Monday, April 15, 2024

The Mystery of the Hidden Fortune

 

The Mystery of the Hidden Fortune is the first book in a cozy series by Christine McHaines. Released 3rd July 2023 by The Book Folks, it's 245 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The followup books in the series, are also currently available on KU. 

This is a lightly humorous cozy featuring a hapless, honestly unlikely and rather unlikable anti-hero. He's a bit shiftless, a huge underachiever, not terribly honest, and lazy into the bargain. His parents decamped Britain for the Antipodes (at his father's insistence) to try to force him to grow up and stand on his own two feet. He inhabits his late great aunt's house (rent free) and when he almost literally trips over a hidden treasure, his immediate response is to dip into the unexpected windfall for his own benefit. His natural antipathy to animals (especially a cat) didn't make him more appealing, either; not precisely -cruel- but not nice, either.

The mystery itself is competently plotted and the action was reasonably well paced, but the dialogue and characterisation are often hard going. The language is clean, there are a few instances of "bloody" and nothing worse. There are also a few lightly described consensual sex scenes. 

Three stars.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Making Fairy Garden Accessories: 22 Enchanting Projects for Your Backyard

Book cover for Making Fairy Garden Accessories

Making Fairy Garden Accessories is a well written and appealing tutorial guide to creating whimsical fairy garden pieces written by Anna-Marie and Andrew Fahmy. Released 19th March 2024 by Fox Chapel, it's 128 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

Well written tutorials with step by step instructions and lots of clear color photos. The general vibe is very whimsical, fun, and full of nature-themed small pieces which will have all the local fairies clamoring to move in. 

The introduction covers tools, materials, and techniques as well as some style advice. The tutorial chapters are further divided thematically into: doors, houses, furniture, and accessories. Each of the tutorials tools and materials in a bullet list (measurements are given in imperial (American) units with metric in parentheses) followed by step by step clear instructions. Every tutorial contains multiple clear color photos of the finished projects along with some process shots. 

The authors have included tips and tricks for customization and construction in highlighted text boxes throughout the book.There's also a color photo gallery for inspiration included as well (the projects in the gallery are not in the book, they're just for ideas and inspiration). 

The project tutorials are written in a manner which doesn't require template use, so templates are not included in the volume.

Four stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, makers' groups, activity/scouting groups, home use, and similar.

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

Once Upon a Murder - A Lady Librarian Mystery #2

 

Once Upon a Murder is the second book in the Lady Librarian historical cozy mystery series by Samantha Larsen. Released 20th Feb 2024 by Crooked Lane, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout.

This is a charming historical cozy with an appealing protagonist who employs creative and intelligent solutions to counteract some of the harsher realities of Regency history (women often lived lives of tenuous and terrifying insecurity). She's smart and generally honest and clever as well, and easy to relate to. Although she's sworn off murder and investigation after the last time, she's now stumbled over the frozen body of a former footman of the estate of her patroness and employer, The Duchess of Beaufort, and must use her abilities and intelligence to clear her name and her love interest Samir.

The book is well written and the author has a firm grasp on the nuts and bolts of plot, setting, and characterization. It's a light cozy with a strong romance subplot and a surprising amount of effective humor. It's a bookish book, and there are book titles and period book/library trivia and title-dropping throughout. 

Happily, the author mostly ignores the more rigid realities of race, parentage, and class which would have precluded many of the interactions and relationships in the book.

Four stars. This would make an appealing short binge/buddy read, as well as a good choice for public library acquisition.

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

 

 

Lola Meets the Bees


Lola Meets the Bees is an adorable and information packed picture book for the youngest readers by Anna McQuinn. Released 9th April 2024 by Charlesbridge, it's 32 pages and is available in hardcover format. 

Little Lola goes with her mom to visit a family friend who has beehives. Lola is fascinated to learn about bees and how they gather nectar and pollen. The whole adventure is illustrated very well by Rosalind Beardshaw. The pictures are colorful and detailed and show the life-cycle of the bees and a simplified explanation of what beekeepers do and how they help the bees. 

The text is written in simple and understandable free verse and will be understood by even very young kids. Lexile measure is AD560L (2-5 years). 

Five stars. This would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, reading circles, or bedtime reading.

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

Norway: Land of Mountains and Fjords

 

Norway: Land of Mountains and Fjords is a well written and beautifully photographed pictorial tour of Norway by Claudia Martin. Originally released in 2020, this reformat and re-release by Amber Books out 14th April is  224 pages and is available in hardcover format. An earlier edition of the book was published in flexi-bound format. This is book 15 of the Visual Explorer Guide series. 

Norway is full of awe inspiring "pinch me" scenery and this book highlights the vast expanses of mountainous terrain, glaciers, fjords, wilderness, and urban areas beautifully contrasting austere ice-fields, charming small fishing villages, and big city night life side by side. 

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use/display, or gift giving. 

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

 

Abandoned Towns


Abandoned Towns is a fascinating pictorial record of abandoned places documented by Chris McNab as part of a series of books with similar themes. Released 14th April 2024 in the UK and due out 11th June outside the UK from publisher Amber Books, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a gorgeous coffee table book full of color photos and descriptions of international destinations which were once thriving and are now abandoned. Many of them are being slowly (or quickly) taken back by nature, and the dichotomy is striking. 

Four stars. A beautiful book. It would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, and gift giving purposes. 

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

The First Bright Thing


The First Bright Thing is an alt-time fantasy full of found family and good vs. evil, imagined and written by J.R. Dawson. Released 13th June 2023 by Macmillan on their Tor imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback format due out June 11th 2024 from the same publisher. t's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

Based around a traveling circus setting, the performers are all magical savants with different talents. The circus is a haven for a collection of special folks; they're a steely resolute band of psychics, mutants, and savants, who collect people like them, and help change the lives of people at crossroads who need guidance. 

Their forces for good are hampered at every turn by darker forces who want to (literally) own them and control them for their own malign purposes. There is a sense of creeping dread throughout with foreshadowing of an ultimate good vs. evil Armageddon type war coming in the future.

It's very well written and engaging with three dimensional characters. It's not at all derivative in plot or characters, but readers who enjoyed The Night Circus and Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore will likely enjoy this one as well.

Four stars. It would be a good choice for fans of alt-history fantasy, timeslip, and queer-friendly found family books. 

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

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Otis & Peanut Forever and Ever


Otis & Peanut Forever and Ever is the second outing for the best friends (a guinea pig and a naked mole rat) by Naseem Hrab. Due out 16th April 2024 from Owlkids Books, it's 80 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a sweetly appealing, poignant, and sensitively written early chapter book (three stories) about friendship with themes of loss, remembering, holding on to memories, and making new ones. The stories are gentle and can be read without particular emphasis on the loss of Peanut's sister Pearl (it's never explicitly stated in this book). The friends remember Pearl by making (and eventually eating) Pearl's favorite cake recipe, learning to make the jam she always made, and when Peanut plants a garden with seeds she left for him. 

They also go on some adventures and make new memories together. The art by Kelly Collier is simple and fun with lots of small details which invite readers to take a closer look. The illustrations are in color throughout the book. 

Four and a half stars. Surprisingly deep, but never maudlin. Although one of the themes is the loss of Peanut's sibling, it's never directly stated in this book and could be glossed over if reading in a group. This would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, for home library, or gift purposes.

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

Kids' Sewing Workshop: 26 Projects for Young Makers (Landauer) Learn-to-Sew Projects Kids Ages 7-12 Will Love to Make, Wear, and Use - Clothes, Bracelets, Bags, and More


Kids' Sewing Workshop is a tutorial and technique guide by Karine Thiboult-Demessence. Released 5th March 2024 by Fox Chapel on their Landauer imprint, it's 96 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is an accessible and fun book aimed at tweens/beginning sewists filled with cool tutorial projects. There are 26 projects in the book, including personal clothing items, crafts pieces like a change purse, and soft furnishings.

The projects are attractive and fun, but some will either need an advanced beginner who has some experience with the techniques or access to a teacher/guide/facilitator. 

The photography throughout is clear and high quality.

Four stars. It would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, makers/activity groups, scouting, etc. 

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

Logical Fantasy: The Many Worlds of John Wyndham


Logical Fantasy: The Many Worlds of John Wyndham is a restrospective and homage collection dedicated to one of the unmatched architects of the Golden Age of speculative fiction. Due out in second quarter 2024 from Subterranean Press, it's 424 pages and will be available in hardcover format in this edition. 

Included are 18 stories from the author's oeuvre mainly from the late 30s to the 60s. The stories are varied in tone, length, and style, but all are very clearly written with precision, and classic prose which is a nostalgic pleasure to read. 

Most long time fans of science fiction will have already read some of the author's work, but for the happy ones who are unfamiliar with him, this is a real treat. and a good survey course in some of the most solid speculative fiction out there. 

The stories hail from the pages of the vanished pulps and periodicals such as Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and Fantasy magazine. The new cover art by Bob Eggleton is classic and nostalgic and beautifully complements this edition.

Four stars. This would make a great choice for public library acquisition, home use, or gift giving. 

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

The Stradivari Formula


The Stradivari Formula is a well written mystery thriller/espionage novel by luthier Grit Laskin. Released 1st June 2024 by indie Canadian publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside, it's 334 pages and is available in paperback format. 

Engaging, very much action driven plot which features a well known fictitious luthier tasked with repairing a Stradivarius guitar (yes, his studio apparently made some). It's a little bit of wish fulfillment, the author's a talented luthier himself, and why not? Although it's not derivative in any way, there's a definite "Da Vinci Code" vibe, with a medieval/renaissance mystery come down to the protagonists almost accidentally from the past, full of secret agents and ruthless bad guys. 

It's a fun romp, and very theatrical. It would make a good action movie. Being deeply personally knowledgeable about stringed instruments and the high-end world of luthiers and their customers has definitely helped with the verisimilitude. It's full of really interesting (otherwise hidden to regular people) facts and minutiae on guitars, wood, music, crafting processes, and musicians. 

There is some violence, though not egregious. The opening scene is painful to read (destruction of personal property on a catastrophic scale), but the book resolves satisfyingly. 

Four stars. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition and home collections. Since it's from an indie publisher, it might not be on the general ALA radar lists. Worth the effort to acquire. 

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

In These Hallowed Halls: A Dark Academia anthology


In These Hallowed Halls is an anthology of 12 new-to-this-volume short fiction fantasy pieces by well known authors. Released 12th Sept. 2023 by Titan Books, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. Paperback format due out from the same publisher in Sept 2024. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout.

This is a nice collection of varied short "dark academia" themed fiction from 2023 and all are appearing for the first time in this collection. The editors have done a good job of blending the (very) disparate works into a somewhat cohesive whole. Their introduction is erudite and interesting, and shows a glimmer of the selection processes. As always, some of the included authors will be less familiar to each reader, and as always, there are good "name drop" titles to add to readers' TBR piles.

The stories are varied, there were (as always) some which didn't grab me personally, but all were well written and competently plotted. They were mostly in the 4 star range(ish) with a smattering of really standout stories. This is a well curated solid anthology of stories in the 3-5 star range.

One reason I prefer collections and anthologies is that short fiction is really challenging.  It's spare and the author doesn't have a wealth of wordage to develop characters or the plotting.  Well written short fiction is a delight. I also love collections because if one story doesn't really grab me, there's another story just a few pages away.  I can only recall a few times where I've read a collection (or anthology) straight through from cover to cover as I did this one.  

Four stars on average. It's a diverting read.

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

 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Whisterpoop — Once More, with Feeling


Whisterpoop is the second in a series slice of life comedy(ish) novel by R. J. Corgan. Released 9th Sept. 2023, it's 189 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The first book in the series, Whisterpoop, is also currently available on KU. 

The style is a bit frenetic and thoroughly whimsical would be a moderately good description. The main character is irascible, disinclined to be helpful (including toward her own family), and facing imminent retirement with one element on her bucket list; "get a life".

There are humorous moments, and the book overall is enjoyable and, potentially uplifting for readers (especially over middle age, who will sympathize with Karen's kvetching). 

Despite being the second book in a series, it works perfectly fine as a standalone.

Three and a half stars. Worth a look for a short, light read. This author also has an exceptionally clever and engaging campy academic mystery series featuring a field geologist which is -very- well written and worth chasing down. 

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Macarons Can Be Murder - A Paris Kentucky Bakery Mystery #1

 

Macarons Can Be Murder is the first book in a -very- light cozy romance mystery by Rose Betancourt. Released 11th July 2023 by Crooked Lane, it's 288 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.  It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout.

This reads more like a romance-y drama filled light novel than a well constructed mystery (even for a cozy). The characterizations are two dimensional and mostly superficial. The main character's name (Marcie Beaucoup) is cringeworthy, and definitely reads like the pun occurred to the author who proceeded to write a whole series around it.  The secondary characters are tacked on and just show up and disappear when their scenes are done.  The action and plot developments were strongly foreshadowed and there are few twists and turns to the denouement.

The writing is uneven, and the dialogue is a bit rough, but as a first novel, and series starter, it's possibly worth a look for fans of very light cozies who don't mind insta-love and MC mooning like a love-struck 13 year old. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 7 hours 6 minutes and is capably read by Nan McNamara. She has a well modulated alto voice and delineates the characters accurately. Sound and production quality are high throughout the read.

Three stars.

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

Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Official Boyfriends. Coloring Book: 46 original illustrations to color and enjoy


The Official Boyfriends. Coloring Book is an appealing coloring book based on the popular webtoon with 46 double page illustrations to color. Due out 9th April 2024 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 96 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

Each of the 46 coloring pages is faced by a pastel 4 color print of the same illustration colored as it was in the webtoon. The pictures are fun and show the 4 different characters in various activities like playing video games, skating, eating, and interacting. The illustrations are appropriate for all ages (there are a few kissing illustrations, but not many, and they're quite chaste). 

It should be noted for readers who aren't familiar with the webcomic, that the characters are all boyfriends with one another in a polycule. None of the illustrations are titillating or inappropriate. They're just cute and colorful. The author/publisher have included some QR codes with weblinks to the comic for readers' convenience. 

This is a refreshingly open and happy representation of nonconformity and gender expression. For older/conservative readers who are willing to read with an open mind, it could be a good basic explanation with an appealing and entertaining plot.

Four and a half stars. Sweetly romantic, innocent, and with an appealing almost retro vibe (although one of the characters is goth (and trans, and ace), and it's set in the modern day). 

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

Chinese Proverbs Illustrated: The Wisdom of Cheng-Yu


Chinese Proverbs Illustrated: The Wisdom of Cheng-Yu is a beautifully curated collection of proverbs (Cheng-yu) translated by James Trapp and published as part of a series of Chinese bound classics. Due out 14th April (14 May outside the UK) from Amber Books, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover with a traditional sewn binding. 

This is a well illustrated group of 80 Cheng-yu (proverbs), with Chinese characters, English transcription, and an accessible explanation of the proverb.The English translation work is seamless and subtly/pleasingly wrought; understandable and accessible, but also nuanced.

Five stars. This would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, home reference, and gift purposes. 

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

The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr: What Really Happened to Henry VIII's Last Queen?


The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr is an engaging and layman accessible historical account of the death and aftermath of the last Queen of Henry VIII written by June Woolerton. Released 4th April 2024 by Pen & Sword on their History imprint, it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. Due for release outside the UK 30th May 2024. 

This is a very well written account of the mysteries and lack of documentation and records surrounding the late life, death, and burial of Queen Katherine Parr, the last queen of Henry VIII. The author has done an impressive job of collecting and presenting an astounding collection of snippets, historical talks, excerpts from letters, and extant records to reconstruct the later life of the queen. 

Although it's a layman accessible text, and written in everyday language, it is meticulously annotated and the chapter notes are well written and provide another layer of detail and will provide the keen reader many hours of reference reading outside the main text. The author/publisher have also provided a number of facsimile documents and black and white photos and greyscale illustrations of the main characters (many of the known Holbein portraits are included, as well as the lands and gardens around Sudbury, and several B&W studies of the marble tomb figure erected in the 19th Century for the late queen by Queen Victoria when Queen Katherine's remains were moved to a new (more appropriate) location. 

Five stars. Engaging and well written. It would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, for gift giving, and for home library. 

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


 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Will of the Many - Hierarchy #1


The Will of the Many is the first book in The Hierarchy by James Islington. Released 23rd May 2023 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery/Saga Press imprint, it's 640 (!) pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback due out in 4th quarter 2024 from the same publisher. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

This is a very promising start to a sweeping epic political fantasy based on the Roman Empire during the middle expansion, it's not an alt-Earth copy of people and places, but an impressive and massive whole cloth reconstruction. The author manages to imbue the main and secondary characters (and they are legion) with relatable motives. There's an often brutal tragic dichotomy between survival and compliance and especially the main character, a prince in exile, is often faced with the difficulty of keeping his head down and surviving to live another day. 

It's a dangerous political game of cat and mouse and there are an impressive number of layers to the jockeying and juxtaposition of the juggernaut of might that is the Empire contra individuals and their needs and desires.

Wrapped inside this huge overarching from-the-ground-up world, the author drives the plot with an engaging murder mystery and espionage thriller, by inserting MC Vis Telimus, into the foremost academy in the Empire to gather intelligence and report back to his spymaster (who is also his adoptive father/patron in the pragmatic Roman sense of the word). 

Four and a half stars. Highly recommended to fans of political campaign fantasy. The second book in the series is teased for release in 2024/2025, but no definite publishing info is available at the current time. Language/culture nerds will also find a lot to love here since the author has a lot of fun with Latin and ancillary Empire adjacent languages, including Gaelic. An excellent choice for public library acquisition. 

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


Weaving with Natural Dyes: Learn how to dye and weave yarns to create 12 beautiful seasonal projects for home


Weaving with Natural Dyes is a well written guide with tutorials written by Lucy Rowan. Due out 30th April 2024 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a beginner accessible, simple, and attractively illustrated tutorial guide to sourcing materials and getting started with weaving, with a special interest in naturally dyed materials. The author proceeds from the -very- simple tools and materials, including instructions for stretcher bar loom, to weaving materials and simple tool. 

 She proceeds through simple weaving techniques, to sourcing and using natural materials for dyeing. 

The final chapters are arranged in seasonal themed chapters; spring through winter, with an introduction, seasonal dye recipes, and 3 tutorials in each season. The projects are appealing and inspirational. They're simple enough for beginners, and appealing enough for more advanced artists to have a good jumping-off point for further embellishment. 

The book's vibe is like a particularly well organised tutorial class, and I can imagine that the author is a patient and gifted instructor. All the tutorials include complete materials lists, multiple process and finished photographs in colour, and step-by-step instructions.

Five stars. This would make an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, maker's groups, activity groups, and home studio reference. 

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


Friday, April 5, 2024

The Rein Equation: A Cat Enright Equestrian Mystery


The Rein Equation is a horse-themed southern (USA) cozy mystery featuring trainer Cat Enright, written by Lisa Wysocky. Released in 2020, this reformat and re-release is 296 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

This is a "horsy" mystery, based around and with lots of inside info about the equestrian world and the characters who ride, and who train others. The author draws the curtain back, and writes engagingly and accessibly about a world that few people inhabit. 

This is the fifth book in a loosely connected series. The plot in this installment works well as a standalone, with the codicil that some of the characters are returning from earlier stories and readers who are reading them out of order should expect some minor spoilers. 

There's a large cast of characters, but the author/publisher have included an abbreviated dramatis personae at the beginning of the book to keep them straight. The plot and mystery are fairly well constructed. There are some hiccups with the dialogue and much of it read more like a young adult/high school novel with cliques and snarky comments from the main character toward other characters which were jarring and odd

The author is clearly very knowledgeable about horses and the horse-culture world. 

Three and a half stars. It would've benefited from a more thorough editing process and tightening the dialogue throughout. The plot, mystery, and denouement are satisfying and complete. 

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