Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nine Chains to the Moon

Nine Chains to the Moon is a reformatted and re-released new edition of Buckminster Fuller's 1938 collection of thoughts, essays, and observations. Released in a new edition 16th Sept. 2020 by Dover, it's 384 pages and is available in paperback format (in this edition).

Buckminster Fuller was a brilliant thinker, inventor, and philosopher. This is a wide ranging book containing treatises on such disparate subjects as population, living standards (and how they can be improved), money and monetary concepts, housing (always a big subject with him), scientific thought and exploration, and so many more. The 43 included essays vary in length from snippets to 10-15 pages each.

Fuller's style runs the gamut from cajoling to humorous, to (at least to me) nigh impenetrable. Some of the things he says are bigger-than-life, some are awe inspiring, and it amazed me how relevant-to-right-this-minute so much of the content really is. For being written in 1938, he was preternaturally gifted at forward thinking and extrapolation.

It's worth noting that much of the book contains words which he coined himself when there wasn't an extant word for what he wanted (vacuumizing, earthians, dymaxion, and many more). This can render the text a little more difficult, but pretty much everything was clear from context where neologisms are used.

This is a classic book from a brilliant mind and still quite relevant today. Five stars. This would be a good selection for the reader's personal library, gift giving, or similar. 

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

The Midnight Circus

 

The Midnight Circus is a collection of short fiction, poetry, and commentary by Jane Yolen. Due out on 1st Oct 2020 from Tachyon, it's 256 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately

I enjoyed every single story in this collection; there were no weak ones.  All of these have been published previously and date from the last several decades. Many of the stories are quite difficult to find and several were new to me in any form. One reason I prefer collections and anthologies is that short fiction is really challenging.  It's spare and the author doesn't have a wealth of wordage to develop characters or the plotting.  Well written short fiction is a delight. I also love collections because if one story doesn't really grab me, there's another story just a few pages away.  I can only recall a few times where I've read a collection (or anthology) straight through from cover to cover.  This one I did. I even re-read the stories which I had read before. 

In fact, one story, The Snatchers, was one which I'd read in F&SF years ago and couldn't ever *find* again and when I would try to figure out where I'd read it (I knew it wasn't a figment of my fevered imagination, I can't imagine that creatively and well), it didn't ring any bells with anyone. This collection made me so happy to finally find the story again. It was, incidentally, even -better- than I remembered it being. 

I'm not normally a huge reader of poetry but the included poems (they're interspersed with the story notes) were lyrical and beautifully written and engaging and so precisely put together that it was a pleasure. 

A worthwhile collection for Yolen fans, readers of fantasy and speculative fiction, and folks who just appreciate well written fiction. She's a master writer with a prodigious oeuvre and these are some of her best dark stories. 

Five stars. Gorgeous.

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

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Orphan's Guilt (Joe Gunther #31)

 

The Orphan's Guilt is the 31st Joe Gunther novel by Archer Mayor. Due out 29th Sept 2020 from Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 288 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

I've read some (not all) of the previous books in the series and this one is similar in some ways. It's a procedural with the VBI playing a central role. The ensemble cast is well written and the characters are believable and three dimensional. The opening sequences seemed a little slow to me (it starts with a traffic stop leading to a DUI arrest) and just the setup for this extremely convoluted mystery takes about 30% of the book. The writing is (as always) top notch, so it's a pleasure to read, but it is quite slow to start. 

I liked the fact that so many disparate characters had active and important roles in the book - investigative journalist, detectives, lawyer, private investigators and others. The witnesses they interview are well written and more than window dressing. I really like it that the author doesn't feel the need to spell it out explicitly that some witnesses are lying, hiding things, changing stories, or misleading for their own reasons and allows the investigators to figure things out. 

The content is somewhat gritty, there's a fair bit of violence in context, and PG-13 strong language.  There's also alcoholism, substance abuse, and torture murder (which happens off-scene). 

Four stars. Very well written and engaging (if slow paced) murder mystery/procedural. 

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

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Murder at Queen's Landing (Wrexford & Sloane #4)

 

Murder at Queen's Landing is the 4th Wrexford & Sloane regency mystery by Andrea Penrose. Due out 29th Sept 2020 from Kensington, it's 368 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an engaging and well written addition to the series. It's an ensemble character driven cozy(ish) historical murder mystery with a strong element of romance. The author has written the story around a framework of fictionalized historical characters (two of my favorites from real life - Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace) and does a good job of interweaving the historical facts with the fictional narrative allowing for some minor poetic license regarding names, dates, and times. 

Although self-contained in the narrative arc, the cast of characters have a long history together, so it works well enough as a standalone, but I strongly recommend reading the series in order because of  character development spoilers. The language is very clean, there's some violence used in context, and no sexual content. 

Enjoyable cozy murder romance. Four stars.

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


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Strawberry Love: 45 Sweet and Savory Recipes for Shortcakes, Hand Pies, Salads, Salsas, and More

 

Strawberry Love is a beautifully presented collection of recipes developed and collected by Cynthia Graubart.Due out 27th April 2021 from Storey, it's 104 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The first "real" homegrown strawberries of the season are always heavenly. We look forward to summer for our sweet perfect local berries. The season never seems to last long enough, but most years I manage to put up enough jam and pie fillings and frozen berries to last us until midwinter at least. 

This little book is packed full of colorful appealing strawberries featured in a surprisingly creative and varied number of recipes both sweet and savory. The introduction contains some good tips on handling strawberries and general info on freezing, storing, and using them efficiently and with minimum waste. The following chapters contain the recipes, arranged roughly thematically: breakfasty things, savory recipes, and desserts. 

The recipes have an introduction header description with ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Ingredient measures are given in US standard only followed by step by step directions. Required ingredients are easily sourced and will be available at any well stocked grocery store.There are some gluten free and vegan friendly recipes included. 

The photography and food styling are exceptionally well done and attractive. I found myself flipping through the recipes and having trouble deciding what I wanted to try first - they all look really good. In the end, we tried the strawberry lemon jam and the creamsicles. Both recipes were easy to follow and gave good results. 

Four stars. This is a must have for gardeners (or readers with a pick-your-own farm within driving distance) who are looking for ways to use up those glorious delicious harbingers of summertime. 

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

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Meateater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival

 

The Meateater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival is a general guide to wilderness and emergency survival skills presented by Steven Rinella. Due out 1st Dec 2020 from Random House, it's 512 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

For readers unfamiliar with the author, the title MeatEater refers to his online presence and brand.  This is a general guide for emergency and self-sufficiency wilderness skills and is an impressively comprehensive treatment of the subject. The book is arranged in logical sections starting with what to pack and wear, securing water and food, avoiding being something else's dinner, securing shelter and staying warm, navigating in the wilderness, and medical/safety. 

One of the most impressive parts of this guide is that besides being a comprehensive treatise on keeping body and soul physically moving and alive, the author also expends a great deal of effort talking about and illustrating the importance of psychological preparedness for survival - evaluating situations, minimizing (as much as possible) mistakes, and compensating for unforseeable situations which crop up. 

This is probably the best overall survival guide I've ever seen. This would make a sensible addition to the smallholder's library, self-sufficiency folks, off-grid, campers/hikers/wilderness and the like.  It would make an excellent gift for the outdoorsy folks as well. Very well written and accessible.

Five stars.

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

Origami Farm: For Beginners

 

Origami Farm is a fun beginner origami tutorial collection by Anne Passchier. Due out 16th Oct 2020 from Dover, it's 96 pages and will be available in paperback format bundled with 24 sheets of origami paper.

This is a delightful collection of 22 models grouped roughly thematically: farm animals, in the barnyard, in the field, and the farm at night. The tutorials are all accessible and the drawings are very clear and well illustrated and concise. The difficulty of the projects range from beginner level to slightly more advanced and identified with 1-3 stars for difficulty.  I am not an especially experienced folder (I would call myself a keen beginner) and I had no troubles following the diagrams at all. My only technical problem came with trying to inflate my fish which wanted to stay flat (you blow into the back of the fold). Manual inflation with a knitting needle worked perfectly. 

Dover publications has long been a standard bearer for beautifully illustrated well made crafts books.  This one is no exception.  Everything is top notch. The colorful illustrations are whimsical and appealing. This would make a perfect gift for both enthusiasts and origami-curious beginners. Highly recommended to makers' groups, activity groups, art units in a classroom setting, library activity, gift for a young origamist, etc. Five stars - short and simple. 

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

Cry of Metal & Bone (Earthsinger Chronicles #3)

 

Cry of Metal & Bone is the third book in the Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope. Released 11th Aug 2020 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Griffin imprint, it's 496 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

Even though it's the third book in the series (there's also a novella in addition), I think it would work reasonably well as a standalone (I've read the previous two books but not the novella).  I had no trouble following the plot or the wonderfully complex and rich world building and magical systems. It's a hybrid high fantasy with some nods to steampunk/technology. The author is quite gifted, especially with her descriptive prose and dialogue. I wasn't yanked out of the story one single time by clunky or unbelievable dialogue.

There is a romance theme, so readers who are only in it for the swords will probably skip the kissing bits. There's also quite a lot of violence. I liked that the books have strong female representation who are practical, resourceful, and intelligent. For readers who prefer their speculative fiction romance-free, this book does include a significant romance subplot.  The writing is superlative however, and the included romance element wasn't cringe-worthy or badly written at all. I would classify it as mature YA/NA but I didn't find it juvenile in any way (I would say 'adult' but that conjures a different demographic). 

Four stars. This is a gifted author with an intelligent and immersive story to tell.

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Origami Animals

 

Origami Animals is a collection of 8 projects bundled with 200 sheets of two-sided origami paper. Released 16th Sept 2020 by Dover, it's a 56 page folding manual + 200 sheets of paper and available in paperback format. 

The 8 projects included (see cover) are all attainable by a keen beginner. Of the 8 folds, I was previously familiar with only 1 (the traditional cat). There is also a bird, caterpillar, 9 fold butterfly, crab, scottie dog, turtle and owl. The introduction includes standard basic folding diagrams showing the techniques and basic folds. Each of the projects includes full color pictures, as well as line drawn process tutorials which are fairly easy to follow. The projects are written by well known origamists and the tutorial drawings are clear and easy to follow. 

Dover is well known for their origami and other papercrafting and illustration books. This one is full of fun examples of origami for all levels of expertise and comes bundled with paper to get started right away. I received an electronic review copy, so I can't speak to the quality of the paper included with the bundle, but their other origami books have good quality paper, so presumably that will carry over to this volume as well. 

Highly recommended to makers' groups, activity groups, art units in a classroom setting, library activity, gift for a young origamist, etc. Five stars - short and simple. 

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


Make Your Own Beer: A Guide to All Things Beer and How to Brew It Yourself

 

Make Your Own Beer is a layman accessible introduction to homebrewing beer by John Shepherd. Due out 30th Nov 2020 from Pen & Sword, it's a compact 104 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

The book has a logical and accessible layout. The introduction provides a capsule history of modern zymurgy, changing beer styles, and the renaissance of craft beers. The following chapters provide an overview of the scope and reasonable possibilities for home-brewing through a very well written tutorial through the process: equipment, ingredients, preparation, mash & sparge (don't worry, understandable definitions are provided), hopping, transfer, fermentation, packaging, storage, and further exploration/experimentation. There are several appendices which give examples of record keeping brew sheets and brew-kit equipment. There is no index in the eARC I was provided for review (but it's a short and streamlined book).

This would make a great gift for a keen beginner or intermediate hobbyist. Four stars.

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

The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery

 

The Light Ages is a beautifully annotated and layman accessible survey of astronomy, mathematics, engineering, science, and learning in the middle ages viewed through the lens of a real 14th century monk called John of Westwyk. Due out 24th Sept from Penguin UK on their Allen Lane imprint, it's ca. 320 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats (other editions possibly available in other formats).

I love reading history, especially of the middle ages. I spent a lot of time in my past, dressed up in medieval garb (or as close as I could get), recreating and demonstrating the nicer parts of the period with my fellow history nerds. I'm also an engineer (day job), and a calligrapher (hobby), so finding this book, which is an intersection of the venn diagram of my life, was a delight.

Dr. Seb Falk has taken what could've been the tweediest, driest, most academic treatise and made it both accessible and human. The subject matter is admittedly academic, there's enough annotation and chapter notation and bibliography to satisfy the staunchest pedant but at the same time, there's a clear and compelling biographical narrative. I'm amazed that there's enough period record to reconstruct the story of Brother John's life in a cold monastic cell in Hertfordshire in the 14th century, but there's enough extant record to create a rough timeline and the author has clearly noted and rigorously supported and annotated where extrapolations are made. 

There were so many revelations for me in this book about medieval education, numeracy, literacy of the general population, lifestyle, and more. Throughout the book, where middle English is quoted in the book from period records, it's written verbatim, with an interpretation below it in modern vernacular. There are numerous photographs and illustrations which I enjoyed very much.

Well written, meticulously annotated and researched, with a clear and engaging narrative. The author has a rare gift with written English. Five stars.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mortmain Hall (Rachel Savernake #2)

Mortmain Hall is the second book in the Rachel Savernake series by Martin Edwards. Released 22nd Sept 2020 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's 368 pages and 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

I've seen the series touted as an homage to the golden age of British detective fiction, and while it's certainly set in the interwar period in England, it didn't necessarily feel like it was of the period to me. It's very well crafted, with the hallmarks of the era (courtroom drama, skullduggery, genteel (and not so genteel) murder, suspects gathered together in a gloomy stately home), but the setting could have been any time from about 1920 to the present day (except for the capital punishment parts).

The plotting is rather slow, built up over time rather than explosive. The narrative arc is deliberate - stately even, and the denouement is less of a crescendo than an inescapable inevitability when it finally comes. There were a number of fairly outlandish plot twists which interfered with my suspension of disbelief, but in the end the plot threads resolve, the clues are deciphered, and the mysteries are solved. 

There is very little background information provided by the author, so the book (in my opinion) doesn't work very well as a standalone. I do recommend the series and the author, so reading the first volume will reward diligent readers. 

Four stars. Not classic golden age, but quite readable (and edgy with a sort of noir vibe).

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

The Low-FODMAP IBS Solution Plan and Cookbook: Heal Your IBS with More Than 100 Low-FODMAP Recipes That Prep in 30 Minutes or Less

 

The Low-FODMAP IBS Solution Plan and Cookbook is a dietary plan, information guide, and cookbook with recipes developed by Dr. Rachel Pauls. Due out 6th Oct 2020 from Quarto on their Fair Winds Press imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback format.

Current research continues to emphasize how nearly all our body systems depend on our digestive system working as well as possible. Our gut is not only responsible for effective digestion and processing of nutrients, but is also being shown to have far reaching effects on our energy levels, mental health, hormonal balance, mood, and much more. This guide is a resource for helping IBS patients (and others trying to support their digestive systems) re-establish function and minimize or eliminate flare-ups. 

I like the author's humor and witty style of writing. She's conversational, upbeat and encouraging without ever being patronizing. The guide is written in layman accessible language which anyone can understand. I imagine many readers suffering digestive issues (bloating, pain, IBS, etc) will be nodding along reading about the symptoms and typical presentation of chronic digestive disease and flare-ups. The included recipes are well written and appealing. When I think of low-FODMAP/gluten-free foods, they're mostly bland and tasteless. These are anything but boring.

The introduction covers the general information about IBS - the who, what, where, and how-to. The author also provides a list of possible questions for patients to ask their healthcare providers. I also liked the whimsical little line drawings which adorn the pages.

The recipes are grouped roughly thematically: breakfasts, starters & sides, fish & shellfish, meat & poultry, vegan & vegetarian, snacks & treats, and stocks sauces dressings & dips. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (metric & US measurements included - yay!), step by step instructions, as well as footers with tips and alternative suggestions and some tips on presentation. Nutritional info not included. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. The ingredients are mostly easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. 

The book has a resource list with links for further reading, short author bio, and index. The photography is clear, and more than half of the recipes are accompanied by finish/serving photos. The photos which are included in the cookbook are well done, appealing, and (for tutorial photos) easy to follow.

This book would make a great gift for someone looking for low-FODMAP recipes as well as cooks supporting and cooking for a family member with digestive issues, or for chronic IBS patients looking for ways to take control of their own gut health.

Four and a half stars rounded up because of the author's truly engaging funny style and the beautifully developed recipes themselves. It's written in an empowering and understandable way.

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

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Body from the Past (A Jazzi Zanders Mystery #5)

The Body from the Past is the 5th Jazzi Zanders house flipper mystery by Judi Lynn. Due out 22nd Sept 2020 from Kensington on their Lyrical Underground imprint, it's 204 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

Despite being the 5th book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone. The backstory is provided without the reader feeling spoon-fed or overwhelmed. The plot moves along at a good clip and the characters are mostly believable and well rendered. The relationship between Jazzi and her husband Ansel is wholesome and heartwarming and a lot of fun to read. If some of the dialogue between Jazzy and her "suspects" is a bit stilted occasionally, it's not egregiously so, and certainly not in this type of amateur sleuth mystery cozy.

I love cozy mysteries but I've often joked with other fans of the genre that it's amazing that there are any people *left* in these small rural towns since they seem so enthusiastic about bumping one another off. ("It's fine, Aunt Jessica, just send a card, you don't have to travel all the way here for the graduation!!!"). So it was refreshing that this mystery didn't actually begin with Jazzi and co. tripping over a literal body. Old crimes cast long shadows, however, and it's not too long before Jazzi has a stable of suspects to winnow through, along with the ongoing house repairs and an occasional new crime to figure out.

The language is very clean and there's very little graphic violence and no sexual content. 

Four stars. A fun undemanding fast paced house-flipper cozy.

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

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

 

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a new urban fantasy/crossworlds mashup by Garth Nix. Due out 22nd Sept 2020 from HarperCollins Children's imprint, it's 416 pages (hardcover) and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

Probably 80% of what I read and review is speculative fiction and murder mysteries. Of the SF/fantasy, urban fantasy is my favorite. Give me hobgoblins in Edinburgh, talking rats in the subway, genii locorum (yes, I had 7 years of formal Latin, sorry), or semi-mythical librarians/booksellers/archivists, and it's like catnip. This is that...lots and lots of that. I started reading and was delighted, quickly enraptured, and then spellbound. I stayed up way too late reading.

The plotting and nuts-and-bolts construction are well engineered and all the moving parts work. The dialogue is well done and doesn't devolve into pure annoying sarcastic snark at any point. There's a fair bit of violence and gore, but it's not egregious or overly graphic. I would put it around the PG-13 level. The language is somewhat rough (again, used in context). There is no sexual content.   

There will absolutely be comparisons to MiƩville's Un Lun Dun, and Aaronvitch's Rivers of London, and Gaiman's Neverwhere, but while I can say that fans of those esteemed worthies will find a lot to love here, Nix brings his own (inimitable) distinct narrative and it's original and enjoyable and fresh. It's not explicitly foreshadowed, but I hope this will be a long and very prolific series. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.

I really really enjoyed this one. Four stars, a strong series (I hope) start.

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

Vanishing Act (A Tom Knight Mystery Book 1)

 

Vanishing Act is the debut novel in a new PI murder mystery series by Charlie Hodges. Released 17th Sept 2020 by Farrago, it's 286 pages and 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

I tend toward a reading list that's heavily weighted toward the stately home golden age refined British mysteries, so finding this gem of a modern day fairly gritty PI mystery with a geriatric ex-SAS officer protagonist was a surprise to put it mildly. I was admittedly hooked from the first chapter and the pace didn't let up and it kept me reading straight through. The dramatis personae are varied and interesting and well fleshed-out. Aside from Tom Knight (ex-SAS former badass 73 year old trapped inside a treacherous body suffering the ravages of time and the abuse to which it's been subjected over the years), and his sidekick Merv, the author has provided a plethora of suspects from which to choose (including one very corrupt policeman who was both annoying -and- incompetent).

The disparate plot threads wind tighter and eventually resolve into a wistful resolution. The book is eminently readable and enjoyable. There are flashes of true wit and self deprecating humor. The author has manfully avoided the cheap age-ist humor which most would've included. Tom is a sympathetic and well drawn character and despite his foibles (charging headlong into danger with a very dodgy knee), he's likeable intelligent and well drawn. 

Four stars. I'll be looking for future installments with anticipation. 

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

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Witness to Murder (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #3)

 

A Witness to Murder is the third Lady Eleanor historical cozy mystery by Verity Bright. Released 14th Sept 2020, it's 289 pages and 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book (and the rest of the series) are currently included in the KU library to borrow and read for free.

This is a very light & fun British cozy which is sort of an homage to earlier golden age inter-war mysteries. It's fairly irreverent, with an appealing ensemble cast of amateur society sleuth Lady Eleanor and her butler/dogsbody Clifford whom she inherited along with her title from her late uncle as well as assorted society friends and servants. 

This outing sees a local businessman and politician collapsing into his dessert at a charity fundraising dinner. Lady Eleanor and Clifford are soon sallying forth to right wrongs and make the world safer for everyone. 

It's a fast and undemanding cozy read; the language is clean, the murders are not written violently or explicitly and the denouement is satisfying and well written. For readers looking for verisimilitude in dialogue and action, be warned, this series is full of modern vernacular and sensibilities. Eleanor fraternizes with the servants and runs a shockingly lax estate. Her sometimes beau, Lancelot, is a caricature and only makes brief appearances in this entry in the series.

Four stars, a somewhat exuberant and whimsical romp.

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

Restorative Yoga: Relax. Restore. Re-energize.

 

Restorative Yoga is an illustrated tutorial guide for restorative and relaxation yoga written by Caren Baginski. Due out 3rd Dec 2020 from Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available now). 

Especially given the current world situation, relaxation and stress management are important themes for everyone. The toll that chronic stress takes on our bodies is insidious and serious; it can even be deadly. Restorative yoga is a tool which is accessible and safe and effective and can be practiced by almost everyone no matter what their level of fitness or previous yoga experience are.

The book follows a logical progression: an introduction and tips for using the book are followed by what restorative yoga is and other basic info, followed by the poses grouped thematically: forward bending poses, backbend poses, inversions twists & side bends, and restorative sequences.

The author has a reassuringly positive and calm manner of writing. She's encouraging but not strident or preachy at all. The equipment used in the book is minimal and easily sourced (she provides alternatives which most readers already have around the house). The photography in the book is clear, well modeled, and illustrative. The tutorial photos are mostly shown in series from the side and are also well modeled and clear. Each pose tutorial is explained in understandable language with step by step photos and accompanying instructions. She also explains breathing in an accessible manner.

I have been having a lot of physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. The progress has been positive but slow and painful. I've experienced benefits from the information in this book, less pain and more mobility. It's sort of difficult to really tell objectively (what would anyone have to compare it to?) but I believe my stress levels have also been ameliorated. I work in the healthcare sector, and I feel like I'm coping. I'm sure the breathing and stress management have probably helped.

Five stars, definitely worth a look for anyone interested in stress relief in conjunction with yoga practice. Works very well for beginners.

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

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Skelton's Guide to Domestic Poisons

 

Skelton's Guide to Domestic Poisons is a thunderously well written exuberant historical legal procedural set in the late 1920s and written by David Stafford. Released 17th Sept 2020 by Allison & Busby, it's 352 pages and available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

The story arc is well plotted, with a plethora of possible suspects and motives. The disparate plot threads (a poisoning, injury compensation, Skelton's cousins Alan & Nora, flappers, suffragettes, skullduggery, official corruption and more) interweave well and culminate in a satisfying and well written denouement. Even the secondary characters are very finely drawn, from Skelton's clerk, his wife (a fervent feminist and lady gym master), to Arthur Skelton himself. 

Arthur and his clerk, Edgar, have a solid repartee going on as they investigate, and the whole has a *very* Albert Campion and Lugg vibe. The dialogue is witty and sparkling and cheeky and thoroughly enjoyable. It scintillates and Stafford is a beautifully capable writer. It's not entirely apparent whether this is the beginning of a series or not, but I find myself fervently hoping there's more in store. 

For readers who decide to pick it up, the author's notes at the end of the book are absolutely worth a read.

A lovely and entertaining mystery. Four stars.

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

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill (New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #4)

 

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill is the 4th book in the new Hercule Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah. Released 15th Sept 2020 by HarperCollins on their William Morrow imprint, it's 288 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. 

Despite not being in any way reminiscent of Dame Agatha's oeuvre, this is undeniably a well written, well plotted, readable mystery in the fashion of the golden age. Read on its own merits, it does admirably and I enjoyed it a lot. The characters are classic, archetypal even, rich society matrons, captains of industry, spoiled socialites, village busybodies, salt-of-the-earth charwomen, butlers, maids, and others in service, and Poirot and Inspector Catchpool (Capt. Hastings v. 2.0) rounding out the dramatis personae.

The plotting is rather slow, built up over time rather than explosive. The narrative arc is deliberate - stately even, and the denouement is less of a crescendo than an inescapable inevitability when it finally comes. There were a number of outlandish plot twists which interfered with my suspension of disbelief (no spoilers - never fear), but in the end plot threads resolve, clues are deciphered, mysteries are solved, and Poirot sallies forth in search of the next mystery. 

I love golden age British mysteries and this one fits in quite well as an homage to the genre. I've read Christie's canon many many times and I liked this book a lot more when I wasn't trying to read it as a Poirot mystery or find similarities with Christie's original work.

Four stars. Not Christie, but quite readable.

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

The Crohn's Disease Cookbook: 100 Recipes and 2 Weeks of Meal Plans to Relieve Symptoms

 

The Crohn's Disease Cookbook is a tutorial guide with recipes by dietician Amanda Foote. Released 11th Aug 2020 by Callisto on their Rockridge Press imprint, it's 198 pages (for the print version)  in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

I really liked the author's reassuring and accessible style of writing. From the beginning, she assumes no prior knowledge (she starts with a tutorial for using and making notes on e-reader platforms). A short easy to understand chapter on Crohn's and IBD contains a good capsule survey of symptoms, stress management issues, food, and interrelationships of these and other factors to (hopefully) help in controlling flareups and give a better quality of life. 

The author has included full meal plans for both flare-up weeks and asymptomatic (remission) weeks. They're general and can be varied somewhat to the reader's specific situation, wishes, and also cornform to special dietary restrictions. Meal prep + planning are helpful (and money saving) even without special dietary needs, but in the middle of flare-ups they can be life savers, sparing readers from the stress of figuring out what to eat and when to eat to avoid making a bad situation worse.

The recipes are grouped roughly thematically: breakfasts & smoothies, soups, salads, vegetarian, meat & poultry, fish & seafood, pasta & rice, and desserts. They have their ingredients listed bullet style in the sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. The nutritional info provided is arranged with most major info given (calories, fats, saturated, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, etc).Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. 

The ingredients are mostly easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. The included recipes cover a number of world cuisines including Indian, Asian, European, North & South American; a blended selection.  The are very few photos included in the book. The photographs which are included are clear and appealing and serving suggestions are appropriate. 


The book also has a resource list with links for further reading, metric conversion chart, flare-up/reaction tracker, and short author bio. 

This book would make a great gift/housewarming for someone cooking for themselves or family members with IBS/Crohn's with appealing recipes, and fans of food-prep planning / batch cooking.

Four stars.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Dangerous Goodbye (A Fen Churche Mystery #1)

 

A Dangerous Goodbye is the debut novel in a new post-WW2 series by Fliss Chester. Released 20th Aug 2020 by Bookouture, it's 278 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a very well written atmospheric historical murder mystery set in the immediate aftermath of WW2 in England and France. Protagonist Fen Church (yes, like the station). The characterizations are clearly delineated - it's a large(ish) cast, and I had no trouble keeping them straight in my head. The setting and narrative arc are well rendered and believable. I did find the pacing a little slow in the first half of the book, but the action soon speeds up. Certainly since it's the first book in the series, a certain amount of latitude must be given to build up backstory and setting (which the author manages quite well). 

There are a number of plot threads which wind together into a rather thrilling denouement. One of the side elements is that both Fen and her missing fiance Arthur were keen cruciverbalists (crossword fans) and a number of plot twists turn on that fact; figuring out where Arthur's gone and what's happened are left up to Fen to decipher from coded hints left in his letters. I don't think there will be enough crossword clues for keen solvers, and there might be a bit too much crossword-ish bits for non-crosswords fans, but overall the author strikes a good balance. I hope we get more crossword elements in future books in the series. Time will tell. 

Well written and engaging. Recommended for fans of WW2 mysteries. Strong, intelligent, and brave female protagonist. Four stars.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Book on Pie

The Book on Pie is an encyclopedic primer and recipe collection developed and curated by Erin Jeanne McDowell. Due out 10th Nov 2020 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Rux Martin imprint, it's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.  

Pies, in all their variations, are classic and universal - spanning nearly all world cuisines in one form or another. They can be simple or devilishly difficult to make consistently. This new collection of tutorials and recipes guides the baker through the process in an accessible and understandable way. The introduction includes a good overview of tools, supplies, and ingredients. 

The layout is graphically appealing, logical and easy to follow.  The chapters are arranged roughly thematically: from dough and crust variations, decor and toppings, fruit pies, custard pies, cream chiffon & cold set pies, and savory pies.  Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (metric & US measurements included - yay!), step by step instructions, as well a footers with tips and alternative suggestions as well as professional tips on presentation and more. One of the high points of the book for me were the photographs. Although not all the recipes are accompanied by photos, the ones which are included are high quality and clear - and serving suggestions are appealing and appropriate. Really beautiful pies with professional finishes, and something for me to aim for. 

The recipe ingredients themselves are (mostly) easily sourced and will be available at well stocked grocery stores. There are a very few ingredients which might be a little more difficult to source, but definitely nothing that is 'way out there'.

All in all, -very- well written, beautifully presented pies, made from tasty ingredients which are easily sourced and beautifully enhanced with decorative complex looking fancy crusts. For cooks looking for a pie cookbook, this one is very very well written and presented.

Five stars, we'll be revisiting this recipe book often. A useful antidote to boring deserts. There are -so- many of these which will blow the socks off the "competition" at the next holiday gathering, reunion, or church social.

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

The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm

 

The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm is a comprehensive and well written guide to creating, troubleshooting, and running a market garden farm without tilling/digging (which we are beginning to find out is actually harmful in most situations). Due out 10th Nov 2020 from Storey Publishing, it's 256 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Although ostensibly aimed at the professional mid-scale farmer, there are a wealth of takeaways for the home hobbyist gardener with logical accessible implementable advice for starting up, making plans, doing the work, planting, irrigation systems, weeding, soil building and soil care, harvesting, marketing produce, labor, recordkeeping, and measuring success. The author provides the benefit of his near-decade of experience performing and succeeding at the necessary tasks to steward the earth he farms, produce quality food, and strengthen local economies and provide a valuable sustainable service to the local community. The book also includes a glossary, links and resource lists for further reading, and a cross referenced index.

Five stars. Lots and lots (and lots) of inspiration. Aesthetically an enjoyable read with a truly astounding amount of meticulous research and annotation. This would make a superlative selection for garden groups, community gardening, allotment collective libraries, smallholders, and garden lovers.

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

Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis

 

Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis is an interesting and very well written ethnography of crafting and its intersection with Judaica, written by Dr. Jodi Eichler-Levine. Due out 19th Oct 2020 from The University of North Carolina Press, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats.

This is a meticulously researched and annotated survey course on Judaism and its symbiotic relation to crafting and generative art mostly against the backdrop of the melting pot which is the United States. How, in such an assimilative culture, have Jews managed to hold onto ethnic identity while at the same time integrating into and becoming a part of American culture? How is creating art a part of that identity and how does it relate to Jewishness? While not, strictly speaking, a rigidly academic ethnography (the identities of the subjects are for the most part not anonymized), there is an undeniably academic flavor throughout. 

The author is an academic and this is what I would call a layman accessible academic treatise of the subjects in all their incarnations as they intersect culture and history. As an academic work, it is *full* of annotations, notes, illustrations and minutiae (in a good way). The author definitely "shows her work" in full. I loved poring over the notes and the  exhaustive bibliography and full chapter notes and annotations (did I mention that this is an academic work?). The notes and references are likely worth the price of admission for anyone interested in the subject and there's obviously been a swoon-inducing amount of time spent on research and resource gathering on the part of the author. 

I found the entire book quite interesting and fascinating. It is, admittedly, a niche book and will appeal to readers interested in cultural anthropology and ethnography, but might not appeal to readers looking for an easy read. The language is rigorous and formal. I definitely don't think it's inaccessible for the average reader, but it will take some effort (and I think that's a good thing). This would make a good support text for classroom or library use, for Judaism and allied subjects, as well as a superlative read for the particularly arts-history-interested.

Five stars. This is well and deeply researched and engaging.

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