Monday, August 8, 2022

The Secret of Bow Lane (Kat Holloway Mysteries #6)

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The Secret of Bow Lane is the 6th Kat Holloway Below Stairs mystery by Jennifer Ashley. Released 2nd Aug 2022 by Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 336 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. (Large print library binding due out in 4th quarter 2022). 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 lately.

This is another intricately plotted and well written historical mystery featuring clever and intrepid Mayfair cook Kat Holloway. The author is adept at showing the differences in social status and class through the well wrought and believable characters whose motivations and actions drive the story arc. Kat herself is well spoken, intelligent, honorable, and driven. She's more or less alone in the world without family support and forced to provide for herself and her daughter Grace to the best of her ability.  

Although it's the 6th book in the series, it works well as a standalone, and readers coming in with this one won't feel lost. There are some spoilers for earlier books in the series, but not many, and not major ones. The book is written in first person PoV, and that took a little bit of getting used to, but wasn't intrusive after the first chapter.

The fictional action is woven around a framework of actual history and it's done so quite seamlessly, it's not always easy to discern where fiction shades over into reality. It was very easy to set myself into the story and I never found my interest flagging or felt that the narrative dragged. The denouement and resolution were exciting and satisfying and there was a real sense of engagement on the part of Mrs. Holloway as she was trying to escape her past and get closure from the time she had spent married to a bigamous husband.

For readers who enjoy lots of romance content with their historical mysteries, there's quite a strong romantic element here. For readers who prefer little or none, it's something of which to be aware. The language is mostly clean, PG(ish), and there's no graphic sexual content (some consensual kissing).

Four and a half stars. Engaging, well written, and fun to read.

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

 

The Music Makers (Timeshift Victorian Mysteries Book 2)

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The Music Makers is the second Victorian timeshift mystery by Alexandra Walsh. Released 8th Nov 2021 by Sapere 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The first book in the series, The Wind Chime, is also currently available on KU. 

This is an engaging and well written dual timeline story with tie-ins to the first book in the series. It's self contained, so it works well as a standalone, and it's not necessary to have read the first book to keep up with the plotting or characters here. The main protagonists are young women, one living in the Victorian London, and the other in Wales in the current day. The former was a diarist and reader of tarot, and who is connected to the modern day by her photos and theatre playbills.

The author is quite adept at the necessary background research for historical fiction and setting and characterizations feel organic and natural. The dialogue in the Victorian timeline was a trifle anachronistic and modern in feel, but it didn't yank me out of my suspension of disbelief or cause me to stumble. There were a number of twists which I didn't see coming and the climax and denouement were surprisingly satisfying.

For anyone who loves to go to jumble sales, antiques malls, and estate auctions, this book is full of the thrill of the chase and the letdowns which occur during treasure hunts from yesteryear. The author's powers of description are put to very good use on the many antiques, costumes, pieces of jewelry, and bric-a-brac contained in the story.

Four stars. It's a diverting read. For fans of the author's oeuvre, there are cameo appearances and tie-ins to her other books. 

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

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Hiking Is Fundamental: A Step by Step Guide to Hitting the Trail

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Hiking Is Fundamental is a well written and appealing guide with tips and information for getting outside and building up confidence to safely hike the great outdoors. Due out 1st Sept 2022 from Rowman & Littlefield, it's 232 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is one of the Falcon Guides and for readers already familiar with the series, this entry, by Dr. Barbara Ann Kipfer, has a similar layout. The writing is easy to understand and accessible for beginners. The chapters are arranged thematically: an introduction covers a lot of the why and how including an overview of the benefits of hiking and engaging with nature, followed by types of hikes, preparation & planning, hiking skills & fitness levels, navigation, safety (VERY important info included here), and planning and compensating for weather and wildlife. 

The info is written in accessible language in short easy to understand language in bullet points. Special tips and fun facts are posted in highlighted text boxes in the text with clear captions. The layout is graphically appealing, with high contrast text, clear margins, and simple line drawn illustrations. 

The author has also included an abbreviated resources/bibliography/links list as well as a good glossary. 

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, scouting and activity groups, or home library use. 

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

Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England

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Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England is a well written guide to the morals, habits, and customs surrounding marriage and sexual congress in Medieval England written by Kathryn Warner. Due out 30th Oct 2022 from Pen & Sword, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

I enjoy history and especially English history with bonus engagement on my part for late medieval to the early modern periods. This selection hit a lot of high points for me. The author has done a good job of selecting the (very) mildly salacious stuff which we never get to read about in school history classes whilst remaining layman accessible and without anything salacious enough to scandalise one's maiden auntie. It's arranged thematically in chapters, each of which concern a particular subject with some overlap: appearance & dress, marriage (several chapters on different situations and social classes), relationships, abductions, adultery/ecclesiastics renouncing and marrying, pregnancy & childbirth, menstruation, illegitimacy, ravishment, age of consent, consanguinity, same sex relationships, gender roles (including a solid discussion of transgender and inequality for women property holders), and work and role models.

This is a layman accessible and eminently readable book. Despite the bonafides of the author, it's not written in formal academic language, although there are copious careful chapter notes and citations in the text as well as a bibliography. The comprehensive bibliography and index will provide many hours of further background reading for readers who wish for more in-depth background. 

Four and a half stars. Definitely not a formal academic work, but fascinating for history fans who want a readable & understandable book about the subject. The author does a good job of writing objectively about the class and gender disparities and inequalities of the time which actually has some chillingly appropriate relevance in our own time.

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

One Last Chance (Andreas Kaldis #12)

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One Last Chance is the 12th Andreas Kaldis procedural by Jeffrey Siger. Released 5th April 2022 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's 304 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a very well written police procedural with an ensemble cast living and working in Greece. The characterizations are believable, well rendered, with smoothly written interactions and motivations. The descriptive prose is beautiful and the entire narrative flows very well. I wasn't yanked out of my suspension of disbelief once during the book. As always, the setting steals the show. Every page was redolent with the scents and sights of Greece and the author does a superlative job of showing the different locales and their local color and sights.

The mystery is self contained in this book, so it works well as a standalone. The entire series is so well written that I recommend reading them all. Readers who come to the series with this book won't have any trouble keeping up; the author is adept at providing necessary backstory without info-dumping or spoon feeding. With 12 books extant in the series, it would be a good candidate for a long weekend binge read. 

It's not derivative at all, but it definitely falls into the subgenre of procedurals which feature exotic local settings, people, and cuisines, such as the Bruno novels by Martin Walker, and Brunetti by Donna Leon. 

Five stars. 

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


 

King Arthur the Knights of the Round Table

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King Arthur the Knights of the Round Table is an interesting and well curated monograph on the origins and comparisons through history of the Arthurian mythos and legends by Martin J. Dougherty. Due out 16th Aug 2022 from Amber Books, it's 224 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

This is a comparative, roughly chronological, look at a number of legends and works of literature in the Arthurian canon, from ancient through to the modern day. The book is well illustrated throughout with artworks from illuminated manuscripts and classical works of art. The book is a solid resource for the information, of course, but is also greatly enhanced by the inclusion of the illustrations. 

Four stars. It would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition as well as for inspiration for calligraphers and students of art. 

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

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Summons to Murder (Charles Dickens & Superintendent Sam Jones #9)

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Summons to Murder is the 9th Charles Dickens investigation by J.C. Briggs. Released 22nd Dec 2021 by Sapere Books, it's 386 pages (print edition) 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book (and the rest of the series) is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a engagingly well written and plotted historical mystery series with three dimensional characters and a commendable Dickens vibe in the situations, settings, and characterizations. I've enjoyed these historical mysteries set in the middle of the 19th century in London and environs. Fictional sleuth Dickens is clever, loyal, dogged, and practical and his friendship and cooperative investigation with superintendent Sam Jones makes for engaging and entertaining reading. The plots are always convoluted and well engineered, full of twists and surprises. The story itself is written around a framework of real historical events and people and so well entwined that it's not always apparent where reality shades over into fiction. Each of the mysteries works well as a standalone with a self contained mystery, plotline, denouement, and resolution.

Four stars.

Overall, it's a good read and a quality example of the historical-person-as-amateur-sleuth sub-genre. With 9 books extant in the series, and a 10th due out in 4th quarter 2022, it'll be a good choice for a long weekend's binge.


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

Wolf Hollow (Lew Ferris #1)

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Wolf Hollow is the first book of a tie-in series to Loon Lake by Victoria Houston. Released 11th Jan 2022 by Crooked Lane Books, it's 288 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback due out in Dec 2022. 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 lately.

This is a competently written straightforward procedural mystery with a strong female protagonist who's the chief-of-police in a very small town in Wisconsin. Despite being a fishing and nature paradisethe arrival of skullduggery, greed, and murder can ruin even the most pristine spot. That's where Lew Ferris brings her official and unofficial investigative skills to bear. 

I felt the plotting was very linear. Readers who enjoy less back-and-forth in their investigations, and fewer twists, and red herrings will like this one. There is enough action to keep the plot rolling and the secondary characters (her partner "Doc" Olsen and her colleagues) add some depth but there's not a lot of time/effort spent on side distractions.

The language is PG, with some light cursing but nothing egregious. There are mentions of underage/statutory sex crimes and abuse which might be triggering to some readers, though there is nothing graphic on-page. 

This is a standalone series and it doesn't seem necessary to be familiar with the author's other series to follow along here. It's a light cozy(ish) mystery and the denouement and resolution were satisfying and complete. Book 2 is due out in Jan 2023, and there are 19 books extant in her other series, so it might be a good candidate for a binge read. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 6 hours and 26 minutes and is capably narrated by Whitney Dykhouse. For this read she has a nondescript lightly midwestern American accent with light nasal quality which was distracting for a few minutes but which became unapparent after a while. The narrator covers a range of ages and both male and female characters without problems. When she read emotionally difficult reactions from some of the characters, I found her overly emotional responses distracting (she nearly screams in a couple places and cries quite distressingly/convincingly). I'm not sure how else it could've been handled, given the subject matter (sudden death), but I did find it a bit much. Sound and production quality were high throughout.

Three and a half stars. I'm intrigued enough to pick up and review book two in the series.

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

The Veiled Throne (The Dandelion Dynasty #3)

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The Veiled Throne is the third Dandelion Dynasty novel by Ken Liu. Released 7th Dec 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery/Saga imprint, it's an impressive 1008 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. Especially with books of this size and scope, it's helpful to be able to find names and info with a simple search.

This is a vast sweeping campaign fantasy with world politics, engineering, and really nuanced storytelling. The series contains some of the best world building I've encountered in *any* series *ever*. This is a massive series (obviously), with over 3500 pages extant, including the fourth / final book. The descriptions are powerful and the author's command of plotting and characterization are much more than competent. It is a juggernaut of a book and it took me a couple hundred pages to get re-immersed in the story, since there was a couple year delay between my reading of the second book and this, third, volume. 

 Readers who are previously unfamiliar with the background would be well advised to read, or at least find a precis, of the earlier books in the series. Despite the inclusion of a comprehensive dramatis personae in this volume, it's easy to get lost.

I won't write a precis of the plotline, they're posted all over. The writing is much much better than good. The plotting and pacing are good if a trifle slow in the beginning.  It took quite a long time to review this book because it made such a deep impression.

Four and a half stars. Highly recommended to fans of sweeping space campaign epics.

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

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Half Hour of Pencil Power: Fast and Fun Drawing Lessons for the Whole Family!

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Half Hour of Pencil Power is a fun all ages book of drawing tutorials by Mark Kistler. Due out 30th Aug 2022 from Hachette, it's 176 pages and will be 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

 This is a collection of 25 simple and engaging tutorial lessons. They include step by step humorous directions between the progress pictures showing each new line as it's added. The language is simple and easy to understand and the finished drawings are cute and full of whimsy. They're deceptively simple but contain really useful techniques such as shading and light, reflection, and perspective. 

The author has also included an introduction for each lesson with a bit of background about the drawings and how he came up with them. I loved getting glimpses into his process and inspirations. 

Five stars. This would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, makers' spaces, or for gift giving, possibly bundled with some drawing supplies. It would also make a great choice for adults who spend a significant amount of time with youngsters, and who are trying to learn some simple drawings to up their "draw-with-me game" for their young charges.

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

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

There Once Was a Limerick Anthology: Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Carolyn Wells, Woodrow Wilson and Others

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There Once Was a Limerick Anthology is an educational and useful ode to the perennial humble limerick curated by Michael Croland. Due out 17th Aug 2022 from Dover, it's 96 pages and will be available in paperback format as part of Dover's Thrift Editions.

This is not just a great anthology of limericks by famous poets. It's also a well written introduction and deconstruction of the form; explaining the form and function of the stanzas, each line, and some background history. I have been a lifelong lover of the lowly limerick and enjoyed this collection very much. 

The entries are arranged thematically in chapters: Edward Lear, geographical limericks, names, quotations, misspellings, abbreviations, tongue twisters, limericks by famous figures, bawdy limericks (and some of them are *quite* naughty), and miscellany. The editors have included an abbreviated bibliography for further reading. Although this collection focuses on the poets of yesteryear, the editors have included an short afterword with a cleverly constructed modern limerick and a few pithy observations about the future of the form. 

Four stars. Due to the explicit nature of the bawdy limericks, it might not be appropriate for school library acquisition. It would be a good choice for public or home library acquisition. 

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

The Beginner's Guide to Blacksmithing: The Complete Guide to the Basic Tools and Techniques for the Beginning Metal Worker

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The Beginner's Guide to Blacksmithing is a beginner friendly guide to metalworking with tutorials by Lorelei Sims. Due out 9th Aug 2022 from Quarto on their New Shoe Press imprint it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a basic manual for getting started with metalworking in a home/hobby forge. The book's intro is thorough and step-by-step and includes shop setup, tool acquisition, and safety. The author has an accessible and easy to understand style of writing. In fact much of the book reads like a well organized one-on-one workshop. Safety is paramount throughout and the author emphasizes methods, attention to detail, and a good and well organized workspace at every step. 

Equipment is explained in detail along with abundant photography of both the necessary gear and the processes. I really liked that the action tutorial photos are taken without hands or other tools obscuring the shot (not a trivial detail - as most of the action in smithy occurs with hands and tools in the way). Special tips and tricks for processes are located throughout the book in highlighted text boxes called "tricks of the trade". These provide short and digestible tips for getting the best results.

This is a very good short but comprehensive manual which will get the absolute beginning metalworker some competence and familiarity with the basic processes. 

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public and school library acquisition, as well as for the home DIYer, activity groups and makers' spaces, and smallholders. The tasks and tutorials in this manual aren't specifically slanted toward any particular group, but there is a wealth of relevant info and lots of inspiration to be found here. 

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

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Till Death Do Us Part (Dr. Gideon Fell #15)


Till Death Do Us Part is the 15th Dr. Gideon Fell mystery by John Dickson Carr. Originally released in 1944 this reformat and re-release, out 5th May 2020 is part of the British Library Crime Classics series by Poisoned Pen Press. The new edition is 272 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. (Other editions available in other formats). It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The author is, of course, known for his impossible locked room mysteries. This is another such. Set in England in the years before the second world war, tranquil village life is rocked by a series of accidents (or perhaps not). Soon Dr. Gideon Fell is on hand from London to untangle the mystery.

As with the others in the series, there is an introduction by mystery history expert and historian Martin Edwards. As engaging as these classic mysteries have been, I have looked forward in equal measure to Mr. Edwards' always insightful background commentary.

Four stars. It's a bit dated (it's 78 years old) but has worn well for all that, with a cleverly constructed mystery, smoothly engineered plot, and well written dialogue.

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

The Complete Language of Herbs: A Definitive and Illustrated History

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The Complete Language of Herbs is a book of traditional meanings and uses of herbs and herbaceous plants in the traditional manner of the Victorians. It's a companion volume to S. Theresa Dietz's other encyclopedia with the same theme about flowers.  Due out 2nd Aug 2022 from Quarto on their Wellfleet imprint, it's 256 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The book has a retro botanical print vibe and the introduction leads directly into a very short 'how to use this book'. The bulk of the book contains an alphabetical listing of the flowers and plants. Each listing contains a color illustration followed by some of the common names for each plant listed, symbolic meaning(s), possible powers, and folklore and facts. The listings are compact and there are 4-6 listings per page. The book includes a nice bibliography and index. The index includes the plants listed with common names alphabetically; the've also included an abbreviated bibliography for further research.

This is an appealing and very pretty book for a somewhat niche audience. It's more useful for readers who are interested in the folklore and historical uses of the plants contained in the listings rather than readers looking for practical culture and modern herbal uses.

Four stars.

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

World of Weird: A Creepy Compendium of True Stories

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World of Weird is an anthology of true (but somewhat creepy) curiosities gathered and explained by the fictive Dr. McCreebor (Tom Adams) in a manner which will delight all ages. Due out 2nd Aug 2022 from Quarto on their Wide Eyed Editions imprint, it's 64 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is written as a book inside a book - as a journal found by a scientist of his Victorian ancestor's notes and drawings. It's got an engaging and graphically appealing layout and is full of interesting and weird tidbits from natural history, ephemera, and other oddities. Aimed at all ages, it's written in easy to understand language and it's fully illustrated, so kids 8+ will likely find it fascinating. The subjects are presented in a (mostly) age appropriate manner and there's nothing directly graphic or violent.There is a section with implements of torture which is a bit morbid and which will have most kids gleefully interested in bygone torture machines. (I certainly was at that age and even made a model of an iron maiden for a school project which horrified everyone).

The entries are gathered thematically into chapters: mechanical items, natural world, spiritualism in Victorian times, crime and punishment, magic, and death practices. The author has included a glossary, but the book lacks an index or bibliography. 

The book is illustrated in an antique style with electronic line drawn images and clip-art graphics by "Celsius Pictor". The drawings are engaging and retro/antique looking. The type is high contrast and easy to read. 

Four stars. This is the kind of book the majority of kids will find fascinating. It might be a bit much for sensitive readers. For that reason, I would encourage a thorough reading on the part of library acquisition committees before adding to their juvenile library collections. It's otherwise weird and quirky and I recommend it. 

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

A History of London County Lunatic Asylums & Mental Hospitals

 A History of London County Lunatic Asylums & Mental Hospitals by [Ed Brandon]

A History of London County Lunatic Asylums & Mental Hospitals is an interesting and information dense monograph on London County mental healthcare and hospitals by Ed Brandon. Published in the UK 28th July 2022 by Pen & Sword, it's 224 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. Due for release outside the UK in fourth quarter 2022.

This is an annotated and thorough look at mental hospitals and their residents; from their lives to what they ate is covered unflinchingly and meticulously. The book's 7 chapters are arranged geographically with individual institutions' statistics in relevant subchapters. Although it's clearly well researched and annotated, the text is accessible and easy to read. The language is not rigorously academic (or intentionally obfuscated). Most of the descriptions reflect the tragic circumstances of the patients of these institutions and I was especially affected by the descriptions of the abandoned and derelict facilities, often abandoned in haste and left to ruin. 

The author has included a solid cross-referenced index, chapter endnotes, and a bibliography for further reading. The text is enhanced throughout with clear historical photos and facsimiles of documents, hospitals, and grounds. These include interior and exterior photos of abandoned and derelict buildings. 

Altogether interesting and educational and in many places, quite sad.

Five stars. 

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

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives (Pignon Scorbion #1)

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Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives is the first book in a light historical cozy mystery series by Rick Bleiweiss. Released 8th Feb 2022 by Blackstone, it's 300 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a quirky Edwardian shopfront cozy with an ensemble cast of eccentric characters, and none moreso than the titular newly arrived chief inspector Pignon Scorbion. He's a sartorial force-majeur (channeling his hero Monsieur Poirot) with a formidable intellect and backed up by a Greek chorus of barbershop employees, he sets his brain to solving crimes. 

Although it's not derivative, stylistically I would place it in the same subgenre with Richard Osman and maybe Edmund Crispin. It's a bit farcical and pompous, but there are some smiles to be found here. I suspect it will engender delight or antipathy and not much in between those two extremes. I found it charmingly silly in places and an engaging diverting light read. I'm looking forward to find out what comes next.

Four stars.

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

A Half-Built Garden

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A Half-Built Garden is an intelligent and compelling SF first contact near-future novel by Ruthanna Emrys. Released 26th July 2022 by Macmillan on their Tor Forge 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a beautifully written story, slow moving, with gravitas. I was engaged quite literally from the first page. Alien first contact stories are a favorite and this is a good one. It's set in 2083 and humans have finally banded together (more or less) to banish the corporations to isolated outposts and are in a desperate race to save Earth and maintain habitability. The aliens show up to convince what's left of humanity to abandon Earth before a catastrophe renders it a lost cause.

The first person protagonist/narrator is sympathetically written, intelligent, queer, compassionate, and three dimensional. There's a lot of content in the book extrapolating out from corporate oligarchy, corruption, greed, and the nature of power and the effect that has on our climate and habitat. At the same time, it's very much a story about parenthood and identity and the fact that diapers have to be changed and babies insist on being fed even if you're just a few minutes from first contact with alien lifeforms. Some of the mentions of parenting moments gave a whiff of whimsy, some of them, I felt, broke up the narrative thread a bit and yanked me out of my suspension of disbelief.

There is a very human story here, wrapped in a breathtakingly creative world building which made me pause at several points in amazement. Ms. Emrys is a gifted storyteller and this is a well written story. 

Four stars. 

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

The Unkept Woman (Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery #4)

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The Unkept Woman is the fourth Sparks & Bainbridge historical mystery by Allison Montclair. Released 26th July 2022 by Macmillan on their Minotaur 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 lately.

The writing is the high point. It's elegantly sculpted, engaging, and smoothly flawless. Readers will appreciate the settings and descriptions. The characters, including the secondary ones, are well rounded and feel integral and more than window dressing. 

The dialogue is intelligent and often rapid fire. I enjoyed the flow of the banter, especially between the two titular main characters; even (especially) when they were discussing very serious subjects, such as the death of a colleague, wartime activities and deaths, and Gwen's legal troubles re-establishing herself as sane and getting custody of her son back. 

I had some slight trouble with some seemingly anachronistic aspects of the story. For example, both women have a regular psychotherapist and the parts of their sessions relayed in the narrative seem thoroughly modern by comparison and my suspension of disbelief was shaken each time the doctor says "and how did that make you feel?" or "did you consider that...". At the time the book was written, state of the art treatment still included lobotomization and electroconvulsive therapy. 

There are some potentially triggering themes: mental illness, racism, sexist treatment of women, suicide ideation, The book is warmly and sympathetically written but it's generally not humorous at all. 

Four stars. Although the mystery is self contained here (and a twisty mystery it is), there are major spoilers for earlier books if read out of order.

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

Friday, July 29, 2022

Murder Through the English Post (Beryl and Edwina Mystery #6)

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Murder Through the English Post is the 6th Beryl & Edwina English cozy mystery by Jessica Ellicott. Released 26rh July 2022 by Kensington, it's 256 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback large print format due out in fourth quarter 2022. 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 lately.
 

This is a delightfully quirky, beautifully written historical cozy village mystery set in the interwar period in sleepy village Walmsley Parva. There's a poison pen campaign sowing distrust and discord in the village and intrepid enquiry agents Beryl and Edwina are soon on the case. As with the other books in the series, there are lots of side plots which are engaging in themselves, but which also enrich and entwine with the main story. 

There's a very golden age feel to the whole and the author has a deft touch with dialogue and characterization. The characters are nuanced and delightfully rendered with drawing room wit. Although it's not at all derivative in any way, the feel of the story and the narrative voice remind me a lot of why I love Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours and is -masterfully- narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. She has a beautifully modulated quite deep voice and the enunciation and perfection of characters' accents stupefied and delighted me. There is a moderate amount of quite rapid dialogue in the read and she hops from crisp cut-glass upper class British to indefinite English with quite distinct Scottish brogue, to a domestic servant's broad midlands, and midwest American without a single stumble. This is unquestionably the best audiobook I've heard this year. 

The plot is slow and measured. Aside from the poison pen campaign, there's not a lot of action in the first third of the book apart from former gardener turned ready-made canned food magnate Simpkins' foray into greengage plum jam with en eye to adding it to his company's product line. I found the methodical plot development very relaxing and restful. 

It could be read as a standalone, however, there will be major spoilers for earlier books in the series if read out of order. 

Four and a half stars, five for the audiobook narration. This would make a superlative choice for public library acquisition, social reading (bookclubs, buddy reads, etc - in fact the author has suggested discussion questions on her website) as well as being a great candidate for a very well written series binge read. 

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