Monday, May 20, 2024

The Wings of Poppy Pendleton


The Wings of Poppy Pendleton is a very well written standalone dual timeline (not timeslip) mystery by Melanie Dobson. Released 19th Sept 2023 by Tyndale House, it's 352 pages and is 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. 

This is a gently written, engaging mystery set in parallel timelines, 1907 and 1992. The setting includes the ruins of a stately home on an island in rural New York state, and the castle in its heyday. A child's long unsolved disappearance and the concurrent death of her father cast a very long shadow. 

The author excels at both atmospheric scene setting as well as characterization. The characters are well delineated and run the gamut from appealing to truly irredeemably loathsome. The historical aspects seem to be well researched and the author has woven fiction around a historical framework so well it's not always clear where fact shades over to fiction. 

There are some dark themes included in the book (something of a surprise for a Christian publishing house), and they're central to the plot and include kidnapping, suicide ideation, abuse of several characters (including a child), drug abuse, neglect, etc. The family histories are *messy*.

There are mentions of Christian faith, scripture, and prayer, but they're not intrusive. The references to the almighty in the text are capitalized, but again, it didn't interrupt the flow of the narrative (but they are noticeable). 

Four stars. It's surprisingly dark for a Christian mystery/fantasy, but it's very well written. It's also quite complex and multi-layered. It's not a book to pick up for light summer poolside reading.

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

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Super Simple Baking Cupcakes and Cakes for Young Chefs

 

Super Simple Baking Cupcakes and Cakes for Young Chefs is a graphically appealing simple dessert cookbook with recipes aimed at young readers by Mia Morselo. Released 15th May 2024, it's 80 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

It's well photographed throughout in color and written in simple accessible language. The short introduction covers tools and how to use them, through measuring tips and some general kitchen advice. 

The bulk of the book is the recipes, divided thematically: cupkakes, and cakes each in their own chapter. Recipes include a title followed by a bullet list of ingredients. Measurements are given in imperial (American) measurements with measured weights (in oz.) in parentheses. No metric equivalents are given. Ingredients will be readily available at any well stocked grocery store in North America (and indeed most will already be available in a moderately well stocked home kitchen). Nutritional information is not provided.

The step by step preparation instructions are easy to follow, and almost all of them have clear, unobstructed photos of each step. There is no index, no background information, and no links or further information.

The recipes are simple and quite basic (chocolate, vanilla, lemon, oreo, blueberry, cheesecake, carrot cake, etc). It might be valuable to have a one-volume go-to book for a young baking enthusiast, but none of the recipes in the book would be difficult to find online. 

Four stars. It is quite well illustrated and, as said, would be a good addition for public or school library, or for gift giving/activity with a young family member. 

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

Robert Silverberg's Belzagor - Robert Silverberg's Belzagor #1+2


Robert Silverberg's Belzagor is a graphic novel adaptation and reformatting of Silverberg's original Down to the Earth (from 1970) reinterpreted by Philippe Thirault. Released 7th May 2024, it's 208 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is an adaptation (with a previously unpublished sequel) of a 54 year old Heart of Darkness pastiche. It's about 30% colonist diatribe, 40% unironic misogyny, and 30% sexscapade/soap opera. The original source material is quite dated and modern readers should probably be prepared to read it as a product of the time period. (Just the sexism alone wouldn't fly in a modern tale). The ending of the first part also differs from the original in some ways.

The art, by Laura Zuccheri, is finely detailed and full of movement. Despite the artist's expertise, the adaptation to graphic format isn't entirely successful and there are some gaps with long passages of character dialogue which doesn't suit the medium. 

Three stars. Worth a look (especially for the previously unpublished sequel). Potentially a good choice for public library acquisition (but be aware, there is *adult* content), or for gifting to a particularly keen Silverberg fan. 

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


Saturday, May 18, 2024

Math-ish: Finding Creativity, Diversity, and Meaning in Mathematics


Math-ish is a well reasoned evaluation of math learning and new ways to *think* about math education and how people learn, by Dr. Jo Boaler.Released 7th May 2024 by Harper Collins on their HarperOne imprint, it's 304 pages (print version) 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.

The author has a long career in education and presents her experiences showing the differences in results for students who succeed and those who struggle. Many educational teaching methods haven't changed a whole lot in hundreds of years. Outdated methods are slowly being replaced but change has been slow and often ineffective. Currently mathematics classes are being stripped to the bare minimum due to funding cuts as well as a lack of qualified and engaged teachers. All of this has led to a significant decrease in mathematics competency for students in all stages of education. 

Additionally, the lack of diverse tailored methods has led directly to a lack of diversity. The past modality for teaching mathematics has proven inadequate for our current educational needs. The author makes a very good points for individual structure and creativity in mathematics education to reach more students of all backgrounds and actually *teach* them, helping them build their own problem solving tools instead of just using cookie-cutter tests to "cram - test - forget". The author also covers assessment methodology and feedback for reinforcing learning and helping students retain the skills they've acquired.

The text is well annotated throughout and the chapter notes will provide readers with a wealth of further sources. It's layman accessible, but information dense and a niche subject (but of course STEM education and competency are absolutely vital to our continued existence on the planet).

Four and a half stars.  Definitely a good choice for public and school library acquisition, educators, and others involved in teaching mathematics. 

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

Four-Alarm Homicide - House-Flipper Mystery #6

 

Four-Alarm Homicide is the sixth House-Flipper mystery by Diane Kelly. Released 23rd April 2024 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's imprint, it's 304 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.

This is an engaging and well written cozy mystery with a full complement of quirky neighbors, old houses to fix-up-and-resell (a fire station in this case), plucky female amateur sleuth, requisite grumpy (and handsome) law enforcement officer, remodel house neighbor/murder victim, resultant investigations, and a cat who gets some 3rd person narrative alternating with his owner, protagonist house-flipper Whitney. The chapters are labeled with the primary PoV character, so they're easy to keep track of.

The writing is appealing and entertaining, very light and engaging. The language is clean, the violence is off page, there's nothing to horrify or scandalize. The denouement is well written and the book moves along at a good clip. It's an enjoyable and engaging light read. The plot is self contained in this volume and works well enough as a standalone.  It's exactly the kind of fun cozy to enjoy on a lazy weekend afternoon.

With 6 books extant in the series at the current time (it's an ongoing series), and a publishing schedule of roughly 1 series book/year, this would be a good choice for a long binge or buddy read.

Four stars.

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

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent

 

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent is a wonderfully witty and well written memoir by Dame Judi Dench (with Brendan O'Hea) about her astounding richly lived life in the theatre. Released 23rd April 2024 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 400 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. 

Ms. Dench is a titan of theatre. Instantly recognizable around the world, wonderfully witty, prodigiously talented, versatile, and so intelligent. This is a delightful book showcasing her experiences and talents and the collaborator has made the right choice in recording her reminiscences without generally getting in the way and "improving" things.  

The stories are written around her Shakespearean theatre work: Macbeth, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, Merchant, Hamlet, Coriolanus, As You Like it, Measure for Measure, Much Ado, Lear, Comedy of Errors, Richard II, Antony & Cleopatra, Cymbeline, All's Well, Henry V, Merry Wives, Richard III, Winter's Tale, Romeo & Juliet, and a vast number of niche musings and pithy observations which fall outside strict categories/plays.

Wonderful *wonderful* human being and a delightful read. The text is enhanced throughout by simple pen and ink sketches by the author herself.

Five strong stars. Definite must-have for public library acquisitions folks, theatre lovers, Shakespeare lovers, TV/movie aficionados, etc.

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

Friday, May 17, 2024

Oh, Bother: Winnie-the-Pooh is Befuddled, Too

Book cover for Oh, Bother

Oh, Bother is a modern take on the beloved A.A. Milne characters from the 100 acre woods by Jennie Egerdie. Released 7th May 2024 by Hachette on their Running Press imprint, it's 96 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is part parody and a little bit of pastiche/homage featuring Pooh & co. dealing with life in the 21st century (urban sprawl encroaching on the 100 acre woods, therapy, global warming, threatening species extinction (bees) and more). Oh, bother indeed.

It's short, made up of 16 brief vignettes, and all featuring the beloved characters in various day-to-day situations. The text is enhanced by Ellie Hajdu's simple pen and ink sketches which are reminiscent of the E.H. Shepard originals without being too derivative (or actionable). 

Three and a half stars. Worth a look for library acquisitions personnel and potentially for gift giving purposes. 

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

Mini Plein Air Painting with Remington Robinson: The art of miniature oil painting on the go in a portable tin


Mini Plein Air Painting with Remington Robinson is a well written and illustrated tutorial and technique guide for miniature oil painting by Remington Robinson. Due out 31st July 2024 from  Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an unusually complete technique guide to mini-painting on the go with accessible takeaways for painters of all levels and experience. Painting on smaller surfaces is less intimidating than full size canvases, the materials are *much* more transportable in a self-contained metal tin (like Altoids), and less paint is used, allowing students to use better quality materials with richer, more saturated pigments, giving better results, encouraging more practice.

The author has a calm and inclusive voice in the tutorials, giving a good background on his own artistic process, inspiration, materials, setup, working techniques, and composition. The second part of the book (~78%) is taken up by the step-by-step tutorials, 12 in all. 

The subjects are varied and include both architectural and natural/landscape projects. They cover a variety of lighting and various perspective studies. It's a mixed bag and there are lessons for beginners to professional painters which can also be expanded to full size subjects. 

The danger is that this book will be dismissed in some areas as "niche" because of the miniature size and paint box setup; there is really good info and technique here for oil painters of all types and worth a look.

Five stars. It would be an excellent choice for public or school library acquisition, home studio, gift giving, and for painting and activity groups. Very good guide (not just for miniature painting). 

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

A Body in the Cottage - West Wales Murder Mysteries #5


A Body in the Cottage is an engaging procedural and the 5th book in the West Wales mysteries by P.F. Ford. Released 5th July 2023 by Joffe, it's 315 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 earlier books in the series are also currently available on KU. 

This is a well written and engaging procedural mystery set in Wales. It's an ensemble cast, and the author does a very good job of rendering the characters distinctly and sympathetically. It's the fifth book in the series, but works perfectly well as a standalone; some moderate spoilers with character development and interrelationships will occur if read out of order. 

The plotting is straightforward, and although most readers will likely work out "whodunnit" before the denouement, it's still thoroughly readable and engaging. The language is PG, nothing overly rough or egregious, and no offputtingly graphic violence on-page. There are some unresolved plot elements at the resolution of this installment, but the next book is out soon...

It would make a nice buddy read, and with 5 books available (on KU) and a 6th due out in June 2024, it would also make a good series binge read. 

Four stars. Well written and worth a look, especially for fans of Pauline Rowson, Peter Robinson, and Peter James. 

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

Snow Place for Murder - Mountain Lodge Mystery #3


Snow Place for Murder is a well written light cozy and the third Mountain Lodge Mystery by Diane Kelly. Released 24th Oct 2023 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 304 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.

The author has a good feel for pacing and this isolated suspect pool (a mountainside ski resort cut off in the middle of a blizzard) manages to be cozy and enjoyable while still doing a fine job of allowing readers to pit their wits against the author to arrive at the conclusion before the end. 

Mainly told from the third person PoV of the protagonist, Misty, a 50something divorced vacation lodge owner, there are short interludes featuring her cat Yeti as the central dramatis persona. The chapters have an identifying heading for which character is in focus for added clarity.

It's lightly humorous and easy to read. Although it's the third book in the series, the mystery is self contained in this volume and it works well as a standalone. The setting is beautifully rendered and evocative. With 3 books out at this point, it would make a good choice for a short binge or buddy read. 

Four stars. Fans of Cleo Coyle, Lynn Cahoon, and Amanda Flower will find a lot to like here. 

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

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Spoon to be Dead - Shake Shop #3


 

Spoon to be Dead is the third Shake Shop storefront cozy mystery by Dana Mentink. Released 31st Oct 2023 by Poisoned Pen Press, 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 and references throughout.

Readers love cozy mysteries, whatever form they take, library, bookmobile, shopfront small town amateur sleuths, professors turned investigators, we're not very picky. Animals are a plus. This one ticks a lot of boxes. Heading into the winter season (not a big earner for an ice cream shop in Oregon), owner Trinidad is planning a catered event on a riverboat to help the shop stay afloat when her loathsome ex begs her to help clear him of murder.

Despite being the third book in the series, the plot works perfectly well as a standalone and introduction to the ensemble cast of fun and eccentric characters. There are a number of appealing facets. The author is adept at plotting and the dialogue never felt overly clunky or convoluted; it's engaging, light, and readable. The story moved along at a good pace and despite the longer-than-average page count for a shopfront cozy, it never dragged or felt overwritten. Main character Trinidad is intelligent, driven, honest, and kind. She's also a small business owner and apparently a woman of color (but the author doesn't overemphasize the fact. Still subtle representation is welcome and important). 

The language is squeaky clean, nary a damn to be seen. There is no NSFW content and the denouement and resolution are well crafted and satisfying. It's a safe, comfort read -  light but satisfying. The author has even included a few recipes in the back of the book which look intriguing.

Four stars. Definitely one for the fans of small-town shopfront cozies. 

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

Cinderwich


Cinderwich is an engaging southern gothic light horror novella by Cherie Priest. Due out 11th June 2024 from Apex Books, it's 184 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. 

Creepily atmospheric, this is a modern ghost story with a nearly abandoned small town in Tennessee at the epicenter of a cold case murder. a young women found in a tree by a group of young girls. Drawn into investigating the mystery by a long ago family disappearance, two academics, a mentor and mentee, one related to her namesake who vanished before her birth, the other, the vanished woman's lover, try to find out if the Ellen found in the tree is their vanished loved one. 

The writing is restrained and the horror/supernatural elements are mostly understated, with one exception. There are red herrings aplenty, and some plot threads which fizzle out and are unresolved by the end of the book, but overall, the denouement is clear and satisfyingly resolved. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 5 hours 55 minutes and is beautifully narrated by Traci OdomShe has a light voice which has a slightly breathy quality. She does a good job differentiating characters of a range of ages. She has a generic southwestern US accent which goes well with the read.

Four stars. Well written. Creepy, but not gory.

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

 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Pride: A Seek-and-Find Celebration: Adventure Through the History of the Queer Community


Pride: A Seek-and-Find Celebration is an exuberantly illustrated seek-and-find book about celebrating Pride. Released 30th April by Quarto on their becker & meyer! imprint, it's 64 pages and is available in hardcover format.

The illustrations by Diego Blanco are intricate and colorful. On the right margin of each two page spread are numerous small details to hunt and find. Some of them are definitely well hidden and not at all trivial to locate. There are 11 scenes in all, and there are some common details (each contains a unicorn, somewhere!), but each also has unique features and history. 

There are a few issues with *ahem* liberties taken with historical versions of myths and legends (Ganymede for example), but overall it's a fun, informative, irreverent, campy "I-spy" type book.

Four stars. It would make a good choice for public library acquisition, gift giving, or home use. Content is appropriate for all-ages. 

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


The Mystery at Dunvegan Castle - Edinburgh Nights #3


The Mystery at Dunvegan Castle is the third SF mystery by T.L. Huchu.  Released 29th Aug 2023 by Macmillan on their Tor imprint, it's 400 pages and is 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. 

Oddly paced, often almost twitchily frenetic in places, it's nevertheless very well written and engaging. It follows on from the first books in the series and, as such, would be a challenge to read as a standalone. Main character Ropa can communicate with (and indeed compel) spirits. She gets drawn into an artifact disappearance at the magical conference at which she's an intern. 

It's marketed as a YA fantasy, but it's perfectly good for an all ages (YA+, not for little kids) read. It has a huge cast, and readers who haven't kept track of the previous books should be prepared to flip back and forth some. The author/publisher have provided a handy dramatis personae list at the front of the book with characters/titles and relationships, and also principal settings, institutions, and other necessary info which will help. 

The world building is *stunning* and cohesive and wonderful. There is, however, quite a lot of reverse snobbery and making fun of traditional academia; Ropa is something of a Jack-the-Lad and seemingly has a malleable and very pragmatic moral code. It's LGBTQIA+ friendly, without being preachy, which is cool. The denouement and resolution are not finished in the book and strongly foreshadow the next book in the series.

Four stars. Very well written if quirky. There are three books extant at the moment, with the fourth due out in 4th quarter 2024. It would be an excellent choice for public library acquisition, home use, or as a long buddy read or book club series project. 

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

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Nervous Dragon: A Story About Overcoming Back-to-School Worries


The Nervous Dragon is an adorable illustrated board book for the youngest kids about conquering anxiety and back-to-school jitters. Due out 4th June 2024 from DK on their Children's imprint, it's 18 pages and will be available in board book and ebook formats.

Everyone is nervous about a big change. Little dragon Blaze is nervous about his first day at school. What will happen if everyone laughs at him or makes fun of his big secret. Even though his dad packs his lunch, his sister holds his hand on the way to school, and their teacher Miss Claw tries to make everyone feel welcome, he's still very nervous and unsure of himself. 

The story is reassuring, adorable, and full of appealing illustrations. The free verse is simple and easy to read. 

Five stars. It would make a good choice for public or school/classroom library, home use, or gift giving. 

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

Diwali


Diwali is a simple, beautifully accessible and colorful introduction to the Hindu festival of lights written by Sital Gorasia Chapman. Due out 6th Aug 2024 from Quarto on their words & pictures imprint, it's 48 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is such a beautiful and learning rich book about the customs and history of Diwali. The book is a first person account told by young Sonali with her extended family. She shows how they prepare for Diwali, the food and clothing and family traditions, and more. There's a surprising amount of history and lots of good detail written in age-appropriate and accessible language. 

The illustrations by Darshika Varma are beautifully detailed and colorful and enhance the read very much. They're full of small bright details which invite readers to pause and take a closer look.

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for public or classroom library, gift giving, or home use. The author/publisher have included discussion questions, crafts and recipes, and more information for further reading. 

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



This Allotment: Stories of Growing, Eating and Nurturing

 

This Allotment: Stories of Growing, Eating and Nurturing is a collection of 13 essays by writers on gardening, healing, and nature edited by Sarah Rigby. Due out 6th June from Elliott & Thompson, it's 187 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. 

This is a collection of ruminations on gardening, by gardeners (who are also gifted writers). There's a deeply philosophical and meditative aspect to gardening, and these writers ruminate well and deeply on success, failure, growth, grief & loss, and what it all means in the larger picture.

This is not a book of gardening tips, there are no plans, no lists, and no direct gardening advice.  What the book has in abundance is humanity and humility and some humour and a lot of stories of persevering in the face of adversity. There's camaraderie as well, and some successes.

Four and a half stars. This is a book for reading in a thoughtful frame of mind. It would be an excellent choice for public library acquisition, allotment/gardening group library, home use, or gift giving.

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

Lost & Hound - "Sister" Jane #15

 

Lost & Hound is the 15th "Sister" Jane mystery by Rita Mae Brown. Released 24th Oct 2023 by Penguin Random House on their Ballantine imprint, it's 272 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 and references throughout.

Like nearly all of Ms. Brown's oeuvre, this is a capably written, well told story that is character driven, neatly plotted, and fairly well paced. Fans of the author, who also enjoy her cozy Mrs. Murphy series as well as her more serious writing will find this series readable and engaging.  The Sister Jane books are cozies and full of the American foxhunting traditions and culture.  If you don't know anything about riding to hounds, you will after reading this book. This book, markedly shorter than the previous books, seems to be a bit more patchy, with a few seemingly distracting side trips, but overall it's still well told and entertaining. The author/publisher have also helpfully included a glossary and list of characters with short descriptions to help readers stay in the story.

The dialogue and writing are pitch perfect.  Typically for Ms. Brown, the writing is solidly comfortable and engaging.  Reading her books is almost like visiting with an old friend you haven't seen for a while; you just pick up where you left off the last time, even if you haven't seen them for ages.

This is a distinctly anthropomorphic mystery; but fair warning, if talking animals bug you, this probably isn't the series for you.  The book also does a superlative job of giving a glimpse into Virginia hospitality and etiquette and the riding subculture.

Four stars (mostly because even though American fox hunters just chase the foxes and don't kill them, it still distresses me and I'm always rooting for the foxes - the books are also *full* of upper class extremely wealthy people who often rub my proletariat heart the wrong way). Bonus points for the author's managing to make her characters ethnically diverse, and not just pasted on, either. Many of the characters have faced and worked through part of their tragic shared traumatic past, from slave times onward and at this point there seems to be more good-natured camaraderie than any festering resentment.

The actual murder mystery felt -distinctly- secondary to the fox hunting in this one, but still overall quite a solidly entertaining read. 

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

The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers


The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers is a quirky, uplifting debut mystery by Samuel Burr. Released 9th April 2024 by Knopf Doubleday, it's 368 pages and is 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.

This is a light character driven cozy with several entwined plot threads, cleverly wrought into an engaging whole. Main protagonist Clayton was a foundling, brought up by an eclectic collection of enigmatologists (puzzlemakers) in a nearly monastic setting. When he main benefactress passes away, he sets about following the clues left to him to unravel the ultimate puzzle of his life, how he came to be there and who he really is. 

There's an actual crostic style crossword and relevant clues in each of the chapters, which are solved through the course of the narrative. It's less of a mystery and more a character driven slice of life family history with a collection of intelligent oddly charismatic oddballs and their interactions with one another. It's written very visually, each scene precisely blocked out and described. It would take almost no work to transfer to the screen. Fans of oddly appealing dysfunctional shows with family themes (Arrested Development & Schitt's Creek for example) will likely enjoy this one.

Four stars. Appealing and offbeat (in a good way). 

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

 

A Bitter Remedy - Oxford Mysteries Series #1

Book cover for A Bitter Remedy

A Bitter Remedy is the first book in a historical murder mystery series by Alis Hawkins. Released 25th March 2023 by Canelo, it's 368 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.

Academic mystery lovers are in for a treat. Set in the late 19th Century in Oxford, in and around the college, a firmly unrepentant young female academic chafes against the restrictions imposed on her because of her sex (female), her upbringing (unconventional), her cultural origin (Welsh), and her intellectual capacity (head and shoulders above the other (male) students). She has allies, but most of the time they seem to be thwarting her in their belief that she's her own worst enemy in terms of ruffling feathers to force progress. A Gordian knot, indeed, and she's the sword to cut through it. 

At its base, it's a historical murder mystery, woven around historical Oxford and the burgeoning forensic knowledge of the times. The story is told around a framework of actual historical events and characters; woven skillfully and seamlessly, so that it's not always clear what elements are fictive and which are real. 

The characters are very well rendered and believable. Non's passionate frustration is *palpable* and she's sympathetic and real. The plotting is tight and well paced, and the mystery itself is cleverly constructed and surprisingly complex and nuanced. It's full of pathos, for (unnecessarily inflexible) social constrictions, sex and gender roles, rigid class structure, and the casual cruelty inflicted on those who "didn't belong" or rebelled against the status quo. 

Four stars. Very strong. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition or home use. There are two books extant in the series thus far. It would make a nice buddy read or book club discussion. Definitely one that will appeal to fans of C.S. Harris, Andrea Penrose, and Anna Lee Huber. 

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