Thursday, September 23, 2021

Wardrobe Embroidery: Knit & Embroidery Projects for Upcycling Clothes

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Wardrobe Embroidery is a tutorial and project guide to surface embroidery on clothing along with some knit patterns by Warunee Bolstad. Due out 15th Nov 2021 from Zakka Workshop, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The author is a Norwegian based knitwear designer who also uses surface embroidery and crewel on knits and woven wardrobe pieces. The general look is full of whimsy and fresh, pastel colors. This book includes both surface designs for use on wovens as well as full project instructions for nine knit projects including some tops, sweaters, cardigans, a jacket, and a couple accessories (a cute headband and a neckwarmer with a turtle neck collar).

The book includes a number of step by step tutorials for surface embroidery embellished clothing and knitwear. All of the projects can be adapted for other uses. Stitch diagram recommendations are specific enough to follow and general enough to be easily changed to suit the reader's needs. Materials listed in the tutorials are easy to source and inexpensive. In fact many of the clothing tutorials will be a super opportunity to re-purpose and upcycle found / thrifted clothing. 

Each project tutorial includes a color picture showing embroidery placements and details. The tools and supplies are provided in a bullet list in a sidebar, followed by step by step instructions. Templates for all projects are provided in the back of the book. The author has included a picture gallery for inspiration as well as links and resources lists in the appendices. 

I really fell in love with several of these pretty pieces. They are all very feminine and most are floral. Though the knit projects are simple, the author has not included a beginning knitting tutorial in the book. Readers who are beginners to knitting will probably need some outside help (or online how-to).

Four stars. 

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People

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The Speckled Beauty is a beautifully written memoir by Rick Bragg of his life in the aftermath of a lymphoma diagnosis and the life changing entry of a badly behaved injured dog into his life. Released 21st Sept 2021 by Knopf Doubleday, it's 256 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 touchingly honest and really engaging memoir about a guy and his dog. Life isn't always perfect but it can be wonderful despite everything. Speck isn't a perfect dog (far from it, he pees on flowers, goes where he shouldn't, destroys things with wild abandon, drags revoltingly smelly deceased wildlife onto the porch, rolls in poop, makes messes, and howls at all hours). He and Bragg found one another and managed to redeem one another in profound ways. 

Throughout the reminiscences and funny stories, the lyrical prose is shining and lush. This is a gorgeously written book full of beautifully turned phrases. Definitely a solid pick for library acquisition and fans of memoir. This would also be a great choice for readers who love rescue stories and pet memoirs. This is a book readers will want to revisit.

Five stars.

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

Gutter Mage

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Gutter Mage is an engaging debut noir mystery/fantasy mashup by J.S. Kelley. Released 21 Sept 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery/Saga imprint, it's 336 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 one of my better speculative fiction genre picks so far this year. There's so much to like here. The protagonist is a smart but flawed outsider who happens to also be a fire-wielding mage, intelligent, (mostly) loyal, operating within her own moral code. It's got shades of a buddy-cop adventure with her best friend, a brawny fighter with a big sword and bigger muscles who's always there to back her up. They're trying to stave off a local mage guild and prevent them from unleashing the apocalypse in the company of her ex, an uptight sort-of-cleric who's on the inter-guild council. The world building is superlative, immersive and plausible. There are lots of philosophical questions to ponder and the writing is really really good. The dialogue is rapid fire and sarcastic (but not annoyingly so). There were several places during the read which actually surprised a laugh out of me.

There is some graphic violence (she's a *fire* mage and can't always control her flames and random people just keep attacking her), as well as some light sexual content. Main character Roz is bisexual and I liked that it wasn't a big deal in the text. Sensitive readers should be aware there are some content concerns: non-consensual imprisonment, body horror, discussions of infant loss and maternal mutilation, possession, smoking, alcohol abuse, and mental health issues. All those aside (and they're all in context), this is a genuinely funny book and extremely well written.

Five stars. I really really want to know what's next for Roz and co. 

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

Monday, September 20, 2021

Under the Whispering Door

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Under the Whispering Door is a wide ranging character driven creative fantasy by TJ Klune. Due out 21st Sept 2021 from Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint, it's 390 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an odd and interesting book. The plot is entirely character driven and set almost completely in one single place - an odd interworld teashop between life and the afterlife. Characters come and go as they move on to whatever comes next. The characters are both living, dead, in between, and otherworldly/demigod/angel-ish, and they vary in age from very young to very old and of several genders and ethnicities. There was so much crammed into the book that some of it fell inevitably by the wayside. In addition to being a fantasy, philosophical examination of death and what comes after, it's also about using the time we have wisely, found family, loyalty, love, consent, oh, and a queer/bi love story as well. The drama, starcrossed lovers, and longing would have been more suited to a YA/NA novel, but the subject matter and some of the scenes are too heavy to comfortably fit into that genre.

In addition to all the other stuff going on, there's a lot of slapstick involved which felt oddly tacked on; people getting stuck in inappropriate clothing and "psychics" being chased around by poltergeist(ish) flying inanimate objects. The subject matter in general is very heavy and quite dark and it felt like the author was trying very hard to lighten the mood. The love story and denouement were satisfying but also felt a bit contrived. The language is R rated and there are frank discussions of death including suicide, murder, and death of a child. There is some light consensual sexual content.

The audiobook version has a run time of 14 hours and 55 minutes and is expertly narrated by Kirt Graves. He manages characters of both sexes and a range of ages and manages to keep them distinct from one another and easy to understand. The sound and production quality are high throughout. 

It's an interesting and valiant attempt, but in my opinion doesn't quite fulfill its early promise. The author is undeniably gifted and adept, but I never felt like it quite lived up to the attempt. Three and a half stars, rounded up (the writing is strong). 

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



Sunday, September 19, 2021

A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching: Getting to Know the World's Most Misunderstood Bird

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A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching is an interesting and accessible guide to pigeons by Rosemary Mosco. Due out 9th Nov 2021 from Workman Publishing, it's 240 pages and will be 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. Text search makes life somewhat easier.

Although this volume is ostensibly aimed at middle grade readers (10 year old me would've loved it), I learned quite a lot myself and I'm about 4 decades past being a middle grade reader. The language is simple enough for anyone to understand, but at the same time manages to be scientifically correct and use proper nomenclature. 

The layout is logical and progresses from: why watch pigeons, pigeon evolution (dinosaurs!), interaction with and development alongside humans, anatomy, plumage (genetics!), behavior, health concerns (very low), and some tantalizing bits about general birdwatching. 

The entire book is light and humorous and information dense. I grinned often whilst reading and found the style and the subject matter very engaging and fun. This would be a superlative public or classroom library acquisition, or gift to a nature/science interested youngster. It would also make a fine choice for smallholders (pigeons are easy and useful to raise), allotment/community gardens, and similar. There are no photographs, but the entire book is full of simple and well rendered line drawings (see cover). 

Five stars.

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



Bittman Bread: No-Knead Whole-Grain Baking for Every Day

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Bittman Bread: No-Knead Whole-Grain Baking for Every Day is a competent and unfussy tutorial guide for hearty no-knead breads with recipes developed by Mark Bittman & Kerri Conan. Due out 9th Nov 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Mariner imprint, it's 256 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is such an accessible and well written specialty cookbook. The authors are knowledgeable and write clearly and simply in sensible followable steps which lead readers through the process from a simple and comprehensive tutorial for a basic loaf, through to recipes with more "bells & whistles". The layout is graphically appealing, with lots of color photos and tutorial step-by-step photos included. 

The recipes are grouped thematically: the basic beginner tutorial which will provide the starter for future loaves, a primer on whole grain baking (and why you should), basic loaves, refinements to the basic process, pizza flatbreads & rolls, and sweet bakes.

Recipes contain a title and description, yields, ingredients in a bullet list in a sidebar, and step by step directions. Ingredients are listed by weight. Nutritional information is not included. There are so many gorgeous and clear color photos included.

In addition to being thorough and meticulous, it's full of chatty and warm discussions and information about bread and baking. The authors have honest and friendly voices and I really enjoyed reading about their involvement with baking and the process. 

Four stars. Wonderfully comprehensive and versatile.

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

Yes, You Can Wear That: How to Look and Feel Fierce at Any Size

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Yes, You Can Wear That is an exuberant and whimsical ode to body positivity and genuine joie de vivre by Abby Hoy. Due out 9th Nov from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The author has a whirlwind & exuberant style of writing and the book's vibe is very chatty and informal. I can imagine that she'd be the friend you always wind up having the most fun with (and she'd be the one who couldn't bail you out of jail because she'd be right there with you saying "was that a blast or what?!). 

Although this is a really *bouncy* book, there are a lot of serious and important underlying themes. Self-care, a good support network, compassion, love, generousness, kindness, mental health, getting the help you need, and taking your meds are all discussed here in addition to the fashion quips (stripe it up, baby! Yes mix plaid and whatever!, etc). I really think that in addition to young people struggling with body positivity because of not fitting into impossible beauty ideals, this could be an uplifting source of info for queer folks struggling with body issues and wanting to dress their outsides the way they feel on their insides as well. 

The tone of the book is young, resourceful, resilient, and very millenial. Given that, there certainly are valuable takeaways here for non-millenials. I wouldn't say the book soars as a -strictly- fashion conscious how-to guide for developing readers' own styles, but given the other (bigger) mental health encouragement and kindness, it really does work. Not a definitive guide, but a very fun, useful read.

Four stars. This would be a good choice for public or school libraries, home use, or possibly gifting to a friend (or yourself).

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


Our National Forests: Stories from America's Most Important Public Lands

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Our National Forests is an engaging look at public lands and the history of the forest service in the USA written by Greg M. Peters. Due out 9th Nov 2021 from Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 280 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a well written and philosophical history and examination of public lands in the United States. The author clearly has a deep engagement and broad knowledge of the subject and writes accessibly and authoritatively. In addition, the book is packed with beautiful color photos of awe-inspiring and unspoiled nature. 

The content is arranged thematically: eastern forests, growing trees/reforestation, grassland restoration, Native Americans and their struggles to be heard, the (harmful) impact of humans on fragile ecosystems (poop, for example), future scenarios, citizen science (counts and spotting), fires and aftermath, and diversity and representation in public land use. The book is well annotated and the chapter notes will give keen readers many additional hours of enjoyment.

Four stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, gardening/nature groups, home library, or for fans of nature and conservation reading.

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

Southeast Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 106 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness

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Southeast Medicinal Plants is a tutorial and wildcrafting guide and herbal for regional medicinal plants by CoreyPine Shane. Due out 9th Nov 2021 from Timber Press, it's 304 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is an accessible well written herbal guide to 106 indigenous medicinal plants found in southeast North America, from the PA/MD border all the way down to Eastern TX. The author is an experienced wildcrafter and herbalist and writes precisely and well on the subject. The nomenclature he uses is correct and precise for clarity, safety, and identification. It's clear in the text that the author really feels a connection to the natural world and his respect and love shine through. The intro covers the widely disparate terrain contained the southeast along with safety and caution, responsible collecting, and wildcrafting through the seasons. Tools and supplies are covered in the text and are (mostly) easily accessible and will be on hand already for most readers or can be sourced at minimal cost. Each entry contains a highlighted text box with herbal preparations: simple recipes/guides for different uses, such as tinctures, infusions, etc.

The bulk of the book contains an herbal type listing of the plants arranged alphabetically. The plant name is followed by species specifics, medicinal parts used, a descriptive paragraph, wildcrafting tips, where and when to harvest, usage cautions, and other info. Specific recipes are listed in a colored text box. Each also contains several clear photos showing different aspects of growth, habit, and seasonal appearance.

Useful book, well written and illustrated. Five stars.

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

Master Artificer (The Silent Gods #2)

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Master Artificer is the second book in The Silent Gods trilogy by Justin T. Call. Released 18th May 2021 by Blackstone, this massive volume is 857 pages and is available in most formats. 

I won't give a precís, other reviewers have done that. I will say that despite being a hefty doorstop fantasy (the kind with maps at the front of the book), the action and characters move the plot along at a good pace - I never found the story dragging. There's a fair amount of graphic violence along with frank descriptions of darkness and pragmatically evil choices. 

There will be inevitable comparisons between this book (and presumably the rest of the series) and Harry Harrison, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Brandon Sanderson. I submit that the series thus far compares very favorably and I'm  cautiously excited to see what's in store in future from this author. Definitely one to watch.

It's important to note that this book is -very- dark in places and I found myself torn between wanting to go on and being sad and somewhat afraid of reading what comes next. There's political action, campaigning, skulduggery, questing, magic and everything for the classic political fantasy fan. I will say right away that I believe that this book would suffer greatly by attempting to read it as a standalone. There's way too much backstory and context necessary to be read by itself (although the author does spend a fair bit of the page count recapping things that went before). Although the author includes an extensive dramatis personae at the beginning (along with the requisite maps)  it's not a trivial task to keep everyone straight and remember who is trying to kill whom.

Four stars. Recommended to fans of campaign fiction, immersive fantasy, and overarching immersive speculative fiction.  

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

Don't Be Trashy: A Practical Guide to Living with Less Waste and More Joy

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Don't Be Trashy is an engaging tutorial guide with tips on decluttering, streamlining, upcycling, and living with less waste curated by Tara McKenna. Due out 4th Jan 2022 from Crown Publishing on their Rodale imprint, it's 256 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The author is passionate about the subject of trash, pollution, conservation, and creative things we can do in our individual lives to change the comprehensive destruction of our planet. Exactly how much impact we can make by upcycling empty bottles is another matter. The book is not just upcycling of course; the author has made an effort to be compendious in her efforts and includes a laundry list of what, how, and why. 

The chapters are arranged thematically and organized well: basics (how, what, why), decluttering & minimalism, conscious consumption (LOTS of good info here), pantry, bathroom, clothing, saying no (to stuff), family & friends (don't be *that zealot*), find your tribe, frugality, no-buy month (do-able), and a sensible conclusion/wrap up. When I read the author's intro, I had some trepidation that this was going to be a wide eyed gung-ho manifesto. While the author is, admittedly, engaged and passionate about the subject, she's not wrong, and we do have to make changes. The ideas she presents aren't extreme and are (mostly) implementable for most people. 

The book is full of sequentially numbered bullet lists and worksheet tables. People-who-make-lists will be in heaven here. The tone is very politely insistent throughout - and if I'm being 100% honest, to me it channels that one passionate friend who is always engaged in a cause and wants everyone to Feel Deeply Too. That being said, she takes pains (a whole chapter) to explain how NOT to be that friend, so it could just be me. 

Graphically, it's extremely spartan. There are no photos or illustrations (they're not really needed). It's more of a taking notes and making lists type book. There is also a subtle presumption of readers having access to (and money for) larger metropolitan areas and food co-ops for buying in bulk and re-using containers.The chapters on disposable clothing, "fast fashion", and makeup/toiletries are spot on and probably worth the price of the book.

I found it worthwhile and thought provoking. Four stars.

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

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Top-Down Colorwork Knit Sweaters and Accessories: 25 Patterns for Women and Men

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Top-Down Colorwork Knit Sweaters and Accessories is a beautifully colorful collection of top down knitted items by Wenke Müller. Due out 1st Nov 2021 from Rowman & Littlefield on their Stackpole Books imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The first thing that struck me about this book on a first read-through was the attention to detail. Everything from the photography, lighting, and models' positioning, down to the clear photography and varied patterns are top quality. The patterns are beautiful and cleverly made. The shaping details are  incorporated into the patterns. There book includes basic instructions in the introduction, but I would not recommend absolute beginners begin with this book for learning to knit, especially if they're knitting in a vacuum.  I would recommend starting with some of the accessories first such as hats or shawls before tackling the more difficult projects, or at least have a local knitting guru on speed dial (I recommend having a local knitting guru on speed dial, anyhow)!

There are 14 sweaters by my count and 10 coordinating accessories. The instructions are clear and streamlined. The intro to each pattern gives info such as incorporated ease and yardage. Specific yarns are given with their yardages so readers can make substitutions if they wish. The yarns called for in the patterns are gloriously, decadently exclusive, mostly Isager and Lana Grossa. Each pattern is given in one complete consecutive piece (no flipping back and forth, yay!). Every pattern is accompanied by one or more clear color photos. The designs are classic and not trendy - they'll be heirlooms and on point in 20 years.

Five stars. A wonderful book!

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

NIFTY: Clean Organized: Money-Saving Hacks and Easy DIYs for a Clean and Clutter-Free Home!

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NIFTY: Clean & Organized is an accessible and streamlined collection of decluttering and cleaning tips collected and curated by BuzzFeed's NIFTY. Due out 2nd Nov 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Adams Media imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

These short tips are arranged thematically by room: kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, workspace, garage & outdoors, and extra spaces. Some of them are self evident and basic, but there are also a lot of creative and usable tutorials here for space saving solutions and organization in every room. Graphic icons in the headers show which tips are particularly suited for DIYers, readers interested in money-saving ideas, and those which are good for small spaces.

The layout and graphics are clean and uncluttered. The book is peppered with clear color photos which are easy to understand (including the tutorials). This is a simple, practical, easy to use book. It would be a great choice for library acquisition, home library, maker's groups, or for folks newly living on their own as the tips are especially beginner friendly and require little in the way of exotic tools/supplies.

Four stars.

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

Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher #21)

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Death in Daylesford is the 21st mystery featuring expat British aristocrat Phryne Fisher and her entourage by Kerry Greenwood. First released in late 2020, this reformat and new release 1st June 2021 from Poisoned Pen Press is 336 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.

This is such a well written romp, full of action, eccentric characters, skullduggery, and the returning cast of regulars doing what they do best. This installment sees Dot and Phryne off consulting (and scaring the rurals zooming around in the Hispano-Suiza) while Mr. & Mrs. B, Hugh, Cec Burt & Tinker, and Phryne's adopted daughters investigate the tragic death of one of the girls' classmates. 

Although it's the 21st book in the series, it works quite well as a standalone. I heartily recommend the entire series, but caveats apply - they're variable in pacing and writing (all worth reading, but uneven). For readers unfamiliar with Phryne & co., she's redoubtable, fiercely independent, intelligent, and outspoken. She and her companion Dorothy investigate crimes and thwart criminals great and small. There's always a lot of wit and some light comedy in the books, but they're also very intelligent with unexpected twists and turns. The denouement and resolution here are satisfying, the clues are fair play, and Phryne is (as always) unflappable and resilient.

To me this is a well researched historical diverting read, full of Antipodean charm, dependable and believable characters, and a good ending. The language is mostly clean (a few damns and bloodies, nothing worse). There is some strongly suggestive light erotic content (completely consensual) between Phryne and a lover, but nothing explicit. I love her pragmatic view of sex and food and her hedonistic honesty. It's pure wish fulfillment and fantasy of course, but it's a lot of fun to read. This is also the very first time in all of literature in which I can recall reading a death-by-caber-toss.

Four stars. Phryne's a delight.

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

With Net and Coble A Salmon Fisher on the Cromarty Firth


With Net and Coble is a beautifully written and engaging ode to salmon fishing and tradition by George Chamier. Due out 30th Oct 2021 from Pen & Sword, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

This is such a lyrical book which really resonated with me. It's full of recollections and reminiscences of a vanished and now outlawed method of sweep fishing. The author takes pains to distinguish the type of limited and skilled beach seine netting which follows salmon by eye and intercepts them in very limited numbers, and the sort of massive deep water drift netting which is responsible for the critical destruction and collapse of ocean biospheres we're seeing today. 

The book is peppered with black and white photos of fish and fishermen, wildlife, and the wild places. The captions are well written and provide some good background info. There's also a glossary and cross-referenced index.

Much of the book is somber reflection: the rivers are in bad shape, the ocean even more so, the traditional skills are dying out and at risk of being lost forever, the health of the salmon is at risk from commercial fisheries which serve as ecosystem destroying spawning pools for parasite loads with which the local wild populations are ill-equipped to cope. The book ends, reflectively, on a guardedly optimistic note. One of the more profound takeaways for me with this book was the fact that I was fairly complaisant in my ignorance of "netting bad, fly fishing good". The author writes passionately and well about the traditions of net and coble fishing and the loss of a way of life and it's clear that he has a deep and profound love of the wild places and a deep feeling of stewardship and protectiveness. 

Five stars. This would be a superlative selection for public library, home library, or gift for a nature/fishing enthusiast. Sublime wintertime reading material. 

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

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Secret Staircase (Victorian Village Mysteries #3)

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The Secret Staircase is the third Victorian Village cozy by Sheila Connolly. Released 21st Aug 2021 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an appealing small town cozy mystery with a small (easy to keep track of) ensemble cast. The usual eccentric characters are present along with a historic mansion renovation as part of a Victorian living history village along the same lines as Williamsburg or Jamestown. When an unexpected long dead skeleton is found hidden in an unused area of the mansion, the ensuing long ago murder mystery threatens modern day dangerous repercussions. The pool of suspects is small, and although the denouement and resolution are fairly easy to guess beforehand, they're well written and mostly satisfying. Even though it's the third book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone. The language is clean, there's a strong romance element, and little on-page violence. 

This would be a good choice for lovers of light cozies. There are some potentially triggering plot elements including death of a child, infertility and loss, and threatened rape.

Four stars.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Striking Range (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #7)

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Striking Range is the 7th Timber Creek K-9 mystery by Margaret Mizushima. Released 7th Sept 2021 by Crooked Lane Books, it's 280 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a series procedural with well established characters and a rural small town police department integrating (more or less) successfully with area and national task forces. This is an ensemble returning cast and a solid western mystery. The central players have a long and varied history together. There are familial and generational connections (and not always in a positive manner). Despite being the 7th book in this series, the author is a technically adept writer and sufficient backstory is written in to provide readers enough backstory without info-dumping. I was unfamiliar with the series previously though I believe I might've read one or two of the author's earlier works, and I had no trouble following along.

There were some dangling threads on a couple of the plot points, but overall it's a well written and engaging mystery. I could've done without the strong romance subplot, but I appreciate that there are many readers who really enjoy mystery with a healthy romance angle. 

There is some potentially triggering content for some readers including opioid use and overdose, kidnapping, and human trafficking.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours, 47 minutes and is capably narrated by Nancy Wu. She does a good job of bringing characters of varying ages to life (from children to adults) and both men and women and managing to keep them distinct and identifiable. Production and sound quality are high throughout.

Four stars for both print and audiobook versions.

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The First Sister (The First Sister Trilogy #1)

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The First Sister is the first book in a grand space opera trilogy by Linden A. Lewis. Released in 2020 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery Books imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in most 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; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is classic science fiction on a grand scale. It hearkens back to old school SF, unafraid to explore social themes such as power, loyalty, humanity, body autonomy, conflict, and grace. I've seen this book being compared to The Handmaid's Tale, but I got much more of a Frank Herbert Dune vibe with shadings of Shari Tepper. One thing I really liked about the book was the LGBTQ+ friendly writing with positive portrayals of a variety of gender identities and sexualities. 

The writing is sublime and it held my attention and engagement throughout. Thematically it's not always easy reading and readers should be aware that the author explores uncomfortable themes such as nonconsensual sexual exploitation, child abuse, loss of body autonomy, PTSD, violence, and gender dysphoria. I was glad to see, however, that there was -no- glorification or positive spin on abuse or sexism - but more of an expository examination of what could be changed to make a better outcome. There is very little on-page abuse - it's implied, but it is there.

The author has a deft and sure voice and it certainly doesn't feel like a debut novel at all. The adult themes, although not explicit in the narrative, would make me hesitate to recommend this book to YA/NA readers. 

Four stars. 

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons (Game Histories)

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Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the newest book in the Game Histories series, this volume written by Jon Peterson. Due out 12th Oct 2021 from MIT Press, it's 400 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a very well written book assembled from extant notes, legal documents, eyewitness accounts, and recollections about the rise, fall, rise, and pitched battles involved in the emergence and control of TSR and Dungeons & Dragons. I was working in a gaming & hobby shop in the late 70s and early 80s and I well remember our regular gaming group geeking out over the newest editions and modules from TSR. Our regular members were mostly tabletop wargamers, but the balance soon shifted as more and more of our members became more interested in D&D and later on, Warhammer. 

There wasn't much behind-the-scenes information on display (this was pre-internet, and almost pre-BBS). Several members of my core group were very active in fandom at the time on a large scale (worldcon, etc), and even at that level, news was slow to be disseminated. This book answered quite a number of question from those days and I was fascinated to learn what went on outside the public purview. 

This is a semi-scholarly book and the author writes authoritatively. Readers who are not especially fascinated by the subject matter might well find the style academic and dry. I found the writing precise and engaging. I also liked reading the chapter notes and readers who are interested in the minutiae will find many hours of further reading and reference hunting contained in the notes and sources mentioned throughout the text.

Four stars. Fascinating deep dive in early geekdom and the fallout from the clash of the titans which fractured D&D. 

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

Scrumptious from The Girl Who Ate Everything

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Scrumptious is a cooking and recipe guide with recipes developed and curated by Christy Denney. Due out 2nd Nov 2021 from Shadow Mountain, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and paperback formats. 

This is a nice cookbook with an emphasis on ease of preparation, tastiness, casual dining and family appeal. These are really uncommonly tasty dishes. Many of them are one-pan/sheet pan dinner which make cleanup easy, and all the ones we tried were delicious. 

There is no lead-in or introduction, the author opens with the recipes, grouped in chapters thematically: one pan dinners, feeding a crowd, game day eats, low-carb favorites, quick and easy, tried and true, and something sweet. The recipes are nearly all based on wholesome unprocessed ingredients (the exceptions are for things like premade marinara sauce which almost everyone has on hand).

Each recipe includes serving yields, special notes, and prep times. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point style along with optional ingredients. All measurements are given in American standard measures only. The directions are given step by step, numbered sequentially. The nutritional information is not provided. The recipes' ingredients are easily sourced and the resultant dishes are family friendly and appealing to kids and adults. All of the recipes include photos. The food is beautifully presented and the serving suggestions are appetizing and appropriate. Nearly all of the recipes make a LOT of servings. This would be great for meal planning fans - make enough for dinner and have enough to pack a lunch for work the next day(s). There are a number of these recipes which have made it into my personal potluck recipe book of dishes to take to group dinners and family gatherings.

Good recipes, full of hearty and satisfying food.

Four and a half stars. 

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