Monday, October 25, 2021

Booze Over Broadway: 50 Cocktails for Theatre Lovers

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Booze Over Broadway is an appealing collection of recipes combining everyone's perennial favorites, booze and stage musicals. Due out in late 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is such an exuberant and well written ode to historical and classic cocktails and they've all been given punny tie-in names ("Life is a Cabernet", "Rum Tum Tugger" and 48 more). The author is clearly enamored of the theatre and has selected cocktails which will enhance watch parties or serve very well as pre-performance aperitifs. This is not just a bar book full of recipes. It's a history essay with recipes interspersed in the relevant stories. The recipes contain which musical they're giving homage to as well as some trivia and info about the different musicals.

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description and yields, appropriate barware and serving glass, ingredients in American standard measures (oz, tsp, etc), and step by step instructions. Variations and alternatives are provided at the end of the recipes. The book also includes a concise conversion chart, and index. 

Many of the ingredients should be available at any well stocked grocery/liquor store although some might need to be sourced at specialists. Cocktails are such a civilized interlude and this book includes a solid cross section of classics to build mixology skills and impress one's friends at the next gathering.
 

Four stars. The recipes are mostly tongue-in-cheek renamed updates on classics (sidecar, Tom Collins, daquiri, whiskey sour, etc). The extra show trivia is nifty though and worth a look for lovers of musical theatre.

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

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Whitby Murders (Yorkshire Murder Mysteries #6)

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The Whitby Murders is the 6th book in the Yorkshire murder mystery series by J. R. Ellis. Released 20th Aug 2020 on Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint, it's 301 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book and the rest of the series are currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

These books are well written engaging procedurals which are tightly plotted, set against the Yorkshire countryside: hills, moors, and fells. Although it's part of a series, it works quite well as a standalone. There are references to occurrences from previous books in the series, but they don't play a central role in the action and readers new to the series won't have any troubles keeping up. Although most of them are straight procedurals out of the local police department, this one sees Oldroyd and a colleague on loan to Whitby to help clear up a murder in which his own adult daughter is a primary witness. There are lots of interesting local historical tie ins and the author does a good job of conjuring local creepy atmosphere with the Bram Stoker Dracula tie-ins.

I enjoyed the writing and I really liked Oldroyd's relationship with his family and colleagues. He's an honest and compassionate officer and the development of the plot and denouement were satisfying and well written. Looking forward to more in this series which compares quite favourably with P.D. James' wonderful Adam Dalgleish books. This would be a fine selection for public library acquisition, and for fans of English procedurals.

Four stars.

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

The Wayward Mage (Wayward Mages #3)

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The Wayward Mage is the third book in the YA/NA fantasy series by Sara Hanover. Released 8th June 2021 by Penguin Random House on their DAW imprint, it's 336 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an epic coming of age adventure with an ensemble cast including a young female protagonist who is brash, sarcastic, independent, and self-sacrificing. Her support crew and found family include a battle harpy, a clan of taciturn dwarves, a not-quite-garden-variety golden retriever, and her mom, who is a would-be academic working on her doctoral dissertation. Her dad's a ghost, her mentor is missing in action, and her boyfriend is off working on a secret mission with the potential to get them all murdered or worse. She's also juggling classes at her local community college and training on the field hockey team in her spare time.

The plotting and action/romance balance is par for the genre and the narrative arc is better than average. There's a fair bit of angsty drama, but I never found Tessa overly whiny or helpless and her relationships are healthy, if often outside the normal human realm. The denouement and resolution are exciting and suitably gruesome, but not extremely graphic or too gore filled. Although it's the third book in the series, it works well enough as a standalone to pick up the necessary backstory during reading. 

This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, as well as for fans of the genre. Eminently readable and engaging. 

Three and a half stars. 

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

A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn Universe #1)

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A Master of Djinn is a beautifully written alternate history fantasy set in WWI Egypt by Dr. P. Djèlí Clark. Released 11th May 2021 from Macmillan on their Tor/Forge imprint, it's 392 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is such a transportive novel. I was reading it at a difficult time in my life; a time when I often simply didn't have the endurance to sit and read (and this is a shocking condition for me - I read constantly - voraciously). The narrative is so beautifully and evocatively written that it enraptured me and gave me a little respite from the real world. 

The protagonist (introduced in a currently free prequel available in Tor's website) is a smart, funny, badass sharp dressing investigator with impressive skills. The plotting is tightly written and despite being fantasy, it feels *real* and believable. Fatma's not perfect. She's not supergirl, just breezing through every hurdle. She's good at her job and part of that is knocking up against her limitations and knowing when to accept help from her team. 

I really loved the writing. It's good and the dialogue is sublimely readable. The subgenre (fantasy cop procedural set in an alternate world) is one of my absolute favorites and I finished the book impatient for the next. I promptly went back and re-read the earlier stories in the series (two of them are currently free from Tor). This author (already richly rewarded by his peers and fans with multiple nominations and wins for Hugo, Nebula, BFAs, Locus, etc) is also genuinely talented and readable. 

This is one of the best books I've read this year (and it's almost November and I'm bumping 700 books reviewed for 2021, so that's a fairly big field of competition). For readers who enjoy fantasy, alternate history, and mystery, this is a very very good book. The protagonist is in a lesbian relationship, but it's not a huge focus of the book; nor is the romance element overplayed in my estimation.

Can't wait to see what comes next.  

Five stars. 

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair

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The Modern Tiffin is an engaging collection of plant based recipes drawn from many different world cuisines collected and curated by Priyanka Naik. Due out 2nd Nov 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

Vegan food has (until quite recently) had a fussy non-portable and somewhat boring reputation. This is a collection of tasty and portable dishes which are suited to picnics and other on-the-go dining. The food is designed to fit into a tiffin box and is varied, interesting, and appetizing. 

I really liked the layout and formatting of this cookbook. I also really enjoyed the author's chatty style and the overall informal and adventurous vibe of the recipes. The introduction gives a good overview over tiffin (the concept), the author's experiences growing up on Staten Island, and her food and travel philosophy. The author gives a comprehensive crash course on tools and products (including where to acquire a tiffin box), shopping, food prep & seasoning, and storage. The recipes are arranged in 10 complete thematic meals and a finishing chapter with drinks.

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements only.  The nutritional information is not included.  Each recipe includes a header with a short description of the recipe and approximate servings (generally the recipes will feed 2). Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in text boxes in the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward; many will require specialist international grocery suppliers or online sourced ingredients. Most are simple, none of them are overly complex. The photography in the aARC provided for review is in black and white - they will presumably be in color in the final release (but possibly not). Many of the recipes are illustrated simply and clearly. 

Four stars. It would make a nice choice for public library acquisition, foodies who enjoy plant based cuisine, and lovers of world-cuisine.

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


Sunday, October 17, 2021

America the Beautiful Cross Stitch: 30 Patterns of America’s Most Iconic National Parks and Monuments

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America the Beautiful Cross Stitch is a stitching tutorial and pattern collection which includes scenes to cross stitch from iconic American parks and monuments. Due out 19th Oct 2021 from Quarto on their becker&meyer! imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This collection includes 30 patterns and a good introductory tutorial.  This would probably be a good starting book or gift for someone who was interested in learning the basics of cross stitch and finishing some fun gifts for themselves or friends. The patterns are recognizable and colorful without too much "confetti" stitching.  The first chapter provides a short beginner friendly introduction to materials and supplies. It discusses needles, fabrics, thread counts, embroidery floss, hoops, etc. The photos are full color and clear and the instructions are easy to follow. All the patterns contain only full stitches and there's no outline or backstitching. The patterns are all round (see cover) and suited to framing in hoops. 

Each pattern also includes facts and locations for the national parks and monuments depicted. There are tips and factoids scattered throughout as well. The pattern keys contain the flosses by both DMC 6 strand floss number as well as letter. Conversion charts for other brands of floss are not provided in the book, but conversion charts are readily accessible online for readers who prefer another brand of floss, or silk instead of cotton. 

The pattern charts are in full color with color keys in a footer bar under the pattern. The charts also contain letter designations for each color. I found the charts very dark, but if readers print off working copies in lighter greyscale format, they're easy to follow and the letter symbols can be differentiated from one another. The patterns are simple and I think many stitchers will probably want to do some detail backstitching on them for a more finished appearance, but it's not absolutely necessary. 

This would make a nice gift, perhaps bundled with some stitching supplies, for a friend who wants to learn to stitch, as well as readers who enjoy nature and the outdoors. 

Four stars. 

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

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1)

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Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is the first book in the young reader series by Debbi Michiko Florence. Released in 2017 by Macmillan on their Farrar Straus & Giroux imprint, it's 160 pages and is available in most formats. The audiobook version was released by OrangeSky Audio on 13th Oct 2021. 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 adorably illustrated and very well written young reader chapter book which entertains readers with an engaging story and also explores themes of growing up as a Japanese American kid, traditions, family, gender roles, and just wanting to be "big enough" for once (she's a younger sister). She's feisty and intelligent and outspoken and I loved her character dearly. The book also includes some Japanese cultural traditions, foods, and celebrations. 

The audiobook version has a run time of just under 1 hour and 15 minutes and is capably narrated by Allison Hiroto. The book contains quite a number of different characters, both male and female, of all ages and different accents and the narrator does a good job of keeping them easy to understand and separate. 

All in all it's an exuberant and entertaining read and will appeal to all ages. This would make a good selection for public or classroom library acquisition, home library, or gifting to a young reader.

Four stars for the book and four stars for the audiobook version.  

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

Off Grid Living for Beginners: Step-by-Step Guide From Planning To Building a Homestead To Living Off The Land and Become Self Sufficient

 

Off Grid Living for Beginners is a general guide to starting planning and list-making and resource gathering to move to an off-grid self-sufficient lifestyle by Emma Nora. Released 27th Sept 2021 it's 132 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 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.

This is a logically formatted and easy to read guide to planning and troubleshooting.The chapters are arranged thematically: examining readers' own motivations, learning from other's mistakes, minimalism and preparing for change, finding and acquiring property which suits the purpose, building a homestead, making the actul transition, making a living and keeping everything running,  and some thoughts about the subsystems of a working farm such as power, water, livestock, etc. 

The author's style is very informal; more like a casual chat with friends than an actual instruction manual. Because of the arrangement of the chapters, and that the book feels more like an À la carte presentation to be read in sections instead of straight through, some of the information is repeated in relevant locations throughout the book. 

There are no photographs or illustrations. There are also no tutorials or plans included; they're beyond the scope of the book but many good building plans can be found online or through the library. That's one place where this book is very strong. The author has done a good job of collating and curating references, and this book has a comprehensive annotation and resource lists which will provide readers with many hours of further reading.

This would make a good selection for the smallholder's library or for anyone information-gathering before making the commitment to move to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. I've spent the last few decades gardening and doing what I can to increase my own food security and independence (I learned at my grandfather's side), and I still *strongly* recommend getting a mentor and finding like minded folks and resources to get off to the best start, but this book will definitely fill a gap and provide enough information to at least get started.

Four stars.

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

 

Aloha Alibi (Charlotte Gibson Mysteries #1)

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Aloha Alibi is the first book in a new cozy mystery series by Jasmine Webb. Released 8th June 2021, it's 272 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a undemanding and fun small-town cozy mystery with a young female protagonist set in Hawaii. The largely female cast is filled with quirky humorous characters including two septuagenarian sleuths who are also determined to solve the mystery and claim the reward for the murder of a New York property developer who was on the island to put the finishing touches on a wildly unpopular glitzy resort when he got himself stabbed. In addition to Charlotte "Charlie" Gibson, and the aforementioned amateur private investigators who are in their 70s, readers also meet Zoe, Charlie's best friend, who is her sensible and logical buddy, and who works as a physician in the local hospital. 

There are a lot of trope aspects included: a slow burn romantic interest (who is, of course, the handsome local lawman), a collection of eccentric small-town oddballs for local color, political corruption, and Charlie's mom, who is by turns warmly sympathetic and cringe-inducingly inappropriate. The dialogue aims for very light bantering humor and mostly succeeds. Some of the dialogue is so unrealistic that it yanked me out of the story, but mostly, it's standard for the subgenre. The author does a good job with including enough backstory to move the narrative along without drowning readers in too much info.

There are several intertwined plot threads including why Charlie's moved back to Hawaii (she's on the run from Seattle gangsters), the murder of a businessman (there's a substantial reward offered for solving the crime), best friend Zoe's issues with a stalker, and corruption and bribery in local island government. 

The unabridged audiobook version has a run time of 6 hours and 13 minutes and is capably narrated by Khristine Hvam. There are both male and female characters of a range of ages, and she keeps them distinct and perfectly understandable. The sound and recording quality and production values are high throughout the recording.

It's a very lighthearted, often silly, humorous cozy mystery with fun characters and a satisfying denouement and resolution. The solution was foreshadowed fairly heavily, but there were a couple of twists in the climax which, although completely over the top, added some excitement. 

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

The Bath Conspiracy

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The Bath Conspiracy is the 24th (!) book in the Dorothy Martin cozy mysteries by Jeanne M. Dams. Released 1st June 2021 by Severn House, it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This entire series is very cozy and enjoyable and the characters are refreshingly down to earth, intelligently portrayed, and believable. All of the books work well as standalones and this would be a good starting point to hop on the series. The author is adept enough to provide the necessary back story without spoon feeding or info dumping and there aren't any major spoilers from earlier books which aren't included in the blurb on the back cover, namely that Dorothy is an expat American who is married to a retired English chief constable and who now resides in England and they solve mysteries together as a sort of superannuated Nick & Nora. 

This is pure escapist entertainment and the language is squeaky clean. There's *very* light unspecific consensual sexual content hinted at in the book, but nothing at all suggestive or off-color (and the characters are married). The narrative arc doesn't contain any real danger or threat and I found it a lovely interlude to a very stressful time. This is the book for a pot of tea and nibbles, curled up on the sofa on a rainy weekend. 

Four stars. A lovely read. 

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Well-Offed in Vermont (Pret’ Near Perfect Mystery #1)


Well-Offed in Vermont is the first book in a small-town cozy mystery series by Amy Patricia Meade. Originally published in 2011, this reformat and re-release 5th Oct 2021 is 181 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats (other editions in other 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 cozy featuring a married couple who have moved to the country in Vermont to get away from big city life and the first thing they find on the first day moving in is a dead man hidden in their well. The local sherriff closes off their home as a potential crime scene and Nick & Stella decide to help investigate. 

The pool of suspects is small, and although the denouement and resolution are fairly easy to guess beforehand, they're well written and satisfying. It works perfectly well as a standalone, and is a nice lead-in to the next book in the series. The language is clean, and there's no graphic violence or sexual content. This would be a good choice for lovers of light cozies, the kind with whimsically eccentric small town characters, a town diner, and rural countryside.

Four stars. This will appeal to cozy readers. 

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

The Drowning Kind

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The Drowning Kind is a psychological mystery paranormal thriller with a creepy gothic vibe by Jennifer McMahon. Released 6th April 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery imprint, it's 336 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a well written, extremely creepy and atmospheric, character driven mystery with a very strong paranormal ghost story subplot central to the story. It's told in a parallel timeline narrative which resolves at the denouement. I found the plotting quite uneven throughout and there were a lot of plot threads which were never resolved which niggled at me annoyingly. 

There is some potentially triggering content including self harm (a *lot* of it), suicide ideation, death of a child, mental health issues, death by drowning, and a shed load of paranormal death in addition. There is a nebulous plot, but nothing linear at all. The scenes are strung together sequentially, but don't resolve to any meaningful degree. The end (for me) was something of an anti-climax. Despite the drawbacks, the scenes are beautifully rendered with clear and evocative prose and the characters are finely drawn with believable motivations and dialogue. The author is clearly good at her craft. 

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the writing. This would be a good fit for "women's paranormal"/ghost story readers. For me, the ending was the weakest part of the story.

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Heroine with 1001 Faces

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The Heroine with 1001 Faces is an immersive folklore based examination of the heroine archetype in the collective cultural consciousness written and presented by Dr. Maria Tatar. Released 14th Sept 2021 by W.W. Norton on their Liveright imprint, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is an erudite, very well written, layperson accessible look at the archetypes and portrayals of women in cultural narrative from the ancient world to the 21st century. It's a meticulously researched and annotated survey course and also, in a way, a companion volume (rebuttal?) to Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces.  I loved poring over the illustrations as well as the exhaustive bibliography and full chapter notes and annotations. The chapter notes are likely worth the price of admission for anyone interested in the subject and there's obviously been a swoonworthy amount of time spent on research and resource gathering on the part of the author. I took notes during the read and harvested an impressive number of items which warranted further examination later.

I found the entire book quite interesting and fascinating. It is, admittedly, a niche book but will definitely appeal to readers interested in cultural anthropology. It's not a very 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 cultural anthropology and allied subjects, as well as a superlative read for those who are particularly interested in history, culture, and the arts.

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.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Murder at the Wedding (Miss Underhay #7)

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Murder at the Wedding is the 7th Miss Underhay cozy by Helena Dixon. Released 6th Oct 2021, it's 277 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an engagingly well written classic country house murder set in the interwar period in the north of England. Kitty and her intrepid maid/companion/sidekick Alice are off to Kitty's cousin's wedding and it's not long before a murder shows up to disrupt all their well laid plans. When Kitty's friend Matt arrives, they help one another investigate. There are several disparate subplot threads which entwine to a satisfying denouement and resolution. 

This is a consistently well written and entertaining modern classic English mystery series with well wrought characters and clever plots. The dialogue is well written and never clunky or overwrought. 

Well worth a look for mystery lovers and fans of the golden age.  I really enjoyed it.

Four stars.

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

Death in Bloom (A Flower House Mystery #1)

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Death in Bloom is a new series opener for a new small town cozy mystery series by Jess Dylan. Released 25th May 2021 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 320 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an engaging and well written small town "shopfront" cozy with a young female protagonist (complete with unexpected puppy, slow burn nerdy potential romantic interest, and wise grandma dispensing charms and baked goods with equal abandon). The pool of suspects is small, and although the denouement and resolution are fairly easy to guess beforehand, they're well written and satisfying. There's a nice foreshadowing twist at the end of the book which I didn't see coming. It works perfectly well as a standalone, and is a nice lead-in to the next book in the series. The language is clean, and there's no graphic violence or sexual content. This would be a good choice for lovers of light cozies, the kind with whimsically eccentric small town characters, a town diner, and pets.

Four stars. This will appeal to cozy readers. 

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

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed (Äldre dam #2)

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An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed is the second collection of short fiction from Helene Tursten featuring Maud, an octogenarian killer who is not to be underestimated. Originally released in Swedish in 2020, this English translation released 5th Oct 2021 from Soho Press on their Crime imprint. It's 272 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 such a deliciously dark and enchanting collection of stories about a deceptively innocuous little old lady and her encounters throughout her life with the unsavory people who (in Maud's opinion) richly deserved their fates.  The stories are tied together with the original tale segueing into the following stories which are told through flashbacks. 

The writing is unvarnished and direct, disarmingly simple, and always there's Maud, thinking (and doing) what most people have probably at least thought about at some point in the deepest darkest recesses of their minds. 

The translation work by Marlaine Delargy is seamless and although the scansion and rhythm of the text is a bit choppier than usual for English original prose, the simple way the stories are told suits the directness and short sentence structure very well. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 4 hours and 52 minutes and is expertly narrated by Ann Richardson. She does a good job with the individual character voices. Sound quality and production values are high throughout.One thing of note for English speaking readers, most character and place names are pronounced as they are in the original Swedish, so Charlotte is read as "where-lot" and Johanneberg sounds like "yohanneberg". It doesn't take long to get used to the pronunciation - it's just with places and people, mostly.

Four stars for both the print and audiobook versions. 

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

Buried Memories

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Buried Memories is the 10th book in the Ishmael Jones SF mystery series by Simon Green. Released 5th Oct 2021 by Severn House, it's 192 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 humorous and well written mystery with a strong SF element (the titular protagonist is an alien in more or less human form). His sidekick and partner is a human espionage agent and despite the occasional necessary badassery and alien tech (and weapons), they drink tea, eat scones, and reprimand baddies with the best traditional classical sleuths. If readers can stretch to imagining a mashup where Agatha Christie's Tommy & Tuppence are set down in Stross' world of the Laundry Files by a cinematographer from the X-Files, they'd come remarkably close.

I've been impressed with Green's masterful control of the tension arc in his other books and this one is no exception. He has a wonderful way of making the most mundane occurrences seriously *creepy*.  I devoured this installment in one sitting. All of the books work well as standalones (there's an intro back-story to get readers up to speed). Some of the main plot points in this book are dependent on back history from previous books, so there will be some pretty major spoilers if read out of order, but readers won't be lost or have trouble following along if they choose to read them that way.

The dialogue is often sarcastic and slyly humorous. The book is populated by weird and bizarre characters (and some of them are even human). I found myself grinning often and chuckling out loud a few times. The denouement and resolution were exciting and satisfying and I am really really looking forward to What Comes Next.

Four stars. SF mystery weirdness at its creepy best. 

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

 

A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn


A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn is a cookbook interspersed with warm memoir recollections by David Ruggerio. Due out 12th Oct 2021 from Black Rose Writing, it's 252 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an unvarnished memoir written in chapters through Chef Ruggerio's childhood and professional life. He talks plainly in a direct voice with the reader about his difficult childhood, trouble with the law, and eventual redemption and professional success as a culinary professional. He is unabashedly plain spoken, brash even, and his recollections and reminiscences are often bittersweet. He doesn't dwell on the tragedies (he was orphaned at 5 years old) or the systemic racism which Southern Italians experienced - they are just facts of life to be gotten around or compensated for. What does come through clearly is his love of and respect for food and family which are inextricably entwined. In fact, the recipes are gathered in each memoir chapter in a sort of stream-of-consciousness manner, and only coded with their uses: a (appetizer), b (breakfast/brunch), m (main course), c (side dish/contorni), and d (dessert). At least in the pre-release ARC I received for review, there was no comprehensive index, which will make the recipes a challenge to find without a systematic read-through of the book. 

I was entranced by the brash style of the memoir and his unapologetic (and presumably) unvarnished reminiscences of growing up in the 70s in Brooklyn. The comforting home life with scents of olive oil, tomatoes simmering with basil, and handmade traditional sausages are there, related on the same page as violence on the doorstep with drug abuse, stabbings, and murder. The dichotomy is dizzying and somehow fascinating at the same time. 

Recipes are written with names in both Italian and English, the aforementioned code (breakfast, appetizer, main dish, dessert), an introduction and recipe ingredients listed bullet-style in a sidebar. Ingredients are given with American standard measures (no metric equivalents given), followed by step by step preparation instructions. Roughly a third of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The food is not overstyled and looks genuinely appetizing and real. Serving photos are appealing and appropriate. Most recipes are written for family sized portions (generally 4-8 servings, sometimes more). 

There are a number of "fancier" dishes which aren't generally available outside of specialty cookbooks, as well as quite a number of specific holiday recipes (Saints days, Christmas, etc). My major problem with the book was the apparent lack of a table of contents or index. Both of these issues are possibly fixed in the release copy. The memoir itself is quite worthwhile and I compensated for the lack of index by bookmarking recipes I wanted to revisit as I read through the book. Not ideal, but workable.

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the unvarnished and enlightening memoir. 

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

Monday, October 4, 2021

1979 (Allie Burns #1)

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1979 is the first book in a new series by Val McDermid. Due out 5th Oct 2021 from Atlantic Monthly Press, it's 320 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an engaging and very fast paced start to a new murder mystery series featuring a young female reporter in Scotland at the end of the 70s. McDermid is one of the best living writers of crime fiction in English and this novel (although a little different than her other series) is both technically brilliant and very very well written. I have read most of the author's oeuvre, and I was pleased that this book at least isn't nearly as graphic/grisly as some of her other books (the Hill & Jordan books for example). Protagonist Allie is intelligent and driven and that translates well into her inevitable clashes with patriarchal and classist society at large and the men with whom she works. This is a milieu the author is intimately familiar with, having worked as a reporter herself for a number of years in the same time period as the book. It has bone-deep verisimilitude and I enjoyed reading about the fact finding and investigation in the pre-internet "dark ages". The tension arc, denouement, and resolution are up to McDermid's high standards. The read was very satisfying and I'll definitely be seeking out future installments of this promising series.

The audiobook is unabridged, has a run time of slightly over 11 hours, and is most expertly narrated by Katie Leung. She has a pleasantly nuanced voice and manages the characters with widely divergent accents (and ages, and both sexes) impressively well. The accents are as disparate as Scotland, various English accents, to the Southwest and points in between (even American/Caribbean), and she manages all of them with expertise and precision. To be honest, there aren't very many UK/Scottish narrators/voice actors who can manage American accents (or the opposite) without being truly painful to listen to. I've from the USA but have lived in the UK and Europe for a long time and Ms. Leung's command of accents is virtuoso.  Sound quality and production values are high throughout. 

Four and a half stars for the text, five stars for the narration. 

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

Bernoulli's Fallacy: Statistical Illogic and the Crisis of Modern Science

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Bernoulli's Fallacy is an expository academic comparison of the statistical methods and accepted methodologies used by modern empirical scientists, analyzed and presented by Dr. Aubrey Clayton. Released 3rd Aug 2021 by Columbia University Press, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is an esoteric book with urgent, potentially catastrophic, foundational implications for science (and society). The way we interpret, group, and present data has fundamental connections to what we see as "objective truth" and "facts". This is especially frightening when considered in the light of recent crises such as systemic racism, alleged election/voting fraud, and pandemic/public health methodology and data. 

This is a deep dive into the subject material and will require a solid background in mathematics and statistical methodology at the very least. I have a couple degrees in engineering sciences (and a real love for bioinformatics), and it was significantly above my pay grade.  I could understand much, but by no means all, of the author's exposition and there were tantalizing glimpses of deeper information which I simply couldn't grasp. Readers should expect to expend some effort here to even make an informed decision on the veracity of the author's claims.

It's an academic book, the author is an academic, and it reads very much like an academic treatise. The language isn't *quite* as impenetrable as many academic volumes. The text is well annotated throughout and the annotations will make for many hours of background reading enjoyment. I get the distinct impression that the author has made a herculean effort to use accessible language to make it more easily understood, but there is a basic level of understanding which will render it inaccessible to many readers. That being said, the author writes with style and humor and tries to make the read minimally pedantic. I can well imagine that he's a talented and popular lecturer.

At the end of the day, Disraeli wasn't wrong when he decried "lies, damned lies, and statistics". I am not strong enough in this particular field of study to say where on the above spectrum Dr. Clayton's exposition falls.

Five stars (readers should keep in mind that the subject will require significant effort). I would enthusiastically recommend that people in education and policy expend the necessary effort. It would be a good selection for public/university library acquisition, as well as for more academic settings in philosophy of mathematics and science and allied fields of study.

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