Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Namesake (Fable #2)

53138025

Namesake is the second book in a YA fantasy duology by Adrienne Young. Released 16th March 2021 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's 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 well written YA adventure with a strong and intelligent female protagonist, an ensemble cast of characters and a well controlled and technically adept narrative arc. The story moves along at a good pace and the action is engaging and carries the reader along. The language and themes are appropriate for older teens. 

I hadn't read the first book in the duology and had some trouble following some of the more nuanced parts of the plot including the back-history between Fable and the crew, her complicated family connections, and much of the interrelationships between the secondary characters. Because of this, I don't think it works well as a standalone and recommend readers to read the first book before reading this one. 

Four stars. 

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

Parallel (Alex Cave#7)

55056244. sx318

Parallel is the 7th book in the Alex Cave series by James M. Corkill. Released 25th Dec 2020, it's 320 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an engaging and fast paced crossworlds SF/fantasy in a generally well written and developed series. It's in first person and written in a very direct voice which took me a while to get used to, but once I got over that small hurdle, I found it an entertaining read. The plotting and characterizations are fairly straightforward and easy to follow. Although it's the seventh book in the series, I didn't have any trouble following the plot. There are some elements which will spoil parts of the earlier books if they're not read in order. For fans of the series, I recommend reading this one in order.

Recommended for fans of crossworlds military science fiction. Four stars.

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

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Sandalmaking Workshop: Make Your Own Mary Janes, Crisscross Sandals, Mules, Fisherman Sandals, Toe Slides, and More

 

The Sandalmaking Workshop is a tutorial, style, and crafting guide to making wearable stylish footwear by Rachel Corry. Due out 30th March 2021 from Storey, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

As shown on the cover, there are numerous beautiful shoes to create with a surprising amount of detail and style. The author shows step by step how to source tools and materials, design and create the shoes. The first 10% of the page content is given to a thorough introduction of tools and materials including specific appropriate tools and supplies (mostly leather, no alternatives given for vegan readers, although experimentation would surely provide appropriate non-animal materials - repurposed rubber soles with woven uppers?).

The second chapter covers the sandalmaking process - making patterns, cutting, lining, fitting, finishing, gluing, etc. The individual project tutorials are divided into two chapters roughly thematically: sandals and shoes. The projects are beautifully stylish and really professional looking. These are bespoke level shoes (literally - the author does bespoke work and these are at least some of her processes and techniques). All of the tutorials are well and clearly photographed.

The end of the book includes all the templates for the projects (in the final release version, not included in the eARC), along with an index, links for further info, metric conversion chart, shopping sources and lists, a short links list to other shoe artisan crafters, a glossary, and author bio.

There just aren't that many shoemaking books out there, and this one is quite good for beginners as well as intermediate learners. 

Four stars. Well worth a look for the crafty reader. This would also be quite welcome for self sufficiency folks, smallholders, and the like. I would definitely recommend it to makers' groups, school library, scout activity groups, etc.

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

The Naturally Clean Home, 3rd Edition: 101 Safe and Easy Herbal Formulas for Nontoxic Cleansers

 

The Naturally Clean Home is the reformatted third edition of Karyn Siegel-Maier's 1999 book on DIY green alternatives to harsh chemical cleaners for the home. Due out March 30th 2021 from Storey, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The introduction contains some very basic info about the science of soap and cleaning, concerns with bleach (and alternatives) and how and why to adopt more earth-friendly alternatives. The following chapters are grouped thematically: kitchen, bath, laundry, wood care, cleaning metals, walls & carpeting, cleaning the air, garage & basement, garden & landscape, and the home office. There are many (many) recipes and tips and tricks in this volume. Recipes are listed by category. Ingredients are listed bullet style in a sidebar with American standard measurements (no metric). Most of the ingredients will be readily available at a well stocked grocery store or co-op/health food store. Some few ingredients will need to be sourced at a pharmacy or online. The layout is easy to read and has good text contrast. There is very little photography, but recipes are enhanced by small line drawings. The recipes are not very involved, so tutorial photos weren't necessary.

Most people are becoming more aware of the desirability of reducing our plastic waste and our impact on the environment. This book contains a lot of good tips for making cleaning products with less waste, much less packaging, and fewer harsh chemicals.

I would recommend this one for smallholders, off-grid folks, people trying to live healthier lives with less detriment to the environment, money-savers, and the like. Five stars - basic info, but it's very convenient to have it collected and arranged in a logically accessible volume together. 

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

Keeping a Nature Journal, 3rd Edition: Deepen Your Connection with the Natural World All around You

 

Keeping a Nature Journal is a updated and reformated edition of Clare Walker Leslie's first edition from 1997. Due out 30th March 2021 from Storey, it's 224 pages (print version) and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This edition follows the layout and format of the previous additions with updated and expanded content (including new pages from the author's current nature journal - her 55th!). The introductory chapters include the hows and whys of setting up and developing the habit of keeping a journal and using (and improving) it. The second section includes accessible art instruction tutorials for rendering sky, flowering plants and trees, birds, mammals, insects and spiders, and landscapes. The entire book is full of beautiful colorfu art and good takeaways about mindfulness, training ourselves to actually *look* and *see* our subjects, and some good tips on slowing down and allowing ourselves the space to learn and grow. 

The appendices are also useful and well laid out: teaching and interacting in a group setting with different age groups, with some standard examples of recording data/location/etc, and tips on what to expect from different age groups, curricula, recognizing progress and learning and much more. There is an abbreviated links and bibliography list as well as a cross referenced index.

This is an information dense, accessible, and useful resource. I would highly recommend it to journalers, readers in search of more nature-based mindfulness exercises, as well as in classroom settings, painting and nature groups, and the like. This would make a nice addition to the artist's home studio or makers' group library as well.

Five stars.

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


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden: Planting and Tending Small Fruit Trees and Berries in Gardens and Containers

54501195. sx318

Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden is a general guide to cultivating fruit written by Christy Wilhelmi. Due out 20th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a well written general book aimed at gardeners who would like to implement fruits into their garden routines with special emphasis in smaller spaces or using the available space in the most efficient ways.  The information is presented in a logical and accessible way and there are good takeaways for readers no matter what their level of experience. The author's introductory chapters cover siting, containers, planning, variety selection, and culture. The chapter on grafting is clearly written and very well illustrated. There is an entire chapter devoted to soft/caning fruits and berries. The rest of the book is rounded out with info on maintenance, trimming & pruning, and pest & disease control. 

It's very well illustrated and beautifully and clearly photographed throughout. Appendices include a serviceable overview of rootstock varieties for grafting, along with stockists and online resources, followed by a cross-referenced index.

The author is knowledgeable and writes well on the subject. Not all of the concrete advice presented in any given book will be 100% applicable or desirable for every reader. It's the same with this one. I disagree with the advocacy for kill traps for rodent pests, but in general this is a solidly information dense and well presented book on fruit gardening in limited spaces. I don't fuss much about my own fruit trees and cane fruits and subsequently share the bigger portion with my feathered and furred "neighbors" and I'm glad to pay them for the wonder and joy they bring me. Other readers will have different needs and expectations. 

Five stars. Very well done book. This would make a good selection for library acquisition, gardening groups, community garden libraries, smallholders, and the like. 

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

Five stars.

 

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore #1)

54304019

The Accidental Apprentice is the first book in a new series for middle grade readers by Amanda Foody. Due out 30th March 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Margaret K. McElderry imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is an action packed, well paced, rollicking adventure. It's aimed at middle grade readers (approximately grades 3-7) but definitely enjoyable as an all ages read. The author is gifted at storytelling in clear accessible language which is accessible for younger readers but fun and engaging for adults as well. 

The author has the same wry touch with placenames and characters (Dullshire, Humdrum, and Diddlystat) as other perennial favorites such as Dickens and a deft talent with characterization as well. The narrative arc rolls along at a breathless pace and everyman protagonist Barclay is soon thrust into an adventure against his will. All Barclay can ever remember wanting was to belong, to be responsible, to have a family (he's an orphan) and to be successful in his apprenticeship as a mushroom farmer. Soon he's an unwilling Lore Keeper using magic he can't control and only wishing to get back to his life in Dullshire.

This is an exceptionally good start to a fantasy series for all ages. I would recommend it for school or public library acquisition, reading groups, family reading time, and gifting. It reminds me in some ways of other all-ages media such as Spiderwick Chronicles with a little Pokemon vibe. Clean language and not-very-much on-page graphic violence.

Five stars. I'm looking forward to finding out what comes next. 

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

Texas Fruit Vegetable Gardening, 2nd Edition: Plant, grow, and harvest the best edibles for Texas gardens

54501199. sx318

Texas Fruit Vegetable Gardening is the second edition of a classic gardening manual by Greg Grant. Originally published in 2012, this updated edition is due out 13th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint. It's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is an eminently practical book. The author's down to earth writing style comes through on every page. Here's a quote:

“Gardening in Texas isn’t really that tough once you learn to play by the rules. It’s all about knowing what to grow and when to grow it.”

I liked the book's layout and graphic style. The chapters are arranged logically and information is easy to find quickly. The chapter on gardening basics (a surprisingly good general chapter containing information which is relevant to gardeners everywhere on siting, planning, preparing, planting, maintaining, harvesting, and troubleshooting) is followed by specific information for Texas gardeners regarding specific vegetables & herbs, fruits, and nuts (peanuts). The final chapter collates the information and adds tips and tricks for improving soil, adjusting pH, harvest storage, annual and perennial herbs, and a good plug for the ag extension services. 

The photography throughout is detailed, plentiful, and clear. The information is presented thoroughly and very accessibly. This is a very good book for gardeners in the whole of Texas split up by region and climate. 

I didn't have the first edition for comparison, so I can't review the differences, but this is a comprehensive and well written manual for Texas gardeners with broad general applications to gardeners in the entire Southeast USA. The author has also included an abbreviated glossary, short bibliography, seed/plant resource list, and a good cross-referenced index. One of the best features for me personally was the inclusion of a chapter with a number of the author's family recipes. These will be instantly recognizable to readers who have spent any amount of time in the Southeast USA. It's full of comfort food (including a recipe for Sunday dinner cornbread with cheddar, onion, corn kernels, and chopped bell peppers which I remember fondly from my own childhood). 

Five stars. Heartily recommended as a good acquisition for public or school library, home gardener, gardening groups, and schools. 

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

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Apache Diaspora: Four Centuries of Displacement and Survival

55503572

The Apache Diaspora is a well written annotated history of the Apache people presented by Dr. Paul Conrad. Due out 28th May 2021 from The University of Pennsylvania Press, it's 400 pages in print and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is one book in UPenn's: "America in the 19th Century" this volume delineates the roughly four centuries of survival, genocide, upheaval, exploitation, and fortitude of the Ndé (Apache) people of the North American southwest. 

This book, while academically rigorous and prodigiously annotated throughout is refreshingly accessible to non-academics. The language is understandable and readable and the author allows the subjects to speak eloquently for themselves, through their photos and the ephemera (diaries, family oral history, and archival evidence) they left behind. 

I found myself often moved emotionally during reading this book and affected deeply by the plight of the people and their families depicted here. Seeing the resilience and mettle of these people against the backdrop of the nauseating prejudice and cruel mishandling by everyone was often difficult to read and process. 

The text is liberally annotated and illustrated with line drawings, facsimiles of period documents, and an impressive number of photos. Although the treatment is admittedly academic, there's enough annotation and chapter notation and bibliography to satisfy the staunchest pedant - at the same time, there's a clear and compelling biographical narrative. I'm amazed that there's enough period record to reconstruct the stories of these families after so many years. 

Five stars. I would recommend this book to readers of American history, war history, American culture, classroom instruction in native history, or allied subjects, ephemera, etc. 

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

Bad Karma (A Zoey Callaway Mystery 1)

55948777. sy475

Bad Karma is the first book in a new PI procedural by Debi Chestnut. Released 20th Dec 2020, it's 208 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's 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 an engaging, fast paced, well written PI/amateur procedural with a young female protagonist who is looking into the sudden death of her uncle, also a PI. A package in the mail with a letter from her uncle along with a USB drive seals the deal, and she's determined to get to the bottom of the case. 

It's a good (very fast) read, but...  I found the dialogue uneven. There are some characters (her mother for example) who are simply toxic and 100% annoying. I could understand her mother being distant and/or manipulative. She's straight-up abusive and it didn't work for me within the context of everything else about the protagonist, Zoey, being competent, intelligent, and moderately badass. The small-town police being as utterly incompetent as they are also didn't really work for me. They were *hopeless* and unprofessional. There's also a subplot which seemed to foreshadow some light paranormal content in future installments and it felt separate from the style of the rest of the book, which is very realistic and not paranormal at all. 

Four stars. It will be interesting to see where the author goes with future plots and how the characters develop. The language is clean (a few "damn"s, nothing worse) and no graphic sexual content. 

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

En Plein Air: Light Color: Expert techniques and step-by-step projects for capturing mood and atmosphere in watercolor

52042298

En Plein Air Light & Color is a watercolor masterclass by Iain Stewart. Due out 13th April 2021 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a technique and tutorial manual in a similar format to the classic (and beloved) Walter Foster instruction books familiar to everyone. I used to love to spend time looking at the spin racks at my favorite arts supply store in town and generally came away from shopping with one or two tucked into my supplies. 

The introductory chapters cover very basic tools, materials, and techniques. Mr. Stewart does a very good job of imparting really valuable tips and tricks scattered throughout the text. He talks about attitude to working outdoors, organization, light (and predicting what it's going to do and how it will affect the work process), warming up, sketching, and lots more. I was impressed with the amount of detail and information in the two short introductory chapters. The artist is meticulous and studious. I can imagine that he's a very gifted instructor and envy anyone who has the chance to take a class or workshop from his studio. (Hint to groups, he apparently does do group workshops, so it's something to keep in mind after the plague is behind us). 

The bulk of the book is taken up with the tutorials. There are step by step guided tutorials to be recreated. There are also several technique chapters which are less step-by-step and more generally technical. Throughout the book, the author imparts *many* tips. Apart from the gorgeous and colorful art and illustrations, I think I'm most impressed over the density of accessible and usable information he manages to convey. 

Well worth seeking out. I would highly recommend this one for the artist's home studio, maker's groups, painting groups, or as a gift perhaps bundled with some of the author's recommended tools/supplies (he doesn't tout particular brands, just sizes, colors, and qualities of pigment). The information contained here is not only applicable to outdoor location painting and sketching. This is a good technical guide for watercolor and sketching in general.

Five stars. 

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


Friday, March 26, 2021

Otter Lagoon

55668827

Otter Lagoon is an engaging fantasy graphic novel and the second book in a series by Mike and Nancy Deas. Due out 13th April 2021 from Orca Books, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a really fun graphic adventure with a gang of kids, cryptozoology (sea monsters!) an island setting in the Pacific Northwest and a well written plot with lots of action and twists. Despite being the second book in the series, it worked very well as a standalone read and I had no trouble keeping track of who was who. 

I enjoyed the story. Although the writing is aimed at younger readers (middle grade-ish), I found the characters well rendered and believable and the narrative arc paced and written well. The magical/sea monster plot element added whimsy and pathos. The art is simple but expressive and supports the storyline. I liked that main protagonist wasn't perfect; she's dealing with ethical dilemmas the best way she can and she learns and grows throughout the book. I also like that the characters are ethnically diverse. It's not played up in the story, but representation is important. Jenna and her little brother Sleeves and their friends are kids and they were written believably. 

Four stars. This would make a good selection for public or school library acquisition, home library, gifting, or for a group read-along. 

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

Thursday, March 25, 2021

100 Plants to Feed the Monarch: Create a Healthy Habitat to Sustain North America's Most Beloved Butterfly

54110508

100 Plants to Feed the Monarch is an accessible practical *usable* guide to steps home gardeners can take to protect and enhance habitat for butterflies and other pollinators (specifically the monarch butterfly, but there's lots of practical info here for other species). Due out 13th April 2021 from Storey, it's 288 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

Written and presented by the Xerces Society, this is a really well written guide which contains concrete practical steps to help protect and enhance habitat for butterflies. The introductory chapters contain a good layman-accessible explanation of the monarch's life cycle and why habitat is shrinking and populations are being lost as well as a good guide to designing, improving, and expanding monarch-friendly habitat.

The second section of the book contains the plant profiles. One main chapter covers milkweeds (obviously very important - it's their main food source), as well as secondary sections detailing other important habitat plants grouped thematically: non-milkweed host plants, nectar plants, and nectar producing trees, vines, and shrubs. Each of the 100 plant family profiles includes color photographs, genus/group names, descriptions, culture requirements (light, soil, blooming season), recommended species, growing range map, and other invertebrate species for whom the plant(s) are important in terms of food or habitat. 

This is a very well put together, graphically appealing, useful guide. Xeriscaping and using more native plants in garden designs have gotten more attention lately and over the last few years of incorporating more wildflowers in my own home garden beds I've been amazed how many more butterflies and native pollinators I've seen. It's also been rewarding from a time-saving standpoint because the native plants and wildflowers I've invited into my garden are perfectly adapted to life in the area as well as providing an important ecological bonus in the form of food or shelter for local wildlife.

Five stars. This would be a superlative selection for public or school library acquisition, home library, gifting to a gardening friend, for gardening groups/allotments/community gardens, or maker's groups. Really nicely done. 

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

Alex McKenna & The Academy of Souls (Alex McKenna #2)

55443330. sy475

Alex McKenna & The Academy of Souls is the second book in this YA paranormal fantasy series by Vicki-Ann Bush. Released in Oct 2020, it's 250 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's 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 well written paranormal "high school" fantasy with light romance elements for young adults. The ensemble cast of characters include both the living and "departed". Alex has the ability to cross-realms and this installment of the series sees him using his abilities to find a young ghost-girl named Haven and help to reunite her with her sister Ophelia. 

There were some continuity and editing issues (word substitutions mostly) but all in all an entertaining and engaging quick read. I would recommend it to fans of the genre. Although it's the second book in the series, I had no trouble following the plot or keeping the characters sorted. Three and a half stars.

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Karolina and the Torn Curtain (Profesorowa Szczupaczyńska #2)

53968553

Karolina and the Torn Curtain is the second book in a historical cozy series by Maryla Szymiczkowa. Originally published in Polish in 2015 this English translation was released 23rd March 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Mariner Books imprint. It's 416 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's 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 capably written historical cozy with beautifully believable characters and sublimely delivered lightly humorous pitch perfect dialogue. The translation work is seamless; it didn't feel translated to me. The disparate plot threads wind ever more closely and the denouement and resolution are clever and very well engineered. The entire read is finely rendered and surprising. I didn't manage to figure everything out despite being given all the information along the way. I'm impressed and will be looking forward to more from this pseudonymous author pair.

Four and a half stars. I would recommend this one unhesitatingly to readers of historical cozies featuring academic types, light humor, and smart female protagonists. Although the time period is completely different, and in this case the protagonist is the professor's wife and not the professor herself, this book reminds me in a lot of nice ways of Amanda Cross' Kate Fansler novels. 

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

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Great Vegetables

54681895. sx318

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Great Vegetables is a new tutorial gardening guide by Lorene Edwards Forkner. Released 16th March 2021 by Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 224 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a comprehensive and well written guide full of easy to understand advice for getting started and succeeding with vegetable gardening. It's slanted toward readers in North America and USDA regional maps and zones are those used in the USA. The first section is a good intro to the concepts and first steps to get started (and succeed) with a garden. The author does a good job explaining the basics and the first chapters are full of clear tables and illustrations as well as a short glossary of terms. The author gives a good overview over soil, water, siting, light conditions, local climate zones, garden planning, and more. 

The following chapters are set up chronologically with garden tasks for each month Jan-Dec. There is also an abbreviated herbal listing of edibles from A - Z including all the usual garden favorites as well as some surprises. Each of the listings includes the name (common names only), culture info, planting info for each of the regions, growing and harvesting info, and some varieties to try out. 

The appendices include resources and suppliers links, some often overlooked vegetables to seek out and try, an abbreviated bibliography, metric conversion chart, and a cross-referenced index.

The photography throughout the book is lush, clear, and abundant. It's very inspiring to see healthy vegetables and plants, well displayed and appealing. 

Four stars. A good beginner's guide. I would recommend it for garden groups, library acquisition, or for the home gardener's library.

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



A Conventicle of Magpies

56928605. sy475

A Conventicle of Magpies is a Victorian era gaslamp fantasy and the first book of a new duology by L.M.R. Clarke. Released 6th Jan 2021, it's 178 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

There is a lot to unpack here. Overall, it's a well written and engaging YA paranormal fantasy with an ensemble cast of (mostly) female protagonists. They belong to a motley gang of the local ethnic minority who are sneak thieves, cat burglars, pickpockets, and "problem solvers" (but no murder). The paranormal element comes from blood based magic (trigger warnings for blood, violence, suicide, trauma, etc). The characters are well rendered and distinct. I had no trouble remembering who was who. There is a Jack-the-Ripper subplot whose many victims are exsanguinated carefully (blood magic, again). There are several intertwining plotlines and not all of them are resolved by the end of the first book, strongly foreshadowing the second book in the series. 

I liked the LGBTQ+ positive character portrayal and found myself engaged and invested in the story. There is some strong language and mature content here (mostly violence and mature themes, not for the sexual content which isn't egregious). 

Four stars.

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Florida Gardener's Handbook, 2nd Edition: All you need to know to plan, plant, maintain a Florida garden

54501201. sx318

Florida Gardener's Handbook is the second edition of a resource dense classic southern garden favorite by Tom MacCubbin, et. al. Originally published in 2012, this second edition is due out 13th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint. It's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a well organized and accessible guide to the special challenges and benefits of growing in Florida from heat, salty gardens, building up soil, potentially invasive species (most have been removed from the second edition), long/staggered growing seasons, and more. The authors are experienced southern gardeners and it shows. The book is arranged chiefly by chapters by plant profile: annuals, bulbs, fruit & nuts, fruit & vegetables, lawns, ground covers, perennials, shrubs, trees & palms, tropical plants, and vines. 

Plant profiles contained in the book are arranged alphabetically by category and each profile includes a color photo, culture/growing icons for light water and other growing needs, botanical and common names, colors, native ranges, peak growing and flowering seasons, and, importantly, habit/size. There are numerous tables which are full of suggestions for planting times by USDA zone (broken down by north central and southern Florida).

The authors have included a number of useful appendices including a glossary, bibliography for further reading, cross-referenced indices for botanical and common names, and a good overview over invasive plants, and troubleshooting tips for taking care of pests common to Florida gardens. 

These regional guides are very useful and specific to the areas for which they're written. This is a very good resource for southern gardeners and was a good choice for an update and re-release. The photography throughout is lush and very clear and colorful. 

Four and a half stars. This is a niche book and is recommended for the specific zones and region for which it was written.

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

Tropical Plants and How to Love Them: Building a relationship with heat-loving plants when you don't live in the tropics

54501191. sx318

Tropical Plants and How to Love Them is a technique focused gardening guide by Marianne Willburn. Due out 13th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

Gardeners have always tried to stretch the limits of what will grow in their local climates. We all know someone who has absolutely gorgeous dahlias, tuberose begonias, caladium, and other tropical beauties which they carefully lift and store before the cold weather kills them. This is a well written and solidly useful book *full* of tips for choosing, keeping, and helping tropical plants to thrive for temperate climate gardeners.  

There are many ways to use tropicals in the garden and the author explores them: seasonal (let them die and replant next spring/summer), ones which are indoor/outdoor to suit the season, dormant overwinterers (like my beloved cannas), edible/usable tropical plants, and high-maintenance divas for whom we sacrifice much effort and sometimes tears. Each of the chapters includes some overlap and much of the value of this book for me came from the author's tips for evaluating each type of horticultural relationship and deciding when to pull the plug on a plant which has become too demanding of time and effort or expense. 

The last section contains an abbreviated A to Z of selections by genus with lots of ideas and inspiration. There's also a useful list of "honorable mention" plants, online/mail order nurseries, and a short bibliography for further reading and investigation. The index is cross-referenced and includes both botanical (Latin) names and common names. The entire book is beautifully and lushly illustrated in color. 

Well written, comprehensive, creative, and inspiring. Five stars.  

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

Gardening Hacks: 300+ Time- and Money-Saving Hacks for the Most Beautiful Garden Ever!

54861066. sx318

Gardening Hacks is a very well curated encyclopedic collections of tips and tricks (or "hacks" if you prefer) for gardening more easily and effectively, presented by Jon VanZile. Due out 6th April 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Adams Media imprint, it's 256 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a well written and accessible collection with a bit of something-for-everyone. I've been gardening the better part of 6 decades and I learned some new tricks. The tips are arranged thematically into chapters: seeds seedlings & cuttings, containers, outdoor gardening, indoor gardening, tools pests & harvesting. 

The hacks are all numbered and arranged in easily understood short entries. There are no photos included, but the book is well illustrated with clear and restfully rendered simple line drawings and pictures to enhance the text. In fact, I really liked the sort of retro-vibe of the entire book's graphics with small drawings in the footers, nicely typeset chapter and section headings, and a calm friendly aesthetic throughout. There is a short cross-referenced index included, so specific information is easy to find as well as an abbreviated links and resources list for further reading. 

This would make a good choice for library acquisition, gardening groups' lending libraries, makers and activity groups (all-ages), home library use, or for gifting to a gardening friend.

Four stars. Lots of good info here.

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

Murder by Page One (Peach Coast Mystery #1)

55104757

Murder by Page One is the first book in a new small-town librarian cozy mystery series (with cat), by Olivia Matthews. Released 23rd March 2021 by Hallmark, it's 336 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's 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 Hallmark series. It's comfy, cozy, well written, and delivers exactly as expected. The language is squeaky clean, nary a curse word to be seen. The violence is all off scene and without explicit gore. There's a light romance element but it's not a big focus of the book. The only public displays of physical affection are between the librarian (Marvey) and the top of her grumpy-but-lovable cat's fuzzy head.

The writing is fine, the plotting and narrative arc are well controlled and the denouement and resolution are satisfying. The book's ending foreshadows the continuation of the series. I would recommend this one to readers of the subgenre (there's even a recipe for peach cobbler at the end of the book). I'm looking forward to the next book(s) in the series. 

Three and a half stars.

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Never Put a Cactus in the Bathroom: A Room-by-Room Guide to Styling and Caring for Your Houseplants

54303692. sx318

Never Put a Cactus in the Bathroom is a beginner's guide to choosing and keeping houseplants written by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale. Due out 13th April 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a well written tutorial guide with culture tips for plants in a very easy-to-understand format. The first section introduces the plants and very basic info on how to keep plants alive. The second (larger) section is a room-by-room guide to choosing plants for specific conditions and includes light, heat, humidity and other conditions. The information is -very- basic and aimed at beginners.

The illustrations by Loni Harris are simple, very pretty, and accentuate the text well. There are no photos in this collection. Side notes or special info is provided in highlighted text boxes. In general botanical names (Latin nomenclature) are *not* used which seems to have been a conscious choice to make the text more accessible for beginners. Most of the Latin names can be found in the index with links to the relevant info in the main text.

This would be a good selection for library or classroom acquisition, gifting (perhaps to a young adult recently moved into their first apartment?) or for beginning indoor gardeners who want to get some suggestions for styling with plants.

Three and a half stars.

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

The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: The Optimal Keto-Friendly Diet that Burns Fat, Promotes Longevity, and Prevents Chronic Disease

 54503640. sx318

 

The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook is a tutorial guide with recipes by Martina Šlajerová et al. Due out 13th April 2021 from Quarto on their Fair Winds Press imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Mediterranean diet has gotten a lot of attention because of its association with a wide variety of health benefits including a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and early death. This book provides a good introduction (the authors call it a crash course) to the science behind the diet and lifestyle for beginners wanting to make changes to their eating habits for health benefits and a healthier lifestyle. Extra information is provided in highlighted text boxes with short information bits which are accessible and easy to understand. The book also includes clear colorful graphics to help make information easier to remember. This book contains recipes which are also keto-friendly for weight loss and maintenance.

The layout is logical and easy to follow. The introduction covers the basics of the Mediterranean Diet, tools, supplies, and the how-to and why of choosing ingredients. The following chapters include the recipes arranged roughly by category: breakfast, snacks, salads & soups, lunches, dinners, sides, desserts, and partial recipe ingredients (sauces, spice mixes, pesto, etc).

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements with metric in parentheses.  The nutritional information:  calories, fat, carbs, and protein content are listed for the recipes as well as macronutrient ratios, fat breakdowns, and serving sizes.  Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in sidebars. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made with easily sourced ingredients. Many are very simple, none of them are overly complex. I didn't count the number of recipes, but there are a lot.

The photography is abundant, clear, and appealing; roughly 2/3rds of the recipes are illustrated, and serving suggestions are appropriate and appetizing. 

This is a nice collection of recipes and even allowing for the fact that some of them are very similar to others in the same category, this will keep cooks going for ages. Many of these can also easily be adapted to other styles of cooking and meal planning. 

Four stars.

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

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Herbal Houseplants: Grow beautiful herbs - indoors! For flavor, fragrance, and fun

54501192

Herbal Houseplants is a tutorial and culture guide for herbal plants to grow (for use) indoors written by Susan Betz. Due out 13th April 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The first thing that struck me about this book is how positive and upbeat and encouraging the author's voice is. It's a really happy book full of healthy vibrant useful plants. I love herbs and always have pots of herbs in my kitchen windows and greenhouse to bring inside to use during the winter... but this book goes a lot further with decorating and culture ideas for plants, some quite exotic.

The layout is easy to read and follow as well as graphically appealing.  It's well illustrated with lots of relevant color photos. The author covers choosing plants to fit decor needs as well as the culture needs of the plants themselves. There are good illustrations of each of the concepts she introduces (what _is_ indirect light, how can plants be situated to make the most of light without getting burned by having too much of it, what's humidity, how much is enough, when and how much to water, propagation, etc). There are some simple tables included to help readers with culture and troubleshooting. 

The author has included a good overview of tools and supplies also: choosing pots, drainage, materials, soils (one of the best treatments I've seen in a home/hobby book), potting tutorials, watering, pruning, fertilizing, cleaning, propagation, and solving problems. The second half of the book contains a good herbal with a surprisingly broad choice of plants including eucalyptus, tea tree, patchouli, and lots more. They're arranged roughly thematically: culinary herbs, herbs for fun and fragrance, scented geraniums, and "temporary" indoor guests such as topiaries. 

The final chapter includes some recipes for harvesting and use. The book also includes a useful list of resources and suppliers as well as a cross referenced index.

Well written and nicely photographed. Five stars.

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

Tales of the Tinkers: Book One

54293785. sy475

Tales of the Tinkers is a well written alternate history/parallel worlds fantasy by Chris Mathewson (& clan). Released 26th June 2020, it's 396 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an exuberant romp of an adventure. There are plot elements large and small intertwining to create a surprisingly rich and engaging story about family, honor, finding one's place in the universe, being useful and following your creative passions, and being true to oneself. The language is mostly family friendly, there are a few instances of "bloody" "dammit" and "bugger", but nothing worse. The style is lighthearted and fairly deep at the same time and invites comparisons with Pratchett. (It's *not* Pratchett, but it reminds me of him in some good ways). 

The author writes dialect into the dialogue and at least at first, it can be slow going. For comparison, it reminded me a lot of the Nac Mac Feegle in Wee Free Men (Pratchett, again). 

Four stars. Well worth seeking out this indie published fantasy. I sincerely hope the author (and clan) continue with the story. 

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

The Fox & Little Tanuki, Volume 3 (The Fox & Little Tanuki #3)

55840391. sy475

The Fox & Little Tanuki is the third volume of this lighthearted and appealing graphic series written by Mi Tagawa. Due out 23rd March 2021 from TokyoPop, it's 208 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

I really love anthropomorphic animals and this series is superb. The animals are well written, distinctly different in characterization and appearance and easy to keep straight in my head during the read. This is the third book in the series which has strong continuity overall; so it's best to read them in order. The narrative moves along at a good pace and it doesn't drag at all. It's action packed and engaging. 

The pages are inked in black and white and the page layout is in the classic "manga style". The publisher and author have included a how-to-read-manga tutorial page in the back of the book for western audiences. The pages are arranged like western books, with the spine facing left and the first page facing the reader.  

Four stars. This would make a good selection for public or classroom library acquisition, for manga fans, and lovers of anthropomorphic graphic novels. 

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


Superpowers on Six Legs: The Hidden Lives of Ants

49150923. sy475

Empire of Ants is a beautifully illustrated and fascinating look into the world of ants by Drs. Susanne Foitzik and Olav Fritsche. Originally released in German in 2019, this English language translation is due out 6th April 2021 from the Experiment. It's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

The book is layman accessible, and I found it a fascinating read. It's well annotated (and the chapter notes and index make for fascinating further reading) but doesn't get bogged down in overly academic language. This is popular science writing - not a "how-to" guide for collection or specimen study. The authors do present a broad range of species and behaviors. It's clear they're both knowledgeable and respectful of their subjects. There are a handful of popular science and zoology writers who have the gift of writing layman accessibly and engagingly on their topics of expertise. We can add Drs. Foitzik and Fritsche to the list. The translation work is seamless and was completely invisible from my side. The chapter notes and bibliography are for  papers and research presented in English (most science writing is in English these days).

Five stars. Heartily recommended for readers of science, ecology, and similar subjects.

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

À Table: Recipes for Cooking and Eating the French Way

55104101

À Table is a style guide with recipes developed and presented by Rebekah Peppler. Due out 6th April 2021 from Chronicle Books, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a lushly illustrated book on a practical subject (food and the social aspects of eating and sharing food) which has a truly renaissance artistic sensibility. Every single illustration is a feast with lighting and scene, arrangement, color, and presentation carefully controlled (but looking beautiful and spontaneous). 

The text is rich in small details and the author is a meticulous and knowledgeable expert both with writing and with advice for cooking and entertaining. Despite being a book with an artistic sensibility and soul, it's well laid out and presented and accessible. Information is easy to find and logically arranged. The book is divided into sections with respect to an extended meal and the information is grouped by pre-dinner aperitifs and drinks, the actual mealtime, and postprandial snacks and drinks. The recipes themselves contain a description, ingredients listed bullet-style in a sidebar (measures in both American standard and metric, yay!), and step by step instructions. Serving sizes are given in general terms as well as tips and alternative presentations. The book doesn't include nutritional information (it's just not that kind of book). Recipe ingredients include some specialties which might be challenging outside of very well stocked boutique grocers and alcohol suppliers. On the whole, however, the recipes really *do* seem achievable by the average cook who is determined.

The photography is abundant and full of the sort of classic French architecture and urban rooms with high ceilings and classic decor (filled with beautiful people) which always leave me breathless. This would make a nice coffee table book. I recommend it highly to readers interested in putting some polish and finesse into entertaining graciously and well. 

Four stars.

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

One Poison Pie (Kitchen Witch Mysteries #1)

 53330833. sy475

One Poison Pie is the first book in a new cozy series by Lynn Cahoon. Released 26th Jan 2021 from Kensington, it's 272 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a small-town catering cozy with light paranormal overtones complete with cat, feisty grandma, (and a recipe for pie at the back).  I found the characters a bit formulaic and "trope-y" and the plotting predictable. One of the major (really *the* major) plot device(s) is so beyond the bounds of possibility that it just never really achieved liftoff for me. No spoilers, but it's the main impetus for the first murder and most of the subsequent plot action. The dialogue is often clunky and a bit cartoonish; Officer Baldwin is a buffoonish bully and some his lines are cringe-worthy. The story arc, denouement, and resolution are satisfying however and the author is experienced and writes well.

I do recommend the book to readers who are especially fond of small-town cat cozies with outlandish plots, but understand that there are some major issues going in and bring a hefty suspension of disbelief to the party. There are many wonderful long running series which got off to a rocky start. This could possibly be one of them. There are glimmers of an interesting and engaging story.

Three and a half stars. 

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

The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with recipes)

53317437

The Book of Difficult Fruit is a foodie's dream, full of essays about rare/exotic/difficult fruits written and presented by Kate Lebo. Due out 6th April 2021 from Macmillan on their Farrar Straus & Giroux imprint, it's 416 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

There are 26 entries included in this collection arranged alphabetically - something of a rogues' gallery of the fruit world. They range in inclusion from aronia to zucchini and have been included according to a broad range of criteria from difficult taste to thorny unpleasant or difficulty in preparation and use. Each of them includes a charming essay along with a couple recipes from the author's collection. 

I really enjoyed reading the essays. The recipes have limited use for me personally, and I haven't tried any of them (yet). A fair few look intriguing: hiker's toilet paper, thimbleberry kvass, spider balls (it's not what you're thinking, I promise), and durian lip balm (!!!) to name a few.

My only quibble (and it's a very small one) is the author's use of Xylitol for the X chapter. Then again, what else would have fit there (xylophones aren't fruit). Some of the entries do have an ever so slightly pseudo-scientific new-agey feel. It's not too much, but it is there. I found it mostly charming.

Four stars. I would recommend it to foodies who enjoy reading food related books. 

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

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy

54303296

Mindfulness for the Lazy is a sweetly silly and surprisingly spot-on look at mindfulness and the meaning of life from an anthropomorphic lazy egg-yolk named Gudetama.  Due out 6th April 2021 from Oni Press, it's 48 full color pages and will be available in hardcover format (unclear from publisher's media info, but the other books in the series are also available in ComiXology and ebook formats).

I love upbeat positive silly situational comics. These are very short 1-3 page vignette stories full of life  advice with Gudetama and his buddy/helper/narrator Nisetama. The artist writer, Wook Jin Clark's work is frenetic and colorful in a good way. There were several of the stories which elicited a smile from me and at least one surprised chuckle.

Definitely a good choice for manga lovers, fans of comics, Sanrio fans, and 'just because'. I really loved the art and the cute (very silly) stories.

Three and a half stars.

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

Listen to This If You Love Great Music: 100 essential albums that really matter

53915446

Listen to This If You Love Great Music is an interesting and accessible examination of 100 iconic albums presented and curated by Robin Murray. Due out 6th April 2021 from Quarto on their Ivy Press imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I've reviewed a couple other books with the same format from this publisher (great art and great photography). This one does follow the same general layout: artists, album name, the date, and a description and commentary. Additionally, each of the entries contains further resources for a deeper look at allied artists' works, and further links to explore for similar relevant photographs or videos.

I'm not sure if music is just -so- much more polarizing or if I have weird taste in music (or both, probably both), but very very few of these really added anything to the conversation for me personally. I think for many readers who are more enamored of the new/alternative/post-punk landscape, this book will have a lot more relevance.

It's well written, thoughtful, and well defended by the author, who is quite clearly expert in his field. Three stars for me (who, when the phrase "great music" is uttered assumes the discussion will cover music written by composers dead for a few centuries), likely four+ for the intended audience. 

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


The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1)

54312767

The Black Coast is an incredibly well written immersive epic fantasy and the first book in the God-King Chronicles series by Mike Brooks. Released 16th March 2021 (in NA, UK release was earlier) by Rebellion on their Solaris imprint, it's a satisfyingly substantial 670 pages (print edition) and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's 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. 

This is a classic brick of a fantasy with detailed world building, sea-raiders, political war, armoured knights and battle dragons. Frankly the author had me at battle-dragons. Instead of concentrating on massively detailed battle scenes (there are enough to satisfy but not too many), the author shows groups of people trying to cooperate to stave off disaster for both societies instead of warring with one another to the detriment of everyone. The characters are varied and three dimensional. It is classic epic fantasy and the author's voice and the solid world building are refreshingly satisfying to read. I savored this one over several sittings. It's complex, it's immersive, it's very well written and it's not at all derivative. 

Four and a half stars. I am eagerly looking forward to the next books in the series. Full of an impressive amount of fantasy bad-assery. I heartily recommend it to fans of epic fantasy in the general area of Brandon Sanderson, Joseph Malik, and Joe Abercrombie but with glimmers of something all its own which I enjoyed so much. 

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

The Chinese Puzzle (Charles Dickens Investigations #8)

56933019. sy475

The Chinese Puzzle is the 8th Charles Dickens investigation by J.C. Briggs. Released 28th Feb 2021 by Sapere Books, it's 336 pages (print edition) and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book (and the rest of the series) is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a very well written and plotted historical mystery series with three dimensional characters and a Dickensian vibe. I've really enjoyed these historical mysteries set in the middle of the 19th century in London and environs. Charles Dickens is clever, loyal, dogged, and practical and his friendship and cooperative investigation with superintendent Sam Jones makes for engaging and entertaining reading. The plots are always convoluted and well engineered, full of twists and surprises. The story itself is written around a framework of real historical events and people and so well entwined that it's not always apparent where reality shades over into fiction. Each of the mysteries works well as a standalone and this one is no exception.

Whilst an entertaining read, I did find myself struggling sometimes with the plethora of secondary characters and keeping all the lawyers, clergy, hostlers, drudges, shopkeepers, and servants straight was taxing. I found myself having to check back in the story to remember which family was which. It's a relatively minor problem though, and considering the high quality of the writing, worth the occasional confusion. Having read the book as an ebook, it was not a problem to check who was who with the search function.

The dramatic arc, climax, and denouement are well written and immersive.

Overall, it's a good read and a quality example of the historical-person-as-amateur-sleuth sub-genre. Four stars.

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

Look At This If You Love Great Photography: 100 essential images that really matter

53915444

Look At This If You Love Great Photography is an engaging and accessible examination of 100 iconic photographs presented and curated by Gemma Padley. Due out 6th April 2021 from Quarto on their Ivy Press imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a beautifully presented book of photographs, from the beautiful to the horrifying, across the spectrum and drawn from the past and present. Some of the photos are mesmerizing and beautiful - many are uncomfortable or painful to study. Ms. Padley has done a superb job of curating these images; a monumental task to winnow through all the possibilities. 

The entry for each image contains the photographer's name, the title of the work, the date, and a description and commentary. Additionally, each of the entries contains further resources for a deeper look at allied artists' works, and further links to explore for similar relevant photographs or videos.

This would make a superlative selection for library acquisition, maker's spaces/photography collectives, artist's studios, classroom, and home use. 

Five stars. 

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

Cat Tales: True Stories of Fantastic Felines

57344419. sx318

Cat Tales is a collection of 40 short vignettes featuring cats written by Penelope Rich and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz. Due out 1st April 2021 from Arcturus, it's 130 pages (print version) and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

This is a charmingly written and illustrated book for young readers (circa 8-12 years old) with a wide variety of cat stories. The stories are arranged thematically: historical cats, working cats, extraordinary cats, and famous cats. Additionally the author has included a short introduction with humankind's history with our feline companions and an afterword and appendices with cat and kitten care tips as well as a well curated and age appropriate bibliography and links list for further reading. 

Four stars. I would recommend it for public or classroom library acquisition, gifting, or home library use. The art is simple, colourful, and appealing; it would make nice source material for a young artist's drawing practice as well. The individual stories would also make memorable and appealing story-time reading. 

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

What Abigail Did That Summmer

56392956

What Abigail Did That Summmer is a spin-off novella in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. Released 18th March 2021 by Subterranean Press, it's 232 page (print edition) and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This series (and indeed the author's oeuvre full stop) is permanently on my must-read list. He's hysterically funny, often profound, clever, and always an engaging read. Since it occurs outside the main series, this novel doesn't have the same continuity as the others, but by the same token, it makes a fine standalone read. Because it's set in Great Britain (London environs), the slang, spelling, and language constructions are British English. I'm not entirely sure if it's because I was provided the North American advance copy for review, but it's full of asides and footnotes for American English explanations and equivalent phrases. I found some of them clever and tongue-in-cheek, but overall they got quite annoying fairly quickly and broke up the flow of the narrative without adding much. 

Main character Abigail Kamara (Peter Grant's young cousin and a burgeoning adept at magic - real magic) is funny, wickedly sarcastic, brilliantly intelligent, precocious, and pretty much fed up with the world's rules. I love her attitude from my safe vantage point away from the fallout which follows her every move. Even in the main series, she's always been one of my favourite characters. 

This book reads like a young adult novel and doesn't have the same tone as the main series. I'm admittedly in awe of how the author manages to build a really creepy tension at sub-audible levels without resorting to jump-scares. Despite it feeling discontinuous re: the main series, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to Aaronovitch's staunch fans, fans of urban fantasy, and lovers of non-fuzzy anthropomorphic foxes.

Four and a half stars. Brilliant execution, clean language, very entertaining read.

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Lessons from Plants

55503040

Lessons from Plants is an engaging and philosophical look at the way plants react, adapt, and survive in their ecological niche and how those mechanisms can potentially inform our human interactions. Due out 6th April 2021 from Harvard University Press, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a well annotated and academically rigorous (but layman accessible) multi-discipline look at human behaviors with comparisons drawn from the world of botany. The chapters are written thematically: adaptability, competition and cooperation (and distinguishing between them), risk, growth and transformation, diversity, and success. This is not -just- botany as an analogy for feel-good pop psychology. This is exactly as advertised, a multi-disciplinary exploration of some complex and fascinating botanical and ecological mechanisms which are well explained, science based, layman accessible and also applicable to our lives and experiences. The author, Dr. Beronda L. Montgomery, has a calm and capable voice and does a good job of rendering concepts in understandable straightforward language. She (happily) never devolves into overwrought academic constructions to obfuscate or attempt to make herself seem more intelligent. I can easily imagine she would be a capable and worthwhile lecturer (in whatever discipline).

The book is enhanced throughout by the addition of simple line drawn graphics to illustrate salient points. The chapter annotations will provide keen readers with many hours of further reading. 

This is admittedly a niche read, but it would undoubtedly make a good selection for library acquisition or book club use. I would also recommend it for the philosophy minded gardener or students of the human condition. 

Four and a half stars. Rounded up for the comprehensive annotations and clear and concise writing. 

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