This book is a must for anyone with chickens and who enjoys a bit of DIY. I think the two often go together, as if you’re someone who likes to produce your own eggs then you’re generally someone who enjoys being self-sufficient. All the projects in this book are achievable, especially with such clear instructions and helpful photos. Some can be completed in an hour while others may take three or four.
The authors invite you to either follow the instructions to the letter, or make adaptations and adjustments as you see fit for your own particular little flock. They encourage recycling and customisation in all their projects.

There are four sections:
Why DIY: the aims of this book are to help you save money by making things for yourself.
Basic tools and skills: from hammers and tape measures, to circular saws, you get the lowdown on what you need. You can manage with very simple straightforward tools, but electric ones make life quicker and easier. There’s advice on techniques such as cross cuts, and accurate measuring and marking, and handy and very sensible safety advice.
A look at the history of chicken keeping: this provides a nice little interlude before we roll our sleeves up and get busy, and very much gets the point across that improvisation to reflect the economic climate has always been part of keeping chickens.
And finally the projects. Each on is graded as to difficulty (many are beginner level) and gives an idea of how long it will take to make. They’re varied but they’re all extremely useful.

First up is a chicken tractor, not as in a farm machine for your chook to drive, but a movable chicken run. These are so handy.
Dust-bathing area: a great and hygienic treat for your chooks, and it will stop them digging holes in the flowerbeds.
Feeder/waterer: made from drainpipe parts, this is inspired. Chickens are messy eaters, and this has the benefit of keeping the food clean too.
Compost bin: to get the benefits of all that chicken compost, mixed with kitchen scraps
Egg incuabator: This is an advanced project, but looks a very interesting one to try.
Nest boxes: my chickens pointedly ignore any nesting box I give them and lay wherever they please, but I’m hoping that these might tempt my girls to be good.
Egg candler: this is a box design which provides a secure base for the egg you’re examining.
Chicken roost: a sturdy, movable roost that satisfies their psychological need to roost off the ground at night, and helps keep their feet healthy. Adapt this for the number of chickens you have.
Dropping board: this fits below the roost to catch all that night-time poop.
Chick brooder: to keep your hatchlings nice and cosy.
Quarantine habitat: chickens get sick from time to time and here’s a comfy cage to keep them isolated and unstressed in.
Collapsible chicken run: a foldable run, easy to move around, for when you need to keep your chickens contained.
Chicken ramp: to give your chickens easy, non-slip access to any elevated area, such as a raised coop door.
Chicken swing: delightful! A swinging roost, that’s really simple to make.
5-gallon bucket next boxes: a very quick and easy nesting box.
hod: an egg-collecting basket with wire mesh sides and bottom. You don’t have to worry about all of your eggs in this as it will keep them undamaged.
Grazing box: allows your chickens to graze at plants without totally destroying them.
Wading pool: a paddling pool ramp for hot days.
Chicken sweater- knitting pattern: this is just for fun to make your chooks look pretty, but could come in handy in short spells for a chicken that’s suffering at the beak of an overzealous cockerel.
Egg recipes for when you’re getting overwhelmed with eggs!
I was delighted to see a helpful index at the back – so many books don’t bother with these yet they’re an essential feature of a non-fiction book.
This is a fabulous book, full of great ideas. It’s beautifully thought and out and presented and if you keep chickens then you could really do with this book on your shelf. It would make a fantastic present for any chicken lovers in your life.

The authors are Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson. Published by CompanionHouse Books.
Paperback is priced at €13,64 $19,99 £14,99

 

F may be for France but it’s also for fascinating! This really is an interesting collection of assorted facts about France, many of them quirky. It will give you plenty of interesting things to bring up in conversations. “Did you know that it takes half a mile of Merino wool to make a beret? Did you know that the Eiffel Tower was only intended to be a temporary construction? Did you know that 95 pizzas are eaten every second in France? Did you know that the 100 billionth Bic pen was sold in September 2006?”

This little gem of a book is packed full of such rich snippets, covering culture, literature, history, language, art, nature, beauty, food, everyday life, eccentricities to give just a few examples. They’re presented in A to Z format. The author has put many, many hours of research into this book, and I think she must have had a ball while she was doing so. She shares plenty of quirky, delightful, and occasionally macabre bits of information that really do give you a good idea of what France and Frenchness is all about.

The author has a lively style and you quickly become thoroughly engrossed in what she’s saying. It’s a book you can dip in and out of, but it’s very hard to put it down once you pick it up.

In conclusion, I have to give this book another F word –  ‘formidable’!

I love knitting and I love birds, so it was impossible for me to resist this book. And if you share those sentiments, then so will you.

It’s a luxurious book. The first two pages fold outwards to give a four-page spread showing all the various birds you’ll be able to knit using this book. Same again at the back. The book is illustrated with full colour photos throughout, and there are very clear and well laid out instructions for making the birds.

Chapter One is an introduction from Arne and Carlos, describing their love of birds and how that gave rise to this book. The next two chapters in Part One outline everything you’ll need to make these fabulous little birds, from yarn and stuffing material, to how to construct their wire legs. (An note here: the book recommends using 1.5mm galvanised wired, but I found that rather stiff to handle so I’ve used 1.1mm wire very successfully.)

Part Two presents the birds. They’re all variations on the same basic pattern, and each one can be knitted up in a couple of hours. There are hats and scarfs to knit for them too, and a couple of tea-cosies to which to attach them. There are spring birds, winter birds, garden birds, embroidered birds, birds in traditional sweaters and rare birds of paradise. These latter are knitted using embroidery yarn rather than the usual fingering yarn from which the others are made, and have sequins and feathers attached. Gorgeous!

It really is a wonderful, inspiring, work-of-art of a book. I’ve already knitted four little birds and just can’t seem to stop. They’re addictive. It’s exactly the book to treat your knitting self to for a special occasion, such as Christmas or birthday or the fact it’s Wednesday. Any excuse will do!

Here to finish are a few of my birds.

 

 

From the very start, I was gripped by this novel. I have to confess that I thought I probably would be, as I’m a huge fan of Aaron Paul Lazar. And this wonderful author didn’t let me down.

Gus and his wife Camille are on a long-awaited and much-needed holiday. But, as is so true when you’re leaving family members behind, they’re torn. They need this break but they miss home too. This is just one of the lovely touches in this book. As with the other novels in this series, there is such a warm domestic background.  In fact warmth is what characterises the book: bad things happen, but there is security and love and loyalty in the background. Gus himself is such a warm likeable character. People can’t help opening up to him, and he can’t help getting involved. Camille is far more than a token sidekick. She’s a strong character, and has a strong role to play in this exciting mystery.

When a car crashes onto the beach close to him, Gus is drawn into a mystery concerning two feuding families. One is dysfunctional in the extreme whilst the other is very close but challenged. Sinister events pull Gus into thrilling events that have their roots in the eighteenth century. We have pirates and lost treasure alongside very modern problems, such a single mum struggling to make a living and also trying to save her baby’s father from the abuse he appears to be suffering at home.

The title Murder on the Brewster Flats is a clever one as there are actually two we learn about – one in the past, connected to the pirate element, and a modern one that puts several other characters in immediate danger. Also clever, there’s a crossover element: Gus and Camille encounter Jack and Scout Remington from the Paines Creek Beach series. It works so well!

This is an exciting and polished novel which you can’t put down. 

Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.A. Lang is a very entertaining cozy mystery featuring Chef Maurice, whose large and very French moustache deserves its own postcode, and his friend and restaurant critic, Arthur Wordington-Smythe. It makes for a very appetising start to a series.
The scene is a small Cotswolds town of Beakley, which is lucky enough to have Maurice’s restaurant, Le Cochon Rouge, in it. I say ‘lucky’ because all the food he prepares sounds wonderful! Maurice is clearly extremely dedicated to his craft. So when Ollie, his fresh mushroom supplier, winds up dead this is not something our headstrong French chef will stand for. He immediately starts to investigate in his own somewhat eccentric way and makes miserable the lives of many of the locals, and especially that of PC Lucy. It’s not long before it seems that valuable and unusual English truffle are involved somewhere and so Maurice acquires Hamilton, a little pig with a lot of personality, from the local animal rescue centre. Hamilton’s sharp sense of smell in tracking down truffles comes in handy, but also gets him and his owner into trouble.
This is a quirky mystery with a clever plot and a host of larger-than-life characters. There’s a lot of very witty writing and it’s the sort of book that constantly has you chuckling as you read. It’s delightful and absorbing, and I for one will definitely be following the rest of Chef Maurice’s adventures.

This is short , lively cozy mystery, despite the fact that our two protagonists are retirees. Connie and Sable, who are sisters-in-law, join forces as private investigators to keep themselves busy. Sable is dragged rather unwillingly into it to start with, but she soon begins to enjoy herself and provides the tough edge and technological savvy that Connie lacks.

Their first case is looking into the disappearance of child-minder Rachel. She’s the sort of person who would never leave her clients in the lurch so there’s definitely something fishy going on. Connie and Sable relish the challenge and prove to be rather good at what they do, which includes irritating the local police force. Fortunately  DI Saffron McCue was a good childhood friend of one of Connie’s daughters, so she can’t get too cross with the well-meaning amateur detectives.

Lots happens in the story to keep both the dynamic duo and the reader on their respective toes. There’s humour, grit, confidence, doubt, triumph and terror. The plot is clever and keeps us guessing. The author’s writing style is clear and enjoyable, and she creates beautifully rounded characters for us to encounter.

An excellent start to a series which I shall be following.

My only quibble – well, I’m an editor so there has to be at least one! – is the title. I can see where it’s coming from since a child’s play area is involved in the story, and it also reflects the fact that the two ladies may be seen to be ‘playing’ at what they’re doing. But to me it doesn’t quite make sense. However, it’s catchy and concise.

I received a free copy of this book and have written this review voluntarily.

This is a murder mystery that involves a busy but secluded religious commune, New Life, headed by Father Ambrose. A trash bag containing the mutilated remains of a young girl is thrown onto their property, thus forcing the community to be dragged into the real world it tries hard to avoid as the murder is investigated.

The book begins very well and this author’s forte is in narrative writing. However, it rapidly gets bogged down with a lot of tedious and repetitive dialogue. Too often characters are telling, and retelling, each other things where it would be far more efficient if the author just told us, the readers, once. There are too many phone calls – two long ones in one chapter alone. Phone calls are notoriously difficult to portray in any novel – should we hear one side only, both sides, how much small talk need there be, and so on – and it’s best to avoid them if possible. Luckily these days we can have brief texts or emails to do their job, because as in this book, they do jar and slow the pace.

The plot is interesting and the descriptive writing generally excellent, but elsewhere the quality is much lower. The book is written in the third person but the author also uses, rather inconsistently, first person techniques such as direct thoughts. These rapidly become intrusive since you start to wonder why particular paragraphs are presented as his thoughts whereas others aren’t. There’s too much inconsistency. The majority of the characters aren’t well developed and remain shadowy.

There’s much to admire but generally I found this book disappointing after such a good start.

 

This is an office-based cozy mystery, which, it has to be said, makes a welcome change from the plethora of bakery-based ones! It’s set in Bostoff Securities where Janet Maple, our heroine, has just been given a job by long-time but rather controlling friend Lisa. Having worked in the DA’s office, Janet has a nose for intrigue and cover-ups. So she quickly becomes alarmed when she notices that things, such as the complicated company structures,  don’t seem to add up and starts to do a bit of digging. Janet finds herself in the awkward situation of suspecting her friend and boss guilty of wrong-doing. She’s not the only one. Her apparently nerdy work colleague Dean (the alias for Dennis Walker, an undercover agent) is on the case too and the pair find themselves working together, as well as becoming increasingly attracted to each other.

The author has a very clear, concise, polished style that makes for enjoyable reading. The characters are nicely rounded  and I suspect the major ones will develop further as the series progresses. The plot is clever and it’s interesting to get an insight into how a securities firm works. All in all, a different and enjoyable cozy, although it has to be said that Baxter the dog could do with being let out a lot more often!

I received a free copy of this book from the author, but this is a voluntary review.

Help yourselves to a festive feel-good freebie from me!

Anna is house-sitting for family friends in a very cold cottage in the middle of snowy France. She’ll be there for a fortnight over Christmas. It’s all rather quiet and unexciting until, on Boxing Day, a pheasant gets tangled in the pear tree in the garden. Anna can’t possibly leave it there but her rescue attempt goes wrong, leaving her the stuck one. All she can do is wait for a knight in shining armour, or at least a passing Frenchman…

Anna Partridge in a Pear Tree is available in a variety of ebook formats for free from Smashwords here. And please spread the word!

This is a very polished cozy with lots of personality.

Our heroine Cassie, months away from becoming a fully qualified surgeon, is knocked down in a car park and the injuries she receives put paid to her career. She sinks into depression, so decides moving to London might be just the tonic she needs. In fact, she knows this must be the case when her mother, completely out of character, actively encourages her to spread her wings.

And so Cassie arrives in London. Despite having a generous compensation package to live off, she starts off in a hostel, into which she sneaks first a bike and later a cat! The bike is soon stolen and that sends Cassie to the police station where she bumps into DCI Tony Williams and his determined, straight-talking French colleague Violet Despuis, who quickly susses out Cassie’s medical past. And so when four people are poisoned at a soup stall, she tracks down Cassie to help her. Violet is someone you don’t dare say ‘non’ too (especially when Violet finds Cassie’s missing bike) and suddenly Cassie finds herself part of a crime-busting duo, and new owner one of the ginger cat of one of the murder victims.

Love interest arrives in the gorgeous form of ME Jake Edmonds, and this gives Cassie a boost, as does discovering that she’s not half bad at this detecting lark. True, she and Violet resort to breaking and entering, lying and deception to achieve results, but it works!

The author has given us a very interesting and unusual set of characters in this sparkling, clever cozy. It’s utterly absorbing and huge enjoyable. And it’s only the first in a series, so plenty more treats to come.