Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club


The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club is a slice of life narrative about a group of tabletop gamers and their interrelationships written by Doug Henderson. Released 21st April 2021 by the University of Iowa Press, it's 252 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

I am a lifelong gamer (and proud geek). This book ticked a lot of boxes for me. The setting is clearly one which is familiar to the author and there's a lot of potential here. He's an adept storyteller and there are glimmers of good ideas which never quite gel. The book reads like a young adult/NA offering but is in no way appropriate for younger readers. There are adult themes which wouldn't be appropriate for younger readers (threatened/actual homophobic violence, sexual situations, rough language, etc). I also admittedly had trouble engaging with any of the primary characters. They were all too caricature-ish or unpleasant. 

The problems with the narrative and plotting all feel surmountable with some ruthless rewrites and careful trimming (the entire vampire subplot was fairly superfluous). The author is undoubtedly a creative soul and has an interesting and valid voice. Although this particular book fell flat for me personally (way too many cheap sexual "jokes" and innuendos), I am interested to see how his storytelling develops in future. 

Three stars.

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

The Hands On French Cookbook: Connect with French through Simple, Healthy Cooking


The Hands On French Cookbook is an interesting and tasty hybrid language & culture cookbook with recipes by Elisabeth de Châtillon. Due out 2nd June 2021, it's 156 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

This is a really fun bilingual cookbook and vocabulary for learning and retaining French words by learning to cook 10 different recipes; 5 main dishes and 5 desserts. Research has shown that tying information to muscle memory is a very good way to retain it permanently. Associating the word "stir" with the action of stirring is a great way to remember the word in another language (French). All of the instructions and vocabulary are given in both French and English.

Recipes are all pictured and are exhaustively described with specific, complete, easy-to-follow step by step preparation directions. The ingredients are given with both American standard and metric measures (yay!!). Recipes are accompanied by interesting trivia about the origin of the dish and time of year/occasions where it's popular. The recipes have a French flair and include classics like quiche, crepes, salad nicoise, chocolate mousse, and gateau. 

This is a very useful book and would make a superlative selection for library acquisition, classroom support text, as well as home use. It's appropriate for all ages, though I would say it's possibly intended for a younger (middle school or older) audience. It's *not* a complete resource or language textbook on its own and there are no pronunciation guides. 

The drawings and graphics are appealing and simple - mostly line drawn with the exception of the recipe photographs. The dishes are presented appealingly and serving suggestions are appetizing and appropriate. 

Four stars.

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

Organza Hoop Art: Embroidery Techniques and Projects for Sheer Stitching

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Organza Hoop Art is a tutorial guide for surface embroidery on sheer ground fabric by Sarah Godfrey. Released 20th April 2021 by Fox Chapel on their Landauer imprint, it's 96 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a well written and exuberantly illustrated book with a good primer on basic surface embroidery techniques and 12 step by step project tutorials. The projects are all framed in hoops, but could easily be adapted to other uses such as embellishments for tulle overlays on clothing, lampshades, stumpwork, or other applications. The author includes an introductory chapter which gives a good overview of tools, beginning techniques, and materials. Following the introduction is a really well done tutorial chapter with the different stitches used for the patterns in the book.  The step-by-step photos are annotated and accompanied by explanatory text.  They're clear and easy to follow.

The final half of the book contains the patterns for the elements listed in the catalogue at the beginning.  They are mostly natural elements (ladybugs, goldfish, sun, florals) which can be individualized in terms of color and arranged as desired. There are no links or retailers included in the book, however all the materials will be easily accessible at nearly any large retailer or craft shop. The author has included color conversion charts for Anchor and DMC flosses.

I enjoyed the book very much.  It's a worthwhile and fun introduction and guide to learning embroidery. Many of the designs in the book could also serve as a good jumping off point for dimensional embroider/stumpwork.

Four and a half stars

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

T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us


T: The Story of Testosterone is a non-fiction layman accessible overview of the biochemical properties of testosterone written by Dr. Carole Hooven. Due out 13th July 2021 from Macmillan on their Henry Holt imprint, it's 352 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a well written and uncontroversial examination of the effects of testosterone on physiology and behavior. It's aimed at the layperson and doesn't require more than an average basic understanding of science and/or biology. The text throughout is well annotated and the links and chapter notes provide ample opportunity for evidence based and peer-reviewed (advanced) reading later. The author has a conversational style of writing and although it's well annotated with proper citations, it's perfectly understandable and accessible.

This is admittedly a niche read, but it would undoubtedly make a good selection for library acquisition or science readers' use. I would also recommend it for lovers of natural history and biology as well as students of the human condition. 

Four and a half stars. Rounded up for the comprehensive annotations and clear and concise writing. 

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

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Japanese Art of the Cocktail

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The Japanese Art of the Cocktail is a visually stunning and elaborately presented ode to the artistry of Japanese barcraft. Due out 1st June 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 288 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a really beautiful book. It does include recipes, but honestly it's the gorgeously rendered photographs which elevate this bar book to the ultimate top shelf. Author Masahiro Urushido is the award winning mixologist behind the bar and an owner at Katana Kitten in NYC. The recipes are exotic and refined and exquisitely presented. 

These are -beautifully- made cocktails and the blending ingredients are exotic, colorful, and will be moderately difficult and expensive to source (fino jarana sherry, Hinoki tincture (for which the author includes a recipe), specific plum brandies, and others with which I was even less familiar).

Some of the ingredients should be available at any well stocked grocery/liquor store although most will need to be sourced at specialists or recreated by the reader.

Cocktails are such a civilized interlude and this book includes a solid cross section of (new and variations on old) drinks to build mixology skills and impress one's friends at the next gathering.
Five stars.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Bare Minimum Dinners: Recipes and Strategies for Doing Less in the Kitchen

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 Bare Minimum Dinners is a cookbook and strategy guide written by Jenna Helwig. Due out 7th Sept 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a cookbook for the rest of us. I work full time in healthcare and to say this last couple years have been hectic is a massive understatement. There are so many days when I have come home and none of the adults in the household have had energy to put together much of a dinner at all. This book is packed with good recipes which are streamlined in terms of ingredients, time, hands-on prep, or cleanup. 

The introduction includes a good overview of basic tools and supplies including a list of basic staple pots, pans, and tools to have on hand which would be a good jumping off point for newly-fledged folks living on their own for the first time. The rest of the chapters are arranged thematically: time-saving (30 minutes or less), 7 ingredients or fewer, single pot/pan for easy cleanup, instant pot & slow cooker (life savers for me for the last couple years of the pandemic), and easy side dishes to round out dinner.

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements only.  The nutritional information is not included.  Each recipe includes a header with a short description of the recipe and approximate servings. Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in text boxes in the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made for the most part with easily sourced ingredients. Many are very simple, none of them are overly complex. The photography is abundant and clear and the recipes are illustrated simply and clearly. Serving suggestions are appealing and appropriate. Nearly all of the recipes also include tips and alternative presentations and variations.

There were, admittedly a couple recipes I tried which didn't thrill me. The refried black bean "burgers" were very very mushy and bland. All of the other recipes can be spiced up and changed up, but that one defeated me. 

This cookbook is bare minimum (which is even in the title!). It's not haute cuisine, it's not for fancy company or special dinners. It's for when inspiration refuses to strike standing in front of the refrigerator and peering inside. This would also be a good selection for folks newly living on their own as the recipes are especially beginner friendly and require little in the way of exotic ingredients or tools/supplied.

Four stars.

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

Invitation to Draw: 99 Drawing Prompts to Inspire Kids Creativity


Invitation to Draw is a fun guide aimed at younger readers with interactive prompts for creative play by Jean Van't Hul. Due out 15th June 2021 from Roost Books, it's 208 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a graphically appealing and accessible guide with 99 varied and fun tutorial prompts and exercises aimed at young readers with structured ideas to engage them and get them drawing. So much of our lives have been put on hold during the pandemic (and that includes our kids especially who have virtually no control over anything happening to them). Drawing and self-expression can give a measure of control and stress relief to everyone, including youngsters. This book includes lots of different prompts which can also become an important part of online/distance learning. Many of these tutorials will fit seamlessly into home learning with or without other classes.

Most of the pages include fill-in-the-blank type frames and partial drawings for things like dialogue, settings, small drawn stories, story boards, and more. One feature which I really loved was the inclusion of some solid advice from the author to parents and facilitators with good ideas on how to use the book and make it relevant for different ages and situations (for example laminating a page and using it again and again).

The book can be used in a linear manner, front to back, as well as a pick-and-choose resource with specific prompts where needed. Though the book is aimed at youngsters, there are some good takeaways here for readers of all ages. I enjoyed it a lot and the exercises were really fun.

Five stars. This would make a superlative classroom or home learning resource.

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

The New Oil Painting: Your Essential Guide to Materials and Safe Practices


The New Oil Painting is a tutorial and instruction guide to safe and sustainable oil painting and studio practice by Kimberly Brooks. Due out 18th May 2021 from Chronicle Books, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a well written, layman accessible, clear and easy to understand treatise on studio safety, practice, and supplies for oil painting. I work in a medical lab around all kinds of caustic chemicals and solvents and lab safety is always a very high priority. It's amazing how many hobbyists and artists don't take chemical safety and waste disposal seriously. 

The book has a logical layout, the introduction (how and why the information included is relevant and what to do about it) is followed by two main sections: first workspace and materials considerations, and the second covers techniques including some relevant tutorials on preparing canvases, laying down ground, and color mixing which will be learning opportunities for artists at all levels of experience. The author's voice throughout is calm and knowledgeable but not pedantic or preachy. She also includes commentary on her own working style and tips along the way (as well as some truly sobering cautionary commentary on the potential toxicity of traditional materials and solvents which she experienced for herself). 

Five stars. This would make a great choice for library acquisition, maker's spaces, home and school studios and the like. 

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

Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise


Scourge of Henry VIII is a loosely based biography of Marie De Guise presented by historian Melanie Clegg. Originally published in 2016, this reformat and re-release by Pen & Sword is due out in July 2021. It's 224 pages and will be available in paperback format. (Other editions available in other formats). 

This is an engagingly written and layman accessible biography of the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Widowed early, with the infant Mary in a precarious position, she became regent ruler of Scotland in 1554 until her own death in 1560. 

The books biographical and historical chapters are arranged roughly chronologically. The timeline is easy to follow and the author writes clearly and layman accessibly, so I didn't have any trouble following the narrative. There is also a list of dramatis personae in the front of the book, so it's a simple matter to flip back and see who's who if necessary. 

This is not an academic treatise. There are no chapter notes or footnotes. The language is layman accessible and more narrative than precise. The book does include an abbreviated and helpful bibliography and cross referenced index. There is also a very interesting photographic appendix which includes black and white photos and facsimiles of many period buildings, blueprints, and portraits of the main players in the story. 

Four stars. This is an interesting and well told biography of a woman who is largely ignored even by historians specializing in the period. 

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

Friday, May 14, 2021

Abandoned London: Discover the hidden secrets of the city in photographs


Abandoned London is a useful and fascinating guide to out of the way and hidden destinations in London. Due out in July 2021 from Amber Books, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

Instead of fighting the crowds at the well known tourist destinations when traveling I have always preferred the weird, the ignored, the lesser known, more esoteric sightseeing. London is a wonderful place for weird sights, being both ancient and having been rebuilt over millennia. This book is such a cool collection of exactly those oft overlooked things to see in London and environs. 

The book's destinations are arranged thematically: industry, transport, public spaces, shops & retail, pubs cafes & restaurants, residential, and sport & leisure. Each entry is comprised of short text explanations and locations with one or more colour photographs. The text is easy to understand and offers tantalising glimpses into the past with almost as much unsaid. There were only a few with which I was previously familiar (Stompie the tank in its garden) and an absolute plethora of others I hadn't heard of before. There are some places pictured which I don't imagine are accessible to the public for safety/health reasons. I found them fascinating nevertheless, and I'm glad the author included them. 

Four stars. This is a quirky and beautifully photographed book. Highly recommended it for Anglophiles and lovers of the abandoned out of the way places. It's especially welcome now, when we are prevented from traveling.

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

No Sleep Till Wonderland: A Novel (Mark Genevich #2)


No Sleep Till Wonderland is the second book in the Mark Genevich PI series by Paul Tremblay. Released 20th April 2021 by Harper Collins on their William Morrow imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a humorous but very very dark PI novel with a quirky protagonist who's struggling/failing with narcolepsy. His life is difficult, which is understandable, and his narration is by turns full of pathos, hopelessness, gallows humor, and a seething sub voce anger. The author is gifted with the more technical aspects of writing and I found the prose compelling, although I honestly found it challenging to engage with most of the characters and also found the (undoubtedly intentional) wandering and disconnected plotline more distracting than clever. (He's a narcoleptic, so the first person train of thought stutters, wanders, and stops dead in places). The author has a straightforward style, unvarnished, and unpolished. It went to the same place in my head that Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen live, with a little glimmer of Elmore Leonard. The setting, Boston, has a starring role, and the author seems intimately familiar with the area and the special linguistic vernacular.

This is the second book in the series and since there is a *strong* continuity between the books, I do not recommend trying to jump into this book without having read the first book. The language is gritty and rough in places and there's very little refined sensibility to be found. Readers who enjoy darkly sarcastic gritty realism will find a lot to like here. 

Three and a half stars for me. I would recommend it to fans of bleak and gritty PI stories.

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

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The No-Fuss Family Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Everyday Life

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The No-Fuss Family Cookbook is a tutorial guide and recipe collection for everyday family-friendly food written by Ryan Scott. Due out 25th May 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 288 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This book is a nice resource, especially for simple everyday family dinners. The recipes are made with easily sourced ingredients and have a broad appeal for casual cuisine. The recipe section is arranged thematically: breakfasts & baked goods, salads soups & snacks, pasta, dinner, veggies & sides, and desserts.

Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only), and step by step instructions. Nutritional info is not included. I believe all of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The photos provided are high quality and clear and serving suggestions are attractive and appropriate. This is definitely a beautifully photographed cookbook.

All in all, very well written, beautifully presented food, made from family friendly ingredients which are easily sourced and taste good.

Five stars, we'll be revisiting this cookbook. For families with young children or toddlers, this one will be especially welcome. There's a lot of appealing finger and bite sized food here.

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

Culinary Art Portfolio of Josephine E Jones


The Culinary Art Portfolio of Josephine E Jones is a coffee table art book and homage to food artist and manager at Kraft, Josephine Jones, written by her daughter, Wendy Jones. Due out 20th May, it's 71 pages and will be available in paperback format.

The book's 16 full page color photographs are perforated for framing. Each photograph is accompanied by a short commentary including some preparation information (not recipes, specifically), and recollections from the author about the photographs and her mother's career with Standard Brands (now Kraft Foods). 

The book is quite interesting from a food styling and history perspective. The photographs, which date from 1977, are professionally rendered but very much a product of the time period. I enjoyed seeing some of the elaborate and artistic fruit arrangements and sculptures. It's a lovely book full of elegant photographs, but I would imagine it would have very limited re-readability.

Three and a half stars.

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Beauty of Chemistry: Art, Wonder, and Science

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The Beauty of Chemistry is a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book homage to the artistic side of chemistry. Released 11th May 2021 from MIT Press, it's 392 pages and is available in hardcover and e-book formats. 

This is an extremely graphics heavy book full of awe inspiring and beautiful photos and illustrations. There are some chemistry concepts included in layman accessible language, but it's not in any way a textbook of chemistry. The text, engaging and erudite, by Philip Ball is worth the price of admission, but it's the stunning illustrations which kept me turning the pages. They are sublime; from the most mundane (CO2 bubbles in a soft drink) to the most exotic, the photos are arresting. 

Whilst I enjoyed all the chapters (arranged roughly thematically: bubbles, crystals, precipitation reactions, dendritic growth, combustion, electrochemistry, plant chromatism, heat reactions, organic chemistry, and patterns), it was the appendices, and especially the molecule models which I really enjoyed. The molecules were rendered in the space-filling 3D models familiar to every student of chemistry, and the explanations were understandable and informative. Reading and looking at these would make a fun game even for very small children who would almost certainly love seeing them (and learning them) again and again with a willing adult.

Because of the colorful photography and graphics heavy format, the hardcover format would be a much better choice than e-book format. 

Five stars, with the codicil that this is not a textbook of chemistry. It would make a superlative choice for public, classroom, or home library. 

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

Mystical Stitches: Embroidery for Personal Empowerment and Magical Embellishment

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Mystical Stitches is a tutorial and style guide for embroidery by Christi Johnson. Due out 22 June 2021 from Storey, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

It seems that surface embroidery is enjoying something of a renaissance lately; I've reviewed several new and upcoming releases this year on the subject. This one, in addition to being a very good basic tutorial instruction guide on the stitches and designs, also has the added attraction of explaining the symbolism and meanings behind the included designs, most of which have some mystical or philosophical significance. 

The author has included not only the expected astrological symbols, but also a wealth of other pagan, Egyptian, nature/wiccan, geometric forms and shapes, numbers, planets, and others, certainly enough to keep readers busy and exploring for ages. In addition to the instructions and stitch diagrams, she also writes well and engagingly about intention and ritual, use of color, and materials.

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

The book has an abbreviated bibliography and links list as well as a cross-referenced index. This would be a good choice for readers who are interested in more esoteric embellishments for clothing and ritual cloths. This would be a four-star read evaluated only on the merits of the embroidery instruction, but the author's voice adds a great deal of value. She's calm, reasonable, engaging, knowledgeable, and there's a very kind and encouraging vibe throughout the book. Very well done. 

Five stars.

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

Total Olympics: Every Obscure, Hilarious, Dramatic, and Inspiring Tale Worth Knowing


Total Olympics is a comprehensive trivia and history book collected and curated by Jeremy Fuchs. Due out 11th May 2021 from Workman Publishing, it's 336 pages (print version) and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I love trivia and factoids. My subjects have always been classics, language, science and nature, with modern culture and entertainment a distant fourth place. Sports (for me) was a never-ran. In fact, on my pub trivia team, nobody ever listens to me on the sports questions. I should've committed this book to memory. Journalist sports writer Fuchs has assembled a pretty staggering array of facts and tidbits from Olympic history. The entries are arranged thematically: (forgotten) history, standout legends, wild and strange, firsts, discontinued sports (some real howlers included here), and forgotten heroes. Each of the chapters includes a dizzying array of facts and interludes about olympic games from the past, when and where, who and sometimes why.

The writing is clear and engaging, Mr. Fuchs has a good sense of humor and ties the history together in an entertaining fashion. The book is full of historical photos and facsimiles of documents. There's a very useful collection of medalists by sport, with winners arranged chronologically, in the back of the book. There is, naturally, an index included, to facilitate finding information. 

The publication date has been pushed back ostensibly to coordinate with the Tokyo olympic games, in 2021. 

Five stars. This is a comprehensive guide, full of useful photos, and very good at its stated purpose.

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

Monday, May 10, 2021

Raymond the Buffalo


Raymond the Buffalo is a beautifully illustrated young reader book with a surprisingly subtle plot and resolution. Due out 11th May 2021 from Orca, it's 48 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

This is an early reader chapter book, and what a delight it is. Originally published in French in 2019, this English edition is translated seamlessly and invisibly. The story by Lou Beauchesne is surprisingly subtle and not at all what I expected from a children's book. It's full of small details (like the frontspiece with Gilbert's grandfather's and father's names scratched out and his own name written in childish script underneath) and a surprisingly moving story which spans decades. It's full of funny moments (like Raymond eating lemon pickles and falling into a food coma in the library) and some pathos. The art by Kate Chappell is colorful and full of whimsy. 

The plot themes of loyalty, friendship, imagination, kindness, and not least what a wonderful place the library is (and the librarians who keep them running) are welcome and timely. I loved all the characters and their manifest friendship

It would be a superlative choice for school or public library acquisition, artists, teacher education type classes, and allied subjects. I would also recommend it as a really fun bedtime or read-to-me selection with an impressive scope for lots and lots of silly voices and sound effects. Five stars.

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

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Secret to Superhuman Strength


The Secret to Superhuman Strength is an engaging and accessible stream-of-consciousness philosophical memoir by Alison Bechdel. Released 4th May 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 240 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I've been a fan of the author's work for decades and really looked forward to this latest slice-of-life intimate and casual look into her lifelong interest in personal strength, training, and physical fitness as it's impacted (mostly) American life in the last 6 decades (with brief forays into previous centuries).  As always, her personal internal reflection and laser focus are interesting and relevant.

The author and I are of an age (she's a couple of years older), but the commercials, programs, and attitudes from media and the lifestyles she highlights are -absolutely- spot on. There's a palpable honesty in her work in general and this one is no exception. 

The artwork is spare, subtle, and expressive; much like her work on Fun Home and DTWOF. The points she makes discussing fitness are salient and interesting, but it's the side points, the observations she makes about human nature and life in general which are really illuminating. 

This would be a good selection for library acquisition, fans of modern memoir/culture commentary, and I can also see it being an appropriate choice for inclusion as support literature for subjects such as gender studies, American culture, sociology, and similar. 

Five stars. She has a lot of relevant things to say and does so in an engaging and honest manner.

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

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait (Haunted Bookshop Mystery #7)


The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait is the 7th Haunted Bookshop cozy/noir mystery by the pseudonymous duo writing as Cleo Coyle. Released 4th May 2021 by Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 336 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a well developed series with an interesting paranormal twist. Protagonist Penelope is in "contact" with the consciousness of a long departed police detective who was killed almost 70 years ago. The books are set up in a way that very very cold case mysteries from decades ago get intertwined with modern day mysteries and bookstore owner Penelope saves the day by resolving the past and the present. 

The mysteries are often convoluted and a bit contrived but otherwise "fair-play". The characters are so distinct and well rendered that keeping them clear from one another is never an issue. I like the sort of noir-1940's vibe that Penelope's internal dialogue adds to the book.  Although it's the 7th book in the series, the mysteries are completely self-contained and it works quite well as a standalone. This would be a good jumping-in point for readers who haven't read the previous books.

The language is clean, the violence is low-key and off scene. It would make a good commute or work read. I really enjoyed the tie-ins with period pulp fiction and artwork. Lots of fun. The authors have done their research on the era. 

Four stars. Definitely worth a look for fans of cozy mysteries. 

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

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Secret Ingredient Cookbook


The Secret Ingredient Cookbook is a collection of family-friendly recipes which each contain an extra seasoning or ingredient written and developed by Kelly Senyei of Just a Taste. Due out 4th May 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 304 pages (ebook version) and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Not long ago, I stopped by a small family bistro and indulged myself with a fresh salad for lunch with really *fresh* and uncomplicated ingredients, served very well and unpretentiously. As I was eating, I was struck by how much the taste was elevated by the simple unexpected addition of julienned fennel. Everything was very fresh, but that fennel really made the salad special and unusual. This cookbook is written around the same principles - here are recipes for Caesar pasta salad with avocado, succotash with edamame, barbecue meatballs with orange soda, and over 120 more recipes with unusual ingredient twists. The ones we tried from this collection were all delicious and worked very well.

The author begins with a well stocked pantry list of must-have ingredients. The list is traditional (dried pasta, honey, brown & white sugar, vanilla extract, etc) but also contains some extras with which I agree wholeheartedly, fresh citrus and herbs for example. There is an abbreviated tips and tricks list with some interesting entries for quickly ripening bananas and lots more. 

The recipes themselves are arranged in chapters roughly thematically: breakfast, snacks, soups & salads, pastas, entrées, sides, desserts, and drinks. Each of the recipes includes an introductory description, ingredients listed in a bullet point sidebar (US measurements only), step by step instructions, as well a footers with tips and alternatives as well as tips on processing, presentation and more. Nutritional information is not included. The photographs are not plentiful but the ones which are included are high quality and clear - and serving suggestions are appealing and appropriate. The release version of the book will contain an index as well.

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'.

Four stars. Well written and presented tasty recipes.

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