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.

Murder in the Library - Miss Merrill and Aunt Violet Mystery #2


 

Murder in the Library is the second outing for Miss Merrill and Aunt Violet by Anita Davison. Released 19th Feb 2024 by Boldwood Books, it's 266 pages and is available in hardcover, 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The other books in the series are also currently available on KU. 

This is an engaging and well written historical cozy set in 1916. MC Hannah is volunteering to do her bit for the war effort by volunteering in the library of the local military hospital. She's soon drawn into another amateur investigation when an inconvenient murder occurs there.  With the possibly related disappearance of a hospital nurse, Hannah and the inimitable Aunt Violet are once again called on to get to the bottom of things.

The plotting is tight and well engineered and without obvious holes. The author does a good job with the period dialogue and characterization. The writing is clean and there is no bad language or on-page objectionable content. There are several threads, murder, disappearance, malfeasance, and more. 

The denouement and resolution were twisty and satisfying with some unexpected surprises. 

Four stars. This is definitely one for historical cozy fans. There are 3 books extant in the series with a 4th due out in 1st quarter 2025. It would be a good choice for a binge/buddy read. It's not derivative, but fans of Lydia Travers, Carola Dunn, and Catriona McPherson (the Dandy Gilver series, although the Last Ditch ones are hysterically funny and not to be missed, totally different vibe) will likely enjoy this one as well. 

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

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Preserving with a Purpose: Next-Generation Canning Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom

 


Preserving with a Purpose is a cheerfully written guide to canning and food preservation with recipes and tutorials by Sarah Thrush. Due out 30th July, 2024 from Quarto on their Harvard Common Press imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is not a traditional collection of preserving and canning recipes (nor is it meant to replace one). For that, readers almost certainly already have a copy of a classic book like the Ball Blue Book. This collection is more culturally diverse with a number of recipes for bases and preservables/fermented items inspired by a wide range of world cuisines. Some are adventurous, nearly all seem outside the regular canned tomato sauce and sauerkraut range. 

The chapters are arranged thematically: purpose (self-sufficiency, money saving, etc), food and family, canning safety essentials, challenges, water and pressure canning (each in its own chapter, VERY good and essential info here), budget and traditional cost saving (many of which come down from depression and austerity eras). 

The recipes are written with an intro/background, ingredients in a bullet list, and step by step prep info. Yields are given in relevant units (pints, quarts, etc). Many, but not all, recipes are accompanied by one or more photos. Photos are clear and in color. 

The uses for an ever-abundant crop of zucchini are probably worth the price of admission. 

Four stars. It's a useful and versatile book with a whimsical, upbeat, positive you-can-do.-it vibe that's very nice to see. Probably aimed at a younger audience (TikTok generation), it's nevertheless good to see preserving and canning being promoted to the next generations in a cool and accessible way.

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

A Body by the Henhouse


 

A Body by the Henhouse is the third Malvern Farm thriller(ish) mystery by Kate Wells. Released 12th June 2024 by Boldwood Books, it's 288 pages and is available in hardcover, 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The other books in the series are also also currently available on KU. 

Jude is again drawn into investigating a spate of unsettling occurences and the disappearance of one of her camping guests on Malvern farm. She and DI Binnie again collaborate to get to the bottom of things. There are 5 guests in the group (a hen party), one of whom goes missing early on. It's a testament to the author's command of character that despite being a group of 5, they're delineated very very well and don't blend into one another. Each is quite distinct from the others and readers won't have any trouble keeping them straight. 

The author is also quite adept at setting, and the whole is effective and engaging. The mystery itself is well engineered and culminates in a satisfying and twisty way. 

It's the third book in the series and although it works well enough as a standalone, the continuing characters' interrelationships develop through the previous two books, and readers should expect some minor spoilers if read out of order.

Four and a half stars. It's not at all derivative, but fans of Faith Martin, P.F. Ford, and J.R. Ellis will likely enjoy this one. With three books extant in the series and a fourth out from the same publisher in first quarter 2025, it would be a good candidate for a binge/buddy read. 

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

The Meiji Guillotine Murders

 


The Meiji Guillotine Murders is a compelling historical mystery and the 7th book featuring detectives Kazuki and Kawaji by classic crime writer Fūtarō Yamada. Originally published in 1979, this English language translation from Pushkin on their Vertigo imprint is 384 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 throughout.

The pacing begins quite slowly, deliberately, and with a moderately deep dive into the history of the late Tokugawa Shogunate period (1868-1912). The author has a dry factual recitation, and if it fails to thrill and enthrall from the first paragraph, it -is- important and necessary in the context of the story. Readers who are willing to expend some patience, will be well rewarded later for the effort. The different "cases" are somewhat linear and are resolved in order, before moving on to the next. The format is reminiscent of the Judge Dee novels so well translated by Robert van Gulik in the 1950s. 

The publisher has a history of plucking out important and lesser known gems from crime and mystery, especially in translation, and this is no exception.  The denouement and resolution are especially unexpected in this particular case. 

It's unclear from the publishing info given for review, but it appears that this is the only book in the series currently available in English. The translation work by Dr. Bryan Karetnyk is seamless and unintrusive. 

Four stars. Probably most appealing for more serious fans/collectors of less known classic crime fiction, but definitely an enjoyable book in its own right. More sensitive readers should be aware that there are beheadings and body part descriptions, integral to the story, but included in the text.

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Fake Prison Doctor of Auschwitz: Uncovering the Truth Behind Holocaust Fraudsters


The Fake Prison Doctor of Auschwitz is a disturbing monograph on released notes stored in Switzerland and recovered much later, written and interpreted by Bogdan Musial. Originally published in German in 2019, this English language translation is due out 30th Sept 2024 from Pen & Sword on their History imprint. It's a compact 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

There was so much misery, horror, and trauma on such an immense scale from the concentration camps during WW2 that the entire scope and damage to humanity may never be known. Many of the most complex and most compelling philosophies of modern medical ethics (informed consent, beneficence, non-maleficence (avoiding harm) autonomy (giving the patient the freedom to choose freely, where they are able) and justice (ensuring fairness), to name a few) arose -directly- from the aftermath of the horrific abuses which happened in these camps. 

This book is written from the author's personal experiences, coming into contact with historical records locked in a bank vault. Musial's expertise was sought in establishing the authenticity of the journals and records as a historian and expert of the subject. The process eventually uncovered discrepancies and this monograph covers the fraud, the investigative work done, and the fallout. Possibly the book's biggest takeaway is cautionary; academics are also vulnerable to being swept up in the excitement of discovery. Dr. Richard Feynman's famous quote comes to mind: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

Much of the book is related by the author as recollection and as such, it's quite scattered and definitely not a linear (or easy) read. Additionally, the translation work (uncredited, possibly done by the author himself?) is not seamless and the prose is choppy and disconnected in places. 

It's well annotated throughout, but readers who aren't fluent in Hungarian and/or German will struggle. Some of the references are possibly also available in translation, it wasn't clear from the links. 

The book contains a number of facsimile pages from the journal and other sources, historical photos, and archival materials which are likely worth the price of the book. 

Three and a half stars (mostly for the disjointed narrative which is difficult to follow). It's an interesting case, but could have been elucidated much more clearly. It would potentially be a good choice for public or post-secondary school library acquisition, or for readers of history. 

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

Logic Puzzles Book for Brain Fitness: 90-Day Challenge to Sharpen the Mind and Strengthen Cognitive Skills Enlarged Print, Easy to Hard!


Logic Puzzles Book for Brain Fitness is a well rounded assortment of 90 logic puzzles, sudoku, number sudoku, battleship, and others collected and curated by Lana Barnes. Due out 30th July 2024 from Penguin Random House on their Zeitgeist imprint, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

This is set up as daily exercises, one per day for 90 days, along with a chapter of bonus puzzles to round out the numbers to 108. The puzzles are varied and most are easy to moderate difficulty. The author/publisher have included a complete answer key in the back of the book.

The puzzles are set up with the puzzle info on one page and a solving grid on the opposite page (for the logic puzzles). The typeset is easy to read, large print, and high contrast. 

Five stars. Does precisely what it claims. Readers know what to expect and this is precisely that. This would make a good selection for travel reading, vacation, and gift giving. 

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Murder on Devil's Pond - Hummingbird Hollow B&B Mystery #1


Murder on Devil's Pond is a new village cozy(ish) series starter by Ayla Rose. Released 9th June 2024 by Crooked Lane, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audiobook, 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 fairly standard village cozy with the requisite cast of eccentric town oddballs hiding things from one another, irascible grumpy old man (who sadly exits stage left quite quickly), a moderately large cast of suspects, and the main character, 30something Hannah, back in town to open/refurbish a Victorian B&B with her sister. 

It's an enjoyable read, if trope-y (but that's why hotel/B&B cozies are such a popular niche genre). It's not at all derivative, and fans of Ellery Adams, Kate Carlisle, and Lynn Cahoon will find a lot to like here. It's marketed as a cozy, but fair warning for sensitive readers, the language is considerably stronger than the usual cozy fare, and there's a wood chipper featured in a murder (it's not graphic, but *yikes*). There are also some issues with the clues in the mystery and the local official police need to be rounded up and stripped of their authority (they share confidential info and are generally mind-blowingly incompetent). Especially surprising since the author is apparently an attorney in real life.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours 53 minutes and is read by Maria Ru-Djen. She has a full, well modulated alto voice and does a good job of delineating the characters of a range of ages and both sexes. She has a sort of neutral generic eastern US accent which doesn't overpower the read. Sound and production quality are high throughout.

Three and a half stars. It will be interesting to see how the characters develop over the next few books. Recommended for cozy readers who don't especially mind rougher-than-average language and some more graphic violence than average.

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

 

Monday, July 8, 2024

The Hurtwood Village Murders - Marius Quin Mystery #2

 

The Hurtwood Village Murders is the second book in Benedict Brown's Marius Quin historical cozy series. Released 22nd Feb 2024, it's 294 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The two other volumes in the series are also currently available on KU.

This is such a quirky fun cozy read. The characters are very well rendered, with witty dialogue and sparkling repartee and the author does a good job of the closed suspect pool mystery format. Oddball pair Marius and Lady Bella are back on the case when they arrive too late to save Marius' friend, and join forces with Inspector Lockwood, and Marius' intrepid hound Percy, to uncover the killer before more deaths occur.

Really humorous, well written, eminently readable. Pure golden age classic fun. Fans of Sayers, Allingham, and the others will likely find much to enjoy here. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 8 hours 28 minutes and is capably narrated by George Blagden. He has a classically trained, nuanced tenor voice and manages the varied accents without a stumble. His reading is pleasant to listen to an neutral enough not to be annoying or intrusive.Sound and production quality are high throughout the read. 

There are three books extant in the ongoing series. It would make an excellent series binge/buddy read. 

Four and a half stars. Well written and eminently entertaining. Highly recommended for fans of classic golden age British cozy crime with a definite dollop of P.G. Wodehouse at his irreverent best in the mix.

 

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Murder at the Matterhorn - Armstrong and Oscar Cozy Mysteries #5


Murder at the Matterhorn is the fifth Armstrong and Oscar cozy destination mystery by T.A. Williams. Released 24th Nov 2023 by Boldwood Books, it's 234 pages and is available in hardcover, 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The other books in the series are also currently available on KU. 

This is a beautifully descriptive and well written destination mystery mostly set in and around Tuscany involving a group of UFO enthusiasts. Expat former policeman Dan Armstrong and his trusty canine sidekick Oscar are again called on to untangle a local murder/accident, which soon escalates into danger for the intrepid duo. Dan's ostensibly along to facilitate translations in English for the police and witnesses, but his insights are valuable and he and the local official investigation work well together. 

The plotting is solid and the dialogue and characterizations are believable. The mystery, denouement, and resolution are self contained in this volume, so it works well enough as a standalone, but the writing is so engaging and immersive, that it would make an excellent weekend binge or buddy read. The author is exceptionally good at weaving (seemingly) extraneous information into the text. There's a lot of humor as well.

It's not derivative at all, but it reminded me in a lot of good ways of Leon's exceptional Brunetti books as well as Walker's lovely Bruno, chief of police books. Fans of those authors will find a lot to enjoy here.

Four and a half stars. Highly recommended. All of the books are exceptionally well written and fun. The author seems to be on a twice a year output schedule at the moment without sacrificing quality or length. Definitely one to pick up as they come out. There's an 8th book due out in Aug 2024 from the same publisher.

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

Back in Black: An Anthology of New Mystery Short Stories


Back in Black is an interesting collection of previously unpublished short fiction by some top-shelf authors, arranged to coordinate with the songs of the iconic AC/DC album, edited by Don Bruns. Due out 16th July 2024 from Blackstone, it's 242 pages and will be available in hardcover, 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. 

A glance at the story contributors on the cover will provide most readers of mystery/thriller fiction with enough motivation to pick up and give the anthology a try. Readers should be aware that although listed as mystery, there are only a couple of stories which really fit the mystery mold, they are mostly thriller and non-mystery fiction selections. There are 10 stories, one to correspond with each of the songs on the album. 

As with any anthology, some stories hit better than others depending on readers' moods, but they're all from well known authors writing at a high level of competency. One good thing about short fiction anthologies is that if a story doesn't grab the reader, there's another story in just a few pages.

Four stars. Well written and thrilling. The stories generally have only the very loosest connection to the eponymous song tracks.

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

Navola


Navola is a beautifully written immersive epic political fantasy(ish?) novel by Paolo Bacigalupi. Due out 9th July 2024 from Knopf Doubleday on their Knopf imprint, it's 576 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. 

Despite the dragon eye on the gorgeous cover, this feels a lot more like a historical political epic novel than a fantasy. There are fantasy *elements* but it's more evocative of Umberto Eco than GRR Martin.  It's very lush and immersive and transportive, but also directly and realistically based on "real world" Italy. Readers are swept away to the Renaissance Italian city-states and enfolded in the political machinations and murky jockeying for power in the sumptuous palazzos and noble residences of Navola. 

For sensitive readers, there is quite a lot of graphic violence included which, while integral to the plot, is nevertheless disturbing. Typically of the subgenre, the author uses long descriptive passages to develop the plot and sometimes the pacing seems uneven, rushed in some places and very slow in others. 

Four stars. One for readers who are aware and accepting of graphic violence, murder, and political machinations. It's not clear what the author's overarching message is meant to be, might makes right, political juggernauts crush decency and humanity, or something else. Still not sure it was worth the very well written prose to get through nearly 600 pages of blood, rape, murder, and conquest. 

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

Women in the Valley of the Kings: The Untold Story of Women Egyptologists in the Gilded Age

 

Women in the Valley of the Kings is a fascinating and meticulously written history of female Egyptologists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Dr. Kathleen Sheppard.  Due out 16th July 2024 from Macmillan on their St. Martin's 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 throughout which makes finding information easy. 

The author does a very good job of pointing out that although *anyone* with a substantial amount of money could insert themselves into the work that was going on at the time, few of them were academics or recognized as authorities. In fact, almost nobody could have been reckoned an expert since the field was still so new. Nevertheless, the contributions many of the women provided were more in the areas of hiring/management/ and support than in actually prospecting likely sites and documenting finds (many were exceptional artists and rendered more detailed and exacting drawings than could be provided by the still-early days and technical limitations of photography.

The book is arranged in chapters with mini-biographies of the women involved: Amelia Edwards & Marianne Brocklehurst, Maggie Benson & Nettie Courlay, Emma Andrews, Margaret Alice Murray, Kate Griffith & Emily Paterson, Myrtle Broome & Amice Calverley, and Caroline Ransom Williams. They were a disparate bunch (most were British), all fascinated by and most of them swept up in the grandeur and excitement of uncovering (and unfortunately often governmental appropriation of) artifacts from the distant past. 

Although it's written in layman accessible language, the author has done an impressive job annotating and linking sources, and the chapter notes are full of links for further exploration which readers will find useful and enlightening.

Four stars, it would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, or gift giving purposes.

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


The Queen of Poisons - The Marlow Murder Club #3


The Queen of Poisons is the third book in Robert Thorogood's Marlow murder club amateur sleuth cozy series. Released in the USA 4th June 2024 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's 272 pages and is available in hardcover, 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.

This is an interesting and engaging cozy featuring a 77 year old (but quite young at heart) protagonist and her two unlikely allies, a brash young(ish) professional dog walker radio personality, and the local vicar's wife. The poisoning of the village mayor (at the council meeting, how outré!) sees the trio once again drawn into investigation, this time with the blessings of the local constabulary.

The main mystery plot-line has a fair number of parallels with golden age books from yesteryear and readers of the Golden Age will be able to think of half a dozen which are quite similar. That being said, it *is* a clever plot device and the author does it a good turn.

The characterizations are well rendered and distinct. The main character is a cruciverbalist (crossword setter) and the prose is cleverly wrought with fun wordplay throughout. Additionally, she's the type of person who takes charge (often just stampeding ahead recklessly), is an excellent sculler, strong and brave, and isn't afraid to take chances (although some of them will have readers shaking their heads in disbelief). 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours 9 minutes, and is expertly narrated by Nicolette McKenzie. She has a clear, well modulated, and nuanced voice and does an impressive job with a myriad of local (English) accents, both male and female. Despite having a full cast of varied characters, it's never a problem to keep them sorted during the read.

There's a distinct Agatha Raisin vibe, and fans of MC Beaton, Deanna Raybourn, and Richard Osman will probably like this series as well. The resolution and denouement were as expected, but satisfying nevertheless. This is the third book, there's a fourth book due out from the same publisher in second quarter 2025, making this one a good candidate for a binge/buddy read or book club project.

Four stars.

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