This book takes a vital wardrobe staple, the shirt, and shows how to drape, fit, create a pattern muslin, choose fabric, along with thorough construction and finishing information. The instructions are very well photographed and the tutorials are very clearly written in a clear step-by-step manner.

The book is peppered with sidebars covering fitting and compensating for common body anomalies such as uneven and rounded shoulders, 'bodybuilder' shoulders/arms, protruding abdomen, and others. After an explanatory introduction about shirts, their parts, and different outline shapes, there are three chapters on creating loose-fitting, close-fitting, and tight-fitting shirts. The book also includes four design projects. There is a cross referenced index and resource list.

Although this book presupposes some familiarity with sewing, a keen beginner could follow the directions (especially if they have occasional access to a sewing mentor/friend). Advanced sewists will also find value here for getting the best results. I admit that I'm quite guilty of wanting to rush ahead and finish a project RIGHT NOW. I'm the bad sewist who cuts into the 'good' fabric without fitting or making a muslin. I'm the bad knitter who generally skips gauge swatching before starting a new project.  This book really has inspired me to do better and drape fit my next shirts as well as creating good muslins/slopers.

Five stars. This is a superlatively written book.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

City of Broken Magic

City of Broken Magic is the first book in the new Chronicles of Amicae series by Mirah Bolender. Released 20th Nov 2018 by Tor, it's 400 pages and available in paperback, ebook, and audio formats.

The world building is interesting with some nice twists. The cities are more like disconnected independent city-states. The female protagonist is fascinated by other cities and collects pictures of other cityscapes to use in a collage in her room. Although introduced as a fairly rigid male dominated society, there are strong female characters in positions of power who seem to be flouting the system without especial repercussions. I don't know if the author plans to address that in future or if it's just a tacked on background, but I did find it somewhat odd/jarring.

The monsters are very nasty indeed. The introductory scene in the book was creepy/horrifying enough that I had deep reservations about reading further.  I persisted and did enjoy the book. I did, admittedly, find the pacing and development a tad slow, but overall a well made story. This is the first of a multi-book story arc, so there are a fair number of dangling plot elements at the end of book 1.

There is some rough language but nothing more extreme than the average modern NA fantasy.  There is very little romantic content, just some mild teasing and banter, with a small bi-acceptance dialogue worked in, which I thought was nice. The dialogue is well written (although a bit over-the-top snarky now and then).

It often takes a couple books for a new series to really find its way. I'll be sticking with this one for another book or two before making a decision.

Three and a half stars rounded up for the quality of the writing. Especially impressive for a first time author.

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Love Bees

Love Bees is a fun and scientifically correct introduction and guide to different species of bees and their characteristics. Author (and conservation biologist) Vanessa Amaral-Rogers has written an engaging and colorful book aimed at younger readers, but with enough DIY and good ideas to get the entire family (or school) involved.

Due out 19th March 2019 on Quarto's Leaping Hare imprint, it's 48 pages and available in hardcover format.

This would make a superlative supportive text for classroom use, or a great gift for a young person. I also liked that the author included a section about other pollinators, including bats, birds, and lizards.

Really colorful and appealing book, 4 stars.

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

Friday, March 8, 2019

Life's Journeys according to Mister Rogers is a nicely collected book of affirmational quotes from Fred Rogers. They are loosely gathered into broad categories: who we are, about being loved, life-directions, etc. It's a short book, 157 pages, with a quote or poetry or observation on each page.

Mr. Rogers was (and is) such an icon and ideal. He made the world a better place.

I really enjoyed reading these quotes.  They are certainly inspirational, but some of them are truly profound.

Four stars. Worth a revisit if you missed it at publication (2013).

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Wow Jewelry

Wow Jewelry is a new guide to statement jewelry with 25 tutorial projects included. Due out 9th July 2019 from Fox Chapel, it's 176 pages and available in paperback.

I trained and worked as a metalsmith and jeweler for 16 years.  My designs tended to be traditional with an emphasis on costly materials and traditional historical design.  'Exuberance' was not really a watchword in the formal jewelry business in my experience. These designs on the other hand, utilize inexpensive, relatively easily sourced materials for major impact in big showy costume pieces.

The biggest value in the book for me was in the author's well described artistic process.  She describes quite well the thought processes that she goes through designing a piece. She has a very cool philosophy about using all sorts of 'non-jewely' items in her pieces (like nail polish, insect parts, various plastics and resins as well as other bits).

While there weren't any pieces which called out to me to be made right away, I can definitely see using some of these techniques in my future crafting.  The book is also very well photographed and the tutorials are written simply and clearly.

The models in the book are certainly creatively positioned and made up (see the cover art).

Worthwhile as inspiration.

Four stars.

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Shot in the Dark

A Shot in the Dark is the first book of a new series set in 1950's Brighton.  Based on Lynne Truss' BBC Radio 4 series with some of the same characters, this novelization is a decidedly odd & farcical lampooning of post-WW2 police procedurals.

Released 6th Nov 2018 by Bloomsbury, it's 304 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio formats.

The author has an unerring ear for dialogue and setting. The book really reads exactly like it was written contemporaneously for the time in which it's set. The pacing is superb and it moves along at a good clip. I never found my interest flagging.  Ms. Truss has a deft touch with characterizations (she's been writing these characters for a while for audio plays, and it shows).

That being said...  for an almost cozy read, there is a prodigious amount of violence (much of it gratuitous). People are constantly being stabbed, slashed, shot, throttled, flung out of amusement park rides into the ocean, run over, and otherwise mutilated.  There is a disconcerting amount of *glee* in the descriptions. There is a bizarrely psychotic Punch & Judy man who is both hysterically funny and scary in about equal measure.

The language is way over the top. The violence is omnipresent. I personally loved the denouement, but readers who need everything to be tied up in a neat bow with the good guys the unequivocal winners by page 298 are going to be driven nuts by the end.

Four stars. Worth a read, but definitely different.

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

The Blue Kingfisher

The Blue Kingfisher is the 3rd book in the Kat Stone P.I. series by Erica Wright. Released 23th Oct 2018 by Polis books, it's 320 pages and available in hardback and ebook formats.

This is the third book in an established series with returning characters and a such, it doesn't work as well as a standalone book would. There's enough back-story included that I didn't feel lost, but neither did I engage with the characters as well as I would have if I'd read from the first book.  I don't really recommend jumping in in the middle. 

With that caveat, however, this is a well written and engaging book.  I absolutely loved Kat's friend Dolly and their mutual friend (and wigmaker) Vondya.  Kat's partner and protege in the P.I. business, Meeza, is very odd and I wonder about the overarching storyline development between them in future books.  Kat is described as very intelligent, with lots of street wisdom, but I often felt that she was bumbling from episode to episode. There are also a number of unresolved threads noticeably dangling at the end of the book. Not enough to really be annoying, but there.

The language is fairly rough and there are some graphically violent episodes. There is also a creepy scene with threatened sexual assault.

All in all a good, well written, readable P.I. thriller set in modern day New York. I did enjoy it and will give the earlier books a read-through before I make a decision whether to continue with the series.

Three and a half stars.

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