Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Knitted Animal Friends: Over 40 Knitting Patterns for Adorable Animal Dolls, Their Clothes and Accessories

Knitted Animal Friends is a comprehensive tutorial book with patterns for knitting soft toys, specifically anthropomorphic animals and includes a multitude of clothing, accessories and alternatives for customizing each one.  Due out 28th May 2019 from Sewandso UK, it'll be 128 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

One thing that struck me about the book on a first read-through was the incredible attention to detail. Everything from the photography lighting down to the typesetting contributes to a cohesive and appealing whole. The detail and quality of the photography are superlative. There are 13 base animals included, and they're all made to the same basic size, so their accessories are mix-and-match, leaving you with a -huge- number of possible permutations. Add in color differences and readers could literally customize a massive wardrobe for a lucky recipient.

The shaping details are clever and incorporated into the patterns. There book includes basic instructions toward the back, but I would not recommend absolute beginners begin with the dolls as a first project, especially if they're knitting in a vacuum.  I would recommend starting with accessories first such as scarves or shoes before tackling the more difficult dolls, or at least have a local knitting guru on speed dial (I recommend having a local knitting guru on speed dial, anyhow)!

I do a great deal of charity knitting for the pediatric and neonatal ICU at the local hospital.  I also do some knitting for a local shelter for older kids who find themselves in crisis .  I'm always looking for new ways to customize the soft toys I knit and these are perfect.  They are full of personality and sweet little details (like button holes for tails and ears).  They're really well constructed with beautiful contour knitted forms.

I knitted a couple ears from two patterns, as well as a scarf and the French knickers (p. 108 in the eARC), and found them problem-and-error free.

Five very very enthusiastic stars. What a wonderful book!

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

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

The Dictionary of Difficult Words is an illustrated dictionary of useful, fun, obsolete/obsolescent, weird, wonderful, and difficult words. Due out 2nd May 2019 on Quarto's Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. Author Jane Soloman is a professional lexicographer and iconographer. Artist Louise Lockheart's quirky illustrations give an enthusiastic feeling to the listings (see cover art). 

This would have appealed to me immensely as a kid. I have always loved language and the incredible richness of English especially.  This would make a superlative library book or gift for the sesquipedalian person in your life, adults and youngsters alike.

Five stars. Really fun and worthwhile. 

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

Painting: Watercolor Basics: Master the art of painting in watercolor

Painting: Watercolor Basics is a tutorial technique guide to watercolor.  Due out 7th May 2019 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback format. This is one of a series of technique guides being released this spring by Foster.

The formatting of the booklets is similar, with an introduction to tools and materials (circa 5% of the content) leading directly into the tutorials. The tutorial subjects are formed around specific painting projects which each illustrate a different technique such as creating the illusion of depth, creating mood, creating texture, etc.  Note: this is not a how-to introduction for absolute beginners; it presupposes some level of familiarity with papers, watercolors, blending, surfaces etc.

The project paintings themselves are all very appealing. Several of them had my fingers itching to get painting right away.

Four stars. Attractive and worthwhile technique book.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Painting: Acrylic Basics

Painting: Acrylic Basics is a tutorial guide to acrylic technique. Anticipated release 7th May 2019 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and will be available in paperback format. This is one of a series of technical painting and drawing manuals from Foster which cover specific media, graphite, acrylic, watercolor, etc.

The introduction covers materials, some very basic color theory, and leads into the first of five tutorial projects. These cover technical subjects such as tonal (monochromatic) painting, underpainting, nature, mood, etc.

These are simple booklets, but absolutely packed full of information. The lessons and tutorials are clearly and well illustrated in the lessons and are not too advanced for a keen beginner to incorporate into their own works. They're information dense and classic.

Four stars.

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

Grow Great Vegetables in Pennsylvania

Grow Great Vegetables in Pennsylvania is a regionally tailored home gardening guide for producing vegetables for taste and nutrition and to increase self-reliance and food security. This is one of a series of regionally specific guides (MA, NY, NJ and PA) released by Timber press. Written by Marie Iannotti, it's 244 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This guide is arranged by seasons with a chapter for each month. The introductory chapter (~13% of the page content) covers garden planning, climates and subzones in Pennsylvania, as well as a very general gardening introduction.

The monthly sections include tasks for each month, potential problems and troubleshooting, planning and placement of the garden plot, harvesting and more.

The third section of the book is a regional guide to choosing vegetables and varieties which will thrive in your area.

There's a resource list (slanted to readers in the mid-Atlantic region), a bibliography and further reading list, USDA based hardiness zonal map, and an index.  The photography is crisp, clear, and abundant.  This is a well crafted book which will provide gardeners with hours of blissful dreaming as well as serving as a valuable troubleshooting guide.

Five stars. Very well done.

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

David Bowie Little People, Big Dreams

David Bowie is a new biography for young readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and they all manage to pack an impressive amount of detail in these little books in an age-appropriate and accessible manner.

Due out 2nd May 2019 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 32 pages and will be available in hardcover, and ebook formats.

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  The gentle and sweetly humorous illustrations were well done. I loved the series of pictures of Bowie through his different stage incarnations.  The art by Ana Albero is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. The illustrations are rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look (like the little green alien who appears in cameos throughout the book).

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

Five stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift.  Bowie was an intelligent and important cultural icon.

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

Dracopedia Field Guide: Dragons of the World from Amphipteridae Through Wyvernae

Dracopedia Field Guide is a new guide to dragons and wyverns based on the great naturalist field guides of the Victorian era. Expected release date 7th May 2019, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardback and ebook formats.  Written and illustrated by William O'Connor (sadly no longer with us), it is full of witty details from the 'stained' flyleaf with Dewey decimal accession number and tea splashes and Latinized author credit, to the dragon range maps and Linnaean nomenclature in the encyclopedia.

The book is stunningly illustrated. The additional details, from egg characteristics for the different species and uses of different dragons for travel and warfare, as well as field sketches on locomotion and anatomy, are witty and so realistic.

I received an eARC of the book in Kindle format and experienced some issues with viewing on an eReader (Kindle Oasis 2017 version). There were no observable issues on a color monitor or tablet. There is a contributor list at the end of the book with credits to the artists who stepped in to help complete the project on Mr. O'Connor's untimely passing.

This would make a superlative selection for a school or public library, for fantasy gamers, speculative fiction readers, all ages, and anyone who has longed to see dragons on the wing above them.

Five stars, beautiful book.

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

Drawing: Faces & Features

Drawing: Faces & Features is a new entry in the Learn to Draw series of booklets. Due out 7th May 2019 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This booklet, by artist Debra Kauffman Yaun focuses on realistically representing 3 dimensional objects, the elements of the human face, onto a 2 dimensional surface. Instead of providing specific project tutorials, the book focuses on thematic lessons such as proportion, lighting, drawing from life, capturing a likeness, depicting age, details, and tonal values. The book includes a general introduction to tools and materials which is identical across all the booklets in this series followed by a very short overview of the underlying anatomy of the human head.

This booklet separates the drawing process into technical elements which can be studied and mastered by any student with practice.

This would make a super gift with a set of pencils or drawing materials (also available as a coordinating package from Foster) for learning realistic graphite portraiture.

Four stars.

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

Drawing: Dragons

Drawing: Dragons is a new entry in the Learn to Draw series of booklets. Due out 7th May 2019 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 40 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.  This booklet is an excerpt from Michael Dobrzycki's larger work The Art of Drawing Dragons, Mythological Beasts, and Fantasy Creatures, from 2007 (isbn: 1600580122).

The book includes a general introduction to tools and materials which is identical across all the booklets in this series. The next chapter, specific to this book is a quick overview into shading, texture and constructing/anatomy which can also be applied to non-dragon drawings. There are 9 specific step by step tutorials for individual dragons. The tutorials for the 9 included projects are 2-4 pages each.

I could see this booklet, bundled with a drawing set, being a superlative gift for a young artist up to adult age. The drawings are detailed enough to look quite professional, but not so extremely advanced that they would frustrate a keen beginner.

Three and a half stars (mostly because it's an excerpt and includes a lot of identical content to the other booklets in the series) - rounded up to four stars for the quality of the instructions and the cool fantasy subject. The world would be boring indeed if the only drawing books were on portraiture, horses, dogs, and florals.

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

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Revenant Express

The Revenant Express is the 5th book in the Newbury and Hobbes mystery series by George Mann. This series reminds me a lot of The Avengers (the Steed & Peel Avengers, that is), set in an alternate Victorian steampunk world. There are steam trains (with a central train subplot set on an intercontinental steam train reminiscent of the Orient express), magic, secret societies, a clockwork heart (<3 the author's nod to Fabergè), spies, counterintelligence, skullduggery, creepy science, zombies (zombies!), trains, and more.

Released 12th Feb 2019 by Tor books, it's 256 pages and available in hardcover, audio-, and ebook formats.

This is a surprisingly intricate book with multiple intertwining subplots and a large number of returning characters; as such, it doesn't work well at all as a standalone. I was unfamiliar with the series before I started reading, and I was forced to go back to read the first book to have a clue what was going on.

Whilst I am a fan of steampunk fantasy, I'm not much of a horror fan, and this series is a lot more in the horror vein than I prefer, honestly.  That being said, however, this is a well crafted book with taut plotting and pacing, good and believable dialogue, and well written characters who follow internal motivations. I enjoyed it enough that I believe I will pick up the next book in the series at least.

Four stars, well written and extremely creepy.

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

Ultimate Soap Carving

Ultimate Soap Carving by Makiko Sone is a tutorial guide with 25 projects showing how to carve soap into various decorative shapes. Released 26th March 2019 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

As shown on the cover, there are numerous fun small soaps with a surprising amount of detail. The author shows step by step how to proportion and carve all of the different shapes. The first 15% of the page content is given to a thorough introduction of tools and materials including specific appropriate carving tools along with a short safety sub-chapter and extra advice on carving with youngsters.

The second chapter (25% of the content) covers template placement, carving techniques, and some carving lessons which cover the techniques necessary for the project tutorials which come in chapter 3.

The tutorials are arranged roughly in order of difficulty in three sections: easy, intermediate, and advanced. I was surprised how intricate and beautiful the projects are. All of the tutorials are well and clearly photographed.

The end of the book includes all the templates for the projects (as well as a link to printable pdf patterns), along with a short index and author bio.

There just aren't that many carving books out there, and this one is quite good for beginners as well as intermediate learners. The author makes a very good point in the book that the skills learnt by carving soap can also be applied to carving fruits and vegetables decoratively as well as learning to carve harder materials.

Four stars. Well worth a look for the crafty reader.

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

The Kew Gardener’s Guide to Growing House Plants

The Kew Gardener’s Guide to Growing House Plants is a guide to keeping houseplants healthy and thriving at home. Released 7th March 2019 by Quarto on their White Lion imprint, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and hardcover 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, so some of the common names will be different for readers in other areas of the world. All of the plants in the individual plant listings have their proper genus and species information, so it's not a problem to be sure of a correct ID.  The ebook version also 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 getting the best results with difficult or finicky plants).

Four stars. Well written and full of attractive photography.

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

Hope's Table

Hope's Table is an advance preview of a cookbook featuring home cooking recipes by lifestyle blogger Hope Helmuth. Expected release date is 10th Sept 2019 from Herald Press. It will be 320 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

The preview eARC I received includes three recipes from the cookbook: cinnamon rolls with caramel icing, crunchy broccoli salad with a mayonnaise dressing, and a chocolate cake.  The recipes in the preview all make good family sized portions, for example the cinnamon roll recipe yields 3-4 dozen rolls.  All of the recipes are hearty home cooking. We tried the broccoli recipe and it was a hit (but I adjusted the dressing recipe a little bit and decreased the portion ingredients because we are a small family).

The included photography is very clear and well done and illustrates the food and lifestyle very well.

I will be very interested to see more of the book closer to release date. It's appealing and hearty farmhouse cooking.

Four stars.

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

The Natural Apothecary: Baking Soda

The Natural Apothecary: Baking Soda is a how-to guide for using baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) as an ingredient in household recipes and for dietary benefits. Released 19th March 2019 by Nourish, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format. The author is a physician and nutrition educator.

I am a biomedical engineer with a background in biochemistry. This book is written with the layperson in mind and apart from some technical chemistry based jargon (which to me seems added to provide verisimilitude, that the author is a 'real' scientist), this book should be accessible to most laypeople.  There are some incorrect statements in the book, here's one:
An acidic food is not the same as an acid-producing food. Acidic foods taste acidic because they contain organic food acids (such as citric, acetic, oxalic, malic, pyruvic
and acetylsalicylic acids), ‘organic’ here meaning that they contain only carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.
Organic molecules are, very roughly speaking, ones which contain carbon. Carbohydrates (yes, like sugars and starches) are molecules which contain carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. For what it's worth, acetylsalicylic acid is better known as aspirin.

Another place the author misses the mark in my opinion is proposing baking soda as a potential treatment for gout. When uric acid can't be excreted from the body quickly enough, it can precipitate as crystalline needles which can cause very painful inflammation in the joints especially. The problem with baking soda as a cure is that when we ingest it, it just becomes water and carbon dioxide gas. Our blood is very very very well buffered and elegantly resists changes in pH from the things we eat and drink. It actually turns out that increasing water intake regularly can prevent gout and help with flare-ups. Flushing our systems regularly, exercising sensibly, and getting enough sleep are the biggest health habits we can give ourselves.

I am deeply distrustful of miraculous claims, especially when talking about nutrition. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar won't make you live to be 100, green coffee extract won't make you skinny, and essiac tea will absolutely not cure cancer or aids.

A perusal of the author's other books include the miracle series: The Miracle of Tea, Spices, Honey, Lemons, etc. As a scientist, I admit I am not enthusiastic about bandying around words like miracle, life-saving, life-changing, etc.

The book does not include any sources for the claims postulated, and there's not any included bibliography or peer-review sources. The lack of any sort of source criticism or background makes it difficult to evaluate the veracity of any claims in the book.

All that being said, however, this is not a book which claims to cure cancer, or make you skinny overnight, or cure autism, or any other exploitative treatment. The author clearly has the reader's best interests in mind and the recipes she includes aren't likely to have any sort of deleterious effects. The uses included for baking soda in the book cover a lot of reasonable and useful applications and society and the planet we all live on would be well served by people choosing more safe and earth-friendly cleaning and beauty products. There are some fun and appealing recipes included such as one for easy homemade bath bombs from easily sourced, safe materials.

Two stars.

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

Friday, April 26, 2019

How To Write A Page-Turner

How To Write A Page-Turner is a style manual and tutorial guide for story crafting by Jordan Rosenfeld. Released 19th March 2019 by F + W Media, it's 240 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

Apart from workshops and classroom instruction, there's a dearth of good technical information for the aspiring author. This book looks at different types of tension, how to create and maintain dramatic tension (and how much is enough and not too much), and gives tips and written examples along with the tutorial text.  

This -is- a technical writing manual, and will probably have limited interest for people who aren't writers or aspiring writers. The writing examples are clearly written and the sections encourage the reader to use the lessons on their own characters and plots. The author also cleverly uses actual excerpts from illustrative passages from other works of fiction (credited of course) to illustrate the points she's making. I was interested enough in some of the works she quotes with which I was previously unfamiliar to go and follow them up.

This is a useful guide. Four stars.

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

Murder at the Manor Hotel

Murder at the Manor Hotel is the fourth Melissa Craig cozy mystery by Betty Rowlands. Originally published in 1994 under the title: Exhaustive Enquiries, this re-formatting was released 20th Nov 2018 by Bookouture, it's 256 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

I was undecided about continuing with the series after the third book. I decided to pick this one up because it quite often takes several books for an author to find their pace with a new series and I'm so glad I did.  This is a taut, deftly plotted, entertaining murder mystery with an amateur sleuth whose day job is writing mysteries.  The setting is a stately hotel and the cast of characters is varied and interesting.

I enjoy British mystery as a genre and this one is well written and not too graphic or violent. There's light language use (a few damns, hells, and one 'f'-bomb, used in context) and no sexual violence. For readers from outside the British Isles, the author and slang are British, so expect 'torch', 'bum', 'lift', and 'packet'. It shouldn't prove very onerous for regular readers of mystery or BBC fans.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Murder Between the Pages (The Nina Foster Mystery Series Book 1)

Murder Between the Pages is a new series starter by Linda Hope Lee. Released 19th Dec 2018 by Wild Rose Press, it's 190 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This one should've checked all the boxes for me. I love cozies, bonus points for librarians and book-centric plots. I love the Pacific northwest area.  It was definitely readable and it's a short easy read which moves along at a pretty good clip, however....

The dialogue is often awkward and stilted. The names are intrusively weird and very old fashioned (Wildeen, Zelda, Morry, Arlette, Hamlet, etc).  . The main character is a librarian and although she's in her mid-thirties comes across as very schoolmarm-ish. If the author hadn't specified, I'd have thought her much closer to senior citizen age than 30's.

For readers who enjoy squeaky clean cozies with nothing racier in the romance subplot than a handful of very chaste kisses, this could definitely fit the bill. There's nothing here which would scandalize a nun (apart from the murder of course).

The denouement felt somewhat tacked on, and the murderer's motivation lacked believability to me.  It often takes a few books before new series hit their strides, so I will likely pick up the followup book before making a decision to continue or quit.

Three stars.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Birthday Lunch

I always love Martin Walker's Bruno stories. They're full of beautifully described settings, genuinely lovely people, and appealing descriptions of food. There's no mystery in this short story but that honestly doesn't detract from the story.

Released 19th March 2019 it's 22 pages and available in ebook format.

I always manage to learn interesting things from the Bruno books, and this story was no exception. I had no idea about the history and artifacts of the early humans of the region. Mr. Walker manages to insert interesting tidbits without clubbing the reader over the head with the info.

Beautifully written, concise, and complete, this is a perfect gem of a short.

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Beginner's Guide to Colorwork Knitting

Beginner's Guide to Colorwork Knitting is a tutorial knitting guide with instructions for 16 projects which integrate color changes in the patterns for different items using different colorwork techniques. Released 19th March 2019 by Sewandso, it's 128 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

The book is written in an encouraging and accessible manner. There is a distinct 'you can do it' vibe throughout, which I found charming. The book's introductory chapter (about 20% of the total content), has a surprisingly comprehensive discussion of color theory. The introductory chapter does not include any instruction on how to cast on or knit, that info is provided at the back of the book in the final appendix chapter.

The tutorial project chapters are arranged very roughly in order of ascending difficulty. The first project is a striped rectangular scarf in garter stitch which shouldn't be beyond the capabilities of anyone who has learnt to cast on and knit. This would also make a good stash buster project for those of us with odds and ends of balls of yarn collected over the course of other projects.

The next projects in the section introduce shaping (chevron blanket), colorwork in the round (with a nice trick for getting 'jogless' row shifts), and carrying unused colors up the side of the work.

There are also other projects which have tutorials for slipped stitch colorwork, stranded work, intarsia, double knitting,  modular knitting, and entrelac. The projects themselves are a mixed lot, with some very pretty accessories and soft furnishing included.

The lack of a visual gallery style index detracted a bit in my opinion. There is no main listing (in my eARC) of all the projects together.

Well written, very basic projects, with a good selection of techniques.

Four stars, aimed at beginning knitters or knitters looking to add a few techniques to their repertoire.

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

One Size Fits None

One Size Fits None is an exposition on agriculture and specifically what we as a society can do to change our systems and to what degree we can reverse the damage we've wrought to our biome. Author Stephanie Anderson grew up on a traditional midwest farm and began to question the agricultural production models during and after her college education. She makes a compelling case for the idea that not only is a sustainable paradigm necessary, we absolutely must also make changes to repair and compensate for previous damage by farming regeneratively.

Released 1st January 2019 by the University of Nebraska press, it's 312 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

The book is split into four main sections. The first section describes and provides insights into the traditional large-scale agricultural model. Farms are 'factories' producing generally one or two specialized crops at maximum speed and volume. The farms are run on such a huge scale that mechanized production is a necessity and sowing, weeding, maintenance and harvesting rely on large industrial machinery. Soil fertility and crop production are dependent on artificially applied chemical fertilizers which leads to decreased soil function which in turn increases reliance on more inorganic fertilizers.  The author makes a compelling argument for the unsustainability of the treadmill that is the current system of agriculture. The question, then, is how to make a change.

The second section deals with a shift in paradigm to a regenerative holistic system. The model she discusses in the book is based on buffalo and other large herbivores grazing grassland in the midwest USA. The studies she cites showed an increase of soil health and plant diversity when organic methods are utilized which allows for a more complete cycle, since the insects and birds aren't killed off by using pesticides. I enjoyed reading about the farmer documenting the insect activity of the poop left by the buffalo (dung beetles process and drag the nutrients from the poo into the soil where it continues the cycle).

The third section of the book covers plant based organic methods of food production. I enjoyed the way the author writes about the farmers she profiles in the book. There is an emphasis on their methods, true, but she manages to emphasize their creativity, problem solving, and humanity at the same time.

The fourth section of the book brings the second and third together with a balanced smallholding model which incorporates both animals and plants in a cohesive whole.  There is a common catchphrase in agriculture today 'Get big or get out'! This book makes a very compelling case why that is absolutely the wrong model if we want to repair the catastrophic damage we've done to the planet we all call home.

Even for people who aren't directly interested in engaging directly in food production, educating ourselves about food security and diversity is critically important now, before it's too late.

This book provides a wealth of further reading in the bibliography.

I remember reading Silent Spring decades ago and being absolutely electrified. This book gives me the same feeling. This is a very important book.

Five stars

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


Bookforms is a tutorial and artistic guide for learning bespoke bookbinding. I've always been deeply in love with books. Not just the contents inside (though I am a complete and total book dragon also) but the form, the binding, the presentation, even the smell. This book is a textbook on traditional and artistic book binding. 

Released 22nd Jan 2019 by Quarto on their Rockport imprint, it's 176 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats. This book is published under the auspices of the Center for Book Arts and is written by four former students/interns/instructors at the CBA in New York. There is an introductory chapter which includes a short CV/bio for them, followed by a pretty comprehensive tools and supplies list. This is followed by a short line-illustrated subchapter on book and paper anatomy and related jargon. This is an accessible and interesting treatise for the layperson as well, since being able to understand the way books are constructed certainly helps us understand at least a little bit how to also protect and care for them. The introductory segments comprise roughly 16% of the page content of the whole.

The introduction is followed by chapters with history and tutorials on: pamphlet and accordion books, multi-signature books, books with non-adhesive bindings, and specialty/artist books. The book is well documented and illustrated throughout with photographs and line drawings. Concepts and terminology are defined where they appear and the entire book is accessible to the average layman. The book ends with a resource list with links, where applicable, a bibliography/further reading list, and a list of where to go to see and find book arts. There is also an index.

This is a dense little book. It isn't strictly speaking an instruction or tutorial book, although I did follow the included tutorial with some bookbinding tools I had lying around to create a small sewn pamphlet with a cover. This is more of a resource book to supplement and support other instruction, especially formal instruction at a bindery or other classroom situation.

I really enjoyed the historical portions of the book as much or more than the tutorials.

Worthwhile book for bibliophiles. It's strengthened my years-long longing for more formal tuition in creating handmade books.

Four stars.

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

First Time Jewelry Making

First Time Jewelry Making by Tammy Powley is a tutorial guide with progressive lessons in starting jewelry making. Released 26th March 2019 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

I worked as a goldsmith for 16 years (before I went back to school to become a full time bionerd). I was lucky enough to apprentice to an amazing master goldsmith, however for most would-be jewelers, that's not an option, or desirable, since most people enjoy jewelrymaking as a hobby and aren't interesting in shifting careers. This book is for them.

The author begins with a thorough introduction to tools and some safety. I will note that for students just starting out, buying all of the equipment she lists in the introduction would scare away all but the most ardent/wealthy would-be-jewelers. Proceed through the lessons included in the book, by all means, but I would strongly recommend holding off on any equipment purchases until you feel the need to access holding you back or seriously hindering your growth as an artist. I am a total tool junkie and as my teacher once told me, remember humans were making jewelry thousands of years before electricity. Start with hand tools, you need the pliers and nippers listed in the introduction.  Buy the best tools you can afford; you don't want pliers flying apart at a critical moment (been there, done that).  The introductory sections cover about 12% of the content.

The following chapters start with simple materials and supplies introductions, progressing to short mini project tutorials using the techniques pictured. Highlighted sidebars provide concise materials lists for each tutorial. The techniques and processes included in the book cover: bead stringing, wirework, chain making, metal fabrication, metal clay, resin and paper.

There is a good resource and links list at the end, along with designer info and a short index. The resource lists are slanted toward North American readers, however a short internet search will provide sources for supplies which are available to readers in other parts of the world.

This book should give the beginning jewelry artist enough confidence to seek out further instruction or progress independently. I am slightly concerned that it felt as though the author was skirting around the use of a torch in the projects. Torches are mentioned in conjunction with metal clay projects and briefly elsewhere. I do understand of course that this book is 128 pages and a full discussion on torch use would take up too much of the page content. The information is readily accessible elsewhere on the internet/youtube. I strongly recommend that students do their homework before investing in any particular torch; talk to jewelers doing the same sort of work for which you want to buy a torch.

Well written and clearly photographed with attractive, easily modified projects.

Four stars.

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

Murder Lo Mein

Murder Lo Mein is the third Noodle Shop mystery by Vivien Chien. Released 26th March 2019 by St. Martin's, it's 304 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a cozy series featuring a sweet heroine who is a manager of her family's Chinese restaurant. The main character is plucky and loyal to her friends but she's not too saccharine sweet or perfect. When faced with nasty racist meanness and attitude from her arch-nemesis, Jackie, she's not above a few sarcastic digs in her own defense. At the end of the day, she's a genuinely likeable protagonist and I've really enjoyed this series thus far.

The background story is well interwoven in the book, and it works as a standalone without needing to have read the previous books. (I can heartily recommend them as well, if you're looking for a new light cozy series to read).

The language is overall clean, a few 'damns' and some chaste kisses, nothing to make one's grandmother blush. There is no graphic violence (even the murders are bloodless).

Fun books, fun setting, well written and enjoyable.

Four stars

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

The Ghost Manuscript

The Ghost Manuscript is a new thriller/mystery adventure with a light supernatural element by Kris Frieswick. Released 2nd April 2019 by Post Hill press, it's 432 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

I am a big time bibliophile. I will read pretty much anything that features books or librarians (cats optional). I also love mysteries.  This book ticked all the boxes for me, but I still found something lacking. Possibly the addition of an Arthurian legend to the mix was a little too far toward the 'National Treasure'/'Indiana Jones'/'Da Vinci Code'.  For readers looking for rollicking yarns along those lines, this could potentially be a winner. 

The book is fairly well written, but there were several times I found myself yanked out of the story by 'gotcha' moments that were so over the top unbelievable (and telegraphed beforehand) that it was a while before I re-engaged with the story.  For readers who dislike strong language, this book has a fair bit. There are also some mentions of sex.

The ending implies a follow up book. It does have a resolution, but the epilogue clearly indicates that it's not a full stop. 

Three and a half stars. Rounded up because there are millions of people who are Dan Brown fans, and this book read (to me) very much in the same vein.

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

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Painted Word: Mixed Media Lettering Techniques

The Painted Word: Mixed Media Lettering Techniques is a guide to mixed media techniques which incorporate lettering along with painting, collage, calligraphy, and found materials in decorative projects.

Released 28th Jan 2019 by Schiffer, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format. Author Caitlin Dundon is a Seattle based calligrapher, artist, and educator.

This is an accessible, well photographed book full of ideas which could be incorporated into journaling, wall-art, furniture refinishing, cards, and more. The introductory chapter (about 10% of the page content) covers materials and supplies, different media, substrates, found materials and more.

The rest of the chapters provide inspiration and loosely guided tutorials for using a variety of techniques to create finished artwork. The selected projects are attractive if not electrifying. I must say that the author's lessons on resist lettering and use of gesso for texture included some tips of which I was previously unaware.

The final chapter includes a resource list with links slanted toward readers in North America followed by a short index.

Three and a half stars.

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

The Modern Cheesemaker

The Modern Cheesemaker is a tutorial guide with recipes for home fromagier by Morgan McGlynn. Released 21st March 2019 by Quarto on their White Lion imprint, it's 224 pages and available in ebook and hardcover formats.

I am a lifelong cheese fanatic. I am in love with artisanal cheeses which are, unfortunately, in short supply in my area. I do always look forward to the traveling cheese faires and competitions which happen a few times a year locally, but it's a cheese desert betweentimes. There are apparently 3500 different cheeses and they are distributed literally all over the planet across cultures and time, just not where I live, apparently. This book comes to the rescue.

This recipes are arranged more or less in order of difficulty. The book begins with an introduction to the tools and ingredients necessary. Readers will likely have most of the supplies in their kitchens already and the author clearly advises against buying extra expensive equipment which will likely not be used regularly. There is also a short subchapter on different types of milk and how different seasons affect milk production along with a very short discussion of the biology of cheesemaking.

The first cheese recipes in the book are fresh, unaged cheeses such as ricotta and 'cottage' cheese.  I like that the recipes also include refinements and 'satellite' recipes using the cheeses produced. The ricotta section, for example, includes a recipe for ricotta and basil pesto gnocci, and a ricotta cheesecake that made my mouth water.

The types of cheeses covered in the book include fresh cheeses, cream cheese, goatmilk, semi hard, hard and blue cheeses. I really had thought that most except the very simplest would be beyond the scope of a home hobbyist, but now I'm inspired to try.

All of the recipes and procedures are packed full of clear and well made photographs which elevate the whole to an artistic, almost coffee table book. The photos really make this book beautiful.

Five stars

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

Modern Sudanese Poetry

Modern Sudanese Poetry is an anthology of post-independence (1964-present) poetry from Sudanese poets. This book is in the African Poetry Book Series. Anticipated release date is 1st Sept 2019 from the University of Nebraska press. It's 186 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This volume is impressive in several ways. This is obviously poetry in translation, the translation work by editor Adil Babikir seemed seamless and quite a number of the poems moved me despite being translated to English (and despite being read through the lens of my experiences as a western white woman). The included poetry is appealingly wide ranging. There are both male and female poets represented here. The poetry encompasses both the Arab and African experiences (sometimes both at once). There is a lot of poignant counterpoint in the culture of the region and it is reflected in the poetry.

I also really liked the supporting materials. There is a very well written, accessible, scholarly forward by  Matthew Shinoda which provides background information, some concise history and some interesting observations on the language and culture of the region. There is also an introduction, presumably by the editor, which gives a broad background with poetic and literary influences. The intro is accessible and also well documented, with a wealth of possibilities for further reading beyond the scope of the book.

The introductory materials represent roughly 20% of the page content.  There are poems from (by my count) 31 poets, many of them have more than one poem included.  I felt glimpses, reading them, of the common bonds which everyone shares across cultures and throughout time. We all experience love and loss and regret and confusion and anger.

There's an included notes section with some footnote info, a bibliography and reference section after the poetry, along with short contributor biographies.

I have done quick searches online and through the interlibrary catalogue at my university library. There is very little Sudanese poetry in translation available. None of these poets were familiar to me, and I found a number to follow up. This anthology was needed. Very well done (academic, true, but accessible and appealing to the layperson).

Five stars

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

Big Yarn, Beautiful Lace Knits

Big Yarn, Beautiful Lace Knits is a tutorial knit guide for large gauge lace projects with bulky and super bulky yards.

Recently I've been knitting incubator sets for the local preemie intensive care unit at our local hospital. These are tiny knits with 2-3mm needles (US 0-1) and fingering weight yarn.  I was -really- looking forward to a quick knit project with big needles and speedy results.  This book definitely fit the bill.

Due out 1st July 2019 from Stackpole books, it's 128 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. Author Barbara Benson is known to Ravelry users as vox8 and from her active youtube channel, WatchBarbaraKnit. There are 20 projects included: 12 scarves, shawls, a poncho, and cowls, 4 hats, 2 handwear projects, a vest, and a throw.

The patterns are listed in the table of contents by their designer names, and not by type of project. So"Shoot the Moon" is a shawl, "Asymmetrical Balance" is a unisex scarf, etc.  It's not necessarily a detraction, since there is a visual index with page numbers at the end of the book, and also to be fair, no knitter in history has ever bought a knitting book without paging through all the patterns first. I did not check every pattern slavishly, but as far as I can tell, the book's 20 patterns are not available as single downloads on any of the regular sites (Ravelry, Patternfish, Loveknitting, and knitCompanion).
I chose Sparrow Grass Hat (p. 17) as my test knit, since I happened to have a couple skeins of the called for yarn (in acid yellow from my 'what was I drinking?!' impulse yarn shopping days apparently. I literally don't remember buying this yarn). Anyhow, a lot of the details appealed to me. The background is a rib, so there's no cuff to the hat, the stretch is 'baked in'. It's a plain shape and quick to knit (last minute gift right there).  PS As the author says the pattern looks like spears of asparagus (it does!), and as we all adore asparagus here at our house, I named the resultant hat my asparagus hat. The project was painless to knit (disclaimer, this is absolutely NOT the designer's fault, but the yarn (Wool of the Andes superwash bulky) was extremely rough and felt like knitting a cactus). It softened up a lot with the wool conditioner when I blocked it... but use caution if you're knitting something that's intended to rub against skin). I know you're not supposed to use conditioner on superwash wool and the knitting police are gonna get me.. but this stuff was SUPER itchy and I didn't want to scare the folks on the bus commute and make them think I had lice instead of a scratchy hat). I found no mistakes in the pattern, and it knitted up very quickly.

I really like that almost all of the lace patterns included the stitch diagrams as well as the written instructions.  This is not a how-to-knit book; it presupposes some familiarity with knitting and reading a pattern.  None of these patterns are beyond the capabilities of a determined beginner, so long as you have access to some support from your local knitting guru. As an aside, I wholeheartedly recommend group knitting. It's more fun to knit together and you always have access to people who can help you if you find yourself trying to translate a 1930s Hungarian sock pattern without, you know, speaking Hungarian (yep, been there, done that).

All in all, an appealing collection of lace accessories including a fair number of unisex patterns.

Four stars!

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

Hearth Witch's Kitchen Herbal

The Hearth Witch's Kitchen Herbal is a guide to using herbs more completely in daily mundane and spiritual life. As the author is a practicing witch and pagan, there is a broader scope of information in this volume than most other culinary herbals.

Released 8th April 2019 by Llewellyn, it's 251 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

It's logically arranged with an introduction/tools chapter followed by chapters covering recipes for internal and external remedies, cosmetic uses, and finally a chapter on magical uses of herbs. These four chapters encompass roughly 10% of the book's content. The recipes included in these chapters are very general and basic. I was concerned to read that she recommends using petroleum jelly in salves (though her alternative recipe uses beeswax). The other ingredients are natural and sensible.

The intro chapters are followed by an alphabetical herbal with many herbs listed (including proper botanical names to avoid confusion). The herb listings also include appealing line drawings of the plants and this section is impressively well footnoted, providing a rich source of citations for further reading. The individual herb listings also include specific recipes for rinses, salves, decoctions, masks, shampoos, etc.

The final 20% of the book includes the appendices for magical and color correspondences for the herbs used in the book, a glossary, weights and measures, bibliography, recipe list, and index.

The book has uses well beyond the spiritual. The recipes (apart from the petroleum jelly ones) are safe and sensible. There maybe isn't a great deal of really groundbreaking info here, but it is unquestionably convenient to have everything gathered into one volume.  The typeface and chapter headers give the whole book a very nostalgic vibe which is appealing. A conscious decision (editorial?) was made at some point and the only photograph in the entire book is on the cover.  There are some interesting herbs missing from the text, for example: mullein, comfrey, calendula, savory (mentioned in passing), etc.

All in all, interesting especially for practitioners or would-be seekers.

Three stars.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Herbal Adventures: Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families

Herbal Adventures is a new foraging and wildcrafting guide which presents herbcrafting as a family activity. Released 23rd Oct 2018 by Quarto on their Young Voyageur imprint, it's 176 pages and available in flexibound and ebook formats. Author Rachel Jepson Wolf is a farmer/herbalist/educator and enthusiastic wildcrafter.

There's certainly no lack of herbing and wildcrafting books on the market lately. What distinguishes this one from the pack in my opinion is that it presents wildcrafting as a group learning activity. Children are naturally curious and almost universally enthusiastic learners. Activities picked up in childhood often have lifelong effects. Learning about nature and our natural surroundings, self sufficiency, experimentation, stewardship and responsible use of natural resources are vitally important lessons. This book is a useful tool.

The introduction and get-started chapters represent about 20% of the page content. The next chapters make up an herbal with 10 very common backyard herbs for temperate regions. These include mullein, elderberry, chickweed, yarrow and 6 other no-fail plants. There's also a chapter with a selection of simple, safe herbal recipes for crafting. The book includes a very short resource list and bibliography. There is also a simple index at the back of the book.

This would make a superlative family activity book or a good book for a classroom module for science, with a history tie in.

Five stars, well written, and well photographed.

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

30 Amazing Loom Knits

30 Amazing Loom Knits is a tutorial technique project book with a nice selection of loom knit projects. I think a lot of people unfairly dismiss knitting looms as 'kids crafts' and only remember the (admittedly) hideous polyester knitted hotpads and pot holders we all made in the 1970s (in avocado and harvest gold!).   Forget those. These are stylish projects with a wide variety of uses from socks and scarves and leg warmers, to bags, shawls, and hats.  The projects use a wide variety of yarns (they seem to be slanted to North American readers' availabilities), but substitutions should be painless.

Due out  1st Aug 2019 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Stackpole imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in paperback format. Author Nicole F. Cox will be familiar to many of the Ravelry crowd. The tutorials are well photographed and the accompanying text is easy to follow. Many of the patterns include 'Japanese' style design charts (do those graphic charts have a different name?) as well as written pattern row by row descriptions.

These are appealing and well made with designer details.

Five stars.

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