Saturday, January 28, 2023

Cheddar Late Than Dead - Grilled Cheese Mysteries #3


Cheddar Late Than Dead is the third Grilled Cheese shopfront cozy by Linda Reilly. Released 31st Jan 2023 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's 358 pages and is available in mass market 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 fun small town cozy. The usual village eccentric secondary characters are present and cheese shop cafe owner Carly has to put her amateur sleuthing skills to the test to save her friend from prosecution when Klarissa's soon-to-be-husband is found poisoned after a very public pre-wedding argument. 

Much of the book's plot arc is outlandish and silly in true cozy-mystery manner. The dialogue is rough in places, but overall, it's a fun light read. I like main character Carly's honesty and loyalty to her friends. There are tons of cheesy puns throughout, and the author has included a few recipes, including cheddar cheese donuts, which admittedly raised some eyebrows. 

The language and action are squeaky clean. Despite being the third book in the series, the mystery, denouement, and resolution are all self contained in this installment and it works perfectly well as a standalone. With three books extant in the series at this point, it would be a good candidate for a mini-binge read or buddy read. 

Four stars. Fans of small-town shopfront cozies will likely enjoy this one as well. Recommended for fans of Korina Moss, Vivien Chien, and Amanda Fowler, this is another fun (somewhat silly) addition. 

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

The City Inside


The City Inside is an interesting and densely written near-future dystopian reality SF novel by Samit Basu. Originally published in India in 2020 as Chosen Spirits, this reformat and re-release by Simon & Schuster on their Tor imprint is 256 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback release is due out from the same publisher in second quarter 2023. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a very intricate and densely layered fictional world. It's a difficult read in places due to the dreamlike, angry, and nuanced narrative. It's meandering and definitely a book to be experienced rather than read specifically for the story, which is not at all linear. Although a difficult read, the quality of the writing is very high and the author was not on my radar in any way previously. I appreciate Tor.com for their efforts publishing and promoting gifted international authors to English speaking audiences. 

This is a worthwhile but not simple read, from an author who is clearly talented and who has a clear vision. My view during the read was not entirely unobstructed, but I am certainly intrigued enough to read more of the author's fiction. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours, 16 minutes and is capably narrated by Reena Dutt. She has a versatile and soothing voice and enunciates clearly and well. The sound and production quality are high throughout the read.

Three and a half stars. Intriguing and complex. 

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

Friday, January 27, 2023

Lettering on Wood, Paper and Leather: A Pyrography Workbook


Lettering on Wood, Paper and Leather is a well written and accessible pyrography workbook by Lora S. Irish. Released 3rd Jan 2023 by Fox Chapel, it's 96 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a beginner friendly guide that presupposes no previous experience. It's written in easy to understand language and has a logical layout. The author provides a good introduction to pyrography including tools, supplies, and a concise short overview over safety and the different options for burning tools. I liked that she doesn't recommend one brand of tools over others, and all the brand names are blurred out or fig-leafed in the photos.

The intro chapters are followed by the project tutorials, grouped thematically: supplies and planning a project, lettering and font, troubleshooting, cleaning & finishing/sealing, and 6 start-to-finish tutorials for lettered signs and decorative items. Templates are included in the book. It's very well and clearly photographed throughout, and action shots are unobstructed, without fingers or items in the way of the "action".  The projects themselves are appealing and upbeat and will make attractive gifts or home decorations.

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, makers groups, activity groups, and the home crafter's studio. 

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Flower-Infused Cocktail: Flowers with a Twist


The Flower-Infused Cocktail is a bar book with recipes by Alyson Brown. Due out 1st Feb 2023 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Globe Pequot imprint, it's 188 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a beautifully illustrated and aesthetically appealing book of cocktail recipes all featuring edible flowers. The author is an experienced and knowledgeable herbalist and it's clear from her writing that she's genuinely enthusiastic about helping readers enjoy a "flower infused life". 

The book is arranged logically and proceeds from basic info (necessary equipment and glassware), base infusions to build drinks around (including some adventurous choices such as artichoke and pineapple weed), bitters & tinctures, salt & sugar, cordials liqueurs shrubs & syrups, floral water & tea, garnishes, and mocktails (alcohol free). 

Recipes are given with recipe ingredients in a bullet list, followed by step by step mixing instructions. Recipe ingredients are listed with imperial (American) measurements only. The book is beautifully illustrated with vibrant color photos and finished drinks which are well styled and appealing.

Five stars. Cocktails and special party drinks can be refined and so appealing. Adding flowers is an intriguing and appealing twist on traditional cocktails. This would be a good choice for public library acquisition and home use. 

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Murder at the Bookstore - The Bookstore Mystery #1

 

Murder at the Bookstore is the first book in a new storefront bookish cozy series by Sue Minix. Released 19th Jan 2023 by HarperCollins on their Avon Books imprint, it's 336 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a promising start for fans of small town shopfront cozies. Crime novelist Jen is drawn into real-life sleuthing when her friend (and owner of her local book-and-coffee shop) dies under violent circumstances. The usual pool of small-town-oddball characters are present, there's skullduggery and hidden motives to be unearthed, and there's the hint of developing romance/frenemies between Jen and a local guy. 

Some of the characterizations and plot developments are admittedly a bit over the top and there are some twists which require a healthy suspension of disbelief, but all in all, it's a pretty good example of why the shopfront cozy subgenre is so popular. I found the denouement and resolution unexpectedly violent and abrupt but fairly well written.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 8 hours and 48 minutes and is narrated by Rebecca LaChance. She has an interesting and nuanced voice. She enunciates very well and although her voice is youthful (she's young), it doesn't detract from the read at all. The sound and production quality of the recording were high throughout.

Four stars. This would be a good light read for fans of cozies. It would be perfectly safe for work/commute reading. I'm interested to see what comes next for Jen and the bookshop.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning is Hard and How You Can Make It Easy


Outsmart Your Brain is a practical manual full of good strategies for learning how to learn and retain information collected and curated by Dr. Daniel Willingham. Due out 24th Jan 2023 from Simon & Schuster on their Gallery imprint, it's 336 pages and will be available in hardback, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback due out in 3rd quarter 2023 from the same publisher. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a well researched, practice based guide to learning how to learn. The information is aimed at doing well and performing in school, but there are great takeaways for all-ages (meeting participants, committees, work groups, etc).

The information is arranged thematically: How to:

  • understand lectures, 
  • take notes, 
  • learn from labs/activities/demonstrations, 
  • reorganize notes, 
  • read difficult books, 
  • study for exams, 
  • judge exam readiness
  • take tests
  • learn from past exams
  • plan work
  • defeat procrastination (super good tips)
  • stay focused
  • gain self confidence
  • cope with anxiety

The author writes authoritatively and accessibly in plain language and includes practical, usable, concrete suggestions for improving performance and learning. Throughout the book, Dr. Willingham includes anecdotes from his career as an educator which underline *how* to make learning *enjoyable* (and thus more successful). I sincerely wish I'd had access to this book during my own study years. 

The bibliography is full of well curated/analyzed sources and likely worth the price of the book for educators and teachers.

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, as well as home use. 

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

The Motion Picture Teller


The Motion Picture Teller is a standalone semi-mystery and retro slice of life adventure by Colin Cotterill. Released 17th Jan 2022 by Soho Press on their Soho Crime imprint, it's 241 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a whimsical, distinctly odd book featuring a pair of well meaning but generally hapless idiots who are a slice of ham short of a sandwich. Supot is a postman who gets mauled by local canines on a regular basis on his daily rounds. Ali is a video store owner in "Little Bangkok" across the river from the city proper, who tries very hard to be left alone by customers so he and Sunpot can watch the movies from the golden age of Hollywood in peace without any interruptions. 

Colin Cotterill is a wonderful author, and fans of his Siri Paiboun books (HIGHLY recommended) will see glimmers of the same whimsy and warm regard for SE Asia, its culture, and its inhabitants in this book. There's a lot of clever-ish repartee, and subtle nods and in-jokes which fans of classic film will recognise. After that, though, this is quite an odd ride. The writing is way more than competent. The characterisations are well rendered and appealing (if not particularly believable), and the plot is slowly meandering and seemingly equipped with its own agenda. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 6 hours, 40 minutes and is chiefly narrated by Steven Crossley, with scene/background interludes narrated by Amy Scanlon. There is some noticeably odd/uncomfortable phrasing and dramatic timing in the recording which is clearly intentional on the part of the author but which added an extra frisson of tension to an overall odd read. Sound and production quality were high throughout the recording. 

Definitely an odd but worthwhile read; hopefully the start of another series. Current fans of the author will enjoy this offering. Readers who are not yet fans of the author's style will be bewildered, but hopefully entranced enough to give it a fair go. 

Four stars. 

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

Lady of Bones

 

Lady of Bones is the 24th Sarah Booth Delaney cozy mystery by Carolyn Haines. Released 14th June 2022 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an entertaining and engaging book in an engaging series by a competent writer. There's a strong paranormal element (the main character's sort of haunted by her great-great grandmother's nanny, a black woman named Jitty who has Opinions and lots of confusingly cryptic advice). MC Sarah Booth Delaney's also a PI and this installment sees her getting to the bottom of a string of Hallowe'en disappearances over the last 5 years of young women in the New Orleans area. She's soon entangled in cults with charismatic leaders, witchcraft, and possibly even human sacrifice. The settings are a living, breathing, immersive part of the story and the author does a superlative job with them.

The plotting is often meandering (it's a cozy with almost 400 pages), and there's quite a lot of "fluff" to add humor including a generous helping of cooing over best friend Tinkie's new baby, Maylin. The characters are quirky and appealing and there's a lot of goodwill and heart in the series. Ms. Haines is quite an adept author and I never found my interest waning, although there were a few eye-rollingly silly moments. The denouement and resolution weren't overly surprising, but they were satisfying. This series is dependably entertaining and fun, and this one is worth a read. The ensemble cast and returning characters mean that readers who are new to the story might want to read a few in the series prior to this one first, although it's simple enough to probably work well enough as a standalone. There are dogs, some cats, the language is clean, and there's light (off page) sexual content, but nothing explicit. The book is full of southernisms like "bless your heart" and "y'all" and more sweet-tea than you can shake a stick at.

Four stars. Cozy mystery comfort food.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Pryor & Cummings The GAIA Incident

Book cover for Pryor & Cummings

Pryor & Cummings The GAIA Incident is a really well written techno thriller locked room mystery by Rod Pennington. Released 24th May 2022, it's 266 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. 

The murder of a research assistant in a highly secure research facility draws Detective Pryor off a suspension back to active duty, paired with a young detective Cummings. The interplay and dialogue between the two added a lot to the read. The addition of interrelationships between Pryor's family and the facility in which the murder took place as well as the arrival of the FBI and inter-agency rivalry add some interest and complexity.

Aside from having a good grasp of plotting and characterization, it's intricately and cleverly constructed. I love locked room "no suspect" mysteries and this is a good one. There are technical aspects in the story, but nothing which would render it problematic to laymen. It's not necessary to have a grasp of geophysics to understand what's going on at all. I was nonplussed by some of the author's descriptions of "stereotypical" science geeks, which were unnecessarily cliché and condescending.

Four stars. Well written and engaging. Some rough language and situations but nothing really egregious.

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

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Play the Game


Play the Game is a very well written YA mystery by Charlene Allen. Due out 31st Jan 2023 from HarperCollins on their Katherine Tegen imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a powerhouse of a YA coming of age novel. The writing is unvarnished and often emotionally raw. One of a trio of teenaged friends in NYC has been murdered in a racist attack. When the murderer is found dead in the same spot, evidence points at Jack, one of the two left behind. VZ, the third friend, has more than enough to deal with at the moment, still reeling and trying to process the loss of Ed, his best friend. He's also trying to navigate a crush at his job, keep his grades up, find his way with his family problems, as well as a last tribute to his friend, to finish writing the game Ed left behind and enter it into a game programming contest.

Much of the plot is given over to the process of restorative justice. It's a fascinating process and the author expends quite a lot of effort to make it relatable and understandable to the reading audience. The language is R-rated, and there is some frank discussion of gender identity and nonconformity, as well as light sexual content (nothing explicit). 

This is an important book, very well written and relevant. It would be a good choice for public and school library acquisition (with codicils for rough language), as well as for book club or classroom discussion. 

Four and a half stars. 

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

Death at the Dinner Party - Adam and Eve Mystery #2

 

Death at the Dinner Party is the 2nd Adam & Eve cozy cooking mystery by Emma Davies. Released 27th May 2022, it's 288 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, the whole series is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

Introduced in book 1, Adam & Eve are an appealing duo of amateur sleuths who are (and remain) strictly platonic friends. There's a significant age gap between the two, with Fran (Eve), a caterer and event planner who is older (and wiser), complementing Adam's socially awkward younger worldview. He's a computer programmer and they make a good team. This installment sees the pair of them on-site for an ultra-exclusive house party in a Georgian mansion in Shropshire. When the host turns up dead, the duo are on site and ready to start making sense of the info they've discovered about the guests and their hosts. There are secrets and undercurrents aplenty, as they soon discover.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of  8 hours and 29 minutes and is expertly narrated by Mira Dovreni. Ms. Dovreni has a classically trained, well modulated voice and does a good job with the wide range of characters of both sexes and ages. I found her accent unobtrusive after a few minutes. It was easy to concentrate on the story.

The language is clean (PG rated) and the violence is mostly off-scene. It's perfectly safe for work/commute reading and the resolution and denouement are well written and satisfying. Spelling and vernacular are British English, but won't present any problems at all for readers in context. With four excellent books extant in the series, it would be a good choice for a long weekend binge read. The mysteries are all self contained, so they can be read in any order, but are best in the order written.

Four stars. Very fun.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Devil's Kiss: A Small Batch Mystery


Devil's Kiss is the first book in a new cozy series by Michelle Bennington. Released 31st May 2022 by Level Best Books, it's 278 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a small-town cozy mystery with a young ex-adjunct professor of English who has turned her back (at least temporarily) on academia to find a more lucrative job and expand her possibilities. She has a good support network including her maternal grandmother, friends, and a cordial relationship with her ex-husband. Her network also includes her best friend who helps her land a job at a local craft boutique distillery. Unfortunately, said friend dies under suspicious circumstances during her first day on the job.

The plot is a bit trope-y: main character Rook starts out jobless, broke, downtrodden, rudderless, and still emotionally dependent on her ex. She is, frankly, a bit of a doormat and is alternately browbeaten and run over by everyone she meets. The secondary characters are eccentric small town archetypes, including the requisite incompetent corpulent lazy small town sheriff who is eye-wateringly unprofessional and stubborn/stupid. 

The climax, denouement, and resolution are all self-contained in this book. The plotting is occasionally meandering, but not egregiously so. Some of the descriptive prose is a bit overblown and especially the passages dealing with the male characters ogling some of the female characters left me a bit cold. It's not over the top, but it was on the "bodice ripper" side of the spectrum. 

The unabridged audiobook format has a run time of 8 hours and 46 minutes and is capably narrated by Courtney Patterson. She does a good job with characters of a range of ages and both male and female. The story is set in Kentucky and she does a decent approximation of the local accents. Recording and production quality are high throughout the book.

Three and a half stars. Fans of Ellery Adams, Vicki Delany, and Kate Carlisle will likely enjoy this one. 

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

Idle Gossip - Lillian Frost & Edith Head #5

 

Idle Gossip is the 5th historical Hollywood mystery featuring amateur sleuths Lillian Frost & Edith Head by Renee Patrick. Released 3rd May 2022 by Severn House, it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

These are exceptionally well written historical mysteries which are engaging and entertaining. The gossip and intrigue between actors/actresses/studios/and luminaries of the golden age of "talkies" fairly leap off the page. The author has an excellent grasp of plotting and storytelling and the action flows smoothly. I didn't find my interest wandering and I wasn't yanked out of the story once by clunky or incomplete dialogue. The fictional story is woven so skillfully around a framework of actual historical events and people, that it's not always clear where truth shades into fiction.

Despite not being fast friends with gossip columnist Lorna, Edith & Lillian are prevailed upon to look into a murder which Lorna's assistant Sam is suspected of. Everyone has dirty secrets they don't want to see the light of day, and it's Edith & Lillian's job to figure out what they're hiding, whether it's relevant, and who's actually responsible for the murder. 

The mystery is self contained in this volume and it works very well as a standalone. The entire series is excellent, however, and highly recommended. With 5 books extant in the series, it would make an good choice for a binge/buddy read. 

Four and a half stars. Well worth a read.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Pretty Evil

 Pretty Evil by Zoe Rosi

Pretty Evil is a revenge thriller by Zoe Rosi. Due out 17th Jan 2023 from Amazon UK on their Thomas & Mercer imprint, it's 248 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. 

I've seen this touted as The Devil Wears Prada meets Dexter, and honestly, that's a pretty apt description. It's well written and the scenes are clearly (and explicitly) described and often unflinching. Content warnings include body horror, explicit non-consensual sexual assault, murder (obviously), predatory and explicit sex, etc. It is well written and the author has a good grasp of the craft of writing with regard to plotting, tension arc, characterisation, and the nuts-and-bolts of narrative. 

I enjoyed the high fashion descriptions of luxury brands and life in the fashion world more than main character Camilla's night-time predatory vigilante exploits. For readers who enjoy graphic anti-hero revenge vigilante thrillers, this will fill the bill. For readers who are sensitive to blood, gore, and violence, this will almost certainly be too much. Spelling and vernacular are British English, but probably won't pose problems in context for readers from the USA.

Four stars. As an aside, the book came out of trauma in the author's own past and might well be triggering and upsetting to readers who have experienced similar trauma or might be a therapeutic read, but something of which to be aware.The violence starts from page one. 

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

Quick and Easy Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook

Book cover for Quick and Easy Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook

Quick and Easy Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook is a new tutorial guide and cookbook for the electric pressure cooker with recipes developed and curated by Barbara Schieving. Due out 24th Jan 2023 from Quarto on their New Shoe Press imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The electric pressure cooker is a kitchen machine which has honestly revolutionized food prep in most kitchens in the last 20 years. They're versatile, relatively inexpensive (even the ones with advanced features), and can cut cooking time significantly. The author is an undisputed expert in the field and has several cookbooks utilizing non-brand-specific pressure cookers. This one purports to be quick and easy. 

The book has a sensible and accessible layout: the introduction gives an overview over the features available and how the cooker does what it does and how to best utilize the machine's capabilities. The following chapters contain the recipes arranged by category: breakfast, sandwich wraps & more, soup, shortcut dinners, 30 minute meals, Sunday suppers, and desserts. Recipes are written with an introduction, ingredients in bullet lists in a sidebar, and are followed by step by step cooking directions. Ingredient measurements are given in imperial (American) units with metric in parentheses. (Yay!!). Most ingredients will be available at any moderately well stocked grocery store in North America. 

Roughly 25-30% of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The food is well styled and serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. Nutritional information is not provided. For strictly "from scratch" cooks, the author does make use of a large number of convenience foods and pre-mixes such at corn muffin mix, bottled barbecue sauce, canned tomatoes, premade stock, and frozen vegetables. 

I have generally used my pressure cooker to saute + cook dishes in some combination. The author writes many (most?) recipes with one or more extra steps requiring stove top or other pre-prep steps. For readers cooking for specialized diets, these recipes will -definitely- require some major reworks to be AIP, FODMAP, vegetarian, or other diet-compliant. 

Four stars, with the above codicils. There are a number of simple and appealing recipes here which are delicious and don't take much time, such as tamale pie (much like the "miracle bisquick cheeseburger pie) and the 3 ingredient pulled pork. Both were easy and quick to make. 

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

The Devil You Know - Detective Margaret Nolan #3


The Devil You Know is the third procedural mystery featuring Detective Margaret Nolan by P. J. Tracy. Due out 17th Jan 2023 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Paperback due out 4th quarter 2023. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a well engineered plot with several disparate threads entwining into a whole, including high profile Hollywood personalities and murder. All the characters seemed to be either irredeemably awful/shallow/predatory or irretrievably broken and suffering from PTSD/addiction/psychological problems (or a combination of all of the above). It makes for an often uncomfortably voyeuristic read in places.

The chapters are told in alternating third person and it's not always immediately clear which character is being written about without close attention. The prose is more intricate and flowery than is often the case with modern procedurals. It makes an interesting change from the usual. There are some content warnings, including addiction, sexual abuse (of a minor), and mentions of suicide and suicide ideation (brief mentions).

The mystery, resolution, and denouement are self contained in this volume, so it works fine as a standalone, with the codicil that there are developing relationships between the main and returning secondary characters. Readers reading the series out of order will encounter some spoilers for the earlier books. 

Four stars. It's a satisfying and well written somewhat gritty modern procedural. It's not at all derivative, but fans of Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, and Robert Crais will find a similar feel. (Especially to Connelly's Bosch books). 

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

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Fireworks


Fireworks is a YA K-pop romcom by Alice Lin. Released 7th June 2022 by Penguin Random House on their Children's imprint, it's 320 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an engaging and well written role reversed teenaged Notting Hill redux. There's lots of angst and feelings and a diverting young romance. It's aimed at a young audience (circa 12-17 years old, presumably female) and despite the page count is a very quick read. Lots of info about K-pop and the music fandom included for verisimilitude.

It's not clear from any publisher promotional materials provided for review if the author plans a follow-up book. If the story isn't to be continued, readers might want to be aware that the ending is abrupt and there's no epilogue or clear resolution in the advance copy provided. Good story, precipitate ending.

Three and a half stars. 

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


City of Orange


City of Orange is a standalone dystopian speculative fiction novel by David Yoon. Released 24th May 2022 by Penguin Random House on their Putnam imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a very well written epic journey novel through an apocalyptic landscape. The protagonist is essentially a tabula rasa; no idea who he is, where he is, how he came to find himself there, or *why* he is there. The book follows his attempts to find a context in an nearly universally dire and dangerous environment. 

The author is a virtuoso wordsmith. The initial confusion and jerky / uneven narrative is *clearly* 100% intentional. After the first chapters (they're short), I found my pace in the book and it became engaging and transportive, if still quite often dark. I haven't seen other reviewers liken it to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, but there were a lot of parallels for me. 

This will be a divisive novel and it will garner a lot of antipathy as well as zealous support. I think it's a brilliantly written book, but not at all an easy read. It's not derivative and doesn't remind me of anything in my current memory, but fans of Station Eleven and The Road with a dash of Twilight Zone will feel right at home. I found the ending somewhat ambiguous. 

Four stars. 

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

A Streetcar Named Murder - A New Orleans Mystery #1


A Streetcar Named Murder is the first book in a new cozy mystery series by T. G. Herren set in New Orleans . Released 6th Dec 2022 by Crooked Lane Books, 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a light and often humorous cozy featuring an unwilling amateur sleuth who is in the process of figuring out her life and her place in it after a bereavement and empty-nest lifestyle change force her to re-examine her possibilities. She's young, under 40, and a recent totally unexpected bequest has turned her life upside and forced her to examine what she's going to do with the rest of her life, including her immediate future.

I was surprised how well rendered the (mostly female) characters were. The author has a definite knack with making them feel three dimensional and fairly believable. It's a light cozy, so there are over-the-top situations and dialogue, but despite the constraints of the genre, Mr. Herren manages to sneak some deeper thought provoking ideas into the story: self-determination & growth, found family, good people doing bad things out of love, amongst others. Additionally, it's absolutely *full* of minutiae about behind-the-scenes Mardi Gras culture and the workings of the different krewes who are part of the pageantry. The author seems to have a limitless knowledge of NOLA customs and it made for fascinating reading.

The book wasn't entirely archetypal: when the murder/crimes occured, the local police didn't immediately focus on railroading the protagonist in a wildly inappropriate persecution, the mystery is more linear and less "twisty" than many, and the story concentrated more on background world building and character development than red-herrings. I like this setting and the characters a lot and am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Four stars. It will appeal to fans of Lauren Elliott, Vicky Delaney, and Ellie Alexander. 

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

Rock Art for Beginners: Simple Techiques and Easy Projects for Transforming Stones into Art


Rock Art for Beginners is a tutorial and inspiration guide for painting in various styles on rock surfaces written and curated by F. Sehnaz Bac. Originally published in 2017 (as Art on the Rocks), this reformat and re-release from Quarto on their New Shoe Press imprint was released 10th Jan 2023. It's 96 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The book has an accessible and fun "vibe" from start to finish. The art is exuberant and colorful. The tutorials are clear and very well photographed. The author begins with an introductory survey of tools, supplies, and some simple techniques such as rock selection and surface prep. The following tutorial chapters are arranged thematically: mandalas, patterns (hearts, flowers, petroglyphs, etc), animals, and nature. The instructions presuppose no prior experience at all on the part of readers, and all the instructions are clearly written and easy to understand. Each tutorial includes step-by-step photo directions which have understandable short captions. 

This is an upbeat and fun book which is encouraging and accessible. The rocks shown range from -very- simple to very very complex. It's not the execution which makes up the complexity, but the level of detail. Even the most complex designs will only require time and not advanced painting/artistic experience.

Four and a half stars. I really enjoyed this little book. This would be a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, for activity groups, scouting type groups, maker's spaces, youth groups, home artist studios, and similar. 

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