Last week I had the opportunity to read the Cycles materials and textures cookbook and it proved to be a worthwhile read.
The author, Enrico Valenza, is an experienced and professional Blender user so a book by him is certainly worth checking out. The book presents some thirty shaders in a cookbook style and offers many insights in the Cycles rendering system not limited to specific materials. Although a cookbook implies that you can use the recipes as they are presented, the techniques that are offered in the book will get you a lot further than that and will help you develop skills necessary to develop your own materials because of the very detailed way their implementation is described.
- each material is described in step-by-step detail and pretty much every avaible Cycles node is featured somewhere and both node groups and frames are covered as well,
- both materials based on textures and materials based on procedural noise are covered and the all important concept of layering increasingly fine detail to get realistic textures is featured quite some times,
- some materials feature mainly as a means to illustrate a concept but many materials are quite good and some are even excellent, my favorites are the sponge texture, the leather texture and the ancient bronze texture.
- the introductory chapter on how to set up Cycles and where to find stuff isn't all that clear. This isn't necessarily the author's fault because sometimes the Blender interface can be overwhelming. Maybe this is one of those situations where a video tutorial is useful,
- the resolution of the illustrations is way to low. If you try to zoom in the lettering of the node labels isn't readable. And yes, high resolution versions of those illustrations are available for download but that detracts from the reading experience a lot.
Nice and thorough book to get you started on creating materials for Cycles, the e-book versions are certainly worth your money in my opinion (personally i think that twice the price for a print version is over the top but of course there will always be people who prefer the genuine touch of paper :-)