Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Witness to Murder (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #3)

 

A Witness to Murder is the third Lady Eleanor historical cozy mystery by Verity Bright. Released 14th Sept 2020, it's 289 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 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) are currently included in the KU library to borrow and read for free.

This is a very light & fun British cozy which is sort of an homage to earlier golden age inter-war mysteries. It's fairly irreverent, with an appealing ensemble cast of amateur society sleuth Lady Eleanor and her butler/dogsbody Clifford whom she inherited along with her title from her late uncle as well as assorted society friends and servants. 

This outing sees a local businessman and politician collapsing into his dessert at a charity fundraising dinner. Lady Eleanor and Clifford are soon sallying forth to right wrongs and make the world safer for everyone. 

It's a fast and undemanding cozy read; the language is clean, the murders are not written violently or explicitly and the denouement is satisfying and well written. For readers looking for verisimilitude in dialogue and action, be warned, this series is full of modern vernacular and sensibilities. Eleanor fraternizes with the servants and runs a shockingly lax estate. Her sometimes beau, Lancelot, is a caricature and only makes brief appearances in this entry in the series.

Four stars, a somewhat exuberant and whimsical romp.

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

Restorative Yoga: Relax. Restore. Re-energize.

 

Restorative Yoga is an illustrated tutorial guide for restorative and relaxation yoga written by Caren Baginski. Due out 3rd Dec 2020 from Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available now). 

Especially given the current world situation, relaxation and stress management are important themes for everyone. The toll that chronic stress takes on our bodies is insidious and serious; it can even be deadly. Restorative yoga is a tool which is accessible and safe and effective and can be practiced by almost everyone no matter what their level of fitness or previous yoga experience are.

The book follows a logical progression: an introduction and tips for using the book are followed by what restorative yoga is and other basic info, followed by the poses grouped thematically: forward bending poses, backbend poses, inversions twists & side bends, and restorative sequences.

The author has a reassuringly positive and calm manner of writing. She's encouraging but not strident or preachy at all. The equipment used in the book is minimal and easily sourced (she provides alternatives which most readers already have around the house). The photography in the book is clear, well modeled, and illustrative. The tutorial photos are mostly shown in series from the side and are also well modeled and clear. Each pose tutorial is explained in understandable language with step by step photos and accompanying instructions. She also explains breathing in an accessible manner.

I have been having a lot of physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. The progress has been positive but slow and painful. I've experienced benefits from the information in this book, less pain and more mobility. It's sort of difficult to really tell objectively (what would anyone have to compare it to?) but I believe my stress levels have also been ameliorated. I work in the healthcare sector, and I feel like I'm coping. I'm sure the breathing and stress management have probably helped.

Five stars, definitely worth a look for anyone interested in stress relief in conjunction with yoga practice. Works very well for beginners.

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

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Skelton's Guide to Domestic Poisons

 

Skelton's Guide to Domestic Poisons is a thunderously well written exuberant historical legal procedural set in the late 1920s and written by David Stafford. Released 17th Sept 2020 by Allison & Busby, it's 352 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

The story arc is well plotted, with a plethora of possible suspects and motives. The disparate plot threads (a poisoning, injury compensation, Skelton's cousins Alan & Nora, flappers, suffragettes, skullduggery, official corruption and more) interweave well and culminate in a satisfying and well written denouement. Even the secondary characters are very finely drawn, from Skelton's clerk, his wife (a fervent feminist and lady gym master), to Arthur Skelton himself. 

Arthur and his clerk, Edgar, have a solid repartee going on as they investigate, and the whole has a *very* Albert Campion and Lugg vibe. The dialogue is witty and sparkling and cheeky and thoroughly enjoyable. It scintillates and Stafford is a beautifully capable writer. It's not entirely apparent whether this is the beginning of a series or not, but I find myself fervently hoping there's more in store. 

For readers who decide to pick it up, the author's notes at the end of the book are absolutely worth a read.

A lovely and entertaining mystery. Four stars.

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

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #4)

 

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill is the 4th book in the new Hercule Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah. Released 15th Sept 2020 by HarperCollins on their William Morrow imprint, it's 288 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

Despite not being in any way reminiscent of Dame Agatha's oeuvre, this is undeniably a well written, well plotted, readable mystery in the fashion of the golden age. Read on its own merits, it does admirably and I enjoyed it a lot. The characters are classic, archetypal even, rich society matrons, captains of industry, spoiled socialites, village busybodies, salt-of-the-earth charwomen, butlers, maids, and others in service, and Poirot and Inspector Catchpool (Capt. Hastings v. 2.0) rounding out the dramatis personae.

The plotting is rather slow, built up over time rather than explosive. The narrative arc is deliberate - stately even, and the denouement is less of a crescendo than an inescapable inevitability when it finally comes. There were a number of outlandish plot twists which interfered with my suspension of disbelief (no spoilers - never fear), but in the end plot threads resolve, clues are deciphered, mysteries are solved, and Poirot sallies forth in search of the next mystery. 

I love golden age British mysteries and this one fits in quite well as an homage to the genre. I've read Christie's canon many many times and I liked this book a lot more when I wasn't trying to read it as a Poirot mystery or find similarities with Christie's original work.

Four stars. Not Christie, but quite readable.

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

The Crohn's Disease Cookbook: 100 Recipes and 2 Weeks of Meal Plans to Relieve Symptoms

 

The Crohn's Disease Cookbook is a tutorial guide with recipes by dietician Amanda Foote. Released 11th Aug 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 198 pages (for the print version)  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.

I really liked the author's reassuring and accessible style of writing. From the beginning, she assumes no prior knowledge (she starts with a tutorial for using and making notes on e-reader platforms). A short easy to understand chapter on Crohn's and IBD contains a good capsule survey of symptoms, stress management issues, food, and interrelationships of these and other factors to (hopefully) help in controlling flareups and give a better quality of life. 

The author has included full meal plans for both flare-up weeks and asymptomatic (remission) weeks. They're general and can be varied somewhat to the reader's specific situation, wishes, and also cornform to special dietary restrictions. Meal prep + planning are helpful (and money saving) even without special dietary needs, but in the middle of flare-ups they can be life savers, sparing readers from the stress of figuring out what to eat and when to eat to avoid making a bad situation worse.

The recipes are grouped roughly thematically: breakfasts & smoothies, soups, salads, vegetarian, meat & poultry, fish & seafood, pasta & rice, and desserts. They have their ingredients listed bullet style in the sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. The nutritional info provided is arranged with most major info given (calories, fats, saturated, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, etc).Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. 

The ingredients are mostly easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. The included recipes cover a number of world cuisines including Indian, Asian, European, North & South American; a blended selection.  The are very few photos included in the book. The photographs which are included are clear and appealing and serving suggestions are appropriate. 


The book also has a resource list with links for further reading, metric conversion chart, flare-up/reaction tracker, and short author bio. 

This book would make a great gift/housewarming for someone cooking for themselves or family members with IBS/Crohn's with appealing recipes, and fans of food-prep planning / batch cooking.

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Dangerous Goodbye (A Fen Churche Mystery #1)

 

A Dangerous Goodbye is the debut novel in a new post-WW2 series by Fliss Chester. Released 20th Aug 2020 by Bookouture, it's 278 pages and 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a very well written atmospheric historical murder mystery set in the immediate aftermath of WW2 in England and France. Protagonist Fen Church (yes, like the station). The characterizations are clearly delineated - it's a large(ish) cast, and I had no trouble keeping them straight in my head. The setting and narrative arc are well rendered and believable. I did find the pacing a little slow in the first half of the book, but the action soon speeds up. Certainly since it's the first book in the series, a certain amount of latitude must be given to build up backstory and setting (which the author manages quite well). 

There are a number of plot threads which wind together into a rather thrilling denouement. One of the side elements is that both Fen and her missing fiance Arthur were keen cruciverbalists (crossword fans) and a number of plot twists turn on that fact; figuring out where Arthur's gone and what's happened are left up to Fen to decipher from coded hints left in his letters. I don't think there will be enough crossword clues for keen solvers, and there might be a bit too much crossword-ish bits for non-crosswords fans, but overall the author strikes a good balance. I hope we get more crossword elements in future books in the series. Time will tell. 

Well written and engaging. Recommended for fans of WW2 mysteries. Strong, intelligent, and brave female protagonist. Four stars.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Book on Pie

The Book on Pie is an encyclopedic primer and recipe collection developed and curated by Erin Jeanne McDowell. Due out 10th Nov 2020 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Rux Martin imprint, it's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.  

Pies, in all their variations, are classic and universal - spanning nearly all world cuisines in one form or another. They can be simple or devilishly difficult to make consistently. This new collection of tutorials and recipes guides the baker through the process in an accessible and understandable way. The introduction includes a good overview of tools, supplies, and ingredients. 

The layout is graphically appealing, logical and easy to follow.  The chapters are arranged roughly thematically: from dough and crust variations, decor and toppings, fruit pies, custard pies, cream chiffon & cold set pies, and savory pies.  Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (metric & US measurements included - yay!), step by step instructions, as well a footers with tips and alternative suggestions as well as professional tips on presentation and more. One of the high points of the book for me were the photographs. Although not all the recipes are accompanied by photos, the ones which are included are high quality and clear - and serving suggestions are appealing and appropriate. Really beautiful pies with professional finishes, and something for me to aim for. 

The recipe ingredients themselves are (mostly) easily sourced and will be available at well stocked grocery stores. There are a very few ingredients which might be a little more difficult to source, but definitely nothing that is 'way out there'.

All in all, -very- well written, beautifully presented pies, made from tasty ingredients which are easily sourced and beautifully enhanced with decorative complex looking fancy crusts. For cooks looking for a pie cookbook, this one is very very well written and presented.

Five stars, we'll be revisiting this recipe book often. A useful antidote to boring deserts. There are -so- many of these which will blow the socks off the "competition" at the next holiday gathering, reunion, or church social.

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

The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm

 

The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm is a comprehensive and well written guide to creating, troubleshooting, and running a market garden farm without tilling/digging (which we are beginning to find out is actually harmful in most situations). Due out 10th Nov 2020 from Storey Publishing, it's 256 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Although ostensibly aimed at the professional mid-scale farmer, there are a wealth of takeaways for the home hobbyist gardener with logical accessible implementable advice for starting up, making plans, doing the work, planting, irrigation systems, weeding, soil building and soil care, harvesting, marketing produce, labor, recordkeeping, and measuring success. The author provides the benefit of his near-decade of experience performing and succeeding at the necessary tasks to steward the earth he farms, produce quality food, and strengthen local economies and provide a valuable sustainable service to the local community. The book also includes a glossary, links and resource lists for further reading, and a cross referenced index.

Five stars. Lots and lots (and lots) of inspiration. Aesthetically an enjoyable read with a truly astounding amount of meticulous research and annotation. This would make a superlative selection for garden groups, community gardening, allotment collective libraries, smallholders, and garden lovers.

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

Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis

 

Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis is an interesting and very well written ethnography of crafting and its intersection with Judaica, written by Dr. Jodi Eichler-Levine. Due out 19th Oct 2020 from The University of North Carolina Press, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats.

This is a meticulously researched and annotated survey course on Judaism and its symbiotic relation to crafting and generative art mostly against the backdrop of the melting pot which is the United States. How, in such an assimilative culture, have Jews managed to hold onto ethnic identity while at the same time integrating into and becoming a part of American culture? How is creating art a part of that identity and how does it relate to Jewishness? While not, strictly speaking, a rigidly academic ethnography (the identities of the subjects are for the most part not anonymized), there is an undeniably academic flavor throughout. 

The author is an academic and this is what I would call a layman accessible academic treatise of the subjects in all their incarnations as they intersect culture and history. As an academic work, it is *full* of annotations, notes, illustrations and minutiae (in a good way). The author definitely "shows her work" in full. I loved poring over the notes and the  exhaustive bibliography and full chapter notes and annotations (did I mention that this is an academic work?). The notes and references are likely worth the price of admission for anyone interested in the subject and there's obviously been a swoon-inducing amount of time spent on research and resource gathering on the part of the author. 

I found the entire book quite interesting and fascinating. It is, admittedly, a niche book and will appeal to readers interested in cultural anthropology and ethnography, but might not appeal to readers looking for an easy read. The language is rigorous and formal. I definitely don't think it's inaccessible for the average reader, but it will take some effort (and I think that's a good thing). This would make a good support text for classroom or library use, for Judaism and allied subjects, as well as a superlative read for the particularly arts-history-interested.

Five stars. This is well and deeply researched and engaging.

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

A Deception at Thornecrest (Amory Ames #7)

A Deception at Thornecrest is the 7th Amory Ames mystery by Ashley Weaver. Released 8th Sept 2020 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 288 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a nicely wrought English murder mystery very much in the classic golden age manner. Amory and Milo are awaiting the birth of their first child when they're drawn into investigating another murder in the village complicated by the sudden appearance of a hitherto unknown brother for Milo and a young woman claiming to be Milo's wife (much to the dismay of Amory, Milo's actual wife). Add in village gossip, undercurrents of love and hate, and seething resentment and the well written result is a worthy successor to Christie, Allingham, Freeman, Brand, Iles and the rest of that cadre of worthies. 

Whilst this book does work quite well as a standalone and the author is adept at providing the necessary backstory without spoon-feeding the reader, I strongly recommend reading the books in order as there is a lot of history behind the main characters. 

The story arc is well plotted, with a plethora of possible suspects and motives. The disparate plot threads (Milo's brother, the surprise visit from his supposed other wife, the murder mystery, the impending birth) interweave well and culminate in a satisfying and well written denouement. I've been reading the series since the beginning and always look forward to each new entry with anticipation. 

A lovely and entertaining mystery. Four stars.

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

A Desperate Place: A McKenna and Riggs Novel

 

A Desperate Place is the first book in a new modern mystery series by Jennifer Greer. Released 11th Aug 2020 by Crooked Lane Books, it's 311 pages (print version) and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. t'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 is a modern murder mystery set in the Pacific northwest with an investigative duo of journalist and police detective with the medical examiner's office. They collaborate while investigating a string of local murders staged to look like accidents. The common thread between the victims is the basis for this medical thriller/mystery. 

The writing is competent but the pacing was glacial for much of the book. Probably 20% of the book was flashback descriptions of McKenna's traumatic experiences as an investigative journalist in Afghanistan. She is also preternaturally lucky in her present day assignment, since she gets instant access and full honest disclosure from almost everyone she interviews (starting with 2 young boys who were important eyewitnesses and tell her everything immediately). The medical parts of the story made me roll my eyes on numerous occasions. (Trust me, medical professionals are too busy to give the Dr. Mengele-worthy performance of the head psycho-bad-guy in this book). The denouement was way over the top and felt tacked on rather than a natural progression of the story arc. 

Negatives aside, this is a fairly well written medical murder mystery. Fans of crime fiction who like strong female characters will find a lot to like here. This is a strong series start from a debut writer, and judged on that basis, is worth a look. Three stars.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2020

How to Hold Animals


How to Hold Animals is an interesting picture book for young readers(?). Due out 3rd Nov 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a difficult book to review. On one hand, there are certainly times when knowing how to handle a pet or potentially injured animal safely is very important. On the other hand, most of this book's content isn't concerned with house pets, but with wild/exotic animals and especially insects and reptiles.  The book is divided into sections with photo tutorials from a veterinarian, a photographer, a pet shop owner, and a reptile handler (!!).

I can't think of many situations where children really should be learning this information. Most insects and many animals are relatively fragile and can easily be injured or killed by mishandling. Additionally, this book covers quite a number of poisonous and/or venomous animals and the author states quite clearly that handling these animals badly will result in painful bites or bloodshed or both. Since the book includes pictures of people handling crocodiles, monitor lizards, and poisonous snakes, I'm a little wary of enthusiastically recommending that kids should be encouraged to follow suit. The author does stop short of directly encouraging kids to grab their local alligators, but there are -numerous- photos of butterflies, crickets (which can give a fairly painful bite), praying mantids, and -scorpions- in the book. 

Maybe this book is meant as satire, and I'm just too square to get it, because I did get a giggle out of picture sidebars which said things like: "Always expect it to bite!" and "Poisonous lizards are rather excitable" and "Crocodiles are really strong". There are several places in the text where the author says straight out: "To me, merely watching animals is the same as not being interested in them. Instead of talking loftily about animal protection, I'd rather pick an animal up". Additionally, I found it troubling that the author said "You could take this home and look after it. It would be interesting". Everyone knows that every kid ever has brought home frogs, toads, tadpoles, etc, but just capturing wild animals and bringing them home is (and should be) very frowned upon.

No, I can't recommend this book. The pictures are interesting, but no.

Two stars. Major problems.

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

Draw Like an Artist: 100 Fantasy Creatures and Characters

100 Fantasy Creatures & Characters is a sourcebook and tutorial guide in the Draw Like An Artist series. Released 8th Sept 2020 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 112 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. 

These books all follow the same format. A very short introduction (10% of the content) gives some basic tips and very (very) brief overview of recommended materials. The following chapters contain short step-by step progress illustrations for line drawing 100 fantasy creatures and characters grouped together by category: creatures first (gryphon, unicorn, kelpie, and so forth) followed by characters (sorcerer, dwarf, mountain troll, etc). The book also includes a final chapter with specific original studies in the same 6 step format such as lava swimmer and goulodon.

These are very simple single page 5-8 step illustrations. The finished drawings are not part of a composition, and there is no written direction involved. All of them are simple enough to not really require directions. None of them are beyond the ability of keen amateur level. Correspondingly, there is little here which will challenge advanced artists.

This would make a superlative choice for young artists or adult learners, especially bundled with drawing supplies. There are several other companion volumes available also (flowers, faces, and some others probably).

Four stars (given the limitations). I will say that very many of these were pretty darned cool and would look great printed on cards or used as coloring pages.

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

Animal Embroidery Workbook Step-by-Step Techniques & Patterns for 30 Cute Critters & More

 

Animal Embroidery Workbook is a tutorial and style guide for surface embroidery by Jessica Long. Due out 1st Nov 2020 from Fox Chapel, it's 208 pages and will be available in paperback format.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The pictures are all very clear and colorful, the projects are well designed and appealing, and the text is upbeat and fun. The introduction includes a discussion of tools, supplies, and basic techniques. The bulk of the book is taken up by the 30 different animal projects. The projects themselves are varied and attractive. The display models in the book are shown mounted in hoops, but all of them could certainly be easily adapted to other finishes.  All of the templates are included. Each tutorial contains an introduction, materials list (nothing too exotic or difficult to source), and step by step photo tutorials from start to finish. Tips and alternative finishes are included in the tutorials. The book also includes line drawn templates and an index but no index.
 
It should be noted that this book is about surface embroidery, not cross stitch.  It's lovely to see tutorials and and upswing in interest for the other fibrearts; it seems like only cross-stitch had any following for a long long time and it's nice to see surface embroidery enjoying a renaissance. I really love the breezy and sweet style, and the quirky friendly animal projects.

Beautiful projects. Four stars.

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

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Love Lives of Birds: Courting and Mating Rituals

 

The Love Lives of Birds is a well written, layman accessible manual written by Laura Erickson. Due out 27th Oct 2020 from Storey Publishing, it's 152 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a well written nonfiction collection of birds and their mating behaviors. The book contains a general introduction followed by more than 30 bird species arranged alphabetically by common name. Each of the entries contains an illustration (see cover), along with a short 2-3 page essay on basic mating and pairbonding behavior. The book is full of interesting facts and trivia about each of the birds included although the author's anthropomorphism was a bit heavy going sometimes. I also felt the lack of proper nomenclature was a significant minus.

The book is written in simple accessible language and would be a good choice for younger bird enthusiasts, public or classroom library book, or the like.

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the engaging text and beautiful illustrations.

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

What Cats Want: An illustrated guide for truly understanding your cat

 

What Cats Want is a cheerfully illustrated simple "everyman's" guide to living your best life with a feline companion written by Dr. Yuki Hattori (The Cat Saviour). Due out 27th Oct 2020 from Bloomsbury, it's 160 pages (in print format) and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a very accessible book with simple information in short paragraphs which are easy to understand. The information is arranged logically in short chapters: feline biology and wellbeing, behaviour and interpreting signals, everyday care and healthcare, keeping your cat happy, making a safe and happy home for your cat, and lifelong care. Each of the subchapters contains several informational subjects which are illustrated and 1-2 pages in length. Most of the chapters also include extra notes in highlighted text boxes with expanded info and tips. 

This English language translation is well done and doesn't read awkwardly, and the info presented was complete and understandable. Most of the info presented is common sense, and doesn't really seem to be revelatory. It would make a good beginner guide for younger or first time cat owners.

Four stars, well written basic information.

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

The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking in 114 Essential Recipes

 

The Flavor Equation is a science-based guide to flavor and sensory experience with accompanying recipes developed by Nik Sharma. Due out 27th Oct 2020 from Chronicle Books, it's 352 pages (print edition) and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

Most cookbooks (even niche ones) are arranged thematically: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, etc. Some of them have styling and serving advice in addition. This recipe collection is not at all like the usual cookbook presentation. First, the author spends roughly 16% of the book's content exploring the basis of taste, how we experience taste, mouthfeel, scent, and the roles they play in emotion and perception. There are a lot of interesting takeaways here and while many of them are interesting in their own right, there are also practical bits of information which can be utilized in other non-cooking situations. 

The recipes themselves are varied and interesting and represent a number of different world cuisines. They are arranged thematically: brightness, bitterness, saltiness, sweetness, savoriness, fieriness, and richness.  The book is lavishly and appealingly illustrated with large clear recipe and serving photographs.  Each of the recipes includes yields, prep and cooking time, ingredients (including metric measurements, yay!), a short description, and step by step instructions. The recipes also include a flavor profile and the reasons for the author's selection of certain ingredients. Nutritional information is not included. The appendices include staples (including spice blends), menu serving  suggestions, some info on flavor science (which goes into delightful detail about the molecular components of the food we eat and what they mean for us biologically), a bibliography and links for further information and an index. 

This is a wonderfully in-depth book which can also be used on a much less complex basis by simply following the author's suggestions in the recipes. I was impressed on a lot of levels. Definitely one which will appeal to all the bio-nerds, but also to keen cooks looking for more theoretical information for developing and varying their own recipes.

Four stars.

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


I Heart Soul Food: 100 Southern Comfort Food Favorites

 

I Heart Soul Food is a tutorial style/cuisine guide with 100 comfort food recipes developed by Rosie Mayes. Due out 27th Oct 2020 from Sasquatch Books, it's 256 pages (print edition) and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

I grew up in a southern family. Our comfort food was a blending of Irish traditional and pure southern soul food. Family reunions (usually extended/combined because our family was so small) were food-centric affairs, accompanied by lots of hugs and *massive* competition levels of comfort food. The tables would be groaning. There were always ribs, sweet potato pies, collard greens, gravy & biscuits, deviled eggs, cakes & pies galore, and so much more. Reading through this cookbook collection had me nodding my head on every page. These are the comfort foods I remember from my childhood. 

The recipes are grouped thematically: breakfasts, snacks, staples soups salads & sandwiches, sides, supper, dessert, drinks. These are prefaced by a good introduction and background with a little bit of author bio. The introductory material includes a good overview over tools and staples for stocking the soul food pantry. 

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only, though there's a conversion chart in the back of the book), and step by step instructions (often accompanied by process photos). I would estimate roughly 20% of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The photos provided are high quality and clear. Serving sizes and yields are included. None of the recipes include nutritional information. 

The recipe ingredients themselves are easily sourced and will be available at most well stocked grocery stores. There are a very few ingredients which might be a little more difficult to source, but definitely nothing that is 'way out there'. 

These are beautifully presented home-style comfort food, well developed, and lovingly made. I found so many favorites from my childhood. Five stars. This is a definitive and -usable- soul food cookbook. There's nothing pretentious here, just really good food, well made.

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

The Spirit of Botany

 

The Spirit of Botany is an interesting hybrid still-room book, practitioner's guide, and tutorial recipe book written and curated by Jill McKeever. Due out 13th Oct 2020 from Andrews McMeel, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a beautifully presented book with a layman accessible and well written "vibe". The layout is clear and attractive with a logical thematic chapter progression. The author provides her own background and experience, followed by chapters covering essential oils, perfumes, olfactory balance (the author calls it synesthesia, but it isn't, really), materials, incense, seasonal craft, moon craft, aromatherapy, dream work, and nature therapy. 

The recipes and tutorials include a list of tools and supplies (mostly easily sourced), and step by step instructions and suggestions. Ingredient measures are generally provided in either American standard and/or metric/SI units (sometimes both in one recipe). Some of the ingredients will be easy to source, others will require specialist vendors and/or more effort. The book also includes an abbreviated links/bibliography list for further reading, and an index.

This is an interesting alternative presentation of some personal self-care rituals as well as some recipes for incense and perfume. This isn't a collection of bath and beauty recipes and will likely be more appreciated by more philosophical/meditation/ritual leaning readers. 

Four stars. Interesting alternative ideas and recipes.

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

Act of Revenge: A Medical Thriller

 

Act of Revenge is the third book in the Doc Brady medical cozy mystery series by Dr. John Bishop. Released 10th Sept 2020, it's 247 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, the first book in the series is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

Protagonist Jim Bob Brady is a likable and plain spoken Texas orthopedist and part time sleuth (this time with the backing of the Houston Police Department). A chance accidental meeting with a fellow practitioner leads to him being drawn into a convoluted plot of murder, revenge, and the labyrinthine intricacies of medical malpractice.

The medical terms are well explained in context and layman accessible. The elements of violence are not graphic and occur off-scene. The language is very clean. It's refreshing to see Dr. Brady's healthy relationship with his wife (some innuendo, and a couple moderately explicit scenes) and his adult son, who helps him out in his investigation. 

The pacing was good, the plot moved along at a pleasant clip, and I never felt like it was a slog or a race. The characters were well written, fleshed out and distinct and true to their various internal motivations and personalities. The full-on Texas dialogue got to me a few times, but I'm a Yankee, and, well, Texans do Texas (y'all). It was at least very true to the local vernacular and had the absolute ring of verisimilitude. The author's a Texas native, clearly.

Four stars. Well written and entertaining.

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