Monday, June 17, 2024

The Last Note of Warning - Nightingale Mysteries #3


The Last Note of Warning is the third historical mystery featuring the prohibition era jazz club The Nightingale written by Katharine Schellman. Released 4th June 2024 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 352 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.

This is a well written historical cozy(ish) mystery with an ensemble returning cast of characters and based on a fictitious New York City speakeasy during prohibition. There are a number of gender-fluid, bi-, and otherwise non-traditional presenting characters which was nice to see. The cast is also racially diverse and the story is blissfully without "token" representations. It might not be, strictly speaking, historically accurate, but it was refreshing to read. Other than the kindly wishful anachronistic diverse cast, the book seems to do a good, relatively accurate job with the official/police and political corruption of the time. 

There's a significant romance subplot, so readers who enjoy romance and mystery will find a lot to love here. There is never much security or stability in the main characters' lives, and eschewing society's rigid standards means that MC Viv is again in the crosshairs of lazy/incompetent/corrupt cops when circumstances mean that she is the prime suspect in a high profile murder. She and her allies are forced to band together to clear her name and find the real culprit.

Despite being the third book in the series, it works well enough as a standalone, and the main mystery is resolved in this volume. The language is mostly accurate to the period and adds a lot to the read. It should be noted that the characters do develop over the series and there are references to events from the earlier books which will be spoilers if read out of order (nothing super major, but they're there).

The unabridged audiobook format has a run time of 10 hours, 9 minutes and is well narrated by series narrator Sara Young. 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 stars.

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

Creating Reading Rainbow: The Untold Story of a Beloved Children's Series

 

Creating Reading Rainbow is an engaging and well written memoir/behind-the-scenes reminiscence by series co-creator Tony Buttino and collaborators. Due out 18th June 2024 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Globe Pequot imprint, it's 296 pages and will be 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 and references throughout. 

This is a deep dive into the creation, realization, filming, and enduring popularity of the beloved series from the point of view of the people who were there. Along with the stories, the book contains numerous mostly black & white photographs of the people involved in writing and production, the kids who were the primary audience, and the stage and sets from the show and various PBS stations. 

The authors/publishers have also included appendices with bonus material including interviews, episode guides with relevant book lists, and extensive chapter notes which will provide readers with many hours of further reading.  

Four stars. This would be a great choice for public or school library acquisition as well as home use or gift giving. 

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

The Perils of Lady Catherine de Bourgh - Mr. Darcy & Miss Tilney #3


 

The Perils of Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the third Regency romance/mystery featuring Mr. Darcy & Miss Tilney written by Claudia Gray. Due out 18th June 2024 by Knopf Doubleday on their Vintage Anchor imprint, it's 400 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 an homage series, featuring some of the iconic characters from Austen's classic works. This outing sees Darcy and Miss Juliet Tilney trying to get to the bottom of the attempts on the life of Lady Catherine before it's too late. Much of the plot stretches the boundaries of belief and readers need to bring a healthy suspension of disbelief to the party.

The story is self contained in this volume, so it works very well as a standalone mystery. If read out of order, readers should be aware that there are references to the plot and incidents from the earlier books, which could cause some spoilers.

It is well written, however, and very well edited and polished, but ultimately recommended mostly for die-hard Regency romance/mystery fans, and not as much for fans of historical Jane Austen who won't be fooled for a second.

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

Amigurumi Friends: 20 Easy Patterns to Create 100+ Adorable Custom Crochet Critters


Amigurumi Friends is an adorable guide to crocheting 20 base forms with variations and tutorials by Jade Gauthier-Boutin. Due out 18th June 2024 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The book is logically laid out and beginner accessible. The graphics are appealing and clear. The book is lavishly illustrated and the photography is very detailed and taken at close range. The book has a short introduction including the stitches used. The author/publisher have included QR codes throughout which link to supplementary content including videos showing the techniques used.

There are two main parts. The first section includes a fairly thorough intro to crochet and tools and supplies. The general tutorial for the basic shapes and common features for all the projects follow the introductory chapters. The specific tutorials are broken down into head and body variations. 

The following chapters include the specific tutorials grouped thematically: zoo, woodland friends, farm animals, and fantasy/dinosaur friends to crochet. The end of the book contains some really useful tips from the author showing her own design process, and giving lots of tips for customization and embellishments.

Well done and a nice selection of patterns which are fundamentally different from one another, giving the reader a broad platform for creating alternative amigurumi and for customization.

Five stars. Well worth a read for crochet interested readers. The dolls are very cute, and most are quite small and quick to finish.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a classic cold war era spy thriller and the 5th George Smiley novel by John Le Carré. Originally released in 1974, this reformat and re-release in audiobook format from Dreamscape is due out 25th June 2024.

This is one of a handful of truly iconic spy thrillers from an author who literally shaped the entire genre. George Smiley is now sure beyond doubt that there's a mole in the highest levels of British Intelligence planted there and moving up the ranks for decades and his assignment is to root them out and remove the threat - permanently.

Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original publication, this unabridged audiobook has a run time of 11 hours 52 minutes and is beautifully read by Simon Vance. He has a classically trained voice with well modulated RP voice and delineates the various accents and a range of ages very well. He's easy to listen to and does credit to the read. Sound and production quality are high throughout.

Five stars. Classic literature, very well done. 

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

The Pyramid Murders - Miss Clara Vale Mysteries #3

The Pyramid Murders is the third book featuring Clara Vale by Fiona Veitch Smith. Released 13th June 2024 by Bonnier on their Embla Books imprint, it's 300 pages and is available in 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 on KU. 

This is a light cozy set interwar London with Clara Vale, a clever young woman well situated in life and with a formidable scientific mind. This installment sees Clara and her assistant Bella (who is wonderful) on the trail of artefact and jewel thieves from Newcastle to London and even down the Egyptian Nile.

The language is clean and the plot is woven around actual historical events whimsically and successfully. It's a cozy, and without graphic, on page violence. It's not at all derivative, but it will definitely appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Catriona McPherson's Dandy Gilver books. 

Four stars. Light entertainment. It would be an excellent choice for public library acquisition, home use, or a short binge/buddy read. The story is self contained in this volume, but there's some continuity between the volumes which will be spoiled if read out of order.

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

The Language Puzzle: Piecing Together the Six-Million-Year Story of How Words Evolved


The Language Puzzle is a fascinating layman accessible monograph on the development of communication, speech, and language systems throughout human history by anthropologist Dr. Steven Mithen. Due out 18th June 2024 from Hachette on their nonfiction Basic Books imprint, it's 544 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.

Big reveal to start with: the question of when and where actual language developed in humans is unanswerable, and this book doesn't come to any jaw-dropping new revelations. That being said, the author does a good job of covering a fairly astounding number of ancillary subjects, some quite complex, and does so in a manner which is (mostly) free of jargon or devolving into stilted inaccessible academic language. 

It is, admittedly, a niche book but will definitely appeal to readers interested in cultural anthropology, language, and prehistory. This would make a good support text for classroom or library acquisition, for cultural anthropology and allied subjects, as well as a superlative read for those who are particularly interested in history, culture, and the arts. 

The book is fully annotated throughout, and the chapter notes and bibliography will provide readers with many hours of further reading.

Four and a half stars. Deeply researched and engaging.

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

Dad Camp


Dad Camp is a family dynamics novel by Evan S. Porter. Released 11th June 2024 by Penguin Random House on their Dutton imprint, it's 368 pages and 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. 

This is a fun and worthwhile story. It's warmly written with well rendered main characters and an engaging story. Some of the secondary characters are a bit two dimensional and pasted in, but overall the story and dialogue flow well, and there are numerous moments of gentle unforced humor. 

Definitely a book for any parent who has ever looked at their kid, a human they almost certainly love beyond all reason, and wonder where the sulky eye-rolling gremlin standing before them suddenly came from. Nearly all the preteen family dynamics books lately have been from the mom's point of view, and it's refreshing and nice to see dads getting some bandwidth.

Four stars. This would make an excellent buddy read or book club selection, as well as a good choice for public library acquisition. 

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


BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity


BoyMom is a frank and engaging look at raising kids (especially boys) in an age of impossible, quite often toxic, polarized masculinity written by Ruth Whippman. Released 4th June 2024 by Penguin Random House on their Rodale Harmony 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.

The author writes well and accessibly about gender politics, masculinity (what it -is-, what it -means-, what the systems are which hold it in place, and what (if anything) we should -do- about it), raising boys, and she actually gives reasoned and practical planning and coping techniques for raising responsible humans for the next generations of humanity.

One thing is unquestionably certain, it's not easy to live in a society which is seismically split along gender lines with utterly toxic damaging behavior all around. She writes through the lens of her own experiences, raising three sons in Republican era USA, post-Weinstein, #metoo, and a p*ssy grabbing president. It's easy to get bogged down, indeed nearly impossible not to get bogged down and overwhelmed. 

She is very good at splitting the issues into understandable chunks: fundamental gender inequality, education, sexual assault, toxic masculinity/influencers, INCELs, structural legal responsibility and fairness (at educational/work institutions, especially where there's alcohol or unclear consent).

The author manages to be sympathetic and very upfront about her own biases, and tries (and mostly succeeds) in being fair and balanced.

It's a thorny problem, and one that doesn't have a "magic wand" solution. Despite the title, this is an important book for everyone.

Five stars. Thought provoking and sobering.

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

The Stellar Debut of Galactica Macfee - 44 Scotland Street #17


The Stellar Debut of Galactica Macfee is the 17th 44 Scotland Street novel by Alexander McCall Smith. Released 14th May 2024 by Hachette on their Abacus imprint, it's 272 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. Library binding format due out in Aug 2024 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 gently written, slow, introspective series. It's an ensemble cast of quirky and (mostly) appealing oddballs and the books more or less revolve around their lives and experiences and the lives of the people in their orbits who live at 44 Scotland Street, and others who live in the village and/or colleagues. The narrative moves along quite slowly and the overall effect is of a long and unhurried visit with old friends.

It's not necessary to have read the books in order, however, the large changes which occur (marriage, children, etc) will be obvious if they're read out of order. It's such a long running series at this point that the characters really live and breathe.

Especially with the desperate struggles, illnesses, upheavals, and sadness which seem universal in the world right now, this series and these characters are a balm to the soul. It's full of music, food, humor, and Scottish sensibility. Wonderful.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 8 hours, 24 minutes and is beautifully read by Robert Ian Mackenzie. He has a cultured, smooth baritone and does a wonderful job with the disparate accents of the characters of both sexes and a range of ages. Sound and production quality are very high throughout the read.

“Bertie wanted only that people should be kind to one another; but they never were. That was not the way the world was, and sometimes, as he thought about it, his small soul, composed as it was of pure goodness, felt overwhelmed by the nature of the world in which he was obliged to live.”
Five stars.

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

Murder on the Italian Riviera - Armstrong and Oscar Cozy Mysteries #7

 

 

Murder on the Italian Riviera is the seventh Armstrong and Oscar cozy destination mystery by T.A. Williams. Released 1st August 2023 by Boldwood books, it's 252 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 a naturist (nudist) retreat on the Italian Riviera. 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 direct danger to 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. The situations where Dan and Oscar are forced to shed clothing to blend in and interact with the locals are warmly and humorously described.

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 watch develop. 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.

 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Psychedelic Outlaws: The Movement Revolutionizing Modern Medicine


Psychedelic Outlaws is a sobering, often distressing, look at pharmaceutical development and protocol approval by Dr Joanna Kempner (PhD in sociology and healthcare policy). Released 4th June 2024 by Hachette, it's 384 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. 

This is a layman accessible, fascinating, and often frustrating examination of a group of patients with cluster headaches on their search for relief from their chronic pain. The pharmaceutical research system is absolutely set up to be completely outside practicality for small/single/individual researchers (however legitimate and well meaning) in order to winnow out the charlatans and "snake oil" salesmen. It's expensive, eye-wateringly expensive, to research and bring a drug to clinical trials and eventually to market. 

This book is written as a human interest history about a group of cluster headache sufferers (aka "suicide headaches" for the brutal pain they cause) who found one another online and eventually banded together to find treatments in a system they felt abandoned by and to advocate for research. 

Not written in impenetrable academic style, the book is well annotated throughout, and the chapter notes, bibliography, and references will provide readers with many hours of further reading. It's good that it's not written as a "gotcha" story, but it does take a frank look at the sometimes unfair treatment of smaller groups of sufferers who are nonetheless in desperate need of healing.

Five stars. Highly recommended for science/nonfiction readers, as well as for public library acquisition, or possibly gift giving to someone touched by chronic medical issues. 

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

Last Word to the Wise - Christie Bookshop #2


Last Word to the Wise is the second book in the Christie Bookstore cozy series by Ann Claire. Released 3rd Oct 2023 by Penguin Random House on their Ballantine imprint, it's 336 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.

This is a well written and engaging bookish cozy mystery set in ski country in Colorado. The amateur protagonists, sisters whose name is Christie, who own and manage a bookstore, are intelligent and believably rendered. The clues and mystery are fair play, and are self contained in this volume, so no cliffhangers or annoying "cheats" in the solution. They even have a shop cat named Agatha C. (for cat). 

This installment sees the sisters involved in their cousin's startup, a bookish dating service, and although the denouement and resolution are fairly easy to guess beforehand, they're well written and satisfying. The language is clean, and there's no graphic violence or sexual content. This would be a good choice for lovers of light cozies, the kind with whimsically eccentric small town characters, a town diner, a shop cat, and rural countryside. Readers who are fans of Diane Kelly and Laurie Cass will find a lot to like here.

Four stars. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition, or a short binge/series/buddy read.

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

Die Laughing - Amos Parisman Mystery #4


Die Laughing is the 4th Amos Parisman PI mystery by Andy Weinberger. Released 3rd Oct 2023 by Turner Books, it's 256 pages and is available in hardcover, 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. 

This is an engaging, sarcastic, very much character driven PI mystery set in Hollywood, The protagonist who lives and breathes through the first person narration, is a smart-alecky old school gumshoe whose reminiscences on the comedy of yesteryear give the whole a somewhat nostalgic vibe. 

The plot develops slowly/deliberately, and the measured pace isn't always completely in agreement with the seriousness of what was happening. Additionally, despite the sarcasm, some of the dialogue is stilted and a bit flat. As always, however, the author is quite adept at constructing an engaging, well engineered plot and satisfying denouement.

Despite being the 4th book in the series, it works well enough as a standalone. The language is rough, but not overly so for a semi-hard-boiled PI mystery. MC Amos is pragmatic, indelibly Jewish, and dogged. There's a fair bit of Yiddish slang involved which is easy to understand in context and adds a lot of color to the read. 

Four stars. Well wrought mystery, occasionally uneven dialogue, but overall very engaging and worthwhile.

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

Friday, June 14, 2024

West Side Witches #1- West Side Witches #1


Spells & Sandwiches is the first book in a fantasy romance series by Kate Moseman. Originally released as Undercover Paranormal in 2022, this reformat and re-release is 205 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 fun, very light romantasy with easy to read prose that doesn't take itself too seriously. MC Zelda is back in NYC to reopen her grandmother's sandwich shop and manages to get dragged back into the magical world she spent half her life trying to avoid on her first day back. It's very much character driven with lots of magical creatures populating New York and Zelda is sarcastic and likeable and good at heart. 

Romantic entanglements in the form of her all-too-sexy ex-boyfriend and a mysterious business ally, alongside fae, vampires, monsters, and her cute rescue poodle. 

The writing is somewhat uneven. Zelda is meant to be middle-aged (she's been away for 25 years and was at least a young adult when she went away) but she *really* seems very young, flippant, unsure of herself and is written in a very young style. The romance is heavy in the book, so readers who enjoy lots of romance in reads will enjoy it. 

It's a whimsical cozy with lots of descriptions of magic and what each type of magic does and how people react. The world building seems well thought out and complex. The writing is uneven in places and the dialogue is occasionally somewhat stiff.

There are currently 4 books in the series. It would make a good binge/buddy read. 

Three and a half stars. Worth a look for fans of cozy romantasy. 

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

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

SHIPS


Ships is an interesting and well illustrated chronological encyclopedia of the shipbuilding arts by David Ross. Originally released in 2010, this reformat and re-release from Amber Books is due out 14th June 2024. It's 448 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

This is a great reference, featuring over 1000 ships with their specs, class information, history, national origin and noteworthy military engagements. The illustrations are clear and in color, rendering it a very valuable resource to artists, media folks, military history enthusiasts, modelmakers etc.

The book also includes several information dense and useful appendices including a solid glossary of terms, index of ships by name in alphabetical order, and a general cross referenced index.  

Five stars. It would make an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, artist/modelmaker's studio, wargamers, and general maritime military history fans.

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

From Plant to Plate: Turn Home-Grown Ingredients Into Healthy Meals!


From Plant to Plate is a colorful and well written gardening/cooking guide for young readers written by Darryl Gadzekpo & Ella Philips. Released 14th May 2024 by Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, 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 and references throughout. The links in the ebook format are super useful and make the book a joy to use.

There are lots of benefits which come from helping young people to gain skills by learning how to garden and learn how to cook for themselves and others. Self-sufficiency, exercise, learning about ecology and the interdependence of all life on the planet, increasing food security, physical and mental benefits, it's a long list. This book is an appealing and *cool* way to help kids find out they enjoy being outdoors and gardening and the coordinating included recipes will allow readers to see how plants actually turn into healthy nutritious food.

.The authors do a good job of covering the basics, some safety rules for both the garden and the kitchen. The introduction also gives some colorful, relevant, and basic info about how food "powers up" the body and how high quality food does its job of helping people grow and function. The language is completely age appropriate and there aren't any graphic illustrations. The illustrations are drawn in bright simple colors and the cutaways show a smiling cartoon mouth, stomach, and intestines. 

The authors have kept the info limited and accessible; the recipes are simple and kid-friendly (lasagne, muffins, soup, frittatas, etc) and the vegetables are generally ones which everyone loves (tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, leafy greens, and a few others). 

There are some inset photos with the authors and their kids doing gardening tasks which are appealing and friendly (they look wholesome, fun, and happy). They've also included photo tutorials and serving suggestions for the recipes which are beautifully styled, simple and appetizing. Recipes include a short introduction/background, ingredients in a bullet list format, and step-by-step cooking directions. Ingredient measures are given in imperial (American) units. Non-homegrown ingredients will be available in most kitchens in North America without needing any sort of specialist suppliers.

Five stars. This would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, school gardening groups, allotments, activity groups, scouting, home use, gift giving, or similar uses.

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

The Self-Sufficiency Garden: Feed Your Family and Save Money

 

The Self-Sufficiency Garden is a concise and useful guide to increasing food security by gardening by Huw Richards and Sam Cooper. Released 14th May 2024 by Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, 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 and references throughout.The links in the ebook format are honestly absolute gold and make the book a joy to use.

In times of increasing food insecurity, supply line and distribution chain disruptions and distrust/boredom with the incredibly limited selections available to most people who don't have ready access to local farmers markerts, coupled with the psychological and health benefits of being in contact with growing plants and having more control over our food as well as the sense of accomplishment that comes from being more self sufficient, it's easy to see why more people are making a conscious choice to garden. 

This is a good basic guide which includes all the necessary info to arm beginner (and non-beginner) gardeners with what they need to plan, plant, grow, harvest, and succeed with vegetable gardening (with basic info which also applies to other parts of horticulture and flower gardening). It's arranged in digestible parts, with a logical progression: planning & basic terminology, planning & creating different gardens with season extenders and other aids, planting and growing crops arranged by the calendar year (with monthly tasks and categories), recipes for using and preserving the harvests, and a general broad-range skills and troubleshooting chapter (lots of good info here). The author/publisher have also included a links and resources lists for further reading.

The book is well photographed, and includes many clear color photos of gardens and the recipes. It's helpful to see what fermenting vegetables can/should look like, especially for readers who are new to canning/preserving.

Four and a half stars. Full of information. This would be a superlative choice for public and school library acquisition, home use, allotments/gardening groups, smallholders (with or without urban locations), and similar. Tutorial and recipe lists have measurements given in imperial (American) units with metric units in parentheses (yay!).

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


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Let Me Take You Down: Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever


Let Me Take You Down is part history, part memoir, and a cultural context of the Beatles by Jonathan Cott. Released 30th April 2024 by The University of Minnesota Press, it's 152 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The author is one of the few living writers who are still placed to have actually *lived* during the time and who interviewed the principal players during the time period he writes about. He writes eloquently in the introduction about literally being stopped in his tracks (on the way to deliver a term paper on Chaucer to a professor) the first time he heard Penny Lane. It gives the book an authenticity which engages and informs. 

The book's peppered with photos and facsimiles in black and white which add a lot. For example, the author's own copy of the 45 RPM recording of Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields which he purchased 13th Feb 1967 features in the book, which he apparently still owns. The Beatles were, and are, iconic, titans of modern music and indelibly woven into the 20th century. 

It's split into two dichotomous parts. The first is a straight history/memoir of the time around the writing and recording of the two songs amidst which sea changes were happening inside the Beatles, from a touring band to becoming mostly a studio entity. (Having seen many hours of videos of the fans and the life they led, it must have been absolutely traumatic and often equally elating and terrifying). 

The second part of the book is 5 conversations/interviews with Bill Frisell, Jonathan Rose, Margaret Klenck, Richard Gere, and Laurie Anderson. It's striking how well the author draws out these utterly disparate creative people and shows the similarities of experience which we share as humans. There are a number of moments in the book which are quite profound and both hopeful and wistful (especially given the current climate in the world).

Four stars. A short but quite powerful read. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition, home use, and for music and culture fans.

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

Monday, June 10, 2024

Murder At The Allotment


Murder At The Allotment is the 10th Whitstable Pearl mystery by Julie Wassmer. Released 14th May 2024 by Hachette on their Constable imprint, it's 304 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. Audiobook format released by Bolinda.

This is a long running, genuinely warm, and well constructed series with relatable and appealing 3 dimensional characters who are (mostly) appealing and realistically rendered. The latest installment sees escalating drama at the allotment when weekenders vs. locals heats up over the availability of the allotment spaces and not fitting the Down From Londoners' aesthetics. The ringleader of team DFL is soon found deceased in the hot composter, and Pearl (and her fiance, DCI with the local police), try to untangle the mystery.

Although it's the 10th book in the series, the books are self-contained standalones, and readers can jump in at any point. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 7 hours 9 minutes and is beautifully read by Jennifer Kirby. She has a nuanced earthy voice and does a good job with the various and varied regional character accents. She's easy to listen to and enunciates very clearly. Sound and production quality are high throughout the read. 

Four and a half stars. Entertaining and well written cozy with appealing returning characters and a solid narrator.

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