Friday, July 19, 2024

Learn to Draw Manga: A Fun and Easy How-to Draw Guide for All Ages


Learn to Draw Manga is a tutorial and style guide for beginning artists for drawing anime and manga figures by KritzelPixel. Released 16th July 2024 by Penguin Random House on their Zeitgeist imprint, it's 96 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This a fun and accessible tutorial guide aimed at beginners to slightly more advanced readers and usable for all-ages. The author has an engaging and encouraging style of teaching and writes clearly and enthusiastically. I love that she says that the way she saw improvement was simply by practicing and refusing to give up! She says: "Art doesn’t require talent; it only needs to bring you joy".

The book's tutorial chapters include step by step instructions for different characters from beginning rough sketches, step-by-step through refinements to a finished sketch. The chapters build on one another: introduction - faces - bodies - drawing from references - through to the principles of manga. It's a wide ranging surprisingly information rich tutorial primer and includes several styles of anime/manga, including kawaii (cute) manga.

This would make a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, or gift giving (perhaps bundled with some basic drawing supplies). It's a very simple and abbreviated guide but there's a lot of good basic information here.

Four and a half stars. Anyone could use the tutorials to make a credible manga style drawing, and her style is so fun and encouraging.

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

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Creepy Kitchen: 60 Terror―rific Recipes That’ll Possess Your Palette


Creepy Kitchen is a nice collection of spooky dishes with recipes by Kim Kindelsperger. Due out 6th Aug 2024 from Quarto on their Rock Point imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is an adorable illustrated collection with "creepy" whimsically themed recipes. They're grouped in chapters: starters, sides, mains, sweets & desserts, several holiday themed chapters (Christmas, Valentines, notably no Hallowe'en specific ones), and tutorials and how-to. 

Recipes include an intro (with media tie-in information), bullet list of tools and supplies as well as ingredients, and step by step directions. Ingredients are given in imperial (American) measurements, with metric measures in parentheses (yay!). Ingredients will be easily obtainable from any moderately well stocked grocery store in North America. 

The book has no photography. It's charmingly illustrated in color throughout by Kitty Willow Wilson

Four stars. These are appealing and tasty recipes, with a cute schtick. It's a niche book, but fun and well done. The recipes are basic; none are overly complex. It would be nicefor a movie-night tie in gathering with friends, or a casual party. This might also be a nice choice for folks who spend time with youngsters (child minders, grandparents, older siblings, etc) to have some fun in the kitchen, and then eat the results. 

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

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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Southern Get-Togethers: A Guide to Hosting Unforgettable Gatherings―Plus Entertaining Inspiration, Tips, and 100+ Recipes


 

Southern Get-Togethers is an accessible and *useful* guide to putting together inviting tables from the smallest gatherings to feasts, with a southern (USA) aesthetic and featuring southern cuisine written and curated by Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark. Due out 17th Sept 2024 from Chronicle Books, it's 288 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a complete guide from the planning phase (what, how many, season, where, resources) through to completion for beautiful, timely, appropriate, inviting, and tastefully presented spreads - from the simplest nibbles with friends, to a lush extravaganza. 

There are so many practical takeaways here - everything from choosing flavors and balancing flavors and textures, to serving utensils, containers, glassware, dinnerware, and more. This is the stuff which those of us who grew up without a subscription to Southern Living and Town & Country probably missed out on. 

The presentations are divided thematically: daytime gatherings (brunches, lunches, happy hours/stop-by gatherings), all-day parties (game/playoff days, cookouts, family reunion type things), potlucks & supper club gatherings, and formal affairs and slow food socials. Each type of gathering is given solid reflection and the attention to detail is impressive and reassuring. 

The recipes are included in each individual gathering and range from very simple casual friend type dishes to showstoppers. 

Ingredient measurements are supplied in imperial (American) standard measurements with metric measures in parentheses (yay!).  The nutritional information is not included.  Each gathering includes a header with a short description of the recipes and approximate servings. Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in text boxes in the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made for the most part with easily sourced ingredients.

The photography is abundant and clear and the recipes are illustrated simply and clearly. The photography by Antonis Achilleos is one of the highlights of this book.

This would make a great choice for the cook's home library. It's a really good solid volume on entertaining and it also includes quite a good selection of finger-foods, appetizers, small bites, and brunch dishes. Holiday dinners aren't a focus in this volume, but it would be easy to incorporate modifications. 

Five stars. Beautifully presented and accessible for regular (non-professional) cooks. 

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

Keppan: An Artist's Blood Oath


 

Keppan is an intriguing and well written murder mystery/procedural by Jayne Zehngut and Cynthia Salasovich. Released 6th Nov 2023, it's 338 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

The book is full of art, Japanese culture, intrigue and undertones of organized crime. A pair of detectives from the LAPD are assigned to investigate the death of a popular Japanese artist the day after a phenomenal exhibition opening. The characters are well delineated and the prose flows well. The book is full of tidbits about Japanese culture and art, and the authors have managed to include it without once being pedagogic or repetitive. 

The characters are well wrought and three dimensional. The procedural mystery is less of a mystery, but flows well and resolves into a satisfying (melodramatic) denouement. It will be interesting to see if the authors revisit the characters in future.

Four stars. Worth a look for art mystery fans, and possibly for a buddy or bookclub read. There are lots of good discussion subjects included (art, culture, blood oaths, etc). 

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

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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Book of Doors


 

The Book of Doors is a standalone contemporary fantasy by Gareth Brown. Released 13th Feb 2024 by HarperCollins on their William Morrow imprint, it's 416 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback format out in 2nd quarter 2025 from the same publisher. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

This debut fantasy has a wonderful premise with loads of potential. There are books here which are actually magical. Protagonist Cassie is gifted one such book, with the power to turn a door, any door, into any other door throughout time and space.

Naturally, there are people looking for the books for their own purposes, both benign and malign. Bookhunters are picking off collectors and taking their books. There are inevitable comparisons to The Midnight Library and The Ten Thousand Doors of January. It's definitely reminiscent, if not directly derivative. Readers who enjoyed either of those books will likely find a lot to enjoy here.  

The prose and characterizations are oddly rough in places for a top shelf publisher and a book which must have had a thorough editing process (thus it seems intentional artistically). There is a great deal of telling instead of showing, and readers will struggle to maintain engagement with the protagonist. 

Three and a half stars. It would make a good choice for public library acquisition, and for readers who really enjoyed the Midnight Library or The Ten Thousand Doors of January. 

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

The Burning - Kate Burkholder #16


 

The Burning is the 16th Kate Burkholder procedural thriller by Linda Castillo. Released 9th July 2024 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 320 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.

This is a very well written murder mystery and although it's number 16 in the series, it works well as a standalone. All the background character and setting information is provided in the book itself. There is an ongoing, multi-book, partnership between formerly-Amish small-town police chief Kate and her husband, an investigator with the  Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, as well as an ensemble cast of colleagues. Reading the previous books is recommend, they're all solid; but it's not necessary to understand the action in this book. The series is well plotted and full of believable characters and inter-agency police stories. 

The sense of place is palpable. There are a number of Amish characters (the small town where Chief of Police Kate Burkholder works is a rural agricultural area whose population is roughly 1/3 Amish). The author's descriptions are nuanced and believable. The book is liberally sprinkled with Pennsylvania Dutch, but the author is adept at translating, and most of it is understandable from context.

The characters are impressively nuanced. It takes a quite a lot of technical expertise to write characters who do bad things but aren't necessarily bad people and to allow readers to arrive at their own conclusions as well as the converse (bad people who are charming and well regarded). The denouement and resolution were well written and satisfying; there were some surprising twists at the end.

It's important for readers to be aware: this book contains quite graphic descriptions of violence, body horror (an immolation murder on the first pages which is -difficult- to read), trauma, and oppressive religious fundamentalism and closed societies. Language is "R" rated.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours and 31 minutes and is narrated capably and well by series narrator Kathleen McInerney. She has a warm and rich clear alto voice and does a good job delineating the widely varied accents of a range of characters of all ages and both sexes including elderly and young voices. Sound and production quality are high throughout the recording.

Four and a half stars. This series/author will likely already be on public library acquisitions lists and available from local libraries. It's a consistently high quality procedural series and would make a great choice for a very long binge/buddy read. It would also be a good choice as a mystery book club selection; lots of content for good and enthusiastic discussion (modern sexism, religion, rural area life, women in positions of respect (law enforcement) in those areas, etc).

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Anime Café

 


The Anime Café is a fun collection of anime themed tutorials and recipes by Nadine Estero. Due out 3rd Sept 2024 from Quarto on their Rock Point imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The recipes all have specific anime tie-ins from a -wide- variety of popular and less well known shows, from Pokemon and Deathnote to Free! and Spy x Family. They're sort of randomly arranged thematically: classics, comfort food, and cute (kawaii) dishes. 

Recipes include an introduction and text box with info about what show and episode the dish comes from. The author has also included yields, prep/cook/cooling times. Ingredients are listed in a bullet list sidebar, followed by step by step cooking directions. Ingredient measures are given in imperial (American) units, with metric in parentheses (yay!). Tips, alternatives, and prep hints are also provided in highlighted text boxes at the end of the recipes.

There are no photographs, but all the dishes are clearly illustrated (see cover art). This would absolutely star in conjunction with an anime binge watching party with friends. Five stars. Highly recommended for fans of anime or anime/manga culture. I could see this also being a good choice for a reluctant cook, to get them into the kitchen and making food.

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

The Mummy of Mayfair - Irregular Detectives 2


 

The Mummy of Mayfair is a cozy historical mystery and the second to feature the irregular detectives by Jeri Westerson. Released 2nd July 2024 by Severn House, it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

This is a pastiche novel set in 1895 featuring a pair of private investigators, one of whom was a former "Baker St. Irregular" street urchin in service to Sherlock Holmes. He's a young adult at this point, and doing fairly well as a private enquiry agent. His partner (coincidentally named Watson) is a brilliant young black man with a keen scientific mind. Much of the character driven plot is provided in the banter and interactions between the two young men.

It's a cozy, so the violence occurs off-page. There are some inevitable instances of open racism, given Watson's ethnicity, but they're not totally overpowering, and they're handled sensitively. There's quite a lot of plot which turns on Victorian England's obsession with (and looting of) Egyptian artifacts at the time, but specific details are easily gleaned from context.

The author does a pretty good job with the dialogue and vernacular of the time period, and has included a helpful glossary for modern readers who might not be familiar with the street slang. It's unquestionably a modern cozy for modern readers, but it's diverting, light, and fun. 

There's even a forbidden undeniable attraction between the daughter of an upper class scion and a former street urchin with lots of winsome glances and heavy sighs. The romance aspect doesn't overpower the story, but it is present. 

Four stars. It's not canonical, and real Conan Doyle afficionados won't be fooled for a minute, but for everyone else, it's fun and engaging. 

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

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Shades of Mercy - Porter Beck #2


 

Shades of Mercy is the second Sheriff Porter Beck western mystery by Bruce Borgos. Due out 16th July 2024 from Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formatsIt's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

This is a very well written action driven procedural set in a desert town in Nevada. Sheriff Beck is juggling a spate of fentanyl overdoses, hacking, and drone attacks on a local rancher, in what *should* have been a quiet small town existence. He and his team follow the disparate threads which entwine closer and closer to a satisfying climax and denouement. 

The author excels at his setting descriptions and the Nevada high desert gets a starring role.

It's not derivative, but fans of C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, and even Tony Hillerman will likely find a lot to enjoy in this series. It's the second book in the series but works well as a standalone. 

Four stars. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition, binge/buddy read. More graphic language and violence than a cozy mystery, but nothing egregious. Standard language and descriptions for a procedural. 

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

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Monday, July 15, 2024

Trouble in Queenstown


 

Trouble in Queenstown is a standalone lone wolf PI mystery by Delia PittsDue out 16th July 2024 from Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 320 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formatsIt's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

This is a very well written PI thriller with an appealing, strong, flawed, and badass female protagonist. She's a former cop, the daughter of a cop, back in her hometown in New Jersey after a personal tragedy caused her to go back to her roots and set up as a PI. 

She does the usual divorce and process serving to keep the bills paid and get back on her feet, along with recovering from alcohol (quit cold turkey), some risky dating behavior, and working out at a local boxing gym. The fact that she's female, nearly 6 feet tall, and black is both a magnet for trouble and her trademark. She doesn't back down, she's tenacious, and stubborn.

It's not at all derivative, but fans of strong white knight PI fiction (John D. Macdonald, Robert Parker, and Randy Wayne White, et al.) will find a lot to like here. In this case, the fact that the protagonist is female, black, cynical, and potentially brave to the point of foolhardiness, is a plus. The prose is -good- and there are some undertones of Val McDermid and Peter May in there (but indelibly American (and black)). 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 11 hours 59 minutes and is superbly read by Bahni Turpin. She does a phenomenal job of delineating the characters of a range of ages and both sexes. Sound and production quality are high throughout the read. 

There are central themes of open and hidden racism, sexism, assault, murder, (a LOT of) duplicity, and mental health issues.  Some scenes are graphic. The racism was difficult to read (and almost certainly more difficult to live with). It's stark and realistic. 

Four and a half stars. Five for the audiobook narration. It's not specifically foreshadowed in the book, but the author has left the option open to revisit the characters later. The denouement and resolution are satisfying; it's a very bumpy ride to get to the end. 

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

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Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies - The Vacation Mysteries #1

 


Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies is the first book in a new cozy summer series by Catherine Mack. Released 30th April 2024 by by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formatsIt's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

This is such fun: a bestselling female mystery author/amateur sleuth on a destination book tour, rabid book fans, other literary types and adjunct publicity folks on the same tour, a rogueish blackmailer from the author's past, and crime. Ms. Mack, writing under a pseudonym is actually an accomplished and experienced author (Catherine McKenzie). She excels at characterization and plotting, and here, too, her characters are three dimensional and well rendered. 

Stylistically, there are a lot of departures from standard style. It's written in first person, from the PoV of Eleanor, and much of the story is relayed in asides, footnotes, and other non-standard ways, and it's quite jarring flipping back and forth. It rendered the whole choppy and disjointed. That being said, it's light, and fun, and the book within a book/author writing as an author technique doesn't get bogged down or trip over its own feet (it's just the flipping footnotes). For readers who enjoy footnotes (like Pratchett), snarky humor, and breaking the third wall, this will likely be a positive feature and not a bug. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours 34 minutes and is capably read by Elizabeth Evans. She has a light, breathy voice, but does a good job with the disparate cast (of both sexes and a range of ages). One positive benefit of the audiobook is that the asides and footnotes are woven in, obviating the need to flip back and forth; it flows much better. 

Four stars. A series starter, but the second volume publishing info isn't released yet (presumably middle of 2025). It would be nice for public library acquisition, as a summer weekend read or a buddy read. 

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

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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Carrie Carolyn Coco: My Friend, Her Murder, and an Obsession with the Unthinkable


 

Carrie Carolyn Coco is an often raw, compelling, and honestly written true-crime novel by Sarah Gerard, about the life and murder of her friend Carolyn Bush. Released 9th July 2024 by indie publisher Zando, 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.

It's a straightforward memoir, respectfully written, and definitely not a lurid thriller. The author is a long term friend of the victim, and her personal recollections, observations, and experiences as well as interview materials with people in Carolyn's wider circle make up the bulk of the book. 

There are a relatively huge number of people involved in the case, from the family and friends of the victim and her murderer, neighbors, emergency services, police, and healthcare personnel, to the wider legal services involved in the aftermath. The author has included an extensive dramatic personae to help readers keep them straight/reference during the read. 

The prose is unvarnished and accessible, and is more effective for being direct. Her pain at the loss of her friend, and her anger and bewilderment are palpable. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 10 hours 39 minutes and is read by the author herself. She has a well modulated alto voice and does a good job. She reads surprisingly dispassionately and clearly. Sound and production quality are high throughout the read. 

Four stars. Not lurid or sensationalist (thankfully). It would be a good book club selection, buddy read, or for library acquisition. 

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

More Days at the Morisaki Bookshop - 森崎書店の日々(Days at the Morisaki Bookshop) #2

 

More Days at the Morisaki Bookshop is the second episodic slice-of-life novel set in and around the titular bookstore and the people who love it, written by Satoshi Yagisawa and translated by Eric Ozawa. Released 2nd July 2024 by HarperCollins on their Harper Perennial imprint, it's 176 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.

This is such a warm and whimsical story, entirely character driven. It meanders, often touchingly, through the daily lives, dreams and hopes of the characters and their interactions with one another. It's indelibly Japanese in its sensibilities, culture, and grammar. It does read as though it's literature in translation (in this case that's not a bad thing). The translation work is competent and seems true to the original text. 

The book is full of references to other works of Japanese literature. This would be a treasure trove for lovers of literature in translation, although many (most?) are likely unavailable in English translation. It's still nice to look them up for more depth and background.

Four stars. It's a delightful very short read. Quite a lot of story, without a lot of conflict or action. A relaxing and delightful experience. This would make a great choice for public or school library acquisition, book club discussion, or home library. 

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

Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Dallergut Dream Department Store - Dallergut 1


 

The Dallergut Dream Department Store is an oddly compelling fantasy novel and the first book in a series by Lee Mi-ye. Released 9th July 2024 by HarperCollins on their Harlequin Trade imprint, it's 288 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 throughout.

This is a slice-of-life episodic novel with a whimsical vibe reminiscent of the Kamogawa Food Detectives (and fans of Hisashi Kashiwai et.al. will likely enjoy this one as well). Penny is hired at the titular department store literally selling dreams to customers from the real world who come to the dream world in their dreams. 

It's not cohesive, there's no drama, it's disconnected, and dreamlike. Readers will either jump in wholeheartedly, overlook the discontinuity and enjoy the stream of consciousness (unconsciousness?) or hate it, without a lot of middle room. Taken for what it is, it's pleasant, if a bit trippy, and is like floating down a lazy river (without any scary rapids or biting insects) in an innertube on a warm summer day.

Originally published in Korean in 2020, the English translation work was done by Sandy Joosun Lee. There's a distinctly SE Asian nuance to the culture and interactions between the customers, managers, and employees. The prose certainly flows well, and apart from the level of politeness and social mores of the characters, it doesn't read like literature in translation; there are no clunky bits or odd phrases. 

Four stars, but readers should be in the mood for a relaxing, dream-like, ever so slightly ephemeral, read. 

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

Uncle Digit and the Truth About Magic

 


Uncle Digit and the Truth About Magic is an enthralling middle-grade+ adventure fantasy (for all ages) by Jeremy Hullah. Released 4th Jan 2024, it's 323 pages and is available in ebook format. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout.

This is an almost entirely story driven tale in interconnected parts; stories within stories. The relationship between the titular protagonist and his 11 year old nephew Finn is refreshing and sweet without being saccharine. 

There's a multi-generational aspect to the story, as Uncle Digit (who is a photojournalist), embarks on an expedition to the Arctic to try to solve the mystery of his own father's disappearance in the same area when he (Uncle "Digit") was a child. He relays his progress in letters back to Finn when he can. 

The entire book is a story within a story, and the technique is used to good effect by the author here. It's marketed as being aimed at a 12-18 year old audience, but there are good takeaways here for all ages. There are a few instances of disturbing violence and body horror included in the book, not totally graphic, but present, and it might be a little scary for very squeamish younger readers (but probably not). 

It's not explicitly foreshadowed, but it appears the book is the first of a potential series, and future adventures may be coming. The writing isn't derivative at all, but there's a wistful vibe to the story which will likely appeal to fans of Michel Guyon and T.J. Klune. 

Four stars. Very nicely done. There's a distinct science fiction element to the story which was unexpected but nicely wrought.

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

Dreadful


 

Dreadful is a humorous and whimsical YA fantasy standalone novel by Caitlin Rozakis. Released 28th May 2024 by Titan Books, it's 352 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 throughout.

This is a diverting, slyly funny, wonky story full of off-kilter characters, an intelligent, fairly badass princess, an evil magician with amnesia, memory demons, goblins, depressingly decorated evil wizard tower, and some pretty good underlying messages. 

There were honestly a few snort-out-loud moments. Evil blue squids, a down-at-the-heels town full of cowering peasants desperately in need of some tourist-friendly activities (a garlic festival! That's the ticket!), transmogrified handsome prince, eyebrowless evil wizard, goblins in fluffy kitchen aprons, and so many more crazy but appealingly silly moments. 

There are some really good takeaways about the true nature of how we're seen affecting who we become, self-determination, found family, second (or twenty-third) chances, and making our own destiny. It's not preachy at all, it's very funny in places, and the author has wickedly accurate comedic timing.

Four stars. Highly recommended for library acquisition, home library, gifting, or a read-aloud with a friend/book club/buddy.

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


Friday, July 12, 2024

The Confidence Games


 

The Confidence Games is a sharply stylish modern heist/caper standalone novel by Tess Amy. Released 9th July 2024 by Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 288 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.

An appealingly cynical pair of confidence trickster best friends making the evil b@stards of the world pay for being jerks. Distinct overtones of Thelma & Louise without the violence, they're loyal to each other and it's definitely them against the world (and they're winning).  They've got a hapless IT assistant wing-man sidekick apprentice, and very (very) high stakes games. 

The mystery/twist and the heist is very well constructed and the action driven plot careens along at breakneck speed, dragging readers along for the ride. The denouement and resolution are satisfying and well wrought. 

Four stars. One for readers who enjoy revenge fantasy, mystery, and capers like Oceans 11, it's sleek and smart. 

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

The Widow's Guide to Dead Bastards


 

The Widow's Guide to Dead Bastards is a poignant, occasionally gut-wrenching memoir of loss, grief, and betrayal by Jessica Waite. Due out 30th July 2024 from Simon & Schuster on their Atria imprint, it's 320 pages and will be 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.

How well does anyone -really- know the people closest to them? That's one of the fundamental hard philosophical questions the author is forced to confront when her husband passes away very unexpectedly and suddenly whilst out of town. In the midst of a haze of raw grief, she discovers that he's been living a double life for -years- during (and before) their marriage, involving drug abuse, paid sex, affairs, and financial skullduggery leaving her even more vulnerable and angry than she otherwise should've been. 

The book arose from her journals and attempts to write her way through the grieving and betrayals, and process some of what she was going through. So much of her writing is raw and honest. The book has definitely tapped into the current zeitgeist and there's immense buzz around it pre-release. It's marketed as non-fiction, either way, it's very well and effectively written.

Four stars. Quite emotional and difficult to read in places. The last half of the book is an odd combination of the author trying to make sense of her new reality and looking for signs of redemption or communication from her late husband and came across as a bit woo-woo for a straight grief memoir. Still at the end of the day it's a well written book in a popular genre with massive pre-publication publicity and will undoubtedly do very well.

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


The Cornish Campsite Murder - The Nosey Parker Mysteries #7

 



The Cornish Campsite Murder is the seventh Nosey Parker mystery by Fiona Leitch. Released 9th Dec 2021 by Harper Collins on their One More Chapter imprint, it's 267 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.

This is a very well written, whimsical, and appealing cozy series with a caterer as a former-police-inspector protagonist along with her ragtag catering assistants/family and geriatric (inherited) Pomeranian, Germaine. This installment sees Jodie, Nathan, et. al solving the murder of a body found on the beach during a festival. The mystery is well constructed and the characters are well rendered and believable. It's a cozy, with lots of silly dialogue and was an enjoyable, diverting read. 

The ensemble cast continues to develop, and the author does a good job with their interrelationships, dialogue, back-story, and setting. Each book feels like a visit with the cast of characters. It works well enough as a standalone, but readers should be aware that they develop over the course of the series, and minor spoilers should be expected if read out of order. Germaine is as adorable as ever, however.

Although it's the seventh book in the series, necessary info is deftly provided, and the mystery and denouement are self contained and satisfying. There are 7 books extant in the series now, with an 8th due out in 2025 from the same publisher, so it would make a good candidate for a long weekend binge/buddy read. There's a whole subgenre with caterers-as-sleuths and this is one of the better ones.

Four stars. 

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

Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect - Ernest Cunningham #2


Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect  is the second outing for Ernest Cunningham by Benjamin Stevenson. Released 30th Jan 2024 by HarperCollins on their Mariner imprint, it's 336 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback format due out 1st quarter 2025 from the same publisher. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

This is such a clever and well rendered series absolutely full of quirky humor and giggle-out-loud prose. A closed circle of suspects, this time book people on a train: publishers, writers, and readers. There have been comparisons to Clue and Knives Out, and those are both apt and inevitable. It's not at all derivative, but it does have the same vibes of whimsy and camp that are also present in the aforementioned. 

It's somewhat the same format (and style) as the first book, so readers who enjoyed that one will likely find this installment to their taste as well. 

It's a much more limited range of characters than last time, and although the book's first person narrative takes some effort, readers are well repaid in the form of fast, sharply funny, and perceptive commentary from the narrator. Ernie continually breaks the fourth wall, which some readers will find annoying and repetitive, and which seemed personally to be just on the right side of comedic. Read back to back, it would almost certainly be a bit too much of snarky overload. 

Three and a half stars. Well written, clever, at certain points surprisingly funny, and entertaining. For fans who don't mind -heaping- helpings of whimsy and sharp humor in their murder mysteries. The author's a stand up comedian in real life, and it shows.

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