Thursday, March 26, 2020

Nature All Around: Plants

Nature All Around: Plants is a picture book for kids about plants and the natural botanical world. Due out 7th April 2020 from Kids Can Press, it's 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a science based factual book with a solid intro to botany including different classifications and structures (vascular vs. nonvascular, monocot vs. dicot, and more). The book asks and answers lots of questions: why are (most) leaves green, why do birds and insects like plants, what happens to plants in different seasons and climates, and lots of others. The illustrations are attractive and detailed and the text presents the concepts in an accessible and age appropriate manner.

This would make a great classroom library, public library, or homeschool library selection as well as a great gift for a youngster. There are a number of recommended activities included in the book as well as a short glossary and cross referenced index.

Well made and beautifully presented.

Four stars.

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


1 to 20, Animals Aplenty

1 to 20, Animals Aplenty is a sweet and simple rhyming counting book for the youngest. Released 10th Feb 2020 by Laurence King, it's 48 pages and available in hardcover format.

The text and illustrations by Katie Viggers are whimsical and appealing. There is a surprising amount of detail and some of the pictures include specific breeds of animals for more fun. There are goats in coats, and a fox in socks. Not all of the animals are strictly rhyming (capybaras are eating bananas in fact), but most of them are.

This is a very fun book. There's a recap spread at the end of the book with all the animals in order and will be make a fun recap activity to see how many rhymes readers can remember. The cats wearing fezzes is worth the price of admission by itself.

Four stars.

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


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Reasonable Doubt (Robin Lockwood #3)

A Reasonable Doubt is the 3rd Robin Lockwood mystery by Phillip Margolin. Released 10th March 2020 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and available in hardcover, mass market paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is ostensibly a crime thriller with a lawyer protagonist. She's a former mixed martial arts fighter as well as a trial lawyer and part time sleuth. The plot is engagingly twisy but tended to wander a bit and flip back and forth between the present day and earlier plotlines without much delineation.

This is also the third book in the series and having read this one as a standalone, I found myself having a difficult time building a rapport with the characters. I'm sure fans of the earlier books won't have the same problem, but some of the secondary characters were difficult for me to keep track of.

The main plot arc included a lot of stage magic, illusions, and the show people who make the tricks work. I have always been fascinated by illusion and stage tricks and enjoyed that part of the plot. The author also includes some legal procedural content which I found fascinating (he's a former trial lawyer, so seems to know what he's talking about).

While the author is undeniably gifted and writes engagingly, for me the plot got bogged down in secondary (and tertiary) plot threads mostly concerning what a jerk the murdered magician was and how much he deserved his fate.

Three and a half stars.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Year at Brandywine Cottage : Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms

A Year at Brandywine Cottage is an inspirational technique and selection guide by David L. Culp. Due out 31st March 2020 from Timber Press, it's 336 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a beautifully formatted and well written book following a calendar year through the seasons (there are 6 chapters, summer and winter by themselves and early and late spring and fall treated as 4 distinct entities). Between the photographs and descriptions of different aspects of the cottage gardens the author and his partner have developed over the past 3 decades are naturalistic arrangements of flowers and greenery for inspiration as well as simple and elegant recipes.

The photography is top notch and beautiful. This would make a superlative coffee table book for gardeners, especially those from the eastern continental climate in North America.

Really lovely book, five stars.

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

The Siamese Twin Mystery (Ellery Queen Detective #7)

The Siamese Twin Mystery is the 7th book in the Ellery Queen mysteries. Originally published in 1933, this reformat and re-release 4th Feb 2020 by Penzler is 293 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.


I've been a fan of Ellery Queen mysteries for decades and by some odd twist of fate had never before read this early entry. It's neither the acme nor nadir of the series. The pacing is very odd, sometimes standing virtually still for pages on end then racing ahead. The dialogue is often forced and stilted (and dated with fair lashings of sexism and melodrama). The atmospheric setting and moody buildup are done perfectly but the payoff and denouement weren't worth the trip.


As always, the introduction by mystery maven Otto Penzler, is erudite, incisive, informative, and interesting.


Three stars. Worth a look for completist fans of the series, and for the insighful history lesson from Mr. Penzler. It's also very nice to see these classics (however dated) being re-released for a new generation of fans.

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


Bob Dylan (Little People, Big Dreams)

Bob Dylan is a new biography for young readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and all of them are delightful and exuberant little books which cover the lives of famous cultural, science, arts, and innovative icons while maintaining an age-appropriate level of detail.

Due out 7th April 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Written by Isabel S├ínchez Vegara it's presented in clear, accessible, age-appropriate language.  The gentle and sweetly humorous illustrations were well done. The art by Conrad Roset is appealing and colorful and supports the text very well. Both the illustrations and text are rich in small subtle details which bear a closer look (like the riffs on his songs, echoed in the text and the illustrations).

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition.

Five stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift.  Dylan is an iconic and important poet and this book is a nice tribute.

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

Note: I received an early eARC and in my copy of the material, there was a formatting error which caused the timeline biography and artist credits to be switched with an earlier book in the series (Astrid Lindgren). This will presumably be corrected in the final published version. 
 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks

The Jemima Code is a historical retrospective of African American culinary tradition throughout American history. Released in 2015 by the University of Texas Press, it's 264 pages and available in hardcover format.

This is a meticulously researched and indexed history of African American culinary culture as woven into the fabric of the United States in the form of published cookbooks written by black cooks. The author's respect and dignified treatment of the subject is clearly written into the text alongside the academically rigorous and well written prose.

The book is arranged in chronological order with facsimile pages, illustrations, and reprints. Although not a cookbook in any form, there are a number of full recipes included from older cookbooks (listed in bold print in the comprehensive index). The recipes are traditional, authentic, and inventive.  Due to the nature of race history in the USA over the last centuries, there is a significant portion of the book which I found melancholy and I was deeply affected by the contained stories of generations of black cooks (usually women) working in an unbroken line down to the present day.

The book covers dozens and dozens of cookbooks. Each entry contains a picture of the original cookbook cover, often some historical publication information along with the concise and insightful commentary. There are some recipes included as facsimile pages from original texts, but they're not the main attraction. The commentary is unflinching and sometimes painful (for this white girl) to read.

There is little that is more culturally and emotionally relevant than our food traditions. This book provides an exhaustive and balanced look at a vital and unique (and large) part of American culinary history. This would be a valuable resource for related academic subjects such as gender studies, American history, black history, advertising, etc. Five stars.

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

Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg: Girl Genius, Book Four (Girl Genius Novels #4)

Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg is the 4th book in the series by Phil & Kaja Foglio. Released 17th March 2020 by Night Shade, it's 456 pages and 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This book (and indeed the series) is absolutely full of exuberant humor (especially the footnotes), clever plotting, larger-than-life characterizations, and over-the-top action at a breakneck pace. Although the crazy pacing and light-speed dialogue might easily overshadow, this is a really well written novelization from a technical standpoint as well. There are so many differences between graphic and textual storytelling and relatively few novelizations really make the transition well. Emphatically not the case here. This is a well written book on its own merits, and a fun read and I recommend it highly.

This is the 4th book in the series with a somewhat complex back-story and a set of returning characters and as such might not work very well as a standalone (Think old-time action serials on radio or TV).

Really a distracting romp and just the "right book at the right time". Four and a half stars.

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

Super Green Smoothies: Veggie-Based Recipes to Boost Your Health and Well-Being

Super Green Smoothies is a plant based recipe and technique collection by Danielle Omar. Released 17th March 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 216 pages and 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. 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 book follows a logical and easy to understand format. The first chapter covers the background of ingredient selection, why everyone should care about the quality nutrition and important dietary potential raw greens provide, as well as the practicality of making your own, how to streamline prep (including a pantry staples lists of ingredients and tips) along with a very general beginner-accessible discussion of time-saving and other techniques. The author also includes some logical pointers, ingredients, and supplies lists. There is an interactive chart with greens listed and linked to their corresponding recipes. The process and technique sections are comprehensive and include tips for making the best and most palatable smoothies. The recipe chapters are arranged thematically by common dietary improvement areas: detox, weight loss, digestive health, energy boosters, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, healthy skin, and healthy heart. Nutritional information is included in the footer at the end of the recipes and includes calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, carbs, fibre, sugar, protein. Some special dietary information is included (high-fibre, low sugar, dairy, superfood,etc).

The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. The book also includes a short author bio, and a metric conversion chart, but lacks any index or general ingredients index. Each of the recipes includes a space for notes and observations as well as tips and substitutions in highlighted sidebars.

My main quibble with the book is that the recipes are mostly not photographed. There are some photos, and they're clear and attractive, but they only represent about 5% of the recipes included in the book.

Four stars.

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

Stage-By-Stage Baby Food Cookbook

Stage-By-Stage Baby Food Cookbook is a cookbook and guide to healthy homemade baby and toddler food. Released 17th March 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 216 pages and 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. 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 book follows a logical and easy format. The first chapter covers the background of ingredient selection, why new parents and caregivers should care about quality in baby nutrition and the practicality of making your own, and how to streamline prep (including a pantry staples lists of ingredients and tips) as well as a very general beginner-accessible discussion of the time-saving and other techniques. The author also includes some logical pointers ingredients, and supplies. The recipe chapters are arranged thematically by baby age and weaning status ( about 6 months, 6-8 months, 9-12 months, 12-18m, and 18m and up). There is no included nutritional information in the recipes such as calories, nutrients, sodium. Some special dietary information is included (gluten-free, nut-free, dairy, vegetarian,etc).

The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. The book also includes short author bios, and a metric conversion chart, but lacks any index or general ingredients index. There is a reference list with links included which provides more information on childhood nutrition and health.

My one quibble with the book is that the recipes are mostly not photographed. There are some photos, and they're clear and attractive, but they only represent about 5% of the recipes included in the book.

Four stars.

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

Avenge the Dead (DI Frank Farrell #3)

Avenge the Dead is the third book in a modern Scottish procedural series by Jackie Baldwin. Released 28th Feb 2020, it's 400 pages and available in ebook format.

This is a gritty modern day procedural with an ensemble returning cast of characters. Although it's the third book in the series, I had no trouble following the plot, the author is adept at providing necessary backstory without info-dumping or being overwhelming. It works well as a standalone.

The plot is well constructed (if dark) and includes the de rigueur  tie-in to past occurrences resonating down through time to the present. There are a number of grisly murders (which are not too graphically described on-page). There is some sexual content, but again nothing too racy on-scene. The language is as expected, modern police procedural level including f*ck and other cursing. There is mention of drug use and some domestic abuse.

My own experience, not having established a previous relationship with the characters, was that main character Frank, was wallowing unattractively in self pity, spiraling into out of control alcoholism and unprofessional conduct, and was difficult to like. I imagine that people who are already fans of the series will appreciate the character development more than I could.

It was a diverting read. Not quite up to Val McDermid (but who is?) or Ann Cleeves (ditto), but in that vein. Quite a solid read.

Four stars.

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


Friday, March 20, 2020

The 30-Minute Paleo Cookbook: 90+ Delicious Recipes for Busy People

The 30-Minute Paleo Cookbook is a new collection of paleo recipes and cooking tips by Stephanie Meyer. Released 17th March 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 180 pages and 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. 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 book follows a logical and easy format. The first chapter covers the background of ingredient selection, what the paleo diet is, and how to streamline meal planning and prep (including a pantry staples lists of protein rich vegetables, fats, and tips) as well as a very general beginner-accessible discussion of the time-saving and streamlining techniques. The author also includes some logical pointers ingredients, and supplies. The recipe chapters are arranged thematically: breakfasts, soups and salads, vegetables, seafood, poultry, beef/pork/lamb, desserts, and staples and ingredient recipes. Nutritional information is included in the footer at the end of the recipes and includes calories, fat (incl. saturated fats), protein, carbs, fiber, and sodium. Some special dietary information is included (gluten-free, nut-free, dairy, vegetarian,etc).

The recipe chapters include a surprisingly varied selection of different world cuisines: Eastern European, American, Asian, Southwestern, and more.

The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. The book also includes short author bios, and a metric conversion chart, but lacks any index or general ingredients index.

My one quibble with the book is that the recipes are mostly not photographed. There are some photos, and they're clear and attractive, but they only represent about 5% of the recipes included in the book.

Four stars.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Low-Carb Vegetarian Cookbook: 100 Easy Recipes and a Kick-Start Meal Plan

Low-Carb Vegetarian Cookbook is a new low carb (but not no-carb) plant based cooking and recipe collection by Amy Lawrence and Justin Fox Burks. Released 17th March 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 180 pages and 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. 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 book follows a logical and easy format. Chapters 1-2 cover the background of ingredient selection and meal planning (including a pantry staples lists of protein rich vegetables, fats, and tips) as well as a very general beginner-accessible discussion of the time-saving and streamlining techniques. The author also includes some logical pointers ingredients, and supplies along with a 14 day interactive meal plans with linked recipes. The recipe chapters are arranged thematically: breakfasts, salads, snacks and appetizers, soups and sides, mains, and desserts. Nutritional information is included in the footer at the end of the recipes and includes calories, fat (incl. saturated fats), carbs, fiber, protein, and sodium. Special dietary information is not specifically included (gluten-free, nut-free, dairy, etc).

The recipe chapters include a surprisingly varied selection of different world cuisines: Eastern European, American, Asian, Southwestern, and more.

The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Most, but not all, of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store (monk fruit sweetener, Bragg liquid aminos, etc?). The book also includes short author bios, and a metric conversion chart, but lacks any index or general ingredients index.

My one quibble with the book is that the recipes are mostly not photographed. There are some photos, and they're clear and attractive, but they only represent about 5% of the recipes included in the book.

Four stars.

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

Learn to Draw Disney/Pixar Onward: Featuring all of your favorite characters, including Ian, Barley, Blazey, and more!

Learn to Draw Disney/Pixar Onward is a new booklet in the Learn To Draw series. Released 10th March 2020 by Quarto on their Walter Foster Jr imprint, it's 64 pages and will be available in spiral-bound format.

Although ostensibly aimed at young artists (6+ years), there is a lot of really fun and accessible information here for artists of all ages and levels of experience. The simple and appealing step-by-step line drawn tutorials will help with confidence building and technical expertise.

The introductory content covers tools and supplies (an admirably short list), tracing and outlining, using the grid method, and basic shape drawings. The background drawings on all the pages are adorable and full color (see cover).

The tutorials (12 different, with lots of characters in various combinations) are 2-10 pages each of clear step by step drawings to achieve a recognizable fantasy based elf character along with a stable of supporting creatures (the derpy unicorn slays me every time). This would make a really lovely rainy day activity or library group activity for young kids. This would also make a really great parent/caregiver/babysitter activity for anyone with a youngster in their lives. Drawing together with your kids makes a lot of great memories. 

Very cute book. Good practice for all beginning artists, no matter what age.

Five stars.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Master of Sorrows (The Silent Gods #1)

 Master of Sorrows is the first volume of a new series by Justin T. Call. Released 25th Feb 2020 by Blackstone, it's 646 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a well written coming of age quest fantasy based around the premise that our destiny may or may not be inevitable. The author is a gifted storyteller and despite the length of the book, it doesn't drag and never felt plodding to me. The dialogue is occasionally somewhat stilted (fantasy-speak) but the characters are distinct and well rendered. I did have some troubles keeping the secondary characters (minor teachers and students) straight in my head and had to use the search function on my kindle several times.

There is a fair bit of brutal action, some graphic fight scenes, lots of death and betrayal and magic and fighting. There isn't any graphic sexual content or objectionable language. The world building and character development are exceptionally detailed and well realized. This one has a solid denouement with a lead up to the next book in the series, but not any sort of abrupt cliffhanger ending.

Readers who enjoy solid quest based epic fantasy will likely enjoy this one. Four stars.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition Vol. 1 (Kakushigoto #1)

Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition is the first volume in a slice of life manga series whose lead character is an artist / creator for a raunchy manga who is desperately trying to keep his young daughter from finding out what he does for a living. Due out 17th March 2020 from Kodansha Comics USA, it's 187 pages and will be available in ebook format.

This is a sweet manga with a single father bringing up an intelligent and curious daughter and trying to provide for her without her finding out that he writes a popular raunchy manga. Comedy ensues. This is a very lighthearted and sweetly funny situational comic which is well written and well drawn. The plot is simple but entertaining and doesn't feel 'same-y' with different complications coming up (like his new editor deciding on a breakfast meeting whilst wearing a questionable t-shirt featuring some of his work).

There are interludes with background info about manga and the publishing industry as well as famous innovators in the medium which I found very enlightening and interesting and which enhanced my enjoyment of this volume a lot. The language and art (despite the central plot line) are very clean and would be appropriate for most readers.

Very cute. I enjoyed it a lot. The page progression has been adjusted for western audiences, it reads from what westerners recognize as 'front' to 'back'. It should be noted, however, that the individual page layout follows the standard manga format and each half page reads in a circle from upper right to lower right, then the bottom half from right to lower left.

Four stars.

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

Four stars.



Thursday, March 12, 2020

A Bond Undone (Legends of the Condor Heroes #2)

A Bond Undone is the second book in the Legends of the Condor Heroes series by Jin Yong. Originally published in 1959, this reformat and re-release from Macmillan on their St. Martin's imprint is 544 pages and available in hardcover, audio, paperback, and ebook formats.

This is an action epic in the wuxia style. As such, it's a nonstop martial arts movie set against a lush background of honor, love, filial duty, power, moral obligation vs. personal desire and expectations. The story picks up immediately after the first book in the series and I wouldn't recommend it as a standalone. (In fact, this review was delayed because I tried to read it without having read the first book, and couldn't understand much of what was going on, so I had to go back and read book one).

It reads well in translation although the non-stop action and grandiloquent style can take some time to get into. I highly recommend the series to lovers of martial arts and campaign epic fantasy. It's nice to see these books being released in translation to a new generation of readers.

Four stars.

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

The Pendleton Field Guide to Camping: (Outdoors Camping Book, Beginner Wilderness Guide)

The Pendleton Field Guide to Camping is an outdoors guide for all ages from Pendleton Woolen Mills. Due out 31st March 2020 from Chronicle Books, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a well done, information rich resource with a logical and easy to follow format. A short introduction is followed by an essay on the benefits and attractions of camping and the outdoors as well as a listing of some US national parks, their locations and attractions followed by some suggestions for finding enjoyable non-park camping possibilities. This chapter also includes a number of good online resources for planning camping trips as well as tips on finding camping spots in less traveled areas. The next sections give an overview of types of trips (backpacking, cycle camping, motorcycle/car camping, vans, campers, and 'glamping'). Possibly the most useful information in the book is presented in chapter 5 with detailed lists of equipment and resources which will make most preparation successful and stress-free.

The third section contains suggestions and plans for actually executing the preparation and getting outdoors. There are special sub-chapters on camping with kids and pets (dogs). There are a lot of good tips for camping appropriate gear, snacks, and some general rules.

Camping is a wonderful way to use free time and has numerous physical and mental health benefits. This is a good support and resource book for getting active and getting outdoors.

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Trace Elements (Commissario Brunetti #29)

Trace Elements is the 29th (!!!) Guido Brunetti mystery by Donna Leon. Released 10th March 2020 by Grove Atlantic on their Atlantic Monthly Press imprint, it's 320 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

For fans of the series, the author, her style, the characters, and the settings need no introduction. For readers unfamiliar with the author who are looking for a solid series (and I mean -the entire series- there's not a clunker in the lot), this could definitely be the answer. This is a gently paced book with perfectly delineated characters who are well drawn and acting true to nature. They breathe and feel and Ms. Leon manages to imbue them with 3 dimensions without ever once abusing the reader's trust. The dialogue is well rendered and believable. There is humor, pathos, humanity, and decency, if not always justice in the strictest sense. Although it's one of a series (and I heartily recommend reading them all), it works perfectly well as a standalone.

The author doesn't shy away from shining a light on the seedier side of the government infrastructure along with the 'realpolitik' involved in the interoffice shuffling of inconvenient media problems as well as juggling privacy and data protection laws to mostly stay on the right side the law while still managing to solve crimes. Commisario Brunetti and his colleagues and family are so well written that it's always a delight to catch up and 'visit' them. I like it very much that Brunetti has a healthy family life and that he's a reader himself. There are small literary asides peppered throughout the book which show his humanity and intelligence and in a way, his love and appreciation for his wife, who is a professor of literature.

Leon is a capable and gifted storyteller, writing in top form and providing pure delightful high quality entertainment. This is a warm and well written mystery procedural. Five stars.

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





The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1)

The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first book in a new series by Luke Arnold. Released 25th Feb 2020 by Orbit Books, it's 368 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a gritty fantasy noir PI tale in a debut series by a debut author and I can't recall the last time I was this impressed by a new series. Within a few pages I was well and truly intrigued and within a few chapters it had secured a place in my 'auto-buy' TBR pile. In my mind, it goes to roughly the same subcategory as Glen Cook, Ben Aaronovitch (but much grittier, less humorous, and more Chandler-esque than either), John D. MacDonald (with the same melancholy tarnished knight feel), and an authentic George Sims vibe (whom I heartily recommend and for anyone unfamiliar with this great unsung British noir writer go find his work).  The book is not derivative, however, and the author has a clear and unique voice of his own.

The plotting does drag in a few places, and as a first book in the series, the author spends a fair bit of page content on laying down the admittedly intriguing backstory and world structure. The characterization is spot on and for whatever reason, the author has a commanding feel for dialogue (possibly because of his acting skills?). It might be partially right-book-at-the-right-time syndrome, but I really loved this book and recommend it highly to SF/F and urban noir fans.

Five stars.

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