Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Red, Red Snow (Anderson & Costello #11)

The Red, Red Snow is the 11th book in the Anderson & Costello series by Caro Ramsay. Released 2nd June 2020 by Severn House, it's 256 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a modern procedural with a returning ensemble cast with a complex interwoven past both together and severally. I hadn't read any of the previous books, so the very intricate and involved interrelationships took a while for me to sort out in my own mind. Like many police procedurals, there are lots of disparate plot threads which wind together more tightly as the book goes on. All of the action is set against a backdrop of approaching Christmas holidays in Scotland. The author is quite gifted with immersive atmospheric ambience and the Glasgow setting was believable and encompassing. It *felt* cold and dark. The characterizations are superb, and the characters are distinct from one another and well delineated. The dialogue is believable and never rang false for me.

The denouement (especially the epilogue) was top notch, well written with an extra twist which I definitely didn't see coming. It was a satisfying end to a very well written book. I'll go back and pick up the earlier books in the series, though there are major spoilers in this book which will color earlier installments. If readers are planning to read this one, I would recommend picking up the backlist first.

Four stars. This is a really well written modern murder mystery with believable characters. 

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

200 under 20g Net Carbs

200 under 20g Net Carbs is a tutorial and recipe collection for keto compliant cooking by Lindsay Boyers. Due out 18th Aug 2020 Simon & Schuster on their Adams Media imprint, it's 256 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

The introduction covers the basics of the keto lifestyle/diet, including a basic primer on ketosis, macronutrients, tips, ingredients, tools, supplies, how-to. The following chapters include the recipes arranged roughly by category: breakfast, appetizers & snacks, soups & salads, poultry, beef pork & lamb, seafood, meatless dishes, sides, fat bombs, sweets & treats.

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements only.  There's a conversion chart for metric measures in the appendices. The nutritional information:  fat, carbs, protein, fiber content, etc are listed for the recipes as well as serving sizes.  Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made for the most part with easily sourced ingredients (not all though, sweeteners for example, will likely need to be sourced from specialists). Many are very simple, none of them are overly complex. There are also some meal plans included for quick-start suggestions along with a list of pantry staples to keep on hand which are keto-friendly.

The photography is not abundant; most of the recipes are not illustrated, but the photographs which are included are clear and well done.  I wish there had been more photographs and serving suggestions, but I do understand that extra photography increases the price of book projects very quickly and the lack is not crippling because this is a fairly simple (albeit massive) recipe collection.

This is a huge collection of recipes and even allowing for the fact that some of them are very similar to others in the same category, this will keep keto-cooks going for ages. Many of these can also easily be adapted to non-keto cooking. 

Five stars.

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

The Figure in the Photograph

The Figure in the Photograph is a standalone historical murder mystery by Kevin Sullivan. Released 23rd April 2020 by Allison & Busby, it's 352 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an interesting and thoroughly researched historical mystery set in Cuba and Scotland during the Spanish American war (1898). It's ostensibly a murder mystery, but it's a very meandering and passively written one. It struck me as less of a murder mystery than a family history with an important mystery subplot.  The technical background and the development of photographic techniques and medical and social history of the time seem to have been very carefully researched and represented by the author.

I found myself struggling to maintain interest during the reading and I think it's because although it's written in the first person, it's a very passive book. The narrative, even during the action, maintained very little dramatic tension. I never found myself turning pages to find out what happened next. I simply never developed a rapport with the characters. 

The denouement and motivations were a bit beyond my suspension of disbelief's ability to cope. 

Three and a half stars. I enjoyed the book, but struggled to maintain my interest (hence the delayed review).

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





Sunday, August 9, 2020

Mila Wants to Go to School

Mila Wants to Go to School is a sweetly illustrated simple and reassuring little book about the first day of school. Originally released in Dutch in 2008, this English translation due out 22nd Sept from Clavis is 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Aimed at very young children, the story is about Mila, a young girl who is very excited about her first day of school.  She and her daddy walk together to school and see and interact with their neighbors, some deer, and other temptations along the way, but Mila is determined to not be distracted.

The text is simple and accessible and the art is beautifully rendered and supports the story very well. I liked that Mila's life (she divides her time between mum and dad) and her ethnicity are relatable for most kids. Representation is important for everyone and her living arrangements and ethnicity are not remarked on in the text. It's also an inclusive book (there are characters of all ages included).

The translation work is seamless and it doesn't read as though it was written in another language first.  The art is full of small details which will also provide fun for hunt-and-find play during reading time.

Well done, charming and sweet. This will be a good story to read with youngsters who are heading to school in uncertain times.

Four stars.

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

Easy Dutch Oven Cooking Classic and Contemporary Recipes in 5 Steps or Less

Easy Dutch Oven Cooking Classic and Contemporary Recipes in 5 Steps or Less is a tutorial and recipe guide by Sara Furcini. Due out 18th Aug 2020 from Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 259 pages (for the ebook version)  in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available now). 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 is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.


The recipes are arranged by category: Breakfast & Brunch, Pasta Rice & Grains, Soups Stews & Chilis, Braises & Roasts, Fried Foods, Sides & Sauces, Breads, and Desserts. I really appreciated the inclusion of plant based dishes. Many of these are -hearty- one-dish mains that even my meat loving family really devoured (without complaining).

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American measurements only. There's a conversion chart for metric measures in the appendices. Special recipe notes such as gluten free, vegetarian, nut free, etc are listed in the header for each recipe. There's no included nutritional information.  Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in sidebars with the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made with easily sourced ingredients. Many are very simple, none of them are overly complex.

The photography is not abundant; most of the recipes are not illustrated, but the photographs which are included are clear and well done.  I wish there had been more photographs and serving suggestions, but I do understand that extra photography increases the price of book projects very quickly.

This is a huge collection of recipes and even allowing for the fact that some of them are very similar to others in the same category, this will keep one-pot/everyday cooking afficianados going for ages. These are simple "everyday" recipes which are anything but boring. We tried several dishes and all of them were tasty and well written. (We didn't try any of the bread or dessert recipes, but I found no glaring errors with a quick read-through).

We're definitely going to try more of these recipes.  Well written book, tasty recipes. I've dinged half a star for the near-total lack of photographs. For cooks who -need- photographs for serving ideas, this will be a disappointment. Since it's a one-pot-cooking book, the lack of photos shouldn't be crippling for most readers.

Four and a half stars.

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

Storey's Curious Compendium of Practical and Obscure Skills: 214 Things You Can Actually Learn How to Do

Storey's Curious Compendium of Practical and Obscure Skills is a pastiche collection of short how-to essays on a staggering variety of self-sufficiency related and obsolescent skills. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from Storey Publishing, it's 344 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Storey is well known for producing practical, sensible, well illustrated books aimed at helping readers get the best out of their lives and live a healthy lifestyle.  Many of their books and leaflets have found a permanent place in my library and I turn to them often for inspiration and advice. This is a well written collection of precise and accessible tutorials with lots (LOTS) of advice for performing tasks diverse as "reading" weeds to judge growing conditions, making upside-down container gardens in 5 gallon buckets (hint: doesn't work particularly well), shearing sheep, digging clams, making and hanging a hammock, hiving bees, changing a car tire, making biodiesel, and a host of other tasks. There is something here for *everyone*.

This is a beautifully presented book, well written and pretty well illustrated. The recipes are interesting and (mostly) made with easily sourced ingredients. Scattered throughout the book are highlights and essays writtenby different authors with information and background on all the diverse topics.

It would make a great home reference for paging through. There is little info here for more advanced readers, but almost all of the tutorials are referenced in the comprehensive bibliography for further information. The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. The headers include a description and introduction. Measurements are given in US standard only - some recipes have ingredients listed by ratio (one part this, one part that by weight or volume). Special tools (mortar/pestle) and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and processing and dosage directions. Variations for each recipe are also included in a footer at the end. The book also includes an index as well as references and a tutorial list arranged alphabetically by topic.

Four stars, really interesting book, but -very- basic information.

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

Floriography: An Illustrated Guide to the Victorian Language of Flowers

Floriography is a breathtakingly gorgeous illustrated treatise on the Victorian "secret" meanings of flowers. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from Andrews McMeel, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. The author is a well known artist with a strong following on social media and this is a really beautiful showcase of her botanical work.

The first section of the book is an herbal primer with each of the entries containing the common and botanical (Latin) name, the floriographic meanings, suggestions for pairing and bouquets, as well as a sepia toned delicately colored full page illustration. The art is wonderful and evocative, delicate and detailed.

The second section includes bouquets (see cover art) along with some more detailed descriptions of uses and occasions (both happy and bitter - there are numerous suggestions from which to choose). The author/artist has also included an abbreviated index arranged by emotion/occasion with suggestions for appropriate floral regards. Many of the full page illustrations are rendered on darker colored background with tinted nostalgic looking artwork. It's a beautiful effect and marries perfectly with the subject matter.

Five stars. This would make a lovely gift for a gardening friend or historical re-enactor, botanical artist or just for lovers of beautiful books. Restrained and beautifully done.

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

Heir of Lies (Black Dawn #1)

Heir of Lies is a crossworlds NA/YA coming of age fantasy (and the first in a series) by Mallory McCartney. Originally released in 2017, this reformat and re-release 21st April 2020 is 456 pages and available in ebook formats (other editions available in other 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 second in the series) are currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

It should first be noted that I am emphatically not the target audience, being neither young, nor some would argue, particularly adult. That being said, this is an action packed saga full of never-fully-rendered characters (who blend together confusingly) and none of whom I found particularly sympathetic or agreeable. The book is absolutely *full* of the sort of draaaaaaaaaamaaaaa which I generally avoid wherever possible, and I spent most of the read wanting to bang their heads together, and shaking my own.  The writing is competent, but full of the sort of stream of consciousness info dumping which makes books more difficult to read and parse in my experience. There are infinitives split thither and yon along with sentence fragments aplenty. I stopped making notes around page 30 because there were simply too many. The book really does have good bones underneath. The author seems to have a real story to tell, but the narrative needs a ruthless editor (or three). I normally have no trouble with multiple PoV narratives, but with this one I didn't sense any change in style or any demarcation, making the whole quite confusing. (It's also in 3rd person omniscient, which is a strange choice for an multi-PoV book and which never felt like a good fit for the story). There are no chapter-length chapters, just huge rolling sections which go on for what seemed like forever.

I did finish the first volume, and I do love cross realm fantasy and epic fantasy (probably my favorite genre). It was an uphill slog. My epic battle was finishing the book. I do not find myself motivated to seek out the second or (upcoming) third book. For fans of the author, or of young adult drama filled fantasy, it could be a good fit.

Two and a half stars. 

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



The Complete Urban Sketching Companion

The Complete Urban Sketching Companion is a tutorial guide for multiple techniques for sketching "in the wild". Due out 18th Aug 2020 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint the book is a compilation of previously released material (from the other books in the Urban Sketching series) plus some additional commentary and content.  It's 256 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a concise and well made book covering some essential concepts for sketching backgrounds in an urban setting. The emphasis is on speed, fluidity, building technique and consistency, distilling often chaotic and kinetic reality down in the sketchbook reliably and aesthetically. Although the book is aimed at moderately advanced students to professionals, there are takeaways here for artists of every level.

The layout is logical; the first section introduces the tools, supplies and techniques, including a valuable subchapter on etiquette and valuing one's own work and growth as an artist.

The study tutorials are arranged thematically: architecture & cityscapes, understanding perspective, people & motion, and working with color. The overall feel of the book is rich in technique, useful, and varied and I saw so many things which got my fingers itching to jump in and start drawing. I think most (non)artists are a lot more shy about drawing on paper/media and this book has a lot of good suggestions for picking up materials and making a start.

Five stars. I really liked this book and will definitely use it going forward for my own drawing sessions. I would recommend it to artists of all levels. It could also make a valuable text for more formal classroom/group type instruction. There's a *lot* of information included here. The books from which the information in this volume was distilled are: The Urban Sketching Handbooks--Architecture and Cityscapes, Understanding Perspective, People and Motion, Working with Color.  The authors have also included a useful checklist of personal goal challenges to tick off as they're achieved (draw an alley, a skyline, draw stairs going up and down from the vantage point, draw a meal as if the dishes were transparent, draw on paper which isn't white, draw people in a bar, sketch the same scene at different times of day, and many more). The challenge checklist could also make a nice starting point for assignments in a classroom or lecture setting.

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

Death in White Pyjamas / Death Knows No Calendar

Death in White Pyjamas / Death Knows No Calendar is a double title which includes 2 mysteries by John BudeOriginally released in 1944/1942 respectively this reformat and re-release, out 7th June 2020 is part of the British Library Crime Classics series by Poisoned Pen Press. This edition is 488 pages (for the ebook version) and available in paperback and ebook formats. (Other editions available in other 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.

These are both well written golden age British country house murder mysteries. Bude's style is lighthearted, sometimes bordering on wryly sarcastic (he gleefully describes one character's romantic exploits as "priapic"). It reminded me somewhat of Edmund Crispin's slightly campy overtone on several occasions. Nevertheless, both books were enjoyable reads, well plotted and very (very) British.

For me, one of the draws of the books in the crime classics series are the erudite and always interesting introductions by editor Martin Edwards Mr. Edwards has a prodigious knowledge of the genre and writes engagingly and well.

Well written, this double entry and the series as a whole are well worth seeking out. This would make a superlative selection for readers of the genre as well as an introduction to classic crime fiction from the golden age by a lesser known author from the period. It's so nice to see these being released for a new generation of fans.

Four stars.

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

The Modern Cottage Garden: A Fresh Approach to a Classic Style

The Modern Cottage Garden is a primer and tutorial guide to the exuberant classic garden style. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 228 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

I found this an inspirational book but also a practical one with advice on planning, siting, building, and developing a cottage garden whatever the conditions or the reader's situation.The traditional cottage garden with roses and flowering perennials elbowing one another in lush abandon is the main focus, but the author has done a good job of presenting inspiration for smaller spaces (even container gardens) which give the feeling of a more traditional cottage garden style in a much more limited scale.

The book also contains a cottage gardener's almanac, divided by seasons which enumerate the tasks to do and things to expect during the year. A final section contains a primer of 50 essential plants with botanical name, habit, spread, description, and season(s) of interest given along with photographs. The standard classics are included of course: saxifrage, sedum, rudbeckia, and several classic roses, but the author has also included plants which I hadn't really considered. The included grasses are particularly well represented in this collection.

The photography throughout is superlative - clear and easy to understand. The book also includes an abbreviated resource list with links, and a cross referenced index.

Five stars. This is a solid gardening book dedicated to a classic style which is well written, beautifully photographed, and surprisingly comprehensive.

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

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Day Saida Arrived

The Day Saida Arrived is a beautifully and simply written and illustrated story of friendship. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from Blue Dots Kids Press, it's 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a wonderfully written and illustrated story of two young girls who don't have a common language to express themselves but don't let that stand in the way of their friendship. They each learn words of all shapes and sizes in each others' languages (Arabic and English). The book is illustrated bilingually with both English and Arabic letters for the things the girls see and experience.

I liked that the author actually writes about some of the differences in the sounds in each of the languages and how the girls find it funny and challenging when their tongues get into tangles trying to roll their 'r's and, and how Saida's 'e's sound like 'i's sometimes.

This is a beautiful book about breaking down barriers and celebrating cultural differences. The ethereal art incorporates lettering in both English and Arabic in context to illustrate how learning another language encompasses more than just learning a glossary.

I really enjoyed this book. It would make a superlative selection for classroom or library, as well as a beautiful gift for a young person.

Five stars.

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

Secret Gardens of Somerset: A Private Tour

Secret Gardens of Somerset is a beautifully photographic record and intimate tour of 20 different stately and informal gardens in Somerset. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is an inspiring and educational book, full of ideas for garden lovers no matter what the scale of their own green spaces. Very few gardeners will have the space to recreate the famous gardens pictured, however, there are so many good takeaways which can be adapted to readers' own gardens. Since the book is absolutely full of color photographs and the text is relatively small and densely packed, the hardcover format is a must. 

The gardens represent a wide array of design and execution. The expected stately home gardens are represented, of course, with long alleys of topiary boxwood and formal layouts. What was equally welcome and more unexpected however, were the working farms, informal gardens, cottage gardens, historical landmarks, and a surprising amount of humorous interpretation and unexpected juxtaposition inviting a close look. The Morris mini car as a garden installation absolutely bursting with blooms really made me smile.

Four stars. Lots and lots (and lots) of inspiration. Aesthetically an enjoyable read with some nice takeaways.

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

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne is a period murder mystery by Elsa Hart. Released 4th Aug 2020 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 352 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

This is an extremely well written and entertaining historical murder mystery set in the early years of the 18th century. The protagonist is an intelligent, determined, and logical amateur sleuth who has a deep and abiding sense of justice and wants to see the truth revealed about the murder of a renowned collector of ephemera.

The disparate plot threads intertwine more closely as the book progresses until they merge about 3/4ths of the way through. The beginning of the book was slow for me because of the necessary framework-building and background setup. It more than repaid my diligence for sticking with it. The world building and settings along with the interactions and societal background are all on point and well rendered. One of the biggest standouts for me with this book was the expert way the author managed to explore perception. Motivation from one character's perspective which seems perfectly logical to -them- may not appear so to characters from other classes or backgrounds and the author's ability to highlight both viewpoints was exemplary. The dialogue is well rendered and pitch perfect (and will be fairly archaic and formal to readers who prefer more modern mysteries).

The clues are found and sifted and the denouement is satisfying and well written. The ending of the book strongly suggests that this is the first book in a series. I'm looking forward to more adventures for Cecily and Meacan.

Four stars. Very well done.

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

Friday, August 7, 2020

Let's Fix Lunch: Enjoy Delicious, Planet-Friendly Meals at Work, School, or On the Go

Let's Fix Lunch is a neat tutorial and recipe guide to planning, making, and enjoying lunch. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from from Chronicle Books, it's  144 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I'm a healthcare professional in my "day job" and as such, I continued to work during the lockdowns. For a while, we were advised against buying food in the hospital restaurant or convenience stores, so my choices for lunch pretty much consisted of hospital vending machines or bringing it myself. This book was a lot of fun to use and review and at the end of the month, I was really *shocked* how much money I had saved. (Like, embarrassingly much). 

The layout is logical and easy to understand. The introductory chapters make the case for meal-prep, saving packaging, minimizing litter and waste, and efficiency. The tips are clear and basic, and the introductory tutorials are easy to implement with a little planning.

The recipe chapters are arranged thematically - snacks on the go, sauces and condiments, soups & salads, sandwiches, and grains and pastas. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements, with metric equivalents in parentheses (yay!)), and step by step instructions. Many of the recipes are photographed, and they are photographed well and clearly. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. Special category listings (building block, school lunch friendly, make ahead, etc) are provided in the recipe headers. 

The book also includes a short resource list and cross referenced index. There are a fairly large number of recipes included which provide the building blocks for varied and tasty lunches. 

Four stars. There are a lot of really good tips here for reducing waste and making enjoyable meals on the go. 

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





Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton is a new biography for young readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and all of them are delightful and exuberant little books which cover the lives of famous cultural, science, arts, and innovative icons while maintaining an age-appropriate level of detail.

Due out 1st Sept 2020 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it'll be 32 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Written by Isabel S├ínchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  The gentle and vibrant illustrations were well done. The art by Olivia Holden is appealing and colorful and supports the story very well. The illustrations are bold and simple.

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition. I also appreciate that there are suggestions for further reading in the back of the book with the timeline of Shackleton's life.

Four stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift.  Shackleton was obviously a brave and incredible explorer, but the book also highlights his accomplishments as a leader and optimist and hero to his men. This book is a tribute to an icon who still represents the ideals of exploration and discovery. It's nice to see him being introduced to a new generation of kids.

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

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Botanical Art Techniques: A Comprehensive Guide

Botanical Art Techniques is an encyclopedic tutorial instruction guide to multiple different media for rendering botanical subjects. Due out 15th Sept 2020 from Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 416 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a jaw-droppingly beautiful book. The techniques are advanced and the whole really aimed at advanced students (and professionals), but it honestly feels like a book which can be grown into with sufficient dedicated practice. It's a comprehenshive reference full of tutorials and techniques.

The introductory chapters include tips for preparing specimens to keep them fresh whilst being drawn, working in the studio and in situ, tips for setting up a studio, and a crash course in botanical Latin.  The tutorials begin with rendering in black and white (graphite, and pen & ink), then in color (colored pencil, watercolor (on paper and vellum), and finally an advanced compendium of specialized techniques and composition.

This is a very very comprehensive guide. The applied tutorials are well written, but advanced. I would suggest that art students of all levels of expertise will find good takeaways here, but it will be most efficiently utilized by advanced to professional artists. This would be a superlative choice for libraries, reference, art/makers' studios and collectives, or a wonderful inspirational gift for an aspiring artist.

Really beautifully made. Five stars.

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Skin Deep (Siobhan O'Brien #1)

Skin Deep is the first novel in a sharp new American PI series by Sung J. Woo. Released 21st July 2020 by Agora, it's 325 pages (print version) and is available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is a well written modern PI procedural with a strong intelligent female protagonist whose straightforward missing persons case turns into a tangled web of conspiracy and corruption. Interestingly there's no murder in this one, so it's can't precisely be called a murder mystery, but it is fast paced, moderately action filled, well written and with a convoluted plot of numerous interwoven threads. The author has also included a light romance subplot which, happily, doesn't threaten to overpower everything else which is going on (and it's a fair effort to keep the disparate threads and secondary characters straight, but the author does a good job).

The pacing is even and despite being a little over the average length for the genre, it never dragged and I finished it in one setting. It's an easy and engaging read, although the denouement was unexpected and not entirely satisfying. I'm looking forward to future installments to see what the author has in store. I liked that Siobhan is unexpected in a lot of ways and not some superwoman who figures everything out instantly. She's plucky and intelligent and a little bit sarcastic and I liked her very much.

Four stars. This one will appeal to fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels and similar.

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

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is a pictorial guide to Egypt during the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2100 BCE) through the Greco-Roman period (332BCE-395CE). Due out 14th Sept 2020 from Amber Books, it's 224 pages and will be available in flexibound format.

I found the photographs fascinating and well curated. Many of them are of "lesser known" antiquities and historical persons from a wide historical period. I have long been interested in Egyptology but didn't recognize very many of them.

The commentary text by author Trevor Naylor is engaging and accessible and provides a loose timeline history to tie the beautiful photographs together into a surprisingly cohesive whole. This would make a good choice for library, classroom library, homeschool, and similar uses. It's also a lovely book of photography in its own right and would be a nice gift for a student of ancient history.

Four stars.

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

The Part-Time Vegetarian's Year: Four Seasons of Flexitarian Recipies

The Part-Time Vegetarian's Year is a book of lifestyle philosophy with recipes by Nicola Graimes. Due out 8th Sept 2020 from Nourish Books, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I found the book easy to understand and persuasively written. Chapter 1 covers the background and concepts/vocabulary for the concept of the flexitarian/localivore lifestyle along with carbon footprints, and living seasonally with available foods. The diet and lifestyle make use of preserving by freezing and other methods as well as emphasizing a diet based on fruits/veg/beans/nuts/seeds & grains, with moderate consumption of eggs and dairy, and rare (if ever) consumption of meat, shellfish, fish, and poultry.

The bulk of the book contains the recipes arranged by season,

The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in metric measures with US standard in parentheses. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. The ingredients are all easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store or preferably sourced locally (it's one of the main points the author makes in the book).

The photography is sufficient; roughly 20% of the recipes are pictured. The photos which are included in the cookbook are well done, clear, appealing, and (for tutorial photos) easy to follow. There is also an index included.

Well done. This book would make a great gift/housewarming for someone looking for more Earth-friendly recipes as well as fans of food prep planning and local cuisine. Self-sufficiency seekers will find a lot to love here as well.

Four stars.

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


Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food

Big Love Cooking is a recipe collection by Little Owl restaurateur Joey CampanaroDue out 268th Sept 2020 from Chronicle Books, it's  272 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The introductory chapter is followed by the recipes arranged thematically: brunch, soups & salads, vegetables, pasta, meat & poultry, fish & seafood, Sunday supper, and desserts. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements, with metric equivalents in parentheses (yay!)), and step by step instructions. Many of the recipes are photographed, and they are photographed well and clearly. Serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. 

I was impressed by the level of detail in the preparation instructions. They're meticulously elucidated no matter how complex. I found the well written instructions reassuring and felt like I could achieve a good consistent result by following them closely. Many of them are deceptively involved; there are some which are definitely outside the realm of after-work-cooking. Ingredients are very specific, including specific cheeses and varieties of vegetables or types of meat. Some ingredients will require access to specialist grocers or cheesemakers. 

The book is peppered with family photos and reminiscences which I found charming and fascinating. Mr. Campanaro's love for his culture and family background shines through in his writing. These reminiscences add a lot of flavor (sorry) to the book and provide anchoring context to the family and restaurant recipes he shares with a wider audience in his book. The website of the Little Owl restaurant refers to their customers throughout as "family" and reading this book, it really has the ring of truth. These are many of his treasured family recipes.

Wonderful Italian American comfort food recipes. These would grace any special gathering or special meal. 

Five stars.

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

Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio (Tante Poldi #3)

Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio is the third Auntie Poldi mystery by Mario Giordano. Originally published in German in 2018, this English translation released Aug 4th 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is 352 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book (and the first in the series) is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

The titular character, Isolde Oberreider, aka Poldi, has retired from film/tv (where she was a costumer) to Sicily to drink, soak up sun, enjoy seeing attractive men in uniform and live out her twilight years whilst solving the occasional murder. She's a beehive wig wearing (a la Winehouse), Maserati driving Venus of Willendorfian force of nature, cutting a wide swath through the Carabineri and the local mafioso alike. Her Watson is her nephew, who dutifully records her exploits and tries not to get run over whilst trying to write his own epic multi-generational historical novel in the style of James Michener. Between the scenes background is provided by three Italian aunties who serve as a Greek chorus for the narrative.

At 352 pages, it's a more substantial read than many contemporary procedurals or cozies. The length allowed the author to richly develop the setting and characters without suffering from book bloat at all.  The plotting was tight and the pacing was perfect and never dragged for me.

This is a really charming book with very appealing and sympathetic characters written with humor and heart.  I really cared about them.  It should be noted that there is a fair bit of double entendre, sly sexual asides, and fairly clean mentions of male genitalia in this book. The characters drink, swear, and some of them smoke cigarettes (and sometimes cannabis). The whole is exuberantly and warmly funny. There is some discussion of death and suicide in the book which could be triggering for some readers. 

Although originally released in German, the translation by John Brownjohn is seamless and nuanced and certainly doesn't seem to detract from story at all. Poldi is smart and funny, quirky and outspoken and I adore her. It doesn't read like a translated work. I generally prefer to read in the original language, but my German isn't up to the task, and this series depends so heavily on pacing and deftly sparkling narrative. I'm thankful the translator is up to the task.  I'm really looking forward to future installments (foreshadowed in the book, and already released in German and hopefully coming soon in translation). 

Four stars, really enjoyable read.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Infographic Guide to Grammar: A Visual Reference for Everything You Need to Know

The Infographic Guide to Grammar is a neat graphic primer on proper usage for English grammar. Due out 2nd Sept 2020 from Simon & Schuster on their Adams Media imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

When I was an admittedly nerdy kid, I used to love diagramming sentences, playing with writing exercises, keeping journals and all those sorts of assignments. I would have absolutely coveted this book. It's full of graphic charts, diagrams, colorful bullet lists, and punchy illustrations showing the parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, style, and common mistakes.

It's not really aimed particularly at school aged kids; I found quite a number of salient points which I had either forgotten or not learned the first time around. This is a comprehensive book, but not an encyclopedic one, so for all of the subjects it covers, it does so in a perfunctory (somewhat incomplete) manner. I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it as a useful desk reference, especially for visual learners. The book also includes a cross referenced index to access charts quickly and easily.

Four stars.

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


CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA

CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA is a primer on the CRISPR family of sequences and their biotechnological applications aimed at providing layman accessible explanations for the science and theory behind the concepts. Due out 8th Sept 2020 from Annick Press, it's 116 pages and will be available in hardcover and paperback formats.

Ostensibly aimed at young people, this is a good introduction to the science for middle grades up through adults. The author has a facility with science writing and renders the concepts fairly easy to understand for the average reader of whatever age. The layout is logical: a background capsule survey of genetics leads into specific areas where applications of the biotechnology has potentially world changing outcomes. The author's explanation of CAS proteins (and CAS9 in particular) is one of the simplest and best I've come across.The language is not unnecessarily scientific, though it is factual and requires some effort to really assimilate.

The book is well illustrated with line drawings throughout which give a more easily assimilated graphic representation of some of the salient concepts. It should be noted that this book is written about advanced biotechnology and for readers without any background at all, some moderate effort will be needed to understand the concepts.

I've been banging on for decades about the importance of STE(A)M education and this is a well written book which would make a superlative selection for classroom or home libraries, especially for young science interested readers. One (small) quibble with the book is that the author resorts to cutesy alliterative chapter titles (Mutant Mosquitoes, Cancer Cured, Perfect Potatoes, Death Defeated). That might've well been an editorial judgement, who knows, but it doesn't really add anything to the reading. There are other places where the author draws correlations between past innovations in biotechnology such as IVF and shows that they were also controversial at the time and are now seen as mainstream and innocuous (if still miraculous). I understand that combating the more sensationalist reactions in the press and the public over technology which they generally have a faulty and incomplete understanding is important, but I think that education and not comparisons must be the way forward. ( in other words: People freaked about IVF then, but it turned out fine, so don't worry about splicing fluorescent jellyfish genes into your tropical fish, look, they glow green!).

My "day job" is in biotechnology in a pathology laboratory which sees these and other techniques as an unquestionably *vital* step in isolating and treating (and someday curing) a host of diseases. This -is- going to be the way forward in medicine and other areas of biotechnology (plastic eating bacteria, food security and abundance, helping solve climate change, etc).

This will not be a super easy book for most readers. It is a good book for especially science interested young people or determined adult learners.

Five stars mostly for doing a decent job of explaining very complex concepts in a layman accessible manner.

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




Five Marys Ranch Raised Cookbook: Homegrown Recipes from Our Family to Yours

Five Marys Ranch Raised Cookbook is a wonderful new cookbook and style guide by Mary Heffernan. Due out 8th Sept 2020 from Sasquatch Books, it's 288 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is such a lovely book, written with warmth and generousity, full of well developed recipes with a quintessentially American farmland flavor and hospitality that it's impossible not to like it. The book is lavishly illustrated, showing the Heffernan family, pets, lifestyle, stock, and surroundings in gorgeous detail.

The book is laid out logically and accessibly. An introduction/bio for the Heffernan's journey from being yuppies (he ran his own law firm, she was an entrepreneur) to ranchers was interesting and provided some salient philosophical takeaways. The recipes are arranged roughly thematically: breakfasts, appetizers/small bites, beef, pork, lamb, sides, beverages, and desserts.

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American measurements only. There is an included conversion chart for metric measures in the back of the book. Descriptions are contained in the header for each recipe. The nutritional information is not included. Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in headers with the recipe descriptions. The recipes themselves are beautifully finished with lots of nice unexpected juxtapositions of flavor and texture (citrus and crisp fried Brussels sprouts, lamb loin served with a green olive and orange relish - amazing and delicious). The recipes are (obviously) meat heavy, it's a ranch cookbook. There are a fair number of meat-free recipes however, and the overall quality of the writing and neat and hearty fusion style of the foods will allow vegetarians a surprising amount of use for the recipes in the book - notably all of the sauces, condiments, dressings, marinades, and other flavor enhancers (and there are a pile of them) can be adapted to meat-free uses. 

The production values are top notch, and yes, the book shows a jealousy inducing "instagram perfect" family (as I look around at my messy kitchen countertops and wash my 3rd load of laundry for the day), however, it's honestly written with such warmth and candor that I found myself admiring them reaching for (and apparently working together to achieve) their dreams and raise their lovely family in a gorgeous rural setting. The photography is abundant and gorgeous and adds a lot to the recipes. Serving suggestions are beautifully presented and appropriate.

Five stars. I'll be buying my own copy.

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