Thursday, October 31, 2019

Craft Capital: Philadelphia's Cultures of Making

Craft Capital: Philadelphia's Cultures of Making is a book of essays and photographs from community art projects and installations collected and annotated by CraftNOW Philadelphia. Released 28th Oct 2019 by Schiffer, it's 208 pages and available in hardcover format.

There are so many places where arts and enrichment funding has been gutted from local, state, and federal budgets. There are a number of crafts collectives and privately funded arts initiatives. CraftNOW Philadelphia is one such collective, organizing exhibits, connecting patrons, and serving as an arts facilitator/incubator of sorts.

This book is a current and retrospective look at the genesis of the crafts scene in Philadelphia with some varied insights into how post-WWII Philly became a crafts mecca and how it maintained its creativity.  The book includes 10 essays by various artists, curators, and educators (short bios in the back of the book), alternated with photo essays providing behind the scenes looks at installations and local parades. 

The essays are a varied bunch from drily academic to humorously quirky. The photo essays are all colorful and illustrative. It was interesting to see inside several of the studios and get a glimpse of the working processes behind the associated artists creating in the spaces. There's a fair amount of info and advice to be gleaned from some of the ideas presented.There's also a useful links and resources list primarily aimed at Philadelphia locales. Most of the listed organizations have an online presence, so they can be accessed through the 'net or via CraftNOW Philadelphia's website.

I've never encountered a book quite like this one. I think it would be a phenomenal introduction to the arts scene for locals, as well as a good blueprint for other arts organizations looking for ideas to get started or maintain a group space. It will possibly have limited use for artists and crafters who are not used to public arts or who are more solo.

Five stars for Philly folks and administrators/educators/curators/academics, probably four stars for the rest of us.

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

The Big Book of Reel Murders: Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films

The Big Book of Reel Murders: Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films is a stunning anthology of crime fiction expertly curated and edited (as always) by Otto Penzler. Released by Knopf Doubleday on their Black Lizard imprint it's 1200 (!!!) pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

This is a gob-smacking reference collection of shorter fiction stories which were adapted into some of the most iconic crime films in history. The stories are collected roughly thematically with sections for love (to death), real life horror, suspense, classic detectives and more. The author list reads like a literal who's who of crime fiction: Christie, Ian Fleming, Maugham, Bloch, RL Stevenson, Hammett, O. Henry, Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Conan Doyle and many more, both modern and classic. 

This anthology would be well worth the cost of admission -just- for the stories alone of course, but what made this a personal library keeper (even bought my own copy) is the erudite and meticulous historical notes and cast notes for each and every one of the included stories and the films they inspired. Mr. Penzler has a dizzying command of crime fiction history (or possibly a stable of librarians stashed in his basement) and his comments are worth reading in their own right.

Five stars. The other books in the series from the same publisher are also well worth seeking out.

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

The Dead Beat Scroll

The Dead Beat Scroll is the 7th August Riordan mystery by Mark Coggins. Released 16th Sept by Down & Out, it's 288 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a very well written PI story set in modern San Francisco (despite the manual typewriter on the cover and the 'vibe' of the book). The author has an intimate familiarity with the setting, in fact the verso chapter headings are full page B&W photographs (apparently taken by the multi-talented Coggins). The plotting and story arc are precise, controlled, and well orchestrated. It's fast paced and action filled. This is a PI novel in the proud tradition of Chandler, Hammett, Runyon, and the rest.

I read this one as a standalone and it works perfectly well, with one huge caveat. There's a massive spoiler on literally the first page of the book which will overshadow the first books if one is planning on going back and reading the earlier books afterwards (I am).

This is a good one for readers who love old school gumshoe PIs which hearken back to rain-slicked mean streets of 1940s black and white cinema. There are even punch ups between the protagonist and assorted bad guys and our guy comes out on top, bruised but unbowed.

I really enjoyed this one and have sought out the earlier books. Possibly worth noting for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, the first 5 books in the series (but not this one or the previous one) are available to borrow and read included in the KU subscription.

Four stars, solidly entertaining. The photos were a nice bonus, beautiful work.

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

Women in Design: From Aino Aalto to Eva Zeisel

Women in Design: From Aino Aalto to Eva Zeisel is a historical survey with small bios for over 100 women in design from fashion to textiles, from interiors and architecture to graphics. Released 29th Oct 2019 by Laurence King, it's 256 pages and available in hardcover format.

This is a resource rich book full of historical photos and information about iconic design and the artists and innovators who originated them. At a rough count, there were 106 short bios with generous numbers of well curated photos and illustrations. The emphasis is on European and North American designers; I believe there are two or three Asian designers included. I didn't see this as an intentional slight, but that the majority of the aesthetic of the book covers the Euro/American design history.

Each bio includes a small cameo header pic of the artist designer, a divider bar with their field of expertise and active years, followed by their vital info (nationality, birth and if applicable death dates).  The bios include career highlight and pictures of their innovations. These are well written and many have amusing anecdotes included. (Mimi Vandermolen, a car designer, once forced her male colleagues to wear fake fingernails to prove a point about the difficulty of the knobs and handles in current car design. She also apparently threatened to make them wear skirts to see the difficulty of entering and exiting vehicles).

The book includes an extensive reference and links list along with a cross referenced index. I received an eARC of the book, and found the typesetting contrast a little off, but I suspect that won't be a problem in the final print version of the book (which is 9x11.5" in size). I was previously unfamiliar with many of the names included here, though there were many I did recognize. Lots of scope for further reading here.

Five stars. It would have been nice to have a broader, more world-spanning emphasis, but the author/editors specifically addressed the curating process in the introduction.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What Rose Forgot

What Rose Forgot is a new standalone thriller mystery by Nevada Barr. Released 17th Sept 2019 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and available in hardback, mass market paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

I have read (and enjoyed) all of the Anna Pigeon books and I knew that the author was adept at her craft with a firm technical grasp of plotting, tension arc, characterization, dialogue.. her books are really enjoyable reads.  Ms Barr stepped up her game for this one. It's a roller coaster ride from the first page. I can't think of many things more terrifying than literally almost waking up and realizing you've been drugged and committed to a memory care unit for Alzheimer's patients. Rose's escape and unraveling the mystery of who's trying to get her out of the way is twisty, entertaining, humorous, and exciting. I was really rooting for her to figure it all out and win in the end.

The denouement is satisfying and the epilogue made me grin.

An enjoyable read for fans of the genre. The language is somewhat rough (I would call it 'R' rated) and the book includes assault and murder of vulnerable elders, attempted murder, and some political philosophy. My personal beliefs align pretty well with Rose's commentary, so I didn't find it distasteful but some readers might. Also, the physical demands of some of the scenes as written would be beyond the capabilities of most seniors. Gigi Rose is a badass. 

Four stars.

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

Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen

Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen is an interesting cross section of tattoo artists (mostly from the west coast of the USA) who are foodies and photographic gallery of their ink and a carefully curated selection of recipes. Released 28th Oct 2019 by Schiffer, it's 224 pages and available in hardcover format.

This is an extremely eclectic collection of recipes. The first one in the book is for a homemade pipe made from an apple. The contributor recommends acquiring some "grade A pot" and then cooking and enjoying the recipes from the rest of the book. The recipes are a mixed lot. There's a definite west coast USA and Mexican/Hispanic/Asian fusion vibe to a lot of them. There are a few vegan/gluten/sugar free recipes. Nearly all of them are simple enough for the average home cook to replicate and most of the ingredients are easily sourced and familiar.

Each of the featured artists has a short bio and a few action cooking shots as well as full color photos of their tattoos and some piercings. The photos are colorful and the tattoos are incredibly detailed and well done (in varied styles). The full body tattoos are tastefully semi-nude. Each of the recipes include a sidebar with a bullet list of ingredients. Measurements are given in US standard. They also include step by step instructions; some (not all) include yields. There's a table of contents, but no index.

This is an interesting intersection of two of my favorite obsessions: body art and cooking. This would make a great gift for a tattoo or cooking interested reader. It's definitely worthy of the 'coffee table' book category.

Four stars.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Judge Thee Not

Judge Thee Not is the 5th Quaker Midwife mystery by Edith Maxwell. Released 10th Sept 2019, it's 327 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an interesting premise for a cozy series. Protagonist Rose Carroll is a 19th century midwife who's a Quaker. As a midwife, she comes into intimate contact with families in her duties as a healthcare professional. She also encounters secrets which sometimes people would prefer remain hidden.

I read this one as a standalone, and as an introduction to the characters and setting, it worked well. I had no problems following the plot or keeping track of the characters and their relationships. The plotting was unhurried and the book was long enough that the author could develop the tension arc at her leisure. I found my interest wandering somewhat with this book (though I wasn't tempted to skim through it).

The thing which detracted a fair bit of enjoyment for me was that the main character, as a Quaker, used the second person 'thee' for both nominative and oblique forms, without holding to the other declensions apart from the possessive form (thine). This is, as far as I have been able to find out without a huge effort, actually historically accurate to New England Quakers in the 19th century. They actually didn't say 'thou'.  I winced every time the main character said (nominative form) 'Thee shall do'... 'Perhaps thee would prefer'... etc.

The author took some license with the societal and medical mores and knowledge of the time, but it wasn't terribly egregious.

The language is clean and there is no direct sexual content (a few chaste kisses between an affianced  couple, and a referral to a historical rape in the protagonist's relatively distant past). The murder and assaults are relatively bloodless and occur off scene.

Three and a half stars. I would recommend these to fans of historical cozies.

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

Mastering Kilns and Firing: Raku, Pit and Barrel, Wood Firing, and More

Mastering Kilns and Firing: Raku, Pit and Barrel, Wood Firing, and More is a tutorial and pottery workshop reference with a stunning amount of indepth technical information for the potter.  Released 22nd Oct 2019 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 192 pages and available in hardcover format.

It's a beautifully photographed book with an abundance of clear photos and illustrations of kilns, firing pieces, setups (including interior shots of kilns), and process shots. There are also gallery sections in full color with other artists scattered throughout the book with pieces that are quite literally jaw droppingly gorgeous. Amazing stuff.

The introductory sections (~16% of the content), includes a great overview of studio safety, gear, equipment, and supplies.  The following chapters cover kiln construction and considerations (the best treatment of the subject I've seen), separate very in-depth technical chapters on raku, pit & barrel, and wood firing, and further technique explorations.

It also includes a recipes section along with templates for studio record-keeping and a good cross referenced index. This entire book is full of useful information aimed at the professional working potter. This would make a superlative workshop/instruction book or dream book for those who aspire to be professional potters. There was a great deal of accessible information here for hobbyists or craftspeople also. I learned a lot about the processes involved in kiln construction and use which I have never previously considered, along with process photos of creating clay and slip. I have only previously used the materials provided, but the recipes contained in the book make my fingers itch wanting to experiment.

Five stars. This is a very well done treatise. I believe this will become a classic staple of the professional potter's workshop library.

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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Wild about Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants

Wild about Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants is a gardening tutorial and design manual for incorporating more spontaneity and unfussy looks into the garden by using some native plants and 'weeds'. Released 22nd Oct 2019 by Laurence King, it's 176 pages and available in hardcover format.

I remember my grandmother (a legendary gardener) telling me at a young age that 'weeds are just plants growing where we don't want them'. That's profound, and anyone who's struggled with beautiful mint or strawberry plants gone wild will understand how they can be as stubborn as the weediest weed.

Lately, all the garden wisdom and advice tells us that we should endeavor to keep at least part of our gardens wild, leave as much deadfall as we can, along with unraked leaves and long grasses to provide food and shelter for overwintering insects and wildlife.  This book gives a really refreshing look at more natural garden design philosophy.

The book follows a logical easy to follow format. The introductory sections (~20% of the content) cover the background, some general ideas and definitions (what are weeds, how they can work, and what to absolutely avoid). The following section includes some good discussion on sourcing native plant material (with worryingly little information about doing so ethically), establishing native plants in the garden, and controlling them.   The next sections cover specific plants and their situational needs and places where they should thrive.

It includes some lovely photography, both of the plants covered and some garden shots in situ. There are also some FAQs / short interviews with some garden designers and 'weed' specialists at the end of the book which were fun to read. There's an index and glossary and a nice list of other potential weeds to adopt into the garden which didn't make it into the book.

I strongly prefer exuberance and 'cottage-y' gardens, so a lot of the 'weeds' in the book, including Pilosella and Centranthus are already incorporated into my gardens and grow more or less where they will. There are a number of other plants which I fully intend to find space for come spring.

This is a beautifully photographed book and an inspiring read. Four stars.

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

Ashley Jackson's Watercolour Sketches

Ashley Jackson's Watercolour Sketches is a well curated selection of landscape watercolours and a nice glimpse inside the artist's sketchbook. Due out 30th Oct 2019 (but possibly delayed) from Pen & Sword, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a nice selection of annotated sketches. The artist has a warm and personal style of writing in the annotations which feel more like a conversation over a pint than anything else. He often describes the weather at the time of the painting, or about features of the countryside or about the composition itself.

This would make a lovely gift for an artist or for studying in one's own painting and sketching.

Five stars. A valuable and illuminating glimpse inside the artistic composition and process.

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Dangerous Engagement

A Dangerous Engagement is the 6th Amory Ames mystery by Ashley Weaver. Released 3rd Sept 2019 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 309 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a very well written stylish murder mystery series with sophisticated protagonists who are a married couple. Set in the interwar period, Amory and husband Milo are upper class (he's trying to be a good husband, reformed from his playboy days), intelligent, and modern. In fact, I've always gotten a sort of British Nick & Nora vibe from the books with the witty repartee and clever plotting, with a little dash of a more serious Tommy & Tuppence, and something all their own. The books aren't derivative at all, the author's talented and the characters stand quite well on their own.

This book sees them heading to New York for the wedding of Amory's childhood friend Tabitha. Hidden motivations and underhanded lucrative business dealings within the wedding party leave Amory less sure of her footing than on her home turf in England. Although this is the 6th book in the series, it does work quite well as a standalone. There's enough backstory woven into the narrative that readers new to the series won't have any trouble sorting out who's who.

This entry was well paced (if a trifle slow at the beginning) and solidly plotted. The dialogue is witty and rings true to the period. The setting was novel change for the main characters and seeing them in the USA and in much less formal surroundings than usual allowed for some interesting insights into their marriage and the way they worked together.

Four stars, solidly entertaining.

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

Life and Loves of E. Nesbit

The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit is a detailed and fascinating biography of beloved children's author and poet E. Nesbit. Released 17th Oct 2019 by Duckworth Books, it's ~400 pages and available in ebook format (other editions may be available in other formats).

I remember growing up on a steady diet of weekend trips to the public library where, wonder of wonders, I could pick out ANY books I wanted. (I still get a thrill going into a library, more than half a century later). I discovered and devoured The Railway Children, The Psammead books, so many hours of delicious escapism and the ones she wrote, I revisited again and again.  I felt then, and still feel, that she really understood how kids think and feel on some fundamental level.  I think most readers of English have encountered her books at one point or another. I was previously unaware, however, except in the vaguest terms, anything whatever about her life.

This biography is meticulously researched, exhaustively annotated, and so well written. The author has a lyrical voice and at the same time a spare and respectful manner writing about her subject. Though precisely and minutely researched, it's anything but dull, and Ms. Fitzsimons doesn't shy away from covering the tragic parts of Nesbit's life.

I heartily recommend this one to anyone who enjoys biographies or has enjoyed Nesbit's oeuvre as a child (or grownup). This is a worthy biography of a worthy subject who isn't well represented in print currently.

Five stars.

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

Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle

Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle is an erudite survey of the social history of needlework written by Clare Hunter. Released 15th Oct 2019 by Abrams, it's 320 pages and available in hardcover format.

These disparate essays cover shared emotional human themes from loss and frailty, captivity, value, artistic merit, and having a voice. There are 16 different thematic chapters along with a foreword and conclusion. The author has a very precise but soulful writing voice and connects emotionally with the reader. I was drawn in and touched and emotionally invested in the stories she conveys. Many of them had an immediacy and relevance despite the intervening years (sometimes centuries). 

The writing feels academic, though there are no annotations directly in the text. The book does include a fairly extensive bibliography and links list with online resources for further reading. I am emphatically not a historian (big bionerd here), but when spot checking some of the facts listed, I found no glaring errors. 

The writing and spelling are British standard, but it wasn't distracting or intrusive in my opinion. The biggest drawback in my opinion was the lack of illustrations. The author has included an extensive links list for online searches of many of the pieces which are covered in the text. I think that might also be one of the reasons that it felt like a more academic treatise to me.

The history of needlework is tied in many places to gender history, and as such, this would make a good support text for art history, gender studies, textile studies and the like. It also made for an interesting (sometimes touchingly sad) and captivating read for non-academics as well. Just don't expect illustrations.

Four stars.

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

The Weekend Quilter: 25+ Fabulous Quilts to Make in a Weekend

The Weekend Quilter is a tutorial guide and project book edited by Rosemary Wilkinson. Released 15th Oct 2019 by Fox Chapel on their Landauer imprint, it's 192 pages and available in paperback format.

Time is a precious commodity. There are very few of us who have enough time to spend in creative pursuits and it can be daunting (for some of us) to contemplate a quilting project which might take years to complete.  In addition, there are many of us who like to have short, medium, and long term projects going concurrently. This book fills that niche. It's full of well designed, attractive, and quickly finished projects which have a nice range of difficulties (mostly slanted toward the easier end of the spectrum). The projects also cover a broad range of techniques and would be ideal for quilters looking to expand their repertoire to learn sashiko, applique, etc.

The book is laid out in a logical, easily accessible manner. An introduction covers basic quilt parts, materials, and general construction. The following chapters are written by the editor and 4 other artists and the projects are grouped roughly thematically: rail fence variations with Greek key type contrast patterns and layouts, seasonal color themes and subjects, relaxing (mostly Japanese inspired) color schemes and layouts, pioneer/scrap quilts, and contrast based projects (including one tone on tone small banner/wall-hanging that is absolutely gorgeous).  The projects instructions are all very well written and with a thorough read-through I saw no glaring errors. The book also includes a links section and index.

The photography and illustrations throughout are clear and illustrative. All of the projects have multiple full color process and finish pics. Each of the projects includes an introduction, materials list in a bullet style sidebar, finished size (in metric and American standard units), as well as step-by-step instructions. All of the projects also include an estimated completion time in hours.

These are worthwhile projects and most of them can easily be adapted to full size quilts or other projects.

Five stars.

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

Fire Cider!: 101 Zesty Recipes for Health-Boosting Remedies Made with Apple Cider Vinegar

Fire Cider! is a new herbal based recipe book utilizing apple cider vinegar by Rosemary Gladstar (& friends). Released 15th Oct 2019 by Storey, it's 204 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an interesting book with some history, some folk wisdom, some chatty background (including some legal drama), and lots of recipes for making and using herbal tinctures and concoctions. The author has a chatty and inviting writing style which is accessible and fun.

The book itself has a logical layout: introductory chapters (including the beginnings of the legal drama) are followed by a discussion of apple cider vinegar and its properties, the origins of fire cider, and some uses, recipes for fire cider and variations, variations such as oxymels tonics and such, and cooking with fire cider.  The book also includes short contributor bios, a metric conversion chart, and an index.

The recipes themselves are arranged with a title, the ingredients (given in American standard units) listed bullet style to the left of the sidebar, and step by step instructions. The ingredients are mostly familiar and easy to source at a grocery store, co-op, or farmer's market. There are many of the recipes which also include short bios or history about the contributors, which I generally found charming and entertaining. In fact, the entire book has a community feel with a lot of shared history and cooperation.

As a denouement to the above-mentioned legal trademark wrangling, on 13th Oct 2019, the US district court in Massachusetts, ruled in favor of the originators of fire cider, and they successfully defended their right to use the name and that it should remain generic and usable by the community.

The book is enjoyable, the recipes are varied and interesting. I also really enjoyed the art and graphics. They're informal and energetic. In fact, a lot of them remind me in a way of the graphics from that hippie icon from a bygone age, The Whole Earth Catalog.

Four stars, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to folks who would like to try apple cider vinegar in their daily routines.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Mosaic is a standalone crime thriller set in Scotland and expertly written by Caro Ramsay. Released 1st Oct 2019 by Severn House, it's 256 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats.

This one has a wonderfully gothic + golden age Christie-esque feel. There is even a manor house (on an island!) and a wealthy upper-class family with a tragic history. The narrative itself is written in alternating points of view, but the characters are so well delineated that it's never a problem keeping them straight whilst reading. The plot is full of tension and red herrings and I read the whole thing in awe of the author's control of plotting, drama, atmosphere. This is a technically scintillating book as well as being entertaining and a good read.

I have read so many thriller/crime books lately which had absolutely been written with film adaptation in mind. The scenes were set up and written as staged and directed for film. This book, refreshingly, was written as a book. The scenes and dialogue were not film sequences.

Really well written, dramatic tension and plot arc work well, characters are interesting and varied, setting is wonderful, the author (in my opinion) bobbled the denouement a bit, but overall the book is superb.

Four and a half stars, rounded up for the writing. One of my best reads for the year.

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

Read and Buried: A Lighthouse Library Mystery

Read and Buried is the 6th Lighthouse library mystery by Eva Gates. Released 15th Oct 2019 by Crooked Lane, it's available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a clean cozy mystery with books, cat (a Himalayan called Charles), a librarian, and a library in a lighthouse. Although it's part of a series, there's enough backstory woven into the plot that it works fine as a standalone. The ensemble cast is full of archetypal characters, but the author is skillful enough and the writing technically adept enough that the whole works very well. The plotting proceeds at a good clip, the murder (which happens off scene) is relatively gore-less and couldn't have happened to a more deserving scoundrel. (Even his wife hated him).

Despite her protestations to the contrary, main character Lucy gets drawn into solving the mystery. There's a coded cipher, a Civil War era map and journal and hints of a buried treasure. The language is very clean, nary a sh*t or d*mn to be seen. There is no sexual content (some chaste kisses, in context, but nothing racier).

This is, simply, a well written, readable, and enjoyable library cozy (with cat). There are also a number of fun bonus reading prompts referenced in the book which will lead the reader to other books and series. It's well worth a look for fans of the genre.

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Art Starts in the Heart: Creative projects and inspirational ideas for learning to make expressive, mindful art

Art Starts in the Heart is a tutorial guide with prompts and practice pages for creating art and illustrations with some projects included. Released 8th Oct 2019 by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

I really love art tutorial books which are accessible and usable by anyone, no matter what their level of artistic ability and experience. This is an appealing guide, written well, with encouraging and enjoyable prompts. The introductory chapters include some drawing and letting tutorials, an abbreviated survey of tools and supplies, as well as some layout instructions.

Probably 5-10% of the book (including most of the later chapters) is given over to practice areas and prompts. There is a lot of step by step instruction included in the earlier chapters of the book however. The style of the art is simple, upbeat, and naive/folksy. I find it very appealing. It would be perfectly suited to making note cards, place cards, journaling, envelopes/stationery and similar projects.

Four stars.

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

American Sign Language for Kids: 101 Easy Signs for Nonverbal Communication

American Sign Language for Kids: 101 Easy Signs for Nonverbal Communication is a well made tutorial for caregivers, teachers, and other resource people for learning and using simple ASL especially with children. Released 8th Oct 2019 by Rockridge Press, it's 176 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a appealing and well illustrated book for learning and teaching young people some basic ASL. The introduction gives some background info as well as a 'how to use this book' walk-through.  The following chapters introduce some of the history of ASL (as well as SEE and PSL) some of the benefits of learning and using ASL in the family, as well as how to efficiently make a habit of using ASL as well as finding (or forming) a support network.

The book introduces signs gradually starting with 10 basic and important signs: drink, food, mom, dad, me, bathroom, home, yes, no, and I love you. Later chapters cover family and feelings, mealtimes, at home (clothes, household items and situations), playtime, conversation, alphabets and numbers. The book also includes a nice bibliography, resources (with active hyperlinks), and some cool learning activities.

For Kindle Unlimited subscribers; this title is available in the KU subscription to borrow and download for free. It's also worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a very resource rich, accessible, and fun book for learning ASL together with youngsters. It would also make a superlative library book (school, classroom, public) or extracurricular activity (scouting, etc).

Five stars.

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

Judy Joo's Korean Soul Food: Authentic dishes and modern twists

Judy Joo's Korean Soul Food is a new cookbook and tutorial by Judy Joo. Released 1st Oct 2019 by Quarto on their White Lion imprint, it's 224 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I love Korean food but always felt somewhat intimidated and full of excuses: "It's too complicated", "the ingredients are hard to source", "it requires too much special equipment", and maybe the lamest of them all "it's culturally insensitive for a lily white Irish girl to make Korean food".

Well, soul food and street food is 100% -me-, plus I love the author's media appearances I've seen, so I thought I'd give the book a try and I'm glad I did. The author's style of writing is intelligent and accessible. She clearly has a passion for food and culture. She's also clever and it shines through in the recipes and tutorials.

The book starts with a short author bio and pictorial introduction to Korean seasonings and ingredients. Some of these are readily sourced from a well stocked international/Asian grocery store. Some of them will probably need to be ordered online.

The book continues in a logical fashion through salads and banchan (side dishes), pickles and kimchi (more on this later), dumplings, street food, rice, ko-mex, meat & seafood, soups & noodles, breads and desserts. The chapters are packed with recipes (most with photographs) which are clear and easy to follow. Each of the recipes include sidebar with ingredients listed bullet point fashion (given in US standard measurements and some metric), yields, and step-by-step instructions. 

If you search for kimchi recipes, there are literally millions out there. I've tried most of them (ok, not really, but almost). I have never been quite satisfied with the results; they never quite achieved the taste and texture made by my friend's Korean grandma. The chonggak (radish) kimchi (p. 39) comes really close to my remembered experience. It's got a really nice crunch and a spicy bite along with the tangy fermented taste I adore.

We tried a couple of other recipes from this book as well, and all were appetizing and successful. The cucumber salad (oi muchim, p. 25) was delicious and we've made it twice since then. The sweet potato pancakes (goguma jeon, p. 80) were a little gooey, but I think that was user error on my part, and they were still enthusiastically demolished by my 'testers'.

All in all, this is a beautifully written and presented Korean cookbook full of delicious food. The photography is top notch, the dishes are appealing and the recipes reflect a love and respect for culture and good food.

Five stars. Love this one.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Close to Birds: An Intimate Look at Our Feathered Friends

Close to Birds is an interesting survey of some of the more common Eurasian bird species. Originally published in 2017 in Swedish, this English translation was released 22nd Oct 2019 by Roost books, it's 272 pages and available in hardcover format.

This is a beautiful, meticulously researched and written book by naturist Mats Ottosson. The birds which are included in the book are often accompanied by an essay including the authors' anecdotes or stories or personal encounters. The real stars of the book are the incredibly detailed close-up photos. You can easily see the individual feathers, features of the birds' anatomy, everything. This is a true coffee-table book but additionally it's a beautifully presented and very interesting book.

It was odd to me that the book doesn't include the Linnaean classifications in the essays for each bird. It's not a glaring deficiency by any means, a simple internet search will provide the information. There's also no index or bibliography, although there is a short (one page) citations list for the chapter headings (most are translated from Swedish, with a couple of exceptions).

This would make a superlative gift for the nature enthusiast or bird-watcher.  It's an amazing display of the photographer's art. It should probably be noted that the photos are not taken in situ but in a light tent. This makes them all the more stark and almost startling in their detail, but some readers will find the style distracting or unnatural. I found them enchanting and magical.

Four stars.

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

Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool

Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool is a very entertaining and informative narrative by fibre writer Clara Parkes. It chronicles the crowd-funded journey of a bale (676 pounds) of merino wool from the sheep to the dyed finished skeins. Released 1st Oct 2019 by Abrams, it's 192 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I have enjoyed the author's other books and enjoy fibre-arts writing and subjects in general, so I anticipated that I would like this one as well.  I did, very much. I like her conversational writing and the addition of the genesis of the project to the narrative added some background and setting.

The bale of yarn duly purchased, it was split into fourths and the story follows each of those fourths through processing and dyeing into skeins of yarn. The author makes a lot of good points in the book about everything from the impermanence and breakneck speed of the fashion knitwear industry, to vanishing manufacturing inside the fibre arts.

This would make a really diverting read for fibrecrafters who like reading books about fibrearts as well as anyone who enjoys 'how it's made' type books. I am a fan of the author and the subject matter, so I really enjoyed it and found it enlightening. It should be noted, however, that the author delineates quite specifically in the book that the American fibre industry is disappearing as the global market forces and aging mill owners retire. For people who really love their wool, it's an alarming time.  Additionally, I think the book could've used some photos/illustrations. It's worth noting that I was provided an early eARC of the book and have not compared it to the final release. It's possible that there -are- photos in the final release version of the book which weren't included in the eARC I received.

Five stars.

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Wild Dyer: A Maker's Guide to Natural Dyes with Projects to Create and Stitch

The Wild Dyer is a new tutorial guide for foraging and utilizing wild plants and other materials for dying by Abigail Booth. Originally published in the UK in 2017, this US release by Princeton Architectural Press, out 1st Oct 2019 is 160 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This book is an odd (but interesting) combination of dyeing, crafting (sewing), and foraging wild materials.  The emphasis is on sourcing and using dye materials to produce textiles. The introductory chapters (~26% of the content) cover a little bit of color theory, sourcing and using dye materials, tools, and preparing and dyeing fabric. The author's process tutorials include basic instructions for sourcing, scouring, and mordanting techniques and supplies.

The rest of the book covers growing and harvesting materials from the garden, seasonal foraging, and a reference section including an herbal, glossary, resource list, and index.

This is a good resource for -experimentation- .... the author is very upfront about the variables in home dying being multitudinous and difficult to control. This book is quite suitable for exploring and learning alone or in a small workshop type setting. I don't think this book would be useful for crafters looking for a method to produce large quantities of finished fibre/fabric. Also, the colors resulting from the materials in the book are not uniform and some are muddy (i.e., don't expect clear, strong, modern, aniline dyes). This would be perfect for recreationists (SCA people), period re-enactors who are into authenticity and historical folks.

The projects included are basic and can be achieved by anyone; at least one (coasters) is hand-sewn, some of the others are done with a basic straight stitch machine. Some of the projects are of questionable practicality, but they're all earthy and attractive.  I have some experience with textiles, including dyeing fabric with natural materials, and I'm intrigued by the author's instruction for using woad. Her process appears to emphasize minimizing oxygen exposure (it's a bit hazy in the book). I am intrigued because she suggests keeping the fermenting woad near a heat source such as a radiator. When I've used woad in the past, the powerfully unpleasant (nauseating) smell wouldn't be welcome in any home I could imagine.

Anyhow, experimentation is key here. There is a lot of good basic information. The photography is well done and abundant.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The "I Love My Instant Pot®" Anti-Inflammatory Diet Recipe Book: From Orange Ginger Salmon to Apple Crisp, 175 Easy and Delicious Recipes That Reduce Inflammation

The "I Love My Instant Pot" Anti-Inflammatory Diet Recipe Book is a tutorial and recipe reference specifically aimed at an anti-inflammatory diet. Released 1st Oct 2019 by Simon & Schuster on their Adams imprint, it's 224 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This book is a wonderful resource, especially for family dinners where one (or more) members are trying to adhere to a special diet, in this case inflammatory conditions or auto immune diseases. The instant pot adds convenience and speed to the equation along with -normal- tasting family friendly meal options.

The book has a nice, easy to follow layout. The introductory chapter and how-to tutorial (~7% of the content) cover the basic hows and whys of using the instant pot.  The following chapters cover the standards: breakfast, soups/stews/chili, snacks/appetizers, beans/rice/whole grains, side dishes, poultry, seafood/fish, vegetarian, and dessert.

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only, though there's a conversion chart in the back of the book), step by step instructions, as well a footer with nutritional info. I would estimate roughly 10% of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The photos provided are high quality and clear.

The recipe ingredients themselves are easily sourced and will be available at most well stocked grocery stores. There are a very few ingredients which might be a little more difficult to source (frozen edamame pods for example), but definitely nothing that is 'way out there'.

We tried three tester recipes and all of them were well written without any measurement or cooking time errors and produced food which was enthusiastically eaten by my family. Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs (p.130) produced a beautiful main dish in less than half an hour total at a budget friendly total cost. Coconut Curry Sweet Potato Soup (p. 47) was a huge hit and we've made it twice since our first try. We did adjust the original recipe on the other tries to make it a little zippier. The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of mild curry powder.. so we added half of a Moroccan curry powder (ras el hanout). The last one we tried was Sweet Potato Hummus (p. 72). our regular basic hummus (sans sweet potato) is quick and easy... but this was an interesting twist with the addition of sweet potato. The texture was a little different and the reception was mixed. It's tasty...but we're big fans of basic hummus; it's going to take some experimentation to see if we'll add the sweet potato on a regular basis.

All in all, -very- well written, beautifully presented food, made from (mostly) unprocessed raw ingredients which are easily sourced and taste good.

Five stars, we'll be revisiting this cookbook often.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Blowout is an absolutely chilling political commentary delineating the connections between the insanely profitable oil and gas industry, Russian government, big business, and the US government. Released 1st Oct 2019 by Crown, it's 370 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

Rachel Maddow is renowned for her biting commentary and no 'BS' political essays/podcasts/shows. More often than not, my political and philosophical feelings align with hers, so it's not really a surprise that in most ways, this book shocked, dismayed, and enraged, but didn't surprise me. Whether or not the reader agrees with her, the meticulous research and build-up of her exposition isn't really up for dispute. She knows what she's talking about and she builds up the connections step-by-step.  This attention to detail means that the first half of this book can feel slow...but by the time she ties the disparate threads together, the extrapolated conclusions are foregone.

This was a difficult read for me. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. The current news cycles spin at whiplash speed and I know more people who feel burnt out and disgusted (and apathetic) about the state of the political and commercial landscapes than who don't. The point that the author makes (and does so compellingly) is that more and more, the alliances which are the tectonic plates moving society and controlling life as we know it are not ones of political alliance or stateship, but commercial entities which owe allegiance only to the ridiculously wealthy men controlling them and making alliances across previously forbidden geopolitical lines.  She puts it succinctly enough, "Powerful enemies make for big, difficult fights".  I just hope we have enough energy and intelligence left to fight.

Five stars. Definitely a sure bet for people who enjoy intelligently written nonfiction.

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

101 Quilting Tips & Tricks Pocket Guide

101 Quilting Tips & Tricks Pocket Guide is a small pocket sized book containing tips and tricks for making the creative process and execution easier and more effective. Released 15th Oct 2019 by Fox Chapel, it's a trim 48 pages (3.8 x 0.3 x 5.8 inches) and available in paperback format.

The book has an easy to read graphic layout and is arranged logically. Each tip is numbered sequentially (and yes, there are 101 of them).  They are arranged in sections: organization, sewing machine tips, rotary cutting mats, cutting processes, notions, picking projects, fabric choices and placement, construction, different techniques (applique, piecing, embroidery, binding, etc), decorating, and other miscellaneous tips.

For a tiny book, the photography and illustrations are surprisingly high quality. There are some process photos (like the magenta and gold fabric cutting photo at the end which had my fingers itching to start stash diving - really appealing color combos).  There was no included index, but the tips are short, concise, and precise, so the book probably doesn't need an index.

I also liked that the pictured tools and supplies (sewing machines, irons, notions, etc) weren't all top end ridiculously expensive models. Quilting is an art and craft which should be accessible for everyone.

Well done. Four stars.

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

Deep Waters

Deep Waters is an anthology of 16 stories with a water theme. Released 3rd Sept 2019 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's 352 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats. Editor Martin Edwards provides erudite, interesting commentary and an introduction for each of the stories. 

The stories themselves are classic and varied. There's a canonical Holmes and Watson short, a Raffles story, as well as stories by luminaries of the genre including Edmund Crispin, Josephine Bell, C.S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower), and others. Honestly, the author list reads like a who's who of classic and golden age mystery fiction. The commentary and introduction are also top rate. I always learn something from Mr. Edwards' vast storehouse of mystery history; this time it was that E. W. Hornung (Raffles) was also Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brother in law!

These are wonderful old stories. They mostly still play very well to a modern readership and all of these are worthy of preservation and publishing for new generations of mystery lovers.

Well done! Five stars.

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

Grace in the Wings: A Grace Michelle Mystery (A Grace Michelle Mystery, Book 1)

Grace in the Wings is the first book in what is ostensibly a new series by Kari Bovée set in 1920's NYC and the California film industry. Released 19th Sept 2019, it's 348 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a murder mystery romance with some thriller overtones. It's set in 1920/21 in New York and California and the plot is peppered with real life characters (Flo Ziegfeld, Hedda Hopper, Mary Pickford, etc) who are woven into the plot with varying degrees of skillfulness. The plot is relatively straightforward and character driven. Main character Grace is a former street kid, taken in by Ziegfeld with her sister Sophia and raised in the theater world under his protection. Despite living on the streets and being raised in the theater world, Grace is a naive virginal damsel (in distress). Enter devastatingly handsome romantic lead guy Chet Riker (stage left), he's a good guy who got on the wrong side of a mobster borrowing money to pay for his estranged mother's surgery.

This could be (and mostly is) a straightforward romance/cozy mystery except for the last half of the book.  There's a lot of fairly graphic violence,  sexual content (including consensual sex, threatened rape and kidnapping, graphic violence against female characters), drug use, manipulation, etc. I personally found the denouement abrupt and far too convenient.

The writing is unpolished (but promising) and would have benefited from some ruthless editing. Despite the problems with my suspension of disbelief and the 'too much' denouement, I can certainly see this developing into a good period series.

For Kindle Unlimited subscribers; this title is available in the KU subscription to borrow and download for free. It's also worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

Three stars.

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Pizza! is a cookbook and culinary ode to what is arguably America's favorite dish. Originally published in 2006, this reformat and re-release with new content, out 15th Oct 2019 from Fox Chapel, is 192 pages and available in paperback format (other editions are available in additional formats).

I didn't count the number of recipes (varying data in the promo materials, but it's a -lot-). With combinations of different doughs (including gluten-free options) and toppings and sauces, there's enough variation here to keep most people experimenting for the foreseeable future. In that sense, this book can be considered more or less the definitive pizza cookbook.

The book follows a logical easily accessed format. The introductory chapters (~17%) cover some pizza history, ingredients, tools and equipment. The following chapters 'build' the pizza from the crust up, offering a generous array of bases, toppings, and sauces. Although the battle lines are drawn for most pizza lovers, the authors -have- included a chapter on sweet pizzas including sweet crusts and various sweet toppings. Most of the recipes at least maintain some decorum as far as 'culinary worthiness' is concerned and there aren't many recipes included in the book which wouldn't fit in perfectly well with a casual dinner with friends (including 'foodies'). That is not to say that the recipes are full of odd or difficult to source ingredients. Most of the ingredients will be easily found at any well stocked grocery store in much of the western world.

The authors have included a cross referenced index including searchable ingredients (so if one has anchovies, it's a snap to find all the recipes which reference the salty little things (it's 5, for the scorekeepers)). There is also a separate alphabetical index for all of the veg*n friendly recipes. The authors have included a links list for further reading, along with a short bio.

The photography is very good for this edition. Some (not all) recipes are pictured. There are no step by step process photos, then again, pizza is generally a simple enough dish that they're not really necessary.  All of the recipes contain a one word 'thematic' connection such as 'simplicity', 'perfection', or 'comfort'. I couldn't find a listing or explanation for the words chosen. Each recipe also includes yields, ingredients lists (given in standard US and metric measurements), and step by step instructions. Most of the recipes are short, roughly half a page.

Four stars, the recipes we tested were simple and tasty and worked well.

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